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"I don't care to do the traditional things a band does, like playing 1,000 shows," says See Venus vocalist Rocky Ordoñez, who, along with three band cohorts, sits in her Kendall apartment, which is decorated college dorm-style using bits and pieces from anything salvageable. "We started [the band] to make good music."
While it's been three years since See Venus first started recording its debut album, Hard Times for Dreamers, the pop band's labor is finally paying off. See Venus (Ordoñez, guitarist Christopher Moll, bassist Eric Rasco, keyboardist/trumpeter/guitarist Eddie Alonso, drummer Jon Wilkins, and percussionist Matt Crum) has perfected feel-good pop that's gleaned from equal doses of melancholy and glee and a bitter sweetness that's not saturated with musical syrup. Throughout the nine-song album, Ordoñez's dulcet vocals lavish everything from the twee serenity of "Shine Like Stars" to the bossa nova-propelled "I'll Bet You Know."
"We didn't back ourselves into any corner genre-wise," Moll says. "We explore a lot of different things. It's like gonzo trying to describe that to people. Then they scratch their heads and think, 'How does it all fit together?'"
While the musical results may be difficult to define, the band's origins are simpler. Moll began playing with Miami noise-pop act 23 before the group disbanded in 1997. "We were young, and I don't think we quite knew what we wanted to do," he reflects. He recorded a demo of solo material, moved to West Palm Beach, and looked to assemble a band. Ultimately, college radio would serve as the catalyst for See Venus' rising. While listening to the University of Miami's station (WVUM-FM, 90.5), Moll was intrigued by the musical selections spun by station DJ/music director Eric Rasco. Moll called up the station and asked Rasco if he knew of any musicians into acts like High Llamas or Stereolab. Rasco, who played bass, agreed to meet Moll and hear the demo, even though he was simply content to spin records.
"I was trying to figure out how to write a paper in zero minutes for my next class," Rasco says. "I wasn't actively looking to play with another band." Neither was Ordoñez, whom the two met while hanging out at Club Blow Up (which has now morphed into the Miami club Revolver). A conversation about how she played guitar and sang ensued. Moll, Rasco, and Ordoñez later met Alonso at a Smiths tribute show.
"It's weird; most of the friendships I've made have been based around music," Moll says.
"That's pretty shallow," Alonso quips.
Once the group's core solidified in 1999, it started reworking Moll's demoed songs, wrapping up the first batch the following year ("around the time of the Stereolab show," Alonso recalls, one of several times members of the band use concerts to remember dates). To play out, the band recruited Chris O'Malley to play drums. (Wilkins took over those duties in 2002, at the same time Crum came aboard.)
"It was a period of discovery," Moll says. "I was coming to them with all these things and saying, 'This is what it could be,' and we started adding stuff. When I'd done this in the past, I had a clear idea of where I wanted to go with it. But once other people started getting involved, it started moving in directions that I didn't anticipate. It felt like The Wizard of Oz. We were picking up people along the way."
While the band doesn't particularly want to spend every weekend playing out or crammed into a van, Ordoñez may prefer to opt out of playing shows for other reasons. "I'm still adjusting to the idea of playing in front of people," she says. "Being on-stage playing in front of people, you have the veil of the lights and you can't see people that well. I was really shy. I still am."
Since playing its first show at now sadly defunct Shakespeare's Pub in Fort Lauderdale, See Venus has opened for acts including Rainer Maria and Trans Am and performed several shows outside of South Florida, including Atlanta and New York City, where the band took part in the CMJ Music Festival in late 2002. Two years earlier, the band had visited CMJ and given March Records owner John "Skippy" McFadden a copy of its first demo, which fell on deaf ears. Later, though, McFadden took note of the Lazyline Records compilation The Ladder Failed, which included one of the demo's tracks ("Boy Bubble Blue"). McFadden asked for more material, so the band sent him three more songs early in 2002. Discussions led to a deal and the inclusion of See Venus' "All I Want" on the label's 2003 Sweater Weathercompilation. "Are You Ready?" also appeared on TheHoneycomb.com compilation Soaking Up the Good Fla. Sunshine.
While South Florida may be a culturally stagnant cesspool for music, See Venus is intent on calling it home indefinitely.
"My instinct is to say that maybe it's made it worse, but I don't even care," Moll says. "If you do what you want to do, it doesn't matter where you are."