In the front room of Dada, a Delray Beach coffeehouse, in early April, bassist Thom Hammond sits back on an overstuffed couch and enumerates his musical influences, which include Britpop acts, heavy progressive groups, hard-edged guitar players, the Sundays, and Rush. "And I like Seal," he adds earnestly. The rest of the folk-pop foursome Remember the Ocean, who appear to be in their own world, laughing and smoking cigarettes at a nearby table, swivel around.
"You listen to Seal?" guitarist Earl Coralluzzo groans. "What are you telling her?"
Vague pain and amusement ripple across guitarist-vocalist Kristin Larkin's face, while Hammond just grins and shrugs.
Such are the public relations dangers of doing an interview right after adopting two new group members. Larkin, age 22, and Coralluzzo, age 28, the long-time friends and veteran music-mates who founded Remember the Ocean, added Hammond and drummer Scott Pariselli to the mix just a few weeks ago. Luckily the band's endearing, puppylike enthusiasm more than compensates for any PR slip-up. (Coralluzzo called several times before the interview, and at least once afterward, zealously urging me to attend two of his gigs. This would have constituted annoyingly self-important behavior from anyone else, but his raw excitement instead felt akin to a child's undampened joy at showing his mom a crayon drawing.)
At the band's show that evening, Coralluzzo apologizes in advance, fretting that he and Larkin know tons of songs but the newbies have learned only a handful. Despite a generally mellow demeanor (he takes off his sandals to play the guitar), he seems genuinely nervous about what will happen when they strum the first chord together. After Dada fills with fans and the bandmates take the stage, Larkin is concerned enough to issue a worried warning: "We just learned this all together this afternoon."
Larkin and Coralluzzo's concerns ring ludicrous as soon as the band plays its first measure. Strumming an acoustic guitar as she sings, Larkin sails through the two brief sets with her eyes closed. Remember the Ocean's dazzling performance makes for a powerful promotion of the group's upcoming album. Tentatively titled Ruth (in honor of Coralluzzo's ailing grandmother), the group's first full-length CD should come out this summer.
South Florida's music scene, sorely lacking in lyrical folk-pop, desperately needs Remember the Ocean. Larkin's voice -- versatile, raw, and full -- enriches the bright, soulful arrangements. Unlike many other bands in its genre, Remember the Ocean has completely sidestepped Stupid Lyrics Syndrome. Written by Coralluzzo and Larkin, the poetics evoke a mature, bittersweet wistfulness. In "To Be Loved," for example, Larkin belts out, "But I won't turn around and lie/I can't say I'm proud of myself."
Their mournful but not elegiac lyrics accidentally spawned the band's name. ""I remember the ocean was my compass' is a line in a song. We haven't been able to think of anything else," Larkin says, explaining that fans latched on to a particularly haunting passage of the song "Broken" and started calling the duo Remember the Ocean.
Not only did the band walk backward into its name, it formed almost accidentally. Larkin, a slender hipster with hair dyed the color of red wine, grew up in Coral Springs. "I just love to sing. I've been singing since I could talk," she says, smiling. Coralluzzo, a shortish fellow with cropped brown hair, moved to Coral Springs from Yonkers, New York, at age ten. Five years later he began playing the guitar. Six years ago the two met at a local concert and began writing songs and performing together.
Two years ago Larkin and her family moved to Nashville, where she still lives. Instead of abandoning their musical relationship, Larkin simply flies to Florida to do gigs and record songs with Coralluzzo. Several months ago Larkin and Coralluzzo recorded an EP of four songs: "Broken," "To Be Loved," "Warm," and "Mirror."
Because the EP predates Hammond and Pariselli's membership in Remember the Ocean, the songs, with only acoustic guitar and vocals, have a pure-folk quality instead of a full-band sound. Though in some spots the lyrics are difficult to discern, the songs recall the charm of Judy Collins's plaintive, elegant folk hits buffed with Sarah McLachlan-cum-Tori Amos polish. With haunting, almost Celtic rhythms, Larkin and Coralluzzo often grapple with a longing for the past coupled with a self-awareness of the present. On "Mirror" Larkin sings, "I can do as I please/They can't hurt me."
Larkin and Coralluzzo created the EP for fun and to see how local music lovers would react. "People were exuberant about it," Larkin says, quite pleased. "It's genuine -- people relate to it."
The positive response prompted the two to expand their quasi-band. "We're taking this full force," Coralluzzo says, conviction bleeding into his voice. "We've decided to do something with it."
So the two recruited Hammond and Pariselli and started negotiating how to mix the full band with the duo's trademark acoustic sound. It also means Larkin makes more trips from Nashville to Florida. "Kind of like frequent vacations," she says.
Coralluzzo says the long-distance relationship doesn't cause problems. "I almost feel like she lives here," he observes. "We talk every day."
Hammond, the most loquacious member of the band, and Coralluzzo also play together in the Britpopadelic New Graduates. "I really enjoy playing [slow, emotional music]. I like to play bass very relaxed," explains Hammond, who seems to transport himself to another locale while he performs. He has an intimate, raw relationship with the sounds he creates, something that perfectly fits the songs' emotional lyrics.
Redheaded, bearded Pariselli hits the skins with a keen sense of hypnotic rhythm. "It just worked out great," Hammond says of Pariselli's band membership. While Hammond complains that many drummers sound the same, he says Pariselli stands out as distinctive. "You can actually hear his style," Hammond explains.
With so much going for them, Remember the Ocean's main problem may be that they're playing in South Florida. "The scene down here, you've got to look for it. You've got to go out of your way to find good music," Coralluzzo admits.
Though the band might be a better fit in Nashville, Larkin says in one way it's better they plan to remain in Florida, because everyone in Music City wants to be a musician. But not surprisingly the infrastructure there is much more supportive. "The Nashville music scene has a lot more opportunities, and there are more places to play," she concedes. "This is a high-stress place. Call me crazy, but it's actually good, because we are so different. We stick out, so people notice. Right now South Florida is a great place for us to start."
This summer, Remember the Ocean plans to take its act out of Florida for a little while; its tour includes New York City, New Orleans, and San Francisco.
Mostly, however, the same endearing excitement that guides the foursome's public relations policies snuffs out any obstacle the South Florida music landscape throws in the way.
Ever the Pollyanna, Hammond shrugs and says: "You almost have to create your own scene."
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