Music News

Glimpses of the South Florida Scene: Totem Pole

Glimpses of the South Florida Scene is a weekly column devoted to the

artists thriving within Broward and Palm Beach counties that features

interviews with the folks making it happen. This week, West Palm Beach's Totem Pole.

I am waiting impatiently for Totem Pole to play a show -- there's absolutely none listed at the moment, but one can hope this week's release of the group's first EP, Caves and Tunnels, Mountains and Stairs, will produce some. Essentially Kevin Williams' project, he, with Sam Lang and occasionally Tess Bath, create the kind of music that is so suited to their name that you'd expect magic weather shifts upon first listen. Their tracks are ever-reaching into some kind of psychic dimension, a result of and homage to Williams' sleepless nights, clearly still dream-filled. They are lulling, soft, droning, organ-charged, and guitar-driven. Reminiscent of a good trip that's perhaps not drug-induced, the songs off the upcoming EP never find themselves too drenched in 1960s nostalgia; Totem Pole's sound transcends time and most especially space. After the jump, Kevin talks about his former projects and the best things about being a local act (hint: It involves road trips).

New Times: You have a super-spacey, pretty sound. What influences do you draw from when you record and write, and how would you describe your own sound?

Kevin Williams: I am a bit of an insomniac with a graveyard-shift circadian rhythm. I spend far too much time awake into the late hours, which is when I do most of my recording and song-writing. The night can produce weird thoughts. And maybe a Vitamin D deficiency.

When did you start putting together the EP? Did you record it yourselves? And how'd you come up with its dreamy title?

The EP took the form of many mutations. I actually have a really large selection of songs, but most have never been released beyond just a few CD-R's to friends. I am completely self-taught with recording, and a lot of the earlier recordings I think showcase that learning process. Because of this learning experience, however, every few months I would no longer feel confident about the old mixes, knowing that I could do better if I were to re-do them. It was a vicious cycle, but I think I learned a lot. Fortunately, I am finally getting past that and to a point where I can now say "This is done; it can be heard." Caves and Tunnels, Mountains and Stairs will be the first official release on July 15. The title is about geography, sounds of the Earth, highs and lows, stalactites and stalagmites, dusty travelogues and places yet to go. Somehow I think it just makes sense with the songs.

With all your lineup changes, how long have you been performing as Totem Pole? Were any of you part of other projects before?

The first show as Totem Pole was probably around two years ago. There have been many live band members with varying periods of involvement, but right now it is just me and Sam Lang for the live show. All of Totem Pole, including myself, have an astonishingly large network of previous and current other projects. Sam, Tom Wierzbicki, and I all originally played together in the punk band Molten Guava. Sam and Tom still play together in a large funk band, and Sam also has a current hip-hop project called Greater Numbers. Tom studies jazz professionally and plays keys in several ensembles. I have been involved with playing organ and touring in Strangers Family Band for the past year, and before that, I played sitar for the world-music group Beat Bombers. A few of us are also involved with some other current projects that have yet to go public as well. It is a lot of variety.

Tell me about being a South Florida band. What are the best and worst things about it?

The worst part about being/seeing Florida bands is the driving. If you want to go to shows in South Florida, you typically have to be willing to drive a half-hour or so. It is not really the best thing for the wallet or the environment. The positive flip-side of this, however, is a larger geographical network. Unlike larger cities, where your network of bands and venues may only need to extend a few blocks from your apartment, Florida requires a little more searching and traveling. Sightseeing Florida and catching a show may easily become one in the same trip: good stories and experiences.

Has being a local band here influenced your sound at all -- the landscape, your friend's bands, everything else?

I think it is great that there are so many unique bands around South Florida right now. I would admit that there isn't a "scene" in the classic sense -- there is no cohesive "South Florida sound." But whereas some people could complain about this, I think it is a great thing to have such a conglomerate of musical genres playing on the same bill. We live in the information age where people are learning to appreciate and amalgamate all arts, genres, and ideas together to form things new. Perhaps South Florida is being post-postmodern without even realizing it.

In reference to your name, what are your dream totem animals -- if any?

Hmmm. I'll have to think about that one. Otters are pretty awesome, though.