Cymbals crash as the beat of Two Hyped Brothers & a Dog's "Doo Doo Brown" resounds in the courtyard of the News Lounge, just north of Miami's Design District. The hometown crooner on the bar's stage sings, "It's your birthday, bitch," into her mic, and the crowd goes wild.
It's just another Tuesday night, and local duo The State Of is wrapping up its energetic live set with its trademark doctored version of "Happy Birthday to You." In fact, there is a birthday boy in the house who dances with flushed cheeks as fans cheer and smiles stretch from the street all the way to the pool table. And this is just the kind of congenial vibe the band's members, Steph Taylor and Nabedi Osorio, hope for at the beginning of every show.
Both Miami natives and self-taught musicians, Taylor, 26, and Osorio, 28, met a decade ago. Taylor was a high schooler playing tunes on keyboard and acoustic guitar; Osorio was a drummer who found her calling in marching band. A mutual friend introduced them, and an inaugural jam session in Taylor's North Miami Beach living room soon followed.
"The connection was there right away," Taylor says. "It was like musical love at first sight." But that relationship was short-lived. They soon lost touch as Taylor left in 2001 to attend the University of Florida and then Berklee College of Music. While Taylor got her education on, Osorio worked on her street smarts. She quickly became one of Miami's most popular female drummers, playing five or six gigs a week with bands like AKA, Karma, She Said, and A-Natural.
But as Taylor finished a solo tour in 2007, she began to feel that something was missing and moved back to Miami. As musicians often do, Taylor and Osorio were out one night supporting the local scene when they reconnected and ended up back at Osorio's rehearsal warehouse — "which is now our rehearsal warehouse," Taylor says smiling.
In search of a fresh perspective, Taylor sent Osorio some of her old recordings. With her intuitive ear for music, Osorio set up her drum kit and began to play along. "It feels like fate that we were both off growing as individuals so we could come together and create an explosive, dynamic sound," Taylor says.
They played their first gig together that year, at the annual Femme Fest at Tobacco Road. And soon after, Taylor asked Osorio to play on her fourth solo EP. But when she arrived, all the players noticed how Taylor's percussive piano style meshed easily with Osorio's melodic drumming. That was the day solo artist Steph Taylor was no more.
As The State Of, the pair hit the road together in 2008, and Taylor learned the joy of sharing her touring adventures with a companion. Even now, she and Osorio's eyes glitter as they share anecdotes of being chased by cows, brushing teeth with sulfur water, trying fruitlessly to avoid the stench of cooking frogs on the road beneath their royal-blue 1999 Ford E-150 van.
Taylor was nervous at first that her previously hard-won fan base wouldn't embrace her transition into a new genre. She was soon proven wrong. "People just freaked the frick out! It was so nice to be welcomed with open arms," Taylor says. Lounges in Virginia, Indiana, and Massachusetts were nearly sold out, she recalls.
The massive appeal of The State Of comes, simply, from variety. Taylor and Osorio have labeled their sound "dark indie pop," citing influences like Portishead, Radiohead, Massive Attack, and Björk. Anyone expecting all the bad cliches of female singer/songwriters will be surprised. "People are always surprised when they hear the sound that comes out of us," Taylor says.
And as dedicated as they are to fun, besides originals, they also play three to five covers a set. Current favorites include "Message in a Bottle" by the Police, "The Sign" by Ace of Base, and "Like a Prayer" and "Material Girl" by Madonna. Regular State Of followers can also expect new covers from the Cure, the Beatles, Annie Lennox, and the Bangles.
The State Of will play regularly in South Florida throughout the summer at favorite venues like Dada, the Vagabond, Moonchine, Sweat Records, the Florida Room, and the News Lounge. In fact, Taylor and Osorio say they're spoiled by getting to play so many laid-back venues.
And as for their name... well, they'll leave it up to you. It's said to be influenced by Björk's "State of Emergency," but it's open to interpretation. "The State Of what?" Taylor asks. "Whatever you want it to be!"