Florida, the most southeastern state of all America, is commonly known for its bipolar weather patterns, oppressive heat, loony resident headlines, wild alligators, and a surplus of below average senior drivers. Here, the seasons are either Summer, hurricane, rainy, or snowbird. The “Sunshine State”, “State of Confusion”, call it what you will, but for many it’s just home. Although Florida has no shortage of depravity (and may have a less than desirable reputation for many people), it is not without its gems and magic. Isolated from the rest of the country, Florida is home to some of the most unique and infectious bands around. Here is a look at three hardworking DIY bands that have all cultivated their own style within the state. This is the Florida Sampler.
The Woolly Bushmen — Orlando, Florida
I’ve been seeing the Woolly Bushmen perform throughout Florida since 2011 and each time they always put on a truly visceral and heart pounding show, oozing with attitude and abandonment. The last time I saw them, they were screaming at the sound man to turn off all the stage lights and they brought down the house in complete darkness. Their raw and unapologetic sound is reminiscent of an older school of Rock & Roll that always puts the crowd into sheer dancing pandemonium. They’re a no bullshit kind of band, with captivating melodies, driving rhythms, and a guttural, passionate vocal attack.
The Woolly Bushmen started in 2010 with just Simon Palombi (vocals, organ, guitar) and Jacob Miller (bass and guitar). “We just kind of wrote songs and recorded,” Palombi recalls. “We needed a drummer, went through three different drummers.” The Bushmen didn’t have to look far though, with Simon’s younger brother Julian ending up to be the perfect fit. “Julian didn’t know how to play but we kind of forced him to be our drummer…and he ended up getting really good. Then we just started booking shows, started as a joke and just for fun, but then people kept asking us to play.”
The Bushmen then hit the ground running, playing all over Florida and self-releasing their first album “Sky Bosses” in May of 2015. Based in Orlando, the Bushmen record almost everything themselves on tape at Simon’s home. Simon, who moved to Florida from Cleveland, was initially skeptical of the potential for making music in the state. “When I first moved here it felt kind of hopeless but I found it, as far as Orlando and St. Pete go there is a good scene, it’s actually surprisingly good. So many bands skip over Florida when they’re touring but it’s neat because there are many good bands in Florida, there’s a lot of good bands here that deserve recognition, but Florida is so isolated, which I think also makes the bands so unique and good.”
Yet Florida’s remoteness hasn’t stopped the Woolly Bushmen in anyway. The following years saw them tour all over America and play/tour with bands such as The Coathangers, Southern Culture on the Skids, The Schizophonics, Dex Romweber, Gringo Star, and the Fleshtones who they played their first show with. The Bushmen just completed their second tour of Europe too. “Europe is magical, it’s so good for the type of music we play, people really appreciate the type of music we play there. You don’t have to pack a bill for a show to get people out there,” Simon explains. “Jacob actually broke both his legs before our last three shows in Spain, but he still ended up playing them, that’s another story though.”
Adversity like this has reared its head several times for the Woolly Bushmen on tour but it has never been able to stop them. Just this last October, in true Florida style, Hurricane Michael almost put a halt to their tour with Southern Culture on the Skids, Simon tells me:
“So, we had pretty much a whole tour booked with them. It started with our first show in Virginia Beach being canceled just because of weather. We managed to fill that night with another show in North Carolina without Southern Culture. The next day we were on our way to Philadelphia when we got a call from them where they said a tree fell on their studio and they were going to have to cancel 6 of the dates. The three of us argued as to what to do. It was brought up a couple times that we should just go home. Or the other option was to play 2 of the shows we had booked on Southern Culture’s original off nights and join up with them on the last few shows that they still planned on playing. I then said, “Fuck it, we aren’t going home.” I put up a Facebook post basically begging for help. Within a few hours, we had every night that we had lost, rebooked. It was pretty tear jerking and very good for morale. Even though we lost all the guarantees and accommodations we had, it was so nice to see how much everybody cared and wanted to help. Unbelievable really.”
True road dogs that never give up, the Woolly Bushmen are endearing and tough. Their latest album “Arduino” came out this year on Pig Baby Records with their follow up coming out again on Pig Baby this April. When asked about the direction of the new music Simon tells me that, “Julian and I have been digging the Turtles lately, been writing a lot of new music like that, but darker. Really, we just try to write music that we would personally want to hear ourselves. If an idea pops into my head and I can’t find a song like it, I’ll make it myself.”
