1) Start with a 28-year-old economics student who looks a lot like Paul Giamatti, wearing glasses and dorky ties, an acid-tripping smile, and with no previous musical experience of any kind.
2) Add his wife, a 27-year-old ex-Jesus freak with an MBA in poetry who holds such luminaries as Biggie Smalls and Old Dirty Bastard as touchstones of the canon. She's trained in classical piano.
3) Throw in her kid sister, a sidekick who's pretty and petite and gets lots of attention. She's been playing guitar for two years now.
But wait, there's more: This Caucasian hip-hop collective of Boca Raton FAU students has vowed that every song they write will never stray from one simple thematic element. Zombies, that is.
"There's the George Romero-type of zombie, and we have a lot of songs about those," says Bobby Gibiden, AKA Lil' Bobbie Deadie, the Giamatti look-alike. "But half our songs are about existential zombies. People who have become zombies because of politics."
Half of those songs still don't amount to very many, because the Zombies! Organize!! just started organizing last spring, playing their first live show in July at Duck Soup in Oakland Park. By all accounts, the band started as a complete joke. Mary Sheffield, AKA Mary Magdalen, the poet, took a picture in which she looked like a teenaged death-metal boy. So she made up a MySpace profile for this imaginary playmate, Patrick, which piqued the interest of friends and family.
Then Sheffield and Gibiden an on-again, off-again couple since high school began writing songs as Patrick, and hilarity (plus a MySpace following) ensued. Gibiden wrote a song on a drum kit designed for toddlers, bought an accordion, and got good at making beats with FruityLoops and a Roland TR-808 drum machine. Mary joined in on vocals, beats, and keyboards, and without any legitimate sense of direction, the Zombies stirred slowly to life. Sort of.
Local freak-rock luminaries Timb and Maggie and Aaron from the Freakin' Hott championed Zombies! Organize!! from the very beginning, insisting that the duo play live shows. But the two had but a few songs, and those were as sketchy, bony, and pale as their namesake. They eventually fleshed out their material and started generating a buzz when four offerings were posted on www.myspace.com/zombiesorganize. But there was still something missing.
Enter Laura Sheffield, Mary's 21-year-old sister, who helped shore up the sound enough to make the Zombies ready for a stage performance. Though Mary had organized poetry slams and open-mic nights, she couldn't even eat before the Duck Soup debut. "I've never been so scared," she says. During the gig, it showed, and Gibiden's eerily omnipresent smile was clouded over with abject terror more than once. But the response they received afterward from the crowd proved that these kids could take what started as a fake MySpace page and blow spark and spontaneity into it.
Friday-night Zombies shows are a rarity, because Gibiden works (like a real zombie) from dusk to dawn as a Marriott Hotel parking-lot attendant. In his uniform and nametag, "he looks pretty ridiculous," Mary says laughing, but it gives him time to think about new Zombies material. For now, those MySpace tracks constitute the band's only recordings, as well as this cryptic mission statement: "We, ZOMBIES! ORGANIZE!!, seek to foment an undead rebellion against humankind. For too long the walking dead have been forced to kowtow before their human masters. ZOMBIES! ORGANIZE!! will be the spark that ignites the powder keg that burns down the master's house."
Lovers of irony will dig a squeaky-voiced chick from Boca rapping over crouton-crisp beats about white girls getting crazy drunk with a charge card at the Town Centre mall. The bizarre and irresistible "Crunk in the Mall or How America's Consumer Culture Has Created a Nation of Zombies" weaves and wobbles on kiddie keyboards and Mary's girly sing-song rap:
"Hit the ATM get some green
buyin' fresh clothes lookin' real mean
I'm real picky I want Dickies
Victoria's got a secret can ya keep it?"
Gibiden and Mary Sheffield take turns crafting their oddball variation of crunk beats; she builds most of the keyboard parts, and Gibiden's pawn-shop accordion fits perfectly with those creepy horror-movie moments. Laura Sheffield isn't on the MySpace songs (she hadn't joined yet) but has emerged as a focal point onstage. The sociology major at FAU doesn't go much for Old Dirty Bastard "I didn't really know much about him 'cause I'm younger" but swaps Wurlitzer with electric and acoustic guitar during Zombies sets, which have grown stronger and more confident with time.
Her barre chords give backbone to the show-stealing "Zombie Manifesto," which bitch-slaps the current administration over a clipped, staccato loop:
"All zombies disdain to conceal their aims/We'll tell you their names 'cause we know who's to blame/Rupert Murdock, Condoleezza Rice, I gotta tell ya twice/George Bush, George Bush, Pope Benedict .../Know who's a dick? Dick Cheney! Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Karl Rove, Fox News."
"Most good zombie movies are just a tool for someone's politics," Mary notes. Using zombies as a metaphor for any sheep-like behavior for their songs, she says, "comparisons were limitless."
Curiosity peaked at a February performance at Pink Ghost, an anime-themed toy store in Fort Lauderdale. People turned out just to see what the fuss was about, staying well past midnight for the intimate show that was more living-room recital than rock show. The band would have played earlier but Gibiden forgot the power cord to his laptop and had to drive back to Boca to retrieve it.
"An hour and ten minutes, but what was I gonna do?" he sighs. "After all, what's a hip-hop group without beats?"
But the crowd waited for the laptop and the beats and a bunch of new songs that roused dead and undead alike. The trio still has a hard time believing it's developed a following over something so silly. "All of our songs are jokes but not really quite punch-line jokes or laugh-out-loud jokes," Gibiden says. "Still, they're about zombies, for Christ's sake!"