Lincoln Road seems like the last place you'd run into a bunch of aliens, especially now that the Beach has fallen to the chain stores. But that's just where People From Venus were on a recent afternoon. The band members — three Atlanta transplants and a native Miamian — had taken an outside table at Rosinella and were already on their second bottle of red by the time I arrived. Not that there's anything wrong with that. After all, it was 3 p.m.
Actually, because they're known for late, late nights and unbridled debauchery, it was kind of surprising they were on only their second bottle. Didn't they have a reputation to live up to?
In fact, they do. But according to singer Paul Isaac, this new, relative sobriety is all part of the master plan they've devised to put PFV into the hearts and minds of everyone with ears. "Now that our record is ready," he says, "the world is ours. And no partying is gonna come between us and utter domination."
That record Isaac is referring to is called Toot Toot Yeah!, and it's the band's first. As the title suggests, it's something born in the wee small hours of many wild mornings, when every shadow holds a vision and only the hardiest of souls are still out and about. But this is not the work of wastrels; it's a seriously realized slab of song. So don't fret the Bolivian illicitness of the title.
"We had to come to Miami to find ourselves," explains guitarist/synthesist Jerson Lima, who, along with drummer Ben Belin and bassist Ari Eisenstein, rounds out the foursome. "We got lost at first, of course. But that's only natural."
"Yeah, we had to go through the process," Isaac adds. "We had to lose our minds." And as anyone who crawls by late night knows, that mind-losing generally took place at venues such as White Room and Vagabond, where PFV are an integral part of an ever-thriving scene of painters and poets and musicians of every stripe.
"There's something about Miami we find incredibly creative," Eisenstein says. "And we're part of this crazy underground scene that includes people like [stylist] Pamela Wasabi, [DJ] Joshy Josh, and Rokbar's Sebastian Puga. It inspires everything we do."
Indeed, much of Toot Toot Yeah! has the feel you get when you're among a crowd of like-minded souls. It's there in the lure of "The Girl From Planet Earth," it's there in the questions raised by "Smitten," and it's there, most adamantly, in the promise of "The Future Is Wild." Call it the sound of those who get it.
Despite its vibrancy, though, this is still a comparatively small scene, populated by outcasts and misfits, most of whom exist on a grid all their own. And that leaves PFV feeling oddly right at home. "We are visitors here," Isaac says, perhaps cluing us in to the origin of the band's name. "We'll never fit in. And the record is a reflection of that."
That at-home alienation has only helped Isaac and PFV connect to the interstellar tribe. And one gets the impression it's only a matter of time before the earthlings follow suit. It's something, Isaac says, the bandmates senses in the very air around them. "Over the past year, everyone's woken up — this whole scene — from us to those we work with, the engineers and the artists. There's a new energy, and it's contagious."
Of course, it helps that PFV has hipster DJs such as Ray Milian and Cosmo remixing their singles and spinning them in some of the hottest spots in town. It helps more that those singles happen to be the catchiest thing since the Bay City Rollers rolled with the Clash. OK, so that never happened. But if it had, there's little doubt it would've produced a song like "Kite."
With the strut of someone who's been cut loose and rendered giddy with freedom, "Kite" is so jaunty it deserves one of those bouncing balls that used to accompany lyrics in old cartoons. Happy, without the clown face, and insistently upbeat, the song will have you skipping out of that bad relationship quicker than she can say, "We've gotta talk." It also seems tailor-made for radio — that is, if radio still played the kind of great songs that made America famous.
So too goes the single "Lipstick," except it's different. Here the object isn't disaffection; it's distant affection, though it could very well be coming from across a crowded club floor. It's a call to action, where you dare the object of your intention to step up and swing awhile. "Lipstick" kicks like an outtake from the Heartbreakers, had Johnny Thunders been chewing bubblegum instead of shooting smack. And it's unquestionably something you won't wanna wipe off.
Taken as a whole, Toot is an incredibly accomplished collection of tunes, something you'd never expect was recorded in the same South Beach flat the band calls home. There's an innate grandness to the production, and even at its rawest, everything is resolutely refined. Furthermore, the record stands head and shoulders above what most local acts release these days.
Then again, this isn't PFV's first rodeo, so it kind of makes sense for them to be riding like cowboys. It is, though, the first time they've truly gone their own way. But to understand them now, perhaps it's good to learn what happened then.
Once upon a time, Isaac, Lima, and Eisenstein were members of a band called Muse. No, not the Muse you now know — another Muse, this one from Atlanta and signed to Atlantic. This Muse released an album called Arcana and toured extensively to support it, playing huge festival shows alongside Bush, the Cure, and Porno for Pyros.
But after years of bickering with Atlantic over the sound and the direction of its sophomore record, this Muse opted for a contract buyout. Besides, that other Muse was willing to pay for the name. It was then when the three came to Miami, and it was here where they became who they are now.
And who they are now is really what's most important here. With Toot Toot Yeah!, People From Venus have come into themselves, and they've delivered on the promises made over countless cocktails at some of the most swinging bars in the city. You know those boasts that come about after 3 a.m., the ones you usually regret the next day? Toot Toot Yeah! proves they don't all have to be that way.