Friday, August 20, 2010
The Florida Evans Showband and Revue - Made Simple
My first experience with the Notre Dame band scene came by way of tapes of my older brother James' WVFI radio show in 1989 - predating the power nineties by just a couple months. I was 12 years old. For the next 4 years James would relay music from the Notre Dame power 90's scene to our home in Suburban VA, particularly Chisel CD's, which were so exciting. I really liked their music and didn't hear much like it anywhere else on the radio etc. James used to drive back and forth to ND with the drummer John Dugan, also from NOVA.
Those tapes, that music, my older brother, were all pretty influential. The first show I saw of the ND band scene was a private emiLy show for an audience of three in somebody's off campus house in 1993. I was 15, a sophomore in high school. Joe, Doug, and Mike's music was at once, loud, hard to understand, terrifying, electric, exciting, soulful, passionate, artful, complex, vastly intriguing and i mentioned loud. It was about as real and vicious a punk rock experience I've ever felt. My brother was dating Mike's older sister Melissa, so the three of us sat in their living room during our older sibling's graduation weekend and were blown away. It was so cool. And I knew that I had to be cool like that.
I'm not sure if I ever really accomplished that goal. My musical impulses were always a little less sophisticated I guess, but my love of rock and roll and desire to be an artist in general and in a band at notre dame were kicked into high gear by that experience.
The Florida Evans Showband and Revue took its name from my older brother's radio show called "Florida Evans" which I thought was hilarious. I also thought the Showband and Revue part was hilarious. If we had any thing going for us it was highly developed sense of punk rock irony.
I saw lots of basement shows my freshman year at Notre Dame in 1995, and a couple at the coffee house at St. Mary's before they closed it. I started writing songs around that time in earnest and also listening to and hearing about Matt Curreri, another singer songwriter on campus... he had some very notorious hits at the Keenan Review and Acoustic Cafe. I played my first solo show at Lula's sophmore year, which Matt came to. Around that time my roommate Brian Monberg who was the head of Amnesty International on campus was organizing a concert at stonehenge and said I should put a band together for it. I had lunch with Matt at the North Quad Dining Hall, which was kinda random cause we didn't really know each other then, and suggested we put a band together for this show, playing some of his songs and some of my songs, I'd play bass on his songs, he'd play bass on mine and we'd find a drummer. He said he was maybe gonna try to put a band together with Aaron Dunn, another Acoustic Cafe all-star, so wasn't sure... but that didn't happen... and the Florida Evan's Showband and Revue was born!
We got Dean Busack, the drummer for Stomper Bob and a real stand up guy who lived in Carroll with me, to help us out for the gig. He was super cool, liked playing music with us and agreed to play some more with us even though he was graduating. We practiced in my dorm room at Carroll Hall for that gig - we had I think one of the largest rooms on campus. We made a tape of a few songs in that room on Matt's four track. But the band became a big part of our lives from then on - we gigged a lot around all of town for the next two years.
We sucked but we were also good. We got cut off and kicked out of Club 23, ignored at Corby's, told to turn down at a bonfire at the site of the old Corby Hall... We got in fights, we had groupies, we wrote more songs, we played more shows.
Junior year first semester, we had this freshman named Jim Bilek play drums with us. He was a super sweet guy, liked The Beatles and put up with us, but I think of the band as really coming into itself once Doug started playing drums with us our senior year. Quite simply, Doug knows how to rock. The punk energy that I had always wanted behind our music finally showed up and gave my more poppy songs the edge I had hoped for. Matt's songwriting was getting really awesome and we became what I like to think of as a pretty cool band. That summer before our senior year, I had acted in a "punk rock musical" in NYC at the Ohio Theater written by my friend Sander Hicks and that kindof widened my musical horizons too. Sammy B, the lead singer of the Mooney Suzuki, who I think now goes by Samuel James Jr., Parker Kindred, Jeff Buckley's drummer, and Nick Colt, NYC impersario, were the pit orchestra. Since I was the lead actor we were kinda like a band that I sang for... We even gigged once as a band called White Collar Crime in Portchester NY, with the Mooney Suzuki opening. We recorded our "original cast album" at Sonic Youth's studio one night from midnight til dawn with Lee Renaldo at the controls. All of this is to say that (1) I like to name drop and (2) I came back to campus and started demanding we all wear suits to our gigs like I had seen the Mooney Suzuki do. It sort of worked, but then there were definitely gig's where I was the only member of the band in a suit. Ah well.
