Inside a single-story house on a quiet street an hour north of Tampa, 9-year-old Falcon Heene plugs in his bass guitar and fires up his amp.
The scrawny, barefoot kid, four and a half feet tall, launches into "Burnin' to Play," off his band's first, home-recorded album, Heene Boyz Rock.
Falcon's brother Ryo, age 12, tears up the drums, and Bradford, 13, shreds a guitar. All three are dressed in black T-shirts and jean shorts. They have long, luxurious black hair that falls to their waists and would make a Kardashian look bald by comparison. These manes whip around like windmills as the boys thrash.
Falcon wails, "What do we do? Hang out in the park/Joey's out playing in the dark/Oh my God — bored out of my mind/Adults don't treat kids so effin' kind."
When it's time for the guitar solo, Bradford nails it one-handed, Eddie Van Halen style. Falcon plucks bass strings with his teeth. When finished, they grin, make devil horns, and do handstands.
This living room is basically a rehearsal space. Amid a clutter of cardboard boxes and mountain bikes are the instruments, a mixing board, speakers, and stacks of amplifiers. A homemade green screen, crafted from linoleum, takes up an entire wall and blocks the front window.
The walls are covered with faded family photos, kids' paintings, chore charts, to-do lists, printouts of scientific data, and schedules ("Get up, read books, work out, do schoolwork, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse"). Then there are the typed affirmations on plain white office paper. A couple of these say, in all caps: "HEENE BOYZ WANT RECORD DEAL!" and "HEENE BOYZ WILL TOUR WITH METALLICA."
Here the Heene Boyz, who are touted by their notorious dad as "the world's youngest metal band," dress up like medieval warriors and film themselves playing their song "World of Warcraft."
"Can't stop playin' World of Warcraft," Falcon shrieks. "That's what I'm sayin'."
This might be any kid band. But it's not. Three years and a massive backlash ago, their mom and dad were branded as America's most famous liars. On October 15, 2009, Richard Heene called the Federal Aviation Administration and two Colorado TV stations to report that Falcon, then 6 years old, had floated away in a homemade flying saucer. The National Guard was called out, tens of thousands of dollars of police time were wasted, and the family's alleged trauma was broadcast on live television, riveting people around the world. Falcon would forever be known as "Balloon Boy."
Hours after the empty balloon landed in a field, the sheriff announced Falcon was safe and had been hiding in the attic during the saga. But public opinion turned from relief to anger when the incident was deemed a hoax and the family was accused of orchestrating the incident in hopes of landing a reality TV show.
Richard Heene was ultimately fined $47,000 and pleaded guilty to felony charges of attempting to influence a public servant. His wife, Mayumi, pleaded to a misdemeanor. Richard was sentenced to 90 days in jail. Mayumi was ordered to perform community service. The judge stipulated they could not profit from the incident during four years of probation.
In 2010, the family moved to Spring Hill, about 50 miles north of Tampa, and little has been reported about them since. The kids, who are home-schooled, have turned their attention to music. Richard works as a handyman and develops odd inventions like a bear-sized back scratcher. The kids, with Dad as their manager, have played a dozen shows since May.
As the Heene Boyz' popularity grows and the kids continue to gig around the state, surely Richard, 51, will face criticism that he's exploiting his kids — again.
"Exploitation?" he asks incredulously. "Nobody has said anything about that."
When Mayumi and Richard Heene wake up every morning, they jump out of bed, stand facing one another, and give each other giant bear hugs while furiously scratching each other's backs. They giggle as they demonstrate in their living room.
"She has been a godsend," Richard says of his wife of 15 years.
Richard says he grew up in Virginia, the middle of three children, with a mostly absent biological dad and an abusive mother and stepfather. "My childhood was a nightmare," he explains. "If there was an exit button, I would have pushed it. We moved a lot. I went to 13 different schools." He no longer deals with any of his family members. "We're just not close."
As a teenager, he began working as a laborer. "I started doing contractor work when I was 18. I get bored easily. I moved on to concrete, roofing, lawn sprinklers. I had my own contracting business when I was 24." Work led him to California. "In those days, you would follow the lumber trucks because you knew it would lead to a job."