In just a little more than a year since its inception, See Venus has generated more buzz than most local bands do in their entire careers -- and thanks to the Internet, the band has done it without performing a single live show. Thirty-year-old founder and guitarist Christopher Moll has geared up the troops to sate local interest, but See Venus' ultimate goal lies far beyond South Florida stardom. "In the long term, I don't think there's anything that we could get from a local scene that we couldn't do for ourselves," says Moll from his Fort Lauderdale apartment.
Strong words, but as a veteran of the local music scene, he knows that wowing 'em at Churchill's is not an end in itself. "Playing live is just another aspect of the whole thing," he says. "If any label did come knocking, I'm sure that's one aspect that they'd want to make sure was in place. I think it's going to come in very handy when we start the next wave of recordings."
Cut to the South Miami apartment/rehearsal space of 23-year-old keyboard-and-trumpet player Eddie Alonso, where the rest of the band, all inhabitants of South Miami, have gathered with Moll for a practice session. Twenty-year-old vocalist and guitarist Rocky Ordoñez is lying on the carpet at the foot of a staircase. She casually strums the acoustic guitar resting atop her bare midriff. Above her towers an array of keyboards, from analog dinosaurs bearing names like Moog and Farfisa to high-tech digital samplers. The apartment appears to belong to them more than to Alonso; the only other bits of furniture include a few chairs, a delicate Japanese-style partition separating the keyboards and computers from the solitary dining room table, and a mattress covered with a white llama-fur comforter under the stairs.
Twenty-one-year-old bassist Eric Rasco reclines on the mattress, caressing the soft, fluffy fabric. Backing vocalist and keyboardist Erica Boynton, also 21 years old, sits on the carpeted floor. Moll perches on a small black chair with another acoustic guitar on his lap, prepared to lead the group in an impromptu rehearsal. Alonso stands with his back to the group as he toys with the Moog. Twenty-year-old drummer Chris O'Malley counts off for the group by brandishing a set of car keys in one hand and an egg shaker in another, creating the bossa nova swing beat that carries "Boy Bubble Blue." As Moll accompanies her, Ordoñez sits up and swings into the song's lazy, light melody on her guitar. She closes her eyes and sings, her seductive vocal line sweetening when Boynton chimes in with a high harmony. Alonso conjures up a percolating electronic swirl on the Moog while Rasco just lies there, quietly stroking the comforter, looking as if about to doze off.
It's a spare, quiet moment for See Venus, but even stripped of the decorative intricacies featured on the band's five-track demo EP, the song is a work of sweet, satisfying pop. See Venus' EP, available as individual MP3 files on the band's Website (www.seevenus.com) and as a homemade CD-R, is simply entitled Extended Play. The members recorded the songs piecemeal, adding layer upon layer of musical elements in any place that reproduced sound well: bedrooms, closets, warehouses, everywhere but a traditional recording studio.
The result is a surprisingly expert mix of intricate altpop songs full of harmony and multilayered melodies, which reveal a studious respect for the Beach Boys and the Beatles as well as such contemporary influences as Air and Stereolab. "Shine Like Stars" opens with a fluttering flute sample and a backward loop, which suddenly explodes into a lazy drumbeat and electric guitar strumming, decorated with the scrape of a guiro and bells that seem to harmonize with the flute loop. Ordoñez's luscious voice fills the remaining space with a smooth tone not far removed from that of the Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan. And that's all within the first ten seconds.
"Are You Ready?" is a driving instrumental that bobs along on breakbeats and bubbly synths, while Ordoñez coos a variety of ooos, las, and da-dums. The wondrous "Boy Bubble Blue" features a synthesized harmonic hum that shimmers below the breezy, Brazilian bounce of acoustic guitarplucking and the woodblock beat of its samba rhythm. The band augments this Jobim-inspired flair with electric guitars, electronic beeps, and a chorus that squawks endearingly through a megaphone.
The idea that would eventually become See Venus began in Moll's home computer in the mid-'90s. He had just endured the breakup of his previous band, a power-pop trio called Twenty-three, leaving behind an incomplete catalog of songs.
He began toying with samples, then decided to quit lead-vocal duties and focus on a search for another singer. He met Ordoñez one night at a Coral Gables art gallery. Alonso came into the picture next. "He has this hypermelodic style that blends very well with what we're doing right now," says Moll. "I will say this, and I'm very pleased about it, too: This is the first time I've been able to sit and collaborate with somebody musically."
Recording of Extended Play began last September. "I think it's very dense," says Moll. "Go back and listen to "Boy Bubble Blue' on headphones and the melodies and stuff that are laid over on top of each other."
Ordoñez agrees. "There's nothing that attracts me more than really lush and dense-sounding music," she says. "Like the end of "Shine Like Stars.' That's something that's specifically and intentionally dense, but you can make things out like strings, horns, and vocals."
See Venus recorded everything on a 16-track, hard-disk recorder, with each of those tracks containing even more tracks piled atop each other, making for tightly coiled beauty. "For "Shine Like Stars,' there were like 59 separate components on there," Moll says.
The band finished Extended Play in April and packaged the album with colorful artwork and a promotional bio for various independent U.S. record labels. As former music director and current general manager of WVUM-FM (90.5) , the University of Miami's student-operated radio station, Rasco was put in charge of mailing See Venus' demo package. "There's labels that you'd like to be on, and there's labels you know you'd rather not be on," he says with a laugh. "Otherwise you toil in the wrong way: You play with bands that you shouldn't be playing with, you release some things you shouldn't release."
Rasco says he's not eager to see the band signed to a major label. "I haven't thought any of those guys would want to put it out," he explains. "And what happened to the people from here who signed to major labels? Mary Karlzen [who inked a deal with Atlantic in 1994]? Whoof! She got fucked over. They don't have time to develop artists. They sign shitty bands that are going to pay off on the first record. I'd rather be on a label where you know the people who run it. You know they're at least cool people. You know they like your music and that they're not working because it's just a job."
The Website has been an even better promotional vehicle than the CD. Once the tunes were available on the site, the band started getting e-mails from all over the world and finding the band mentioned on a variety of newsgroups. A Swedish music site (www.twisterella.com) recently interviewed the group. "We were getting recognition without even trying," Ordoñez says. "It's just incredibly exciting to feel that. At the same time it's kind of scary. We spent so much time and worked so hard on that EP. Then immediately everyone was like, "Oh, my God! This is something. This is substantial.' It's kind of shocking."
The idea to perform live came only recently. Moll wanted to augment the band with a real drummer (Eddie Lopez added live drums to some of the songs on the EP while computers provided synthetic beats) as well as a second vocalist to harmonize with Ordoñez and provide extra keyboards. O'Malley joined the group in June, and Boynton came aboard the following month. Rehearsals for live performances began in the last several weeks.
The pressure is on for the band to live up to its debut recording and attendant expectations, but Moll isn't about to let that get to him. "It's amazing that somebody up in Canada or Norway can say, "Hey, I downloaded your MP3s, and I think they're really good.' There seems to be a good word of mouth about it, but, hey, who knows? We can go out and play, and it could just be a complete train wreck. But we'll see."
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