By Michael E. Miller
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"Well, I don't see why it couldn't," Moll felt like replying. "I write the way I write and don't care about the ZIP code."
Regional press quickly caught on, but See Venus was invisible on the local circuit. "We weren't terribly into playing live," Alonzo explains. "And our best performances were never in front of people." In fact, See Venus would rehearse for as long as three months to play a single show. With different opinions pulling the band in different directions constantly, recordings were fraught with arguments and disagreements. Moll nurtured a bossa-nova sound with the '60s feel of Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Rasco loved a modern, streamlined sound like Stereolab, and Alonzo was all over the map. Ordonez was a complete newcomer with stage presence to spare and a cute, coquettish voice. As a result, See Venus looked and sounded like nothing South Florida had ever produced. It was European. It was Brazilian, beachy. It was retro. It was cool.
It was slow going too. The band played only two or three shows a year, and by 2003, despite inking a contract with New York City-based indie imprint March Records, no album had emerged. Rehearsals and recordings took place in a Hallandale Beach warehouse owned by Fundaro, who had outfitted it with vintage drum kits, guitars, and keyboards, perfect for See Venus' sound. With so many cooks and ingredients -- including old analog synths prone to breaking down -- disagreements were many.
"We'd get arguing about some dumb guitar tone, and nothing would get done for weeks," Alonzo recalls. "And Chris would go home and micro-edit things we thought sounded fine." Adds Rasco: "It's not like we could go into the studio and do it without him -- he had the key."
But the few concerts the band played locally -- often in an opening slot for national acts like Trans Am and Rilo Kiley -- are mythical. Though the music was entrancing, the band's formula manifested itself in a spectacular look as well. There was a time when See Venus was a six-piece, with two strikingly pretty female singers and Moll, guitar slung across his shoulders, overseeing the whole thing from the back of the stage, like a Svengali conductor.
See Venus played a show in the summer of 2003 in Manhattan at the annual College Music Journal conference, a global convergence of up-and-coming independent artists. "They played in front of 300 people," remembers Skippy McFadden, who runs March Records. "And people were just blown away. I had goose bumps. I was convinced they were going to be a really big thing," he says excitedly. "They told me they'd do a national tour. But..." He stammers, and his voice loses its enthusiasm.
"I guess I should have known something was up when they went three years without finishing the record. They were constantly fighting."
Moll is loath to discuss it now, but See Venus' delicate democracy morphed into something of a mutiny, in which Moll's vision and perfectionism were challenged by his bandmates.
A huge opportunity squandered, McFadden says.
"Incredibly, amazingly so," he continues. "It was probably one of the biggest disappointments I've had, and I've put out 90 records. It's like having a lottery ticket that you can't even turn in."
The deal with March Records meant that Hard Times for Dreamerscould be found at Borders or Barnes & Noble. But the band was finished by the time the stillborn album arrived on the shelves. As a result -- with no tour to help market it -- the record has sold only about 400 copies nationwide.
"Which really sucks," McFadden says. "I hope they look back and say, 'I can't believe we screwed that up. '" Alonzo (who now heads a new project called Feathers) and Moll are back on speaking terms, but Rasco reports he hasn't seen or heard from Moll in more than a year.
"None of us were scarred by the break-up the way Chris was," Rasco adds. "For Chris, the pain -- and the martyrdom -- was too great to get over."
As if that weren't tough enough on an artist's constitution, the night before the showcase to mark the release of See Venus' star-crossed album at Dada in Delray Beach, Moll and his girlfriend of nine years broke up. He was inconsolable. "That coming-of-age moment that I had been working towards for many years was crushed in one fell swoop," he says wincing at the memory.
Nursing the ache of his twin setbacks, Moll retreated, but he didn't stop working. With Fundaro, he cowrote the songs on the album timewellspent (producing and engineering it as well), adding to Fundaro's acoustic songs an array of guitars, keyboards, and pitched-percussion instruments. A former attorney in the music industry, Fundaro used his connections to get the album mixed by the prestigious Thom Monahan and released by Parasol Records, a well-regarded Chicago label. The result is a showcase for Fundaro's voice and songs but also for Moll's instrumental and studio prowess, and the album gave the duo a presence in the orchestral-pop canon.
Moll and Fundaro traveled to upstate New York to spend a week with Monahan as he mixed the raw tracks. "We were sitting at the mixing board, and Thom was listening to the tracks, pulling them up one by one. At one point, he turns to Chris and says 'Wow, these sounds are incredible -- how did you do this?'"