If adaptation is the key to survival, maybe that’s how the Floating Men have stayed afloat for 18 years and 15 albums.
The Tennessee-based indie band, which often played Indianapolis in the ’90s as a sort of acoustic power trio, has undeniably evolved its lineup, its material and even its means for financing and distributing recorded work. The chief constants have been bassist Scot Evans and singer-songwriter-guitarist Jeff Holmes, who revisits our town for the first time in several years with a solo show Saturday at Indy Hostel.
The stripped-down performance will showcase Holmes’ songs, but the sound will be a far cry from that of the new Floating Men album, Pleasurado! Liberally dosed with piano and organ, a prominent horn section and the blazing duels of Berklee-educated guitarists Chris Cottros and David Steele (“the best one-two guitar punch in America,” Holmes says), it comes across like a Southern-fried Steely Dan.
“We’ve been allowing our imaginations to unfold, really, since our third album, which was in ’98,” Holmes, 47, says. “Basically, whatever the song needs, we find it.”
The lush production and the loungy surf-spy-noir vibe go a bit over the top at times, but the excesses serve the ironic flavor of Holmes’ writing. The lyrics are witty, jaded and Costello-esque, laced with alliteration, internal rhymes and general wordplay (“his sex drive took a nosedive between low tide and the I-5”).
Like the previous three albums, Pleasurado! was funded through a clever patronage system that taps into the band’s devoted following, known among themselves as the Floatilla. When the time comes to make a new album, the fan-operated Web site www.morewisdom.com arranges for listeners to hear demo recordings and select a favorite song to sponsor. Usually in groups of two to four, the fans put up $1,000 or so for the privilege of sitting in the control booth while their chosen cut is recorded, earning credit as “executive producers” on the album.
“It’s a great bonding experience to bring these people into the studio,” Holmes says. “Even if we did get rich and fund our own records, I would miss the fans.”
The Floating Men also have sworn off the physical manufacture of CDs, converting their back catalog and issuing all new music exclusively through iTunes. Pleasurado! exists only in the virtual world, with its multipage booklet of lyrics, credits and photos available as a digital download.
“It was probably the smartest thing we ever did,” Holmes says, noting that the practice also eliminates the need for environmentally unfriendly packaging. “I am to shrink wrap what Stephen Colbert is to bears.”