Last Thursday evening, gaggles of Sarasota locals braved an epic lightning storm to make their way out to Growler’s Pub and relish glasses of ‘Gansett and other fine beers while loosening up to a triple-threat lineup of area favorites: Physical Plant, The Wallies and (the) somewhat-mysterious-but-becoming-less-mysterious Umbrella Cult.
Physical Plant, who described their sound in an interview with This Week in Sarasota as “psychedelic rock and folk,” strummed their first chord at around 9:30 p.m. and played an electrifying set that overflowed with melodious, four-part vocal harmonies, galvanizing guitar solos, heaving bass lines, compelling keyboards and thunderous drums that had feet shuffling and heads nodding across the venue until the performance came to a deliberately abrupt conclusion that had many in the audience catching their breath.
Aside from the regulars in the crowd, some relatives of Physical Plant members showed up to see those in the group that would graduate from New College of Florida the next day. In fact, the band was joined onstage by one of these kinsfolk, experienced flautist Stuart Quimby — father of keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist Caegan Quimby — who improvised on his amplified wind instrument for the majority of the band’s set.
That wasn’t the only instrumental cameo made during Physical Plant’s set that night, though. Toward the end of the performance, guitarist and vocalist Josh Scheible grabbed the shiny red trombone resting conspicuously behind him on the stage and belted out a solo that took many in the crowd by surprise, although they quickly responded with a round of delighted applause. What the crowd may not have known was that this new addition may foreshadow some more expansive changes to Physical Plant’s sound that the band mentioned they plan to make in the near future.
For now, though, the band will continue to do what they can to make their shows as enjoyable as possible. “I think we’ve become more attuned to the idea that we’re kind of throwing a party at a show,” Quimby said. “Especially with the same fans who keep coming out. We want to have them have a good time.”
And the good times continued to roll throughout the night. The Wallies came up next with their lively London-via-New-York sound that, described on the band’s ReverbNation page as a “fusion of ‘60s mod and gritty Brit rock,” combines the angular riffs and energetic bursts of British bands such as the Arctic Monkeys with the retro-rock stylings of American acts such as the Strokes. The four-piece band rolled through a setlist of jaunty tunes with zeal and enthusiasm, literally keeping the crowd on its toes, in many cases by pulling out its secret weapon that consists of a buoyant rhythm section contrasting with darker, more jarring guitar lines.
The final band to take the stage on Thursday, (the) Umbrella Cult, has been garnering a substantial amount of media attention lately, especially after their performance at the well-attended Harvey Milk Festival a few weeks ago. On their Facebook page, the band wrote, “We’ve always been here. Now is just the chosen time for you to notice.” This statement may elicit a quizzical response from many readers, and unless the band members are all ancient spirits that have finally decided to take physical forms and make themselves known to humans in the past several months, it may not make a whole lot of sense (although a little bit of Facebook research illuminates that the six-piece band’s genesis occurred sometime in late 2010). After one sees the band perform live, however, the enigma of its origin becomes less of a concern, as the mystery is far eclipsed by the reality: the thrill of the band’s stage presence.
(The) Umbrella Cult’s mixture of exuberant indie pop and fast-paced psychedelic rock all but demands the listener’s attention immediately, and their tight, energetic performances are likely to keep the audience transfixed until the last tambourine hit. The lineup includes as many as three guitars and two vocalists at a time, along with bass guitar, drums and the aforementioned tambourine, meaning that the band has a considerable arsenal of instruments at their disposal. And they demonstrated that they know how to use it to their advantage, delivering a set that covered a wide spectrum of musical passages, including upbeat choruses, tense buildups and extended, psychedelic pedal-board freakout jams that seemed to transfix many audience members on the spot. After all of this was over, it was not only clear that uninitiated audience members noticed (the) Umbrella Cult — like the band’s cryptic prophesy implied — but it also seemed very likely that these individuals would not forget the encounter.
Those who missed Thursday night’s show will have more opportunities to catch these bands live in the near future. Physical Plant and (the) Umbrella cult will be playing together again at the Rusty Hook on July 13 and the Wallies will be performing at their CD release party on June 16. Also, readers can catch Physical Plant and the Wallies — along with dozens of other local bands — at the Antiwarpt Music Festival on Saturday, July 28 in downtown St. Pete.
