By the time Topspot USA's inaugural showcase begins Saturday at the Talent Farm in Pembroke Pines, Sean Russell and Frankie "Famous" Nobile will already be thinking about the next project — and the project after that. Be it web promotion, up-close interviews with rising punk and indie bands, or maintaining the many music-associated features on TopspotUSA.com, these plates are always full.
Up until this point, Topspot USA's public face has been its URL. TopspotUSA.com is an online music news portal with a national scope loaded with daily updates on punk, indie, and emo acts as well as candid video interviews with artists like Gym Class Heroes frontman Travis McCoy. Each interview is conducted by Nobile and filmed by Russell, who met in 2006 via their work for Silver Ridge Elementary in Davie. There, 28-year-old Miami-Dade County product Russell supervises the aftercare program, and 25-year-old Fort Lauderdale native Nobile is an aftercare counselor.
Now, with Topspot USA's first showcase, the two-man company is expanding the brand to include booking musicians they've covered on the site. They've assembled five bands itching to establish themselves. The headliner, keyboard punk outfit Vega Under Fire, hails from Naples, and the glam-fused support act, So Long Davey, comes from San Diego. The other three acts all have South Florida roots: Ex-Hey Monday drummer Elliot James' Easton (West Palm Beach), pop-punks Not Here Now (Miami), and electro-punks New City Lions (Fort Lauderdale).
"When you go to places like Chicago, Arizona, North Carolina, they have predominant music scenes," Nobile says. "In South Florida, we have a lot of great bands that come out of here, but we don't have a substantial scene. The showcase is to get the scene back, get unsigned bands shown, and put them out there, because they should be."
The positive effect an online emo-punk clearinghouse like Topspot USA has on the Talent Farm — a rare all-ages venue fostering the same music genres — isn't lost on owner Kevin Burns. After all, Russell and Nobile are always there conducting interviews with bands passing through town. Combining the clout of these two entities makes for a mutually beneficial situation: more buzz for an event at the venue, and more love for Topspot USA. "They seem to be movers and shakers," Burns says of Russell and Nobile. "I like the way they promote, and I like the way they work. There seems to be a need for a shakeup in South Florida, and they're about as close as we're going to get."
The Topspot USA showcase is the latest project for the pair since Russell and Nobile came together in 2007 out of a mutual desire to be self-employed and work in the music industry. Russell earned a television production degree at Florida International University, and Nobile has a communications degree from Florida Atlantic University. Russell recalls the idea germinating from a simple conversation that they had: "We could take my background in business, web design, and video production and combine it with his hosting, graphics, and video production skills."
After ambition and the music, their similarities are harder to find. "We're the exact opposites of each other," Nobile says. "Sean's the substance, and I'm the flash. With the website, which is very content-based, that's a lot of Sean. I'm the graphics guy of the group."
Another obvious difference is their demeanor and appearance. Nobile earned the "Famous" handle as an on-air talent intern for Y-100. Along with his asymmetrical bedhead coif, he wore loads of brash Famous Stars and Straps clothing, plus, he adds, "All of my friends think that I'm a giant prima donna."
Nobile's "Famous" presence was learned by picking up the microphone and doing it. The plan was to hit shows looking for talent, and Russell's Panasonic AG-DVX100B camera came along for the ride. Their first interview, held at the Talent Farm in 2007, proved to be formative with local act Blake, a band featuring New City Lions members Josh Diaz, Josiah Sampson, drummer Matthew Barrios, and eventual Hey Monday members Cassadee Pope and Mike Gentile.
When Pope and Gentile were swept up into a deal on Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz's Decaydance label in 2008, local access to Hey Monday diminished, and Russell and Nobile weren't able to capitalize on the rapport they had initially developed with Blake. "The harsh reality is most friends become enemies once you involve an influential third party and money," Russell says.
No time to dwell on the past when more fresh acts are forming all the time. Topspot USA has documented more than 100 such groups, including a unique spot featuring both Cobra Starship frontman Gabe Saporta and Wentz, who is one of Nobile's heroes. "I was inspired by a guy who has all his ideas out there, a media company, a video company, books, band clothing line," he says. "These were all things I was trying to do before Topspot. I want to have my work shown and have a fun job."
As of now, Topspot USA's fun is a mostly digital enterprise. While on the go, Russell and Nobile maintain the site from their homes, studios, and via iPhone. They're now entertaining ideas about signing their own acts. "We don't sleep," Nobile confirms. "Sean's at the school now. I was at the school earlier today. We did this thing for the fifth-graders. I went home to take a shower, did a little Twitter marathon to push the showcase. I'm in my car right now on the way back to the school now."