We played a ton of gigs that year, mostly in the basement of Matt and Ron's shack. It was easily one of the coolest times of my life. We played one gig in Michigan I remember - I think it was a highschool prom - that a friend of ours had some connection too. That gig stands out in my mind as particularly awesome because those kids danced their tails off. I felt like a real band that night, not just some weird art project at ND. Another fun gig, might have been before Doug's time, was a partyin my dorm room at Carroll in honor of my little brother visiting. He was 16 and drinking in our room, and at one point our rector, Fr. Mike Sullivan, was out walking behind the dorm and someone threw a beer out the window and hit him in the head. I'll always be proud of the fact that I was able to talk my way out of that and save the party/show from getting shut down, with a promise to not let my brother drink and a pledge to play guitar at the dorm mass.
Finally, in spring of 1999 at the End of the Power 90's, we won the battle of the bands at Senior Bar. But I think only because of a technicality involving the fact that we played our own songs. Because the lame-o judges really liked this other band that played a note perfect rendition of "The devil went down to Georgia". That kind of encapsulates our experience at Notre Dame to me, obliged if not actually liked. (That and the fact that Umphree's McGee, our friends in an amazing jam band, skipped the battle of the bands to get paid a thousand bucks at a bar that we went to after... kinda lessened the mystique of winning the title.) But that what made us cool, I think... like Matt's song, Night Bus, said "I always loved him cause he never was the best" I think that's how I felt about Flo Evans.
Doug and Matt continue to be two of the most inspiring and artful people I know. We broke up after graduation but continued to see music, make music, and record music together in NYC and CA for years after. They were some of the best creative partners I could've hoped for.
Made Simple: made simple.
This album was one of those albums where we decided to document nearly every song we had written, which one might argue is not the best strategy for an album, BUT, I like to argue, so bring it.
"Allen Ginsburg" - This song was always so much fun to play for me. I loved singing on it. it always felt super fun and energetic too. And somehow it felt like a weird art rock song. I always liked starting with it because I thought it was an upbeat attention getter.
"Good Times" - people really liked... it was kindof a goofy song that I wrote while jogging at age nineteen, so it's kindof hard to discuss it like literature, but i walk past the punks on the corner and get so sad that they don't know my name, is still a feeling I get. I also can say I that I stopped watching television around this time for a good 10 years, only to return for PBS children's programming as of late- a killer gateway drug.
"My Shy Tongue" was a killer song to play especially when we added that tag at the end. When people talk to me about our band in college they always mention this one. It was a pretty powerful epic tune and always exhilirating to play
I also always loved singing "You Were Wrong," too. What a great song.
"Night Bus" - Matt wrote after we spent the spring of 98 in London, and discovered the "night bus" "I've had enough fun for my life.... .... I want my life like rows of trees, rows of houses, rows of me" still gives me pause for it's beauty and self understanding.
"Samantha's Anthem" - Never ever ever was this song played how I intended it until Doug McEachern joined the band, like The Boss said "and The Big Man joined the band." Doug played drums like he was taller than Clarence Clemons. My roommantes and I told the Papa John's delivery girl, samantha, if she would give us a free pizza we would write a song about her. Things worked out for all parties involved.
"Tired of Being Alone" was my Evan Dando rip off.
"Clever Kids" - I played the other night for my own kids, Ivie James, my one-year old son, who said, "too loud." The band Lynx who visited us at Bulla Street paid me a compliment on this one, that always stuck with me. The also called me the bill murray of south bend, this has also stuck with me.
"Better Left Unsaid" - indeed
"Litter" - This felt like one of our earlier songs that hung in there to make it onto the album. Basically because it was awesome, youthful, "and all we did was have some fun."
"Hot Rod" - was a really insane tune. I don't feel like we ever got this one quite right in it's orchestration actually. It was our surf rock venture and I think we were all a bit confused. But "we all took French, Rick learnt cars, we can talk in code" that's deep shit.
"She's Coming Around Again" - I wrote the first verse of in Cape Cod. I'm in Cape Cod now. Tom Waits said songs find you when looking for a local habitation and a name, and it's an honor to be the one they chose and you should always try to honor the song by writing it down or remembering it or whatever he said - this song happened to me that way.
"Goodbye Girls, Goodbye Boys" was a love letter from the band, Matt really, to the people who always came to our shows. Which in retrospect is a pretty amazing thing. People did like to hear music in South Bend, and other people really liked to make music. In my opinion that's a holy bond and we were all lucky to participate.
