During short-haired 1983, while MTV helped heat up the nascent New Wave scene, South Florida generally refused to play along. Who cares about A Flock of Missing Persons at Work Without Hats in the Dark when Buffett's in the backyard? Lake Worth residents Bill and John Storch were 19 and 20 years old at the time and in charge of a band called Black Box Approach, which borrowed heavily from the above amalgamation along with doses of Duran Duran and Gary Numan. After graduating from Palm Beach Community College, the two made a quick exit. "We have to get out of here!" John remembers thinking. The SoFla music community at the time? "Much less than what it is now," he says.
Resettling in Boston, the brothers turned Black Box Approach into ATA-TAT with Ron DeSaram (guitar), Mark Ritchie (bass), Perry Jayasekera (drums), and Paul O'Hara (sax). Cousins DeSaram and Jayasekera helped solidify a close-knit unit that sounded like "a cross between Men at Work and the Thompson Twins," according to the website of Dirty Water, the Boston rock 'n' roll museum (www.dirtywater.com). "Our songs were very synthy," John says.
"Some were Moogy," Bill adds. "It was glam-metal punk new wave but with pop hooks, so it was a very strange hybrid." Over the next three years, ATA-TAT snared the attention of local radio stations and clubs.
Meanwhile, their pals in Crossfire Choir, following a similar trajectory from South Florida north that landed them in New Brunswick, had salvaged even more success from the first blast of new wave. Besides doing well in East Coast clubs and on college radio, that band's manager happened to be Hilly Cristal, owner of CBGBs. By the mid-1980s, Crossfire Choir was snatched up by Geffen Records and shipped off to England to record with producer Steve Lillywhite (U2, Peter Gabriel, Morrissey). Unfortunately, the label dropped the band before the record even came out. It was eventually issued a couple of years later, as was another effort produced by Ed Stasium (who went on to work with Living Colour, Soul Asylum, and the Smithereens), but both flopped. In fact, Crossfire Choir singer/guitarist Jay Pounders primed an industry joke that made the rounds as a rumor of the month that sounded better than the truth. His band was blackballed, the story went, after he poured a drink on David Geffen's wife at a cocktail party.
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"Crossfire Choir and ATA-TAT had interchangeable members over the course of many, many years, and the two bands used to play together frequently back in the good old days," says John, commenting on the "strange dual history between the two bands. Both bands pretty much drew their members from the same group of friends for over ten years."
From Los Angeles, Pounders e-mails, "I lifted a bridge from one of ATA-TAT's songs and put it in the song 'Blue Eyed Thunder' on the first record we did for Geffen but forgot to credit John and Bill. Of all my many regrets -- and there are A LOT from my ill-fated career -- that is one of my biggest."
Bill Storch says all is forgiven and offers an explanation for the confusion: "We lived a wild rock 'n' roll lifestyle," he recalls. But that existence quieted considerably after ATA-TAT faded away and the brothers returned home to Lake Worth in the early '90s. A decade later, the Storches are more musically active than ever, producing an ongoing series of instrumental soundtracks for contemporary dance performances, classic alt-country campfire albums under the name Hillbilly Heart, and a house-music venture called SoulXpres. Guesting on most of these projects is an assortment of lifelong friends from Florida and beyond, all culled from the Storches' spacious social circle. Most of those involved cut their teeth in alternative bands in West Palm Beach in the early 1980s. Of course, every once in a while, these old friends reunite.
Last month, the Storch brothers, along with DeSaram and mandolinist Andy McManus, drove up to New York City for a class reunion of ATA-TAT and Crossfire Choir members held at CBGBs. "A blast," John says. "Even though all of us have stayed in contact, the show at CBGBs was the first time we had all been on-stage together and in that combination." Precipitating the get-together was the fact that Crossfire mainman Pounders was moving from New York City to Los Angeles. "It was a going-away type thing and kind of a closing of a 20-year mission when both bands made the mass exodus" from WPB, John explains. Calling itself Sewing Circle Sue, the consolidated outfit plans another gathering at Respectable Street on Saturday.
"It's the first time we will all play together on our home turf since both bands left to head north in 1983," John continues. The genealogy is complicated, but Pounders is coming from California, and drummer Brad Peet is traveling from New Hampshire for the gig. There's a chance, Storch says, that O'Hara may fly in from Boston.
"The material is both powerful and fun," John says. Yet the mix of old ATA-TAT and Crossfire Choir songs doesn't sound rooted two decades ago; in fact, there isn't even a keyboard in the band this time. Bill Storch plays some explosive guitar while John Storch adds bass and a rough, rocked-out voice (as heard on "Easy to See," which the brothers wrote with Pounders last Christmas). Pounders' raw, yearning yell infuses the rest of the songs with insistent energy. Above all, it sounds like they're having fun.
"John and Bill hadn't been writing much in the way of 'pop' songs," Pounders adds. "They've been doing terrific work for multimedia and various R&B/soul projects, but they are such terrific song craftsmen and singers/players, I told them it was a shame not to continue writing/playing rock songs also. While I'm under no illusions as to the uphill struggle we have to make it in a youth-oriented industry, I think the songs are as fresh and exciting as anything I've heard on the radio lately. In fact, it seems like the alternative rock scene has just about come full circle to a point where our music is starting to sound 'hip' again. After this show in West Palm, we plan to start recording seriously and start shopping some tapes around and play more shows. I picture Sewing Circle Sue as being a sort of nationally based family of musicians with a common ancestry that may consist of different people at different points."
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