Haute Tension — Miami, Florida
The next band takes us south to the Magic City itself, the one and only Miami. Haute Tension, just like Miami, is a blended fusion of different influences, vibes, and genres all culminating to create something uniquely its own, the band describes their sound simply as “Surf Noir”. As I’ve seen them over the years, they only get better with each show; from putting the crowd into a fevered frenzy to seducing them with their dark grooves, Haute Tension is a band that pushes its musical borders and is never afraid to try something new.
Haute Tension has been a band since 2015, but the groundwork came much earlier when Alexandre Merbouti aka Booty (vocals, guitar) taught himself how to play guitar when he was a kid in California’s Bay area, he then eventually moved to Miami in 2013 and began playing in several groups. It wasn’t until Alex met local multi-media artist and photographer Monica McGivern (bass, vocals) that the blue print for Haute Tension began to form. Alex simply states, “Monica wanted to learn to play bass which I helped teach her, then she wanted to play a show.”
Ever since they began playing, Haute Tension has continued to evolve and explore their possibilities, now with Nbedi Osorio on the drums, they show no signs of slowing down. From their first tour going to SXSW to touring Europe, the isolation of Florida has ended up being a blessing in disguise. “Florida is bittersweet, it’s not exposed to what everyone sees on the surface, but that allows for a little more originality and experimentation, there’s not so much a mold, it’s more “Do what you want”. We always get a good response when we leave Florida,” Alex explains. “Many times people say they wouldn’t have known this would come out of Florida.”
The vast array of influences and inspirations that comprise Haute Tension’s music really sets them apart. Alex who is part French will sing many of his songs in the language and Monica who comes from a documentation career will look at things in a unique way. She tells me, “We’re such fans of music that we’re constantly looking for things to reference from the past and what’s currently happening. We are very open to new locations and building our own shows, we like to explore alternative venues.”
Just this last year, Haute Tension put this mindset to the test. The band played 31 shows in Miami, they dubbed “31 Days in Dade”. “We were releasing an album, kind of came from the idea of Thelma and the Sleaze doing it, wondering how it would translate in Miami. Thought of it 2 months before so it happened really quick.” Alex recalls. Playing anywhere from Mary’s 24 hour Coin Laundry to the roller skating rink, Haute Tension truly immersed themselves throughout Dade County. “You just get used to playing the same spots, but we tried things like calling a bowling alley,” Alex explains, “People would ask how we got these gigs and we just said we’d ask, some people were totally cool with it while others were very confused and skeptical.”
This whole effort was also to promote their debut album, recorded on tape at Yoko Phono Recording Studious in Saint Petersburg, Florida with Alexander Charos who also runs Viva La Records. Monica relates the process of recording on tape to that of her film photography, “there’s a mystical artisan element with analog anything. I shoot a lot in film and there’s a level of control you try to have that sometimes doesn’t matter.”
From booking their own tours to recording and self-releasing their own music, Haute Tension has the DIY mentality that has kept them so productive.
They will be touring the states and Europe again soon and plan to keep expanding their musical freedoms, “For me the most important thing is working independently with a DIY spirit,” Monica says, “and navigating an industry so run by men, but doing it in a way that stays true to a very unique voice we found together.”
Clang! – Tampa
After seeing Clang! several times live I can assure you that the exclamation point in their name is completely necessary. Combining elements of post punk, noise rock, and jazz, Clang! certainly is an explosion of sonic expression. They are the newest band on the sampler, forming in October of 2017, but that hasn’t stopped them from causing a beautiful ruckus all over town and then some.
The members of Clang! wound up together from their mutual love for music. Brian Shields (guitar, vocals) says, “I meet everyone just from going to shows and constantly seeing them in that environment, so it was obvious to me who I wanted to jam with when I started thinking about it.” Emily Jones (bass and vocals), Andrew Goding (drums), and Zachary Hickerson (saxophone) complete the lineup. Part of what makes Clang! so captivating is their vast yet cohesive array of styles. “Outside of music we are all pretty different ideologically, but we all bring that to the music,” Brian tells me. “Everyone really makes the music stand out in a different way, from Emily and Andrew’s solid rhythm sections, to Zachary’s improvisation, we always leave space where new possibilities can occur.”
Just in the short time that Clang! has been a band they have already released a demo they recorded on tape that Brian says “serves as an intro to the band” as well as already touring up and down the East coast. “Tour was great because we got so tight that it became less about getting the music right, and more about the performance, really getting lost in the moment” Brian recalls, “Florida and the music that happens here is underrated, it just sucks it’s so far out of the way.”
Clang! only continues to make more noise as they gear up for a busy year. The band is currently working on their debut album that will be out sometime this year as well as planning future tours around the country. Ever growing and evolving, the best is surely yet to come for Clang! Brian sums up, “The best way to experience us is live at a show.”