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A woman with shoulder-length blond hair and a blue-and-white striped sundress is setting up a PA system in Mulvaney's Irish Pub in West Palm Beach. She could easily pass for a local college student, one of the many preppies who cruise Clematis Street, where Mulvaney's is located. But when a reporter asks where he can find the members of INHOUSE, he's surprised to discover the woman is Evi Weintraub, who shares singing duties in the band with her identical twin sister, Gin.
Until recently the Weintraubs, both 30 years old, were known not only for their brooding yet beautiful vocal harmonies but for their indifference toward fashion. They used to have long, black, unkempt hair and wear whatever clothes happened to be lying around the house. It was the same kind of jeans-and-baggy-shirt look employed by their fans.
But as early as six months ago, an attempt was made to appear "more feminine," according to Evi. "My whole persona was so dark," she says. "I was a friendly person, but people pictured me as a lot darker than I was because my hair was always hanging in my face. When people saw me in color for the first time it was like when The Wizard of Oz changed to Technicolor."
"We were hiding behind our hair, and we wanted to stop hiding so much," says Gin, sporting red hair and a dark beige skirt riding high on her thighs. "We were once written up as an antifashion/fashion band."
"It really had nothing to do with our image," Evi adds. "We were just lazy. We just wanted to play our music."
Because the music has changed, so has the look. Letting more show is simply a reflection of a stronger sound, or at least a higher level of confidence in the work. INHOUSE's music has evolved from warped tales of rage, abuse, death, and insanity -- with lyrics like "blood," "addiction," "razors," and "bombs in my head" -- to songs about love and its accouterments -- hugs and kisses, betrayal, and passion denied.
Waking Juliet, the band's latest self-produced CD, is noticeably brighter in tone and snappier in rhythm than its 1995 predecessor, The Beautiful Soup. On that album the songs are edgier, the rhythms pound harder, and the riffs, fills, and vocals often rise to blasting crescendos. The much lighter Waking Juliet, displaying elements of country and folk, is much more likely to appeal to an adult alternative audience. But for the band -- which includes long-time guitarist-collaborator Andy Stein -- the biggest change is in the subject matter.
"We never really wrote about love before," Gin says. "Waking Juliet is about waking up to the idea of love. We've always written warped songs before, and we still like and write warped songs, but now they have a romantic twist."
"I Am I Think," for example, is directed at a prostitute who is "running around with no panties again/Wearing no shoes when there's glass in the street." Most of the album's songs, however, aren't so much warped as they are poetic and insightful. The lyrics reflect a vulnerable yet mature approach to the mysteries of love. In "But I Stay," a simple rhythm leaves ample breathing room for Gin and Evi to illustrate love's potential for devastation with the line: "Your timing is perfect, my balance was weak/Everything was fine till you started to speak."
With all this talk about love, one would assume that at least one of the band's members is writing and/or singing from experience -- perhaps recent experience. But Gin says the inspiration for the songs on the CD came from the breakup not of a personal relationship but of the band itself.
INHOUSE's original bassist and drummer, Phil Kalasz and Steve Williams, respectively, shared a house with Gin and Evi for two years and acted as a surrogate family. They even shared a van. "The other band members used to call Phil and I 'Mom and Pop,'" Evi recalls, "because I would handle the cooking and cleaning, and Phil would do all the driving."
But Kalasz left Florida in 1996 to move to Seattle with his new bride, and Williams left in 1997 because, as some friends do, he and the Weintraubs had grown apart.
"When Phil left the band, we felt we lost an integral part of ourselves," Evi says. "Losing Phil was very painful, as was losing Steve, because the five of us had worked so hard together for so long."
"When Phil left I started writing a bunch of songs and thought, 'I've got to open up, because I have a feeling we're going to be alone soon,'" Gin adds. "I had to write something a little more open so that the public would embrace me."