Two days after the show, TWIS sat down with members of Physical Plant for an extended interview, where they revealed some of their songwriting strategies, talked about their plans to release a new EP in the near future, shouted out to some of their favorite local bands and conversed about what the Sarasota music scene has to offer as well as what might be holding it back. Continue reading after the photo gallery for excerpts from the interview.
TWIS: Last week, TWIS featured your song ‘Teleprompter’ on the new ‘This Song in Sarasota’ column, and Sara said that she thinks that it might be a love song. Did she hit the mark?
Caegan Quimby: I am not opposed to someone thinking it’s a love song, as the lyrics are rather open-ended and it could easily be interpreted as a love song, but I did not write it with the most romantic of sentiments in mind. I’ve written more explicitly love songs in the past.
Josh Scheible: It’s a poststructuralist love song, challenging ideas of communication.
Quimby: I like that! I feel like it could be applied to broader concepts than just personal relationships, but I’m not offended by it being called a love song, anyway.
Dave Baker (bass guitar and vocals): My favorite line from that review is ‘Caegan screaming like a heartsick panther.’ …
TWIS: You guys filmed a music video for that song, too. Is that going to be released soon?
Baker: Lord willing!
Quimby: We’re not going to make any promises right now, but we’d definitely like it released by the end of the summer, as well as another EP, hopefully, but we’re not saying any dates.
Scheible: We’re looking at August or September for the music video.
Quimby: It is, though, very much done.
Scheible: We’re just waiting for the right moment.
TWIS: You have to get it mastered in Blu Ray.
Scheible: Blu Ray, yes, of course. We have to finish the 3D, which James Cameron is doing. …
TWIS: I really enjoyed seeing you guys play on Thursday, but I know that Jay, your drummer, is going to be moving away to go to college soon. How long do you think that fans will have to wait for another show?
Scheible: Another show? They’re going to have to wait, what, six weeks? July 13 at the Rusty Hook!
Baker: Jay is still going to play with us when he can, when he can get away, because UCF isn’t too far away. So, if he can make it back for weekend shows we’re going to go ahead and do that. …
TWIS: But you guys aren’t only going to play when he’s in town, you’re going to play with other people.
Scheible: Basically, we have another person who is going to be playing with us. And we aren’t opposed to playing with both at the same time.
Quimby: Yeah, because Jay plays like seven instruments. I think he would be psyched to play with us on another instrument, so I would be really excited for that. …
TWIS: How would you guys classify yourselves and who would you count as primary influences?
Baker: Well, we’ve settled on this word formula of psychedelic rock and folk. That seems pretty succinct, right? I mean, there’s other stuff in there to be sure. I think there’s more funk than we give bill to.
Scheible: Yeah, there’s other stuff in there for sure.
Quimby: I think we have … an eye towards expanding the definition of our genre wider, because I feel like there are little remnants of other things that could be expanded. As of yet, I think psychedelic rock and folk pretty much encompasses the majority of our output. This next year, I hope to have fuller representations of other genres as we keep writing.
Baker: We’ve been getting heavier. That’s one thing that’s been happening.
Scheible: Yeah, we started off way folkier, more, I don’t know, country-bandish.
Quimby: I think we’ve become more attuned to the idea that we’re kind of throwing a party at a show. Especially with the same fans who keep coming out. We want to have them have a good time.
Scheible: We never thought of ourselves as a dance band, but then we realized it’s a lot more fun to be a dance band.
TWIS: So you were talking about encompassing more genres. Do you mean style-wise, specifically, or maybe changing or adding in different instrumental arrangements and things like that?
Quimby: Both. I mean, a synthesizer has never made a sound in a Physical Plant song.
Scheible: We’re looking to broaden our palette as far as the instrumentation. …
Quimby: We’re going to have an EP out by the end of the summer. … The idea is that the EP is definitely going to come out some time soon, as opposed to working on a whole album. The whole album, the idea is it would be out this next year.
TWIS: Have you written most of the EP?
Scheible: It’s all written. …
Quimby: The EP is all recorded and we have enough material that we could throw an album together but I’m also very much open, seeing as we’re going to wait longer on the album to throw new material that could potentially come up this year. … We’re going to just make an EP and then roll with it.
Scheible: We have new songs that we really want to record, too. … We want to find more audience first, before we drop the whole thing.
Quimby: We wanted to release something but we felt like we wanted to take our time on the first album, so now we have this whole year to make it really good.
TWIS: How do you normally work together to write songs? Do you sort of share responsibilities or do you have different specializations and delegate tasks?