Thanks Mike and Ted for doing this jam, and hounding us to geterdone. It's pretty cool. Peace out, dob
When I was 18 years old, two people mercifully entered my life and pulled me back from a deep depression that I was brewing; A lonely little nerd, roller skating through a sea of Catholic finance majors, football players, and priests, rescued from going clinically silly by a beautiful little elf-girl and this big goof named Dan O’Brien.
Dan and I started playing shows together. He dragged me all the way to London and all around Europe, train and hostel style. He found all of our drummers, I think, and he mostly put up with my shit while I brooded and played soccer. Once he didn’t even kill me when I drove an hour or two east to pick up Jim Bilek in Chicago, which most people find it easy to remember being west of South Bend.
But Dan is right in saying that we became a band when Doug joined. It was then that we wed into the music community of South Bend and had a connection with Ron Garcia, the Lula’s crew, and a real family of musicians and creative types.
Plus Doug rocked. He had a really cool DIY esthetic that I’d never really come in contact with before, he wrote serious and poetic “zines” in his tiny handwriting, and he had a beat up old Honda hatchback overflowing with punk rock tapes. Kick ass!
I have to include Ron in my Florida Evans experience. He was a killer bassist and a great home studio engineer. I have to admit that his dreadlocks shed, and they looked like pubes all over the floor, which I really battled with. But we shared a cute little shack just a block from campus where we had Florida Evans and Butterfly Effect band practices and shows. The first keggers that I actually enjoyed. And college was complete.
We spent the spring of 1999 recording at the house with Ron. We cut and folded all the album art ourselves. There was a color cover at first, but it was ugly and I got caught printing hundreds of them on the graphic design student printer, so we had to do the final in black and white. I love how it came out, though. One of my more forgiving design teachers helped me with the spacing and fonts. I think we had them for sale for like 3 days before graduation.
I was always bummed that Florida Evans ended in 1999, but what can you do? We all lived together in New York City a couple years later. Dan and I were in Chinatown and Doug was in Brooklyn. Doug and I worked together in the Bronx. Dan and I played together all the time in our apartment, and Doug joined me on stage a number of times during those years, but we never tried to relive Florida Evans.
I did just make a Facebook profile for the band and uploaded our main album tracks. Maybe I'll upload our earlier album, too, but I don't know where it is offhand. I redigitized this baby a couple years ago (actually just retransferred the DAT tape). I changed the order around on the Facebook page...I never really liked the Matt-Dan-Matt-Dan order we had.
Thanks for caring, Mike. I'd love for the FESBAR web presence to grow a bit. Always proud to be part of the South Bend scene.
Matt called me from London in the spring of 1998 to ask me if I wanted to play drums for FESBAR in the following school year. It sounded like a fun idea, so I said yes. I always had a good time playing in Florida Evans, largely due to the facts that
1 - The songs were fun, as was the general attitude of the band,
2 - There was little in the way of existing recordings of the band (at least as far as I knew), so I was pretty much free to play whatever I wanted to play on the songs,
3 - Matt and Dan are great people I am happy to count among my friends. It is not too much of a stretch to say that my time in Florida Evans is (more or less) directly responsible for my present job as a high school math teacher in NYC, which is a very good thing.
Somewhere I have a picture of us sitting on Ron's bed during the mixing process for Made Simple. At least one of us is drinking a 40.
Taking a quick look through the track listing I realize I can sing at least a part of every song, which is more than I can say for a lot of other SBP90s albums, including albums where I wrote the songs. My friend Rob rates this as one of his favorite albums ever, especially for driving. I remember him introducing himself to Matt and Dan by saying, "Hi, I'm Rob. I'm a fan."
I think the first three tracks (going by the original CD listing) make for a great opening salvo. One of my old cellphones had a feature where you could program ringtones note by note, so I made the opening guitar line to "You Were Wrong" my ringtone.
"My Shy Tongue" is an Acoustic Cafe classic. I've met a number of people who knew that song without knowing (or remembering) Florida Evans.
"She's Coming Around Again" may be my favorite Florida Evans song.
I once used 'gummets' in Butterfly Effect poster, in reference to a misheard line from "Litter".
For reasons I can't recall, I played guitar on "Nightbus" and Dan played drums.
I borrowed a tambourine from Mike Mirro of Umphrey's McGee for "Dopeless Hopefiends".
"Goodbye Girls, Goodbye Boys" is one of my all-time favorite album closers, period. I wanted to cover it with The Butterfly Effect at our last show, but we never had time to work it out.
Florida Evans on MySpace
Florida Evans on Facebook
Catch up with Matt's current musical work: Matt Curreri & The Ex-Friends