It's high noon in the historic district of Delray Beach. Two members of the Yoko Theory, Nathan Farnham and Henri Lemaire, haven't been awake for long, so they're a little punchy. But after a brief exchange about wearing panties on-stage and whether New Times can print the word fuck, the pair shakes out the cobwebs and begins its State of the Band report.
The general assessment: pretty darn good. In the past year, this reggae-rock-funk fusion band has become a crowd-pleaser here in South Florida, playing regularly to familiar, friendly faces at Dada (Delray) and the Lounge (West Palm Beach). By the end of this year, the Yoko Theory plans to release its first multimedia package and wrap up its first multistop tour. By the end of February, the band will know if it has a place at Austin's South by Southwest Music and Film Festival in March. And by the end of this week, Lemaire (vocals and guitar), Farnham (a bit of everything), Jason Boynton (bass), and Chris Sargeant (drums) will have played the biggest gig of their careers thus far: the Marley Fest.
As for the band's name, the reference is more general than specific. "Don't think we have anything against Yoko Ono," states Farnham, who lives with his long-term girlfriend. "But the band was formed from four other bands that were broken up by women."
"In each band, there was a girl who caused one person to leave," Lemaire echoes. "Now, nobody's going anywhere. This is it."
He means both that no one's leaving the band and that the band isn't leaving South Florida. Though the Yoko Theory is making contacts in Liverpool with the hope of securing a spot on MTV Europe, group members have no plans to become pilgrims in the name of fame -- which is not to say that they have any problems with becoming commercially successful.
"Yeah, we would love to get the big check," Farnham concedes. "But I think we'd like to sell 10,000 or 20,000 records just to prove to ourselves that we can do it."
"And we're gonna make it down here," Lemaire adds. "We're not gonna run from this place, because it really isn't better anyplace else. You go where the scene is banging and there's less money. The spread is wide."
The band recorded its first full-length, Stereopathic, at Down Under Studios in Deerfield Beach. After engineering the album, a Tuff Gong veteran named Henry K passed it down a row of hands that led straight to the Marley clan. That resulted in an invitation to be part of the upcoming Miami show, which will also include the Marley Family, Capleton, Bunny Wailer, Steel Pulse, 420 Funk Mob with George Clinton, Tweet, Pitbull, Fourth Dimension, and Hashbrown.
"I think most people compare us to Sublime," Lemaire suggests, "because most people don't know reggae."
"But we're far more influenced by Augustus Pablo," continues Farnham, who was once the trombonist for a resident ska outfit before leaving to create a band with a more diverse Caribbean funk sound. "Then again, Sublime might have been influenced by Pablo too. It all comes full circle. And it all goes back to the black suburbs of America's influence on white musicians in England. Then, when the British invasion happened, people realized what they had in their back yard all along. English people could pull it off and make it cool for Americans."
Struck by the distance of his own tangent -- from Sublime to Pablo to Big Mama Thornton and then the Rolling Stones -- Farnham is quiet for a second, then says, "Remember, we just woke up."
Half-asleep or wide awake, the ability to bring together seemingly disparate influences is the ability of which the Yoko Theory is proudest.
"Modern-day listeners have heard so much by so many, you're narrow-minded if you stick in one genre," says Farnham, who's credited with keys, trombone, samplers, turntables, harmonica, and melodica, an instrument used primarily in school music lessons in Jamaica before Pablo deified it.
"The best thing about us is the wide range of people who listen to us," he says. "I was sitting by my house one day, and a purple and gold Impala came by thumping my album! For our next album, we could put out a straight funk album or a straight jazz album, but it will blend with the first one."
"We do everything that's already been done," Lemaire explains. "The only difference is that we do it all at once."
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