-- Vladimir Nabokov, on Stanley Kubrick's film version of Lolita
"Take a bite of truth!"
-- Lance Stikkum, from his autobiography, The Diary of a Stud
Humbert singer Ferny Coipel, it has been said, is of Dirk Digglerian lower appendage status. Though, as urban legends go, this description may vary, some have referred to his member as "an albino salamander poking its head out from under a chia pet." Whatever you believe, you have a good chance of witnessing this particular legend for yourself, as many friends and innocent bystanders did when Humbert played the Street Buzz Fest in Miami in 2003.
A first step toward your own personal "In Search Of" would be to attend one of Humbert's shows. You might try the Diamond Lounge in the band's stomping grounds of Hialeah, for one must assume that the comfortable, familiar surroundings of this venerable dive would bring out the best in anybody. Or go hear Humbert at the Billabong Pub this weekend. And for Shiva's sake, do not perpetuate another urban myth -- that Humbert sounds like Duran Duran. That's like saying the Beach Boys sound like the Beatles. Or the Kinks sound like the Who.
Humbert's strength does not lie solely with Ferny. The other members are all well-endowed with their own superpowers. Ten years ago, Coipel and bassist Tony Landa played in the band I Don't Know on the trampoline-like stage at Churchill's. The sampled loops Humbert often uses on its latest album, the 2003 release Plant the Trees Closer Together, originated in I Don't Know's sample-heavy sounds.
And Humbert uses vintage gear to generate the subtle, shifting sounds that make its music so beautiful. "I like old, so I gravitate toward old," Coipel sermonizes. "Then again, what's new now will someday be vintage. The Beatles were pioneering new equipment. They were not vintage-mongers. As far as I'm concerned, they are the alphabet."
Drummer Cesar Lavin and guitarist/vocalist Rimsky Pons round out the lineup, with Coipel pulling double duty on guitar and organ (pun intended). The foursome grinds out musical perfection, making its own brand of neo-pop-sway-core.
A desire to spread this ever-growing gospel has drawn Humbert to out-of-state shows, including one in New York with Miami band the Brand and another in the California desert at the annual Coachella Valley Music Festival. "Coachella was a great time," Coipel says. "Weather was super, and Pixies, Radiohead, and [the Flaming] Lips were choice. Robert Smith [of the Cure] is starting to look like Mimi from The Drew Carey Show." The band will soon be touring the East Coast. "We are not looking for 'the deal,'" Coipel says. "We are all about it. We are looking to play and record without spending our own money. A deal is always welcome but only if it's the right one. We're starting up on the next tour, which will take us to Atlanta, the Carolinas, and back home. Short shots up and back a week at a time are fine."
Plant the Trees Closer Together, the latest recording on its own Sportatorium Records (a reference to the infamous and long-gone, marijuana-soaked concert venue in Hollywood's swamplands, a.k.a. the "Snortatorium"), has garnered praise from local and national publications. Respected music magazine The Big Takeover put it on its Top 40 Records of the Year for 2003. Also listed were discs by such revered acts as the Shins, Death Cab for Cutie, Guided by Voices, and Belle & Sebastian. "Talking about it makes my nuts tingle as if I had just rubbed Vick's Vapo-Rub all over them," Coipel says.
Coipel also offers some of his favorite memories from the now-defunct Hollywood venue: "I remember mud up to my ankles in the dirt parking lot and sitting in the bed of a pickup truck in the rain, waiting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I remember the smell of pot and beer and seeing chicks with no tops and people fucking in their cars. I remember the bad sound and the nasty bathrooms with loads of drugs permeating the toilets."
Despite its dirty past, Humbert's music is all clean lines and gorgeous melodies. At the Shack in Hialeah, a modestly outfitted studio, the band put the 11 tracks of PTTCT onto plastic. "We recorded on a little Akai machine with not much gear; we had no compressors, no preamps," Coipel explains. "We knew we could not afford to sound big, so we opted to sound like what we have and what we could."
For the uninitiated, let's take care of a well-known fact: The band's name comes from Prof. Humbert Humbert, the obsessed novelist of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. The controversial book's satire of romance plays into the band's preoccupation with love, sex, and ridicule of the human condition. The irony of the name, though, is that the band is made up of 30-something musicians who are playing pop music with lyrics like "You are so pretty/You make me hurt."
Though the band chose to use only one "Humbert," the inevitable comparisons to Duran Duran came flooding in. Coipel bristles at this. "Who is Duran Duran?" he asks. "I'm just kidding. We actually never heard of them until after we released Plant the Trees Closer Together. Then a friend of ours said, 'Hey, you remind me of Duran Duran.' So Tony and I bought our first Duran Duran records. To be honest, I still don't hear the similarities. But if others do, then that's cool."