By Ashley Zimmerman
By Dana Krangel
By John Hood
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By David Von Bader
By Sayre Berman
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"I don't have a problem making money off music," says the group's resident idealist, guitarist Henry Olmino. "As long as the songs are sincere."
The other members -- singer Jolie Lindholm, drummer Matt Crum, and bassist Jeronimo Gomez -- can't imagine trading day jobs for stardom any time soon. But for a young outfit, the Rocking Horse Winner has already had its share of glory, including some overtures from megalabel Sony.
Olmino, Gomez, and Crum (who live minutes away from each other in Davie) formed the nucleus of the proto-punk band As Friends Rust almost five years ago. Last year the three listened to a tape of Lindholm singing backup for another area band and enlisted her as vocalist in their new project. A five-song EP followed, generating a heady local buzz, and the Rocking Horse Winner is preparing to release its debut full length, The State of Feeling Concentration, on the local imprint Ohev Records this month.
How did a team of mostly suburban skate punks -- all under age 25 -- wind up in charge of such enchanting and artily agreeable sounds? The members don't seem to understand it themselves.
"I'm just not angry anymore," is Gomez's explanation. "As you get older, you get more sad. I'm not angry about anything."
Even Olmino, who was raised on a diet of skateboarder rations including the Circle Jerks and Suicidal Tendencies, can't pinpoint how the change occurred either, except through the process of maturation. His punk roots still show through, but they're part of a well-rounded profile now.
"I like everything from James Taylor to Talking Heads to Minor Threat to Sarah McLachlan," he says.
Apparently, such a cross section gives the Rocking Horse Winner broad, even unexpected, appeal. That kind of acceptance assuages fears that the music may be too mellow.
"My grandma can listen to it," says Gomez. "But I've had mean-looking, tattooed hardcore kids come up and say, "You were awesome.'"
Though the band's sound is certainly an anomaly against the musical landscape of the region, it comes across as oddly familiar -- at least to those acquainted with the British outfit the Sundays. Although the tunes on Feeling Concentration have that characteristic moody, chiming guitar sound, Lindholm's voice is far prettier than the Sundays' Harriet Wheeler, with the strident edges sanded down to a supple soprano.
Lounging in Gomez's bedroom, the quartet seems genuinely puzzled by the comparison. "None of us ever really got into the Sundays," Gomez says. Lindholm agrees: "I had never heard the Sundays before. I've never been into any female bands that much. The only female singer I've ever liked was, like, Cyndi Lauper."
The four guffaw at this as Gomez's pet prairie dog scours his mattress in search of McDonald's leftovers. Quick to smile and well-stocked with in-jokes, they're an upbeat bunch.
"We're all best friends. I think that contributes a lot. We don't even have to talk, and we know what we're going to play," Gomez says. Like Lindholm, who hails from Boca Raton, he still lives with his parents. Olmino (who writes most of the group's material) also acknowledges a subliminal connection. "If I play something, they immediately know what I'm thinking and vice versa."
"It's definitely hard to find bandmates where everybody gets along," notes Gomez. "We've known each other for so long that we don't argue. If we do, it's for the benefit of the band."
"It's not even arguing," Crum says, with a wry grin. "It's more like a discussion."
"I don't think that I'd be able to write stuff as good as this is without them," Olmino says earnestly. Gomez feigns a tear, and the bandmates dissolve into laughter again. But they also admit to a hint of heartbreak in the compositions. In fact the four agree that all ten of Feeling Concentration's tracks are love songs in one form or another.
"This song's not supposed to be sad/It's just that I'm missing you/Along with every last taste from your glass," sings Lindholm on the lovely "Raspberry Water." Her voice becomes as tender as the brush of a fingertip. As denouement, Olmino offers a guitar line that spins from atmospheric to psychedelic.
The Rocking Horse Winner has already amassed a sizeable and devoted local following. The band members are accustomed to being lavished with praise after shows. This is despite Lindholm's initial stage fright and obvious discomfort at being the center of attention. Quiet and timid, she nearly froze onstage. Now, she says, the role of front man is feeling less stressful.
"I'm getting there," she says, squinting through tiny glasses. "It was hard at first, and I'm still adjusting. I'm getting used to it and it's not as bad anymore."
On The State of Feeling Concentration, she sounds confident and in charge. On the lissome "When Songbirds Sing," as she coos, "When my world caves in/I find peace again/Hearing your voice again/brings comfort to me," she produces the same serenity. It's not hard to imagine the foursome's parents finding the music worthy of praise as well.
"All of our families are so supportive," says Lindholm. "My mom even sent our CD to Sony," adds Olmino, bouncing a rubber ball from hand to hand. That exchange led to the band being invited to participate in a Sony Music showcase in South Beach earlier this month.
Although the group felt out of place among the throng of Limp Bizkit and Backstreet Boys clones, the showcase moved it closer to signing with a big label, and the compliments kept coming. After just 15 months and fewer than a dozen shows, the Rocking Horse Winner already may be on the fast track.
"Do you know how many CDs those Sony people listen to?" Gomez asks. "For them to take the time to even call us, that gives us something to push for. We have the talent, we've got what it takes, we just haven't had a hit yet. Maybe we do and nobody hears it."
Two elements give The State of Feeling Concentration its immediate appeal. The production, by local engineering guru James Paul Wisner, is crisp and professional. "He knows how to get what's inside us out," says Crum. "We require a polished sound." Olmino's backup vocals and occasional piano and Crum's busy fills are carefully orchestrated. Each tom-tom thump, each plucked guitar note, rings out limpid and clear. The other reason is Lindholm's sweet, winsome vocals.
"When you come right down to it, it's her voice," Gomez claims. "It's soothing."
"She definitely has a beautiful voice," adds Olmino.
Modestly Lindholm says, "Well, the songs are pretty catchy."
In fact The State of Feeling Concentration's most sublime composition, "Sweet Smell Before the Rain," would spill from car radios everywhere if there were any justice in the world. Around a slow, revolving melody spiked with vibraphone, Lindholm unfurls simple tales of relationship troubles and pursuit/distance mechanics. Near the conclusion, it's up to a jangling tambourine and sturdy strumming to indicate a climax of sorts while Lindholm lets loose: "Whatever, whatever, whatever!/I'll miss you when you're gone."
The song is magnificent -- enough to doubt that an environment of cookie-cutter condos and endless asphalt could have possibly fostered an atmosphere conducive to such beauty. The relative squalor of the group's suburban rehearsal space makes it even less likely. "We practice in a little ten-by-ten-foot hole in the wall," Gomez notes. "Mosquitoes, cockroaches, no a/c... We spend hours in there. And it's hot."
Listeners seem to feel just the opposite. "A lot of people give us a "breath of fresh air' type of response," says Crum. Indeed, it's hard to think of any South Florida counterpart to the Rocking Horse Winner. So the band is impossible to ignore and difficult not to fall in love with. "I want kids to get something out of it," Olmino concludes. "That's my goal. There's no better feeling in the world."