Seldom Seen, Often Heard

Thanks to the regional college radio success of their single, "I'm Beautiful," the Wilcoxes have gained a reputation among local scenesters for being a band that hails from some supercool bastion of alternative rock far, far away. Not so. The Wilcoxes -- vocalist Spring McClure, guitarist Kelly Fulton, bassist Claudia Urbina, keyboardist Michelle Hospital, and drummer Carol Ascari -- are based right here in Miami, where "I'm Beautiful" also has enjoyed significant airplay on WVUM-FM (90.5) and WKCR, Miami-Dade Community College South Campus's closed-circuit station, as well as exposure on the commercial station WHYI-FM (100.7). But if you haven't experienced the band's blend of fluid harmonies, New Wave guitar riffs, and layered keyboards in person, don't think you've missed any secret gigs. Since the Wilcoxes formed in mid-1993, they've performed live only five times, thanks to a busy schedule recording their six-song disc, Indeed (on the band's own End Records), while rehearsing and maintaining day jobs. They explain that while they always had hoped to play out locally, they continually have had to scrap plans to perform when opportunities such as recording in England with PJ Harvey guitarist-producer John Parish have come knocking.

"We've been very fortunate," notes Hospital, "because things have just fallen in our laps even when we were not ready for them."

Great opportunities or not, the Wilcoxes have been the victims of a strange misunderstanding. While it may seem as if the band has come from out of nowhere, in reality they've been busy working behind the scenes since they first got together in mid-1993. Back then guitarist-songwriter Fulton, bassist-artist Urbina, and keyboardist-writer-artist Hospital were looking for something to do for the summer, and decided to create a space where each could pursue her respective work. Ultimately the trio began playing together and writing songs.

"We loved music, had always followed all these bands, had musical backgrounds, and decided, 'Hey, we could do this,'" says Fulton.

A short time later, the band members met singer Spring McClure while hanging out at the Kitchen Club in Coconut Grove. Trained in musical theater, McClure had a slightly nasal wail and Deborah Harry-esque delivery that fit nicely with the band's multilayered, New Wave-y style. After performing for about a year with fill-in drummers a handful of times in bars and clubs that did not regularly feature live local -- much less alternative -- music, the Wilcoxes placed an ad in a local music publication, which netted former Big Sky drummer Ascari. She signed on last December. Around the same time, "I'm Beautiful" (recorded with another drummer) began gaining popularity, and plans to make Indeed began to gel.

The single, recorded locally at With a Bullet Studios, first aired last October on WVUM, immediately gained momentum via listener requests, and was placed in heavy rotation. With a hit song on local radio, it seemed the perfect time to start gigging regularly, right? Wrong. That's when PJ Harvey's John Parish intervened, calling with an offer to record and produce the Wilcoxes at Koh-San Studios in Bath, England, during some downtime he had between producing that band's latest album, To Bring You My Love, and fulfilling tour commitments. As a result, the women ditched their plans to play local gigs, make a demo tape, and start courting labels.

Last fall the band sent a cassette of rough mixes of several songs to Parish, who Hospital had met several years earlier when she interviewed his former band for a fanzine she was publishing in England. McClure, Urbina, Hospital, and Fulton packed their bags and flew to Bath (cheaper than bringing Parish to Miami and recording in a local studio of the same caliber) to lay down tracks for five new songs over twelve days last December. Parish played drums. (Having only recently joined the band, Ascari did not participate.)

"Everything was happening so fast that before we boarded the plane to England, we really wondered if the situation was under our control any more," muses Fulton.

The result of their sessions with Parish is Indeed, a six-song (it also includes the pre-existing "I'm Beautiful") exploration of love and life that boasts lyrics that are opinionated and cynical, yet playful and honest. "I'm Beautiful" is the most musically cheerful and lyrically wry track ("I know my ego may be overbearing/But they keep staring/Guess I'm worth it...I know I'm beeeeautifullll!"), while "Blue," "Collapse," and "Shades of Grey" come across as moodier and more atmospheric.

"Each of us has totally different bands that have influenced us," explains Ascari, "but they're mostly Eighties bands." Adds Urbina, "I think it's because we think back to how nice the music was when we were in high school, and we want our music to sound like that. A lot of the music that's coming out now is really good, but we often find ourselves feeling nostalgic."

Hospital points out that the nostalgic quality of their songs is not contrived or even planned. "I think it just comes naturally," she says. "Like my keyboard, for example, is not a vintage keyboard. It's not a DX7, which has an Eighties sound. But it just so happens that I'm attracted to sounds that sound like that."

Several recent non-album songs, including some written by Ascari and Urbina, display the band's capacity for a harder, punkier, rockier sound. Fulton says it's important to the band at this stage of their development to create an environment of artistic freedom in which the different members can move around musically. "We have this thing that comes out about us sometimes: 'Have the Wilcoxes found their sound?'" she sighs. "I think that's the funniest thing in the world to say, as if the sound were this designer shirt you put on. One of the strengths of this band is that we're extremely flexible. What I really liked about Blondie, which is one big influence of mine, is that you would hear 'Heart of Glass' and it was a nice disco song, and you'd hear 'Rapture,' a nice rap song, and 'Call Me,' what a nice rock song, and 'Tide is High,' what a nice reggae song. They could do everything."

While the band works on new songs, Indeed wends its way across the nation. When the CD was sent to stations in Florida and Georgia in March, it received airplay on about twenty college and independent stations, as well as a few commercial stations. Somehow "I'm Beautiful" even wound up at a San Francisco station to which the band hadn't sent a copy. They're currently working on securing distribution of Indeed throughout the Southeast.

"We're still in that honeymoon stage, where we say, 'Wow, we're in a real band! We have a CD out in the stores! Hey, wait a minute, that's us!'" jokes Hospital.

The Wilcoxes also are preparing to play live shows throughout Florida and Georgia this summer, beginning with their opening stint for Muse at the Cameo Theater on Friday, during which they hope finally to discover who has been listening to them. "We have no idea what'll happen, and I kind of like that," says Hospital. "It's scary but invigorating at the same time."

The band intends to return to the studio in the fall to record new material, eventually putting out a full-length album. But Fulton acknowledges the uncertainty of such plans. "We sit here and can say these are our plans," she laughs, "but if it's anything like our past, they will get trashed because some opportunity will come flying into our laps and we'll have to say, 'Forget it A we have to do this.'"

The Wilcoxes perform with Muse tomorrow night (Friday), July 14, at the Cameo Theater, 1445 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 532-0922. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. with an acoustic set by Diane Ward, Brian Franklin, and Jeff Rollason of Mr. Tasty and the Breadhealers. Admission is $5.

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Georgina Cardenas