of the South Florida Scene is a weekly column devoted to the
artists thriving within Broward and Palm Beach counties featuring
interviews with the folks making it happen. This week, "South Floriduh" band Last Phone Booth.
Though they've been a proper band for only eight months, the
dudes of Last Phone Booth are veterans with more than ten years of playing apiece. They've got a timeless sound only tried-and-true pioneers can
pull off. It's languid, bluesy, sincere indie rock -- the classic kind that will you make think of other like-minded heroes like the Halo Benders. Here, they -- sans keyboardist Evander (Evan for short) Oh -- discuss their fame
status (among other things), which is still budding locally and apparently huge
New Times: Who is Last Phone Booth? You guys have been recording for over ten years. How did those former projects become this one?
Ryan Schemm: We're a half-and-half band. The melody came from one band, and the rhythm came from another. We have the luxury of combining the experience and talents derived from four very different musicians coming from four very different backgrounds. Somehow it all fits together without gaps.
Alois Walter: We've all been working together, through six degrees of separation, for almost ten years, but not as this band and not recording together for ten years. Like most projects, the ones we were all in over the years disintegrated under the usual, and sometimes unusual, circumstances. We've all been close friends for some time but could never work out a long-term project together. This time, everything kind of fell into place.
Tell me even more about those last ten years. What had you guys been working on?
Walter: I was doing a lot of visual art and recording acoustic, Americana-type music at my home and working with a few projects. Ryan was hard at work researching the Fermi Paradox and gathering nuts and berries, living on the West Coast of Florida, playing as a hired gun here and there. E [Evan] was composing electronic music, and I think Todd was just doing as Todd does. It was E's electronic loops that eventually spawned this band. He had piles of 25-, 30-second loops, some of which were very dance-oriented and not for us but some of which were quite dark and ominous and ethereal. E and I started deconstructing them and writing the album around them. We also took a few of the acoustic songs we had both written and supped them up a bit too.
Now fast-forward to the present. The stuff on your current website -- is that indicative of what you're doing now? When was that recorded?
Schemm: I would say that those songs are indicative of what we are doing now only in the sense that we are not content with one genre or approach to songwriting. As the song takes shape, it tells us which instrumentation or arrangement is called for. Accordingly, when you create songs in different ways, they automatically diversify.
Walter: It was kind of a backwards approach. We wrote the record for fun, then formed a band as we were finishing the record. We started the writing process in November of '08, started recording in July of '09, and finished the record in March of '10. We had accumulated a huge pile of new material during the process of recording this record, so we were eager to move ahead.
Todd Menard: We have a website? Cool! I should check it out sometime.
Elaborate on your current and future stuff -- what's the recording process? How has it evolved from what it used to sound like?
Schemm: Our current music is better than our past music. Our future music will be better than our current music. Our present recording process involves producing the best performance possible by instilling a fear of spontaneous combustion. Nail the track and you get to leave the combustion chamber. If you're a ten-track-Timmy, you just may burn. Overall, it is a wonderful motivation to perform flawlessly.
Walter: It's much more organic now. We're writing songs from the ground up with kind of a "get in where you fit in" role. No one is confined to one instrument, although Ryan has to play drums on every track because the rest of us have bad cases of Caucasianism. However, we're all able to play other instruments on the record, so it's a very fun process. We have a big warehouse we're working out of, which is great, but it has no air conditioning, and over these months, it's a bit daunting. That's where the spontaneous combustion comes into play. We're doing everything ourselves, so there is a lot of trial and error, but we've also learned a tremendous amount from the last record's recording process and how to improve on that effort.
How has the scene in South Florida changed in the last several years -- you've been fortunate enough to watch it evolve. Has your own sound changed along with the scene?
Menard: To me, the scene has devolved if anything. A lot of places have closed due to the economy, and few owners actually pay for entertainment anymore. However, this has forced us to book smarter gigs. It saves us our sanity and allows us to better serve the venue owner. I think our sound gives the listener something different to digest.
Schemm: Both the scene and our sound have evolved independently of one another. Since our formative years in Prague, we have all been of the opinion that the scene doesn't change you; rather, you change the scene. I would definitely say that we have evolved enough to know that if your music is good enough, it doesn't matter how skinny your jeans are.
Walter: There's a scene down here?
What are your favorite and least favorite things about being involved with the local scene here in South Florida?
Menard: I like the weather, and most venues are one story, so no stairs! The scene as a whole pales in comparison to venues in Northern states. A lot of folks down here would rather listen to a DJ than go see live music. It's sad.
Schemm: My favorite thing in life is to play music with a band in front of people. South Florida has a few places that will allow local bands to play original music. Some even have people in them.
Walter: I guess my favorite thing is that I've yet to hear a Coldplay cover band, which is a great relief. My least favorite thing is that we're lacking an epicenter, it seems. I also don't like working up a sweat just by just blinking my eyes.
Where'd you come up with the name Last Phone Booth?
Menard: Per protocol, Evan determines the band name. I was told that this is the band's name.
Schemm: Actually, I was driving down the street, going to lunch, and noticed that a phone booth that used to be on the corner was no longer there. I wondered if it was the last one.
Walter: The name "Sarcastic Pricks Giving Bad Interviews" was taken, so we went with LPB.
What's next -- where are you looking to tour? We're looking forward to it!
Menard: Since most of us are working professionals, I doubt we'd tour in a van across the country, but who knows?
Schemm: Next is a series of three five-song EPs. We are looking to tour in Europe and the West Palm Beach area.
Walter: I think we'll just hang around here and record music and play as often as we can. We may do a walking tour of the South, where we just walk from city to city playing tambourines and acoustic guitars and harmonicas. Evan is quite a flautist, so perhaps we'll do a Pied Piper tribute tour. Also, our website gets hits from all over the world, so we're somehow reaching faraway lands via the binary universe. We're huge in Latvia. That's right, Latvia!! How many little bands from South Florida can say that??