The temporary breakup of the band wasn't easy for the Weintraubs, but as one song on Waking Juliet makes clear, change is not necessarily a bad thing. For "A Little Crazy," Gin wrote: "I'm on a tight wire and it's cutting deep into my skin/But oh it's so inspiring/ It's something new, somewhere to begin."
"I was scared to death," she says, "because everything I was used to was not going to be. Yet, at the same time, I was excited because it was an adventure, and I hadn't had an adventure in a long time."
The Lake Worth-based Weintraubs were raised in a musical family in Brentwood, Long Island. By the age of 5, they were performing in talent shows in public and, at age 13, harmonizing with their brothers on Frank Zappa songs at home. Evi performed with a few bands after high school, including a Rush cover band, but she didn't think much of her prospects in the Northeast, so she moved to Florida ten years ago. Gin, who had a job as a fashion designer in Manhattan, followed three years later.
"I had everything in New York -- all the money I needed, all the things I thought would make me happy -- and yet I couldn't get home to my guitar fast enough," she recalls. "I thought there was something screwy about this, because I wasn't very happy. I just wanted to go back and play guitar."
Evi and Gin formed INHOUSE as a duo and were soon making a living playing music full-time. "We would call up clubs," Evi recalls, "and say --"
Gin joins her in reciting: "Hi, we're twins!"
"It sparked interest every time," Evi notes.
"They thought, 'Gimmick,'" Gin adds, "and saw they could make money off us. We were getting gigs left and right."
In 1994 the twins brought in Kalasz, Williams, and Stein. (After several lineup changes, the band is currently rounded out by Bill Meredith on drums and Cliff Wallach on bass.) Stein, a New Jersey-born guitarist who moved to Florida 12 years ago, is Gin's collaborator, helping her expand the arrangements of her basic chord and melody patterns.
Waking Juliet is the band's third independent release. Over the past four years, INHOUSE has been mentioned in Billboard magazine, has headlined shows with audiences of up to 2000 people, and has opened for national acts such as Fleetwood Mac, Ziggy Marley, and the Neville Brothers. The band was recently chosen from among 1000 other local bands to perform as an opening act for the South Florida date of Lilith Fair, for which they'll play the smaller Village Stage.
Zeta DJ Kimba, who's been playing the band's music for three years on her Sunday-night show, "Zeta Goes Local" (WZTA-FM 94.9) feels that Evi and Gin's vocal power differentiates them from other bands and especially from other female artists.
"Popular female vocalists often have waify little songs and waify little voices, but these girls can rip," she says. "They played the Warped Tour last year -- which is a punk, ska kind of thing -- and they totally held their own."
Evi believes the band's sound may scare away record labels looking for radio-friendly fare. "We're not like anything out there, and we don't aspire to be," she says. "We're a bit of a risk."
But watching INHOUSE play songs from Waking Juliet at Mulvaney's makes one think otherwise. On this particular evening, for a post-happy hour dinner crowd, the band's performance is fairly subdued, as Stein picks the notes of simple two-chord songs while sitting on a stool. But the vocals are crisp and bold, Evi hitting the high harmonies and Gin remaining the band's alto anchor.
And, as Gin sings the line "Grasp at anything, 'cause I see no sign of slowing down," from the ultramelodic "Conquer the World," it becomes apparent that INHOUSE is no longer a brooding band of musical misfits singing about outsiders. INHOUSE is more media- and radio-friendly than ever. One can easily imagine hearing the band's music played alongside songs by Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, or any of the other female trailblazers who've made Lilith Fair the success that it is.
Upcoming INHOUSE performances include: the Underground Coffee Works in West Palm Beach (561-835-4792) Friday, July 24; the Pier Street Grill in Jupiter (561-694-1899) Saturday, July 25; and Lilith Fair at Coral Sky Amphitheatre's Village Stage Sunday, July 26. Doors open at 3 p.m., and the music starts at 3:30 p.m. For more information about INHOUSE, call 561-585-7917.