Interviews

Florida Man Guitarist Andrew Barnes on the Band’s Hardcore/Noise Rock Wizardry

Photo: Paul King

Early in May, Florida Man dropped, Tropical Depression, concocting hardcore/noise magic with eight bouts of sonic wizardry. Florida Man surges into the summer of 2019 with their debut full-length and a short tour in the northeast. They just played the DIY venue of Honk Kong in Boston on Jun 15th. The band started as another project of its members jamming on taut riffs that disturb and enrage. They did some east coast runs up from their homebase of Charleston, SC after their initial EP. But on this endeavor, Florida Man’s record is more realized, more cohesive and more substantial.

Spastic rhythms, angular attacks, rayguns, and thunderous riffs equip an unsettling arsenal. The immediate comparisons are obviously Pissed Jeans and The Jesus Lizard (on steroids); mixed with late Black Flag, Big Black and Botch. Then, splash in some Hot Snakes, Fugazi, Shellac, and Unwound, but with seething vocals, like John Brannon. So, then, yeah, add a dash of Easy Action. All this to say that Florida Man produces quite a unique version of punk or noise rock or whichever title you wish to place. With all the post-hardcore references one can ascribe to, one must not forget to exponentially tweak the heaviosity. There is a scathing paranoia and venomous contempt in these songs. The second track, “Dirt," is especially caustic and striking. And the album does not recede at any moment. The following track 4:34 of chaotic anxiety is another dark brutal track.

Regarding Florida Man’s writing process, guitarist Andrew Barnes indulges, “It’s rather organic. We didn’t start the band with too many expectations. For Tropical Depression, riffs that turned into song ideas. We bunkered down, wrote twelve full songs, and booked studio time in May last year (2018).” Barnes reports keeping it simple and not wanting to stray from the band’s intent with a producer. “We worked with an engineer that also mixed the album, our buddy Zach Thomas (at Jam Room Studio in Charleston, SC). He recorded and engineered, then mixed the album, then mastered the album.” That continuity threaded throughout out the album’s entire process aids in the cohesive feel. Barnes continues, “Thomas knew the sound we wanted what to achieve.” In contrast, Barnes noted his prior band’s attitudes to recording with producer, stacked with input. “Other projects, you go in with an open book and the material is able to be molded. This time, we had a concrete idea for what these songs would sound like. He respected and trusted that. He made the instruments sound as good as they possibly could.”

Photo: Paul King

Differentiating from the 2017 self-released EP, Barnes explores the progression of Florida Man. “There’s a couple things. (This has) more groove. There is a lot more focus on rhythm. You can bob your head to this. On the first album, everyone goes at the same speed. It’s very streamlined. Here, everyone had more space; using more rhythmic complexities. I threw on that delay pedal a little more.” As far as a pristine, solid vision, this album is about more atmosphere. The end result was “not too intentional. Writing and developing the songs was very organic. I listened to a lot of rhythmic and riffy guitar music.”

Those influences are palpable. Again, nothing too overt. There are multiple sonic tangents for any “for fans of…” references. But as a massage of the musical ideas sincerely generated, not as a mimicry. The release of Tropical Depression will see the band execute a few jaunts. They had a Southeast run in May; a trip to Boston and back in the first week of June. August will see Florida Man run to Chicago and Midwest. No big tours. This is all done on the shoulders of playing in other bands for all four members and jobs. “We do a week to nine days at a time. All of our schedules are crazy. It works best for us to do it that way.”

The fourth track, “Holy Roller," is a sparser offering and definitely introduces the groove to which Barnes refers. The song still jabs and pierces but the rhythm is groove based and will get some heads nodding as the guitar takes chances when it can and attacks. That particular approach is expanded by Barnes as he explains the steps in his writing for Florida Man since its inception. “I went in random. I just picked up my guitar and made sounds I like. I thought it sounded like Botch songs were covered by a noisy San Diego band like Hot Snakes or No Knife. There was a definite nod to the tech/riffy side of things.” When asking about fans or critics citing other bands to describe Florida Man, he acknowledges the obvious. He notes the nods to many “super Fender/ indie rock/ loud post-hardcore bands.” But here on the second outing, he boasts that the “Songs are more complex. There is more going on for all levels.” That’s accurate. Every element of the band is elevated here. Barnes attributes that to the members “leaving space for things. We took our time and worked with placement of lyrics.”

After these talks, I got the impression that Barnes knew his gear and was as particular as doom metal band. Barnes was quick to dispel that erroneous takeaway. “It’s funny you say that. I don’t know too much about gear. I play the same set up I have had since high school. I’ve had other stuff for other projects, but I go back to a real cheap Mexican made Telecaster and this Peavey XXX amp. I don’t know much about gear, but I just know this stuff works for this sound. I am confident and comfortable in it. I used to play in a pedal heavy band. I wanted to make sure I could write these songs with one pedal. I keep it simple. I have a delay pedal and a looper and that’s about it.”

That said, especially in a track like “Weeded," at five minutes, there is a griot complimented by layers of texture and jousting notes. “When it comes to the layers, I go to the practice space and work with the looper. Sometimes the riff becomes the bass line or the back bone and I do a lead over it. I make a drum beat or rhythm or a vibe that works. The song 'Weeded,' I hadn’t used my delay setting on my pedal in a long time; so I wanted to do it. Subconsciously, it was lush and played into the bridge with more atmosphere and space in it.”

The result is a paranoid tension enveloping the listener. Samples and textures of plucked guitars and echoes configure a stressful foundation. Weaving those sounds into the songs and matching lyrics create an anxious bedding. When lyrics are ready, Barnes hands over his base ideas and allows the others to work. “There’s a lot of trust. CJ and Jim collaborate on all of the lyrics and melodies. They have a lot of faith in me to have the initial structures solid. I have the same feeling towards them. It’s ‘hands off’ once I have a song down and they run with it. That stress and that paranoia comes from a real life place. I like the directions they take it in. They work in kitchens and that crazy life in the tourist town we live in. Rather than snapping, they just vent and put it in the music.”

Photo: Samantha Presta

As far as the repeated RIYL and FFO litany of indie/noise/post-hardcore bands rattled off the lazy critics tongue (including this one), Barnes has rescinded any contempt or boredom. He accepts it for what it is with maturity. “It’s all good with me. Back in the day, I was more protective of music when I’d write it – and thought people had to think of it as I thought of it. But, now, I’m stoked anyone gives a shit. If it sounds like something to them, who am I to tell them it doesn’t? People have to have categorization. If you hear something loud and twangy, it’s gonna sound like something (established). Brains are very associative. If there is a key word that helps them latch on to something – even if I know the influence is not accurate – if it helps them process it, then I’m cool with it.” Personally, this is not done to not to be lazy – as much as that is exactly what it seems like. And it is not to subtract from the unique sound and sweat and commitment Barnes and Florida Man execute.

*Reporting on the SC scene, Barnes lauds that there are a “handful of bands doing loud cool stuff. There’s a big Americana scene here. There’s not a huge metal or punk scene. But there are some. There’s a band called Riot Stares (as opposed to a Deadguy homage with “Riot Stairs” — Hutch) who does like a Snapcase/old-Refused type sound. There’s a psych garage band, Dumb Doctors.”

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Florida Man's album, Tropical Depression, is out now via Spartan Records.

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