Baker: Josh, Jake [Elrod] and Caegan are the major songwriters. …
Quimby: I feel like our methods are evolving. In the very beginning, me and Jake had the majority of the songs. … But I feel like it’s a lot more complicated now. Josh has a lot of stuff he brings …
Scheible: In terms of the way we actually write songs, the way it usually happens is someone comes in with a fully-formed song they’ve already written and then everybody else writes in what they think should be there, but I mean there are a lot things that we really work together hard on orchestrating, like harmonies particularly.
Quimby: To a certain extent, every song deserves a credit from everyone in the band, because no one is policing everyone to the specifics of their part. …
Scheible: We really don’t police each other too much. We’ve kind of taken the leap of faith a while ago. It’s very decentralized. …
TWIS: What’s your favorite thing about Sarasota’s music scene?
Quimby: I would say, my favorite thing about the Sarasota music scene, because I feel like I could start complaining, is the abundance of awesome, original bands that you would never suspect are here. It exists, it totally exists, despite all of the restrictions.
Scheible: Despite all of the restrictions, for a city of its size, Sarasota has such a great variety.
Quimby: I thought I knew all the good bands and then we saw (the) Umbrella Cult and I was like, ‘Oh, there’s another great band!’
Scheible: And we’ve just never heard of them yet. … That’s the thing, it’s like, unless you go out there and look for it you might not see a lot of these bands, but they’re here, they’re in this town, they’re playing all the time and they’re really good. Go out there! …
TWIS: What are your favorite venues?
Quimby: I enjoy playing Growlers.
Scheible: I love Growlers. That’s kind of our home base. …
Quimby: The Rusty Hook is good, too.
Baker: The Rusty Hook has a really good space for music, and I think that makes a big difference.
Quimby: I like playing the Cock & Bull, too … Yeah, I mean obviously, there is a lack of venues.
Scheible: Of a lot of venues that will take original music. …
Baker: I like the Blue Owl because of location. …
TWIS: When I first asked the question [about Sarasota’s music scene], you mentioned complaints. … Do you want to talk about that? … I know there’s been a lot of controversy about having events at the park and noise ordinances.
Scheible: I think it’s just kind of ironic that Sarasota posits itself as a city of the arts, as a cultural capital, as this place where people are creating things — and that really is what the town is, you have a lot of really creative people here — and the city sure as heck wants to sell that, but they don’t do much to support it really. …
Baker: The thing is, there are many different visions of Sarasota and there’s a group of people with more influence than others because of their social network, their money, their connections, their whatever. And the vision of Sarasota they want is not hospitable to original music, to nightlife, I suppose, to noise, to all of these sorts of things that people of a certain age, a younger age, would say makes a city vibrant and a cultural center in and of itself that’s not predicated on the orchestra and Van Wezel. …
Quimby: If there was any city in Florida that you wanted to have a vibrant original music scene, Sarasota’s a prime candidate, it’s already all here.
Scheible: We have all of the talent, we have all the people. It’s all here, you know. We just need to let it breathe a little more. … In terms of the music scene, things are really getting good around here, we just have to take the lid off. …
TWIS: What are some of your favorite bands in the Sarasota area?
Scheible: How much space do you have?
Baker: I really like the Wallies.
Quimby: Villanova Junction … and Buffalo Wizards.
Scheible: Buffalo Wizards, who are going to be reconfiguring. …
Baker: Big Blu House, I’m a fan of Big Blu House.
Scheible: The Send Offs.
Baker: Sons of Hippies.
Scheible: Sons of Hippies. Oh my god, yeah. … There are so many good bands. …
TWIS: My final question is something that I think a few people have been wondering. Is Physical Plant dangerous?
Scheible: You’ve got to come out for yourself and see! July 13 at the Rusty Hook.
TWIS: Are there any other comments you’d like to add?
Baker: I hope that the ‘This Song in Sarasota’ column continues, because it’s one more outlet to highlight things.
Quimby: It’s a testament to how good the scene is, if they keep being able to come up with songs of the week every time.
Scheible: Stuff like the Harvey Milk Festival, I think, that’s in public spaces. It would be really good if we had more from Sarasota, original bands playing and more of that sort of link to public spaces.
Baker: One more thing to highlight is the meeting on June 6. The special session that was moved … you should all go out, readers, you should go check out the city meeting and defend the use of public space for music and culture. Check out that meeting!