Song of South Florida

How Humbert attacked the music industry in Austin, Texas, and maybe, sorta, won.

"Ass Cobra."

There's a certain poetry to the phrase. "Ass Cobra."

A two-car caravan is halfway through the 1,300 mile trip from Hialeah, Florida, "City of Progress," to Austin, Texas, "Live Music Capital of the World." The vehicles contain the members of Humbert, a pop-rock band named with a louche nod to Vladimir Nabokov's hyperintellectual pedophile. Some of these six guys — four in the band and two along for support — have known one another for a decade, from their first garage bands to a zillion gigs around South Florida. It's 3 a.m., eight hours into the drive, and their speech has broken down into a ridiculous code of inside jokes and shorthand slang. They hurtle through the darkness of rural Alabama, sleepy, punchy, and a little drunk.

Which explains "Ass Cobra."

"It's the name of a Turbonegro album," says Rimsky Pons, guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist for Humbert. "They're this Scandinavian metal band." He smiles like a grade-school class clown. "We just think it sounds funny. And who doesn't like Scandinavian metal?"

It's the kind of raunchy humor — and the kind of absurd, sincere question — that makes Humbert Humbert. It's also a question that will prove surprisingly relevant a couple of days from now.

It's a hell of a trip, and thankfully, after arriving on Tuesday, the fellas have a couple of days to regroup before the madness begins in earnest. They journeyed all the way here for South by Southwest, America's premier music-industry confab, a four-day bonanza of 1,200 bands crammed into 60 venues across this central Texas college town. By Friday afternoon, they're scoping out the bustling corner of Red River Road and Sixth Street, downtown Austin's main drag. With a couple of close friends in tow, Humbert has shifted into overdrive to promote tomorrow night's showcase gig.

"Humbert, 9 p.m. Saturday!" Rimsky coos, snapping into action. He waves a Humbert flier before a stream of red-eyed hipsters crossing the street. "Free CD! There's a free balloon too. Thank you." He couldn't be more polite. The lead girl accepts the handful — flier, CD, and flaccid balloon. Like stoned sheep in Chuck Taylors, the rest of her crew each does as well. "It always happens like that," Rimsky grins. "First person takes one, they all will." He turns and lays his earnest con on the next pack of passersby, who without a glance walk on.

"Deep down inside, I'm saying 'fuck you and die,'" he says. "We've handed out so many CDs that you start to guess at the personalities of these people. I'm not judging, but you see a guy in a tight blue blazer with ironed hair and you start to wonder." Ogling the throng of tattooed punks, buttoned-down execs, hooded hip-hoppers, horn-rimmed music geeks, and a thousand in-betweeners flooding the street, he shakes his head. "Everyone just wants to get laid, I guess."

Closer to the bustle at the intersection is Ferny Coipel, the band's dreadlocked and cardiganed polymath (singer, songwriter, keys man, guitarist, clarinetist). He takes a different approach with the fliers, going hit-and-run style like an affably manic grandpa.

Drum major Caesar Lavin shrugs, leaning against a parked cargo van, hands in his pockets. "I don't do fliers," he says. "If I cut my hands, I can't play drums or drink beer. You should see our schedule here — we wake up in the morning with Ferny cracking the whip: 'Fliers! Press kits!'"

Bassist Tony Landa is currently across the Colorado River in South Austin interviewing one of the band's heroes, the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne. Leo Valencia and Dave Llanos, friends from Hialeah, are casually talking shit about the hipster parade and baiting cute indie-rock chicks with CDs and fliers.

Three days in Austin and thousands of fliers have flown. "I'm just saying, after handing out 3,000 balloons, if nobody shows up, I'm gonna jump off one of these fuckin' roofs," Rimsky says. "I don't know how it works here."

The balloons were supposed to be helium-filled, floating eye candy tethered to Humbert's freshly pressed The Floating Legion of JoyEP. There are 3,000 of them, to go with the 3,000 CDs. That plan had to be rethought after the stiff Texas breeze turned the balloons into a floating tangle of stress. But that doesn't matter, because these six guys — seven, once friend and filmmaker Franco Parente arrives later — comprise an unstoppable promotional machine, and they have other, grander plans for spreading the word of Humbert all over South by Southwest.

An hour later, Leo, Tony, and Ferny get their first feedback while scarfing down slices inside a Sixth Street pizza restaurant.

From the joint's tinny boom-box speakers, it's 93.7 FM, Austin's "Rock Classic": "And tomorrow night, be sure to check out Humebert, all the way from Florida!"

"Hume-bert!" The guys crack up at the DJ's mispronunciation, almost choking on cheese. "Oh shit! Come on, bro! How do you fuck up Humbert?" It's a gaffe, yeah, but broadcast over the radio, it sounds like pure gold.


Austin doesn't know it, but no band could be more Hialeah than Humbert. Each of the four Cuban-American band members was born and raised in the north Dade suburb, a product of its melting-pot maze of strip malls, housing developments, highway overpasses, and industrial corridors. "All roads lead to Hialeah" was the town motto in the 1930s. Today, it's far truer than the founding fathers could have predicted.

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