Born Again Floozies release new EP
The epiphany came to Joey Welch one day at home, while he was indulging his favorite pastime of mistreating a guitar to hear what might come out. His wife, Libby Milliken, came down from the attic, shoes clicking on wooden steps. Then, having studied dance in younger days, she launched into some tap moves.
Welch called her into the room with the tape recorder, and they spent the next couple hours laying down their first session as the Born Again Floozies, perhaps one of the first bands of the rock era to use tap dancing as the primary percussion instrument, not to mention a unique visual hook.
“To me,” Welch says, “there’s always been something sexy about it, in a strange way.”
Wacky, sure, but wait: Noting an auditory gap that typically would be occupied by a bass fiddle or guitar, the Indianapolis couple soon enlisted Ben Vokits, who plays the tuba with enough facility to maintain a decent funk groove when necessary. As they prepared for the birth of son Faolain, now three months old, they brought aboard another tap dancer and percussionist, Amy Gilmore. The latest addition is Nancy Moore on backing vocals and found-object percussion.
The conglomeration is entertaining enough on a recording, but what makes it so striking in a live context is the deadpan delivery, as the costumed players refuse to acknowledge their own surreality. That, combined with the freshness and social commentary of Welch’s songs, helps elevate the act beyond “novelty” status.
Welch, who built his regional rep throughout the ’90s as a founding member of Johnny Socko and later with his own Aurelians, has always believed in the power of humor to engage audiences, but he knows all too well how bands with amusing material can be marginalized. The Floozies, he says, have more to offer than obvious chuckles.
“You could dismiss it as silliness, but there’s satire in there,” he says.
This coming week brings three opportunities to see the Born Again Floozies in person and pick up their brand new debut EP Novelties, Addenda and Ephemera (available at Luna Music, Indy CD & Vinyl, Amazon and iTunes), which already has won surprising national attention for an independent release. The disk contains five songs out of 17 that resulted from five days of recording with esteemed producer-engineer Steve Albini (Pixies, PJ Harvey, Nirvana, Jon Spencer) in his Chicago studio. The remaining dozen are marked for a full-length release next year.
Given that the band began as a private joke, Welch is surprised at how the part-time venture has caught on with fans and venue operators. In a vast ocean of bass-drums-guitar rock bands, a simple verbal description of the Born Again Floozies lineup is often sufficient to cut through the clutter.
“Most people, when they hear that, it’s like, ‘How can this possibly work?’” he says. “All we have to say is what it is and it captures their attention. In two and a half years, I’ve never had to call anyone for a gig; people keep calling us. But at that point, we have to be good, or it’s, ‘Next!’”
One such reaction came from Paste magazine, a relatively new but respected music and arts publication based in Atlanta. Once the band and its label, the New Jersey-based independent Triple R Records, had prepared their oddly packaged press kits, they sent the very first one to Paste.
“The day they got it, they called us back,” Welch says.
The national magazine gave the EP a favorable review in its October issue and recently flew the band to Atlanta to play its Paste Rock ’n’ Reel Festival. One Floozies cut, “I Used to Play the Euphonium,” is scheduled to kick off the sampler CD enclosed with the December/January issue, and other recordings are available as podcasts on the magazine’s Web site.
Having Albini’s name on the project surely didn’t hurt. Recording with him was a thrill for the band and a satisfying experience all around.
“I think I’ve recorded 10 CDs, and I’ve worked with some really good engineers, but I don’t think anybody works as hard as he does,” Welch says. “Albini’s philosophy is the same as mine: I want the exact sound that’s happening in the room to go to tape. I don’t want effects. I don’t want any of that crap.”
To that end, the musicians played together live as much as possible. To reinforce the rhythm section, they enlisted the much-in-demand local drummer Adam White, who played a modified kit cobbled together from drums and random objects. Other guests from the Indy indie scene included Mike Wiltrout, Joe Cheesman and Kipp Normand. Currently the bandmates are getting about as much attention as they can handle.
“Originally, we didn’t really even intend to play out,” Welch says. “It’s been charmed since the beginning.”
Scott Hall writes about music and culture at www.byrdlandstudios.com.