French Miami: Self-Reliant Post-Punk from the Bay

French Miami: s/tFrench Miami: s/t (Dinner Party, 10/31/08)

French Miami: “Science Fiction”

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French Miami is actually from San Francisco. And though the band certainly has a Parisian charm, it is far from French. Comprised of multi-instrumentalists Jason Heiselmann and Roland Curtis, both splitting time on guitars and synths, and founded on Chris Crawford’s spirited drumming, the members of French Miami met easily and got along famously in the city by the bay.

Crawford and Curtis met in 2007 while sharing positions at the buying desk at a record store, where a compliment about a T-shirt evolved quickly into a friendship. During the same time, Heiselmann was in the process of building a recording studio with Curtis’ help. Five days later, all three were in a band. They bonded quickly over a balance between melodic and heavy post-punk, and almost immediately established a fresh and technical sound, one ultimately rooted in a nostalgic affection for the intricate power pop of acts like Archers of Loaf and Fugazi.

What makes French Miami’s sound particularly unique is a baritone guitar plugged straight into a bass amp to achieve a mystifying low end. The songs are filled with hooks, finger tapped and beat driven, distorted and fuzzy at times, but more often polished and tense, booming with vigor and intensity. Heiselmann’s vocals course over the music with raw honesty and earnest clarity. They are full of “dynamics and bombast,” as Curtis eloquently declares.

The band’s 2008 self-titled debut record is a sharp and compelling piece of synth-lined punk concoctions. Engineered by Phil Manley (Trans Am, Fucking Champs) and electronically distributed by SF art collective Dinner Party Records, the straight-to-tape, mostly live recordings perfectly capture the band’s gritty pop and more ambient melodies. “Like old jazz records, we want our music to have a very live feel, which makes a record interesting to us,” Curtis says. “If you know how to play it, play it right here.”

Recorded, mixed, and produced within a week’s time, it’s the work of a band with a clear vision and the skill to pull it off. The album is also self-pressed, self-released on CD, and sold out of a tiny suitcase at self-booked shows on self-promoted tours.

But the band never sees challenge, only opportunity.

“We don’t really have a label, and we don’t have any backing, but we’re still trying to make it work.”

“We don’t really have a label, and we don’t have any backing, but we’re still trying to make it work,” Heiselmann says. “We’re looking to the future and still making music, making art.”

“And it’s really important to us,” Curtis adds. “The most important thing to us is to keep making records and keep our integrity. And it’s cool because since we’re self-produced, we’ll make art differently.” The three collectively agree that artistic satisfaction easily outweighs the commercial aspects of their craft. They are dedicated solely to producing music on their own and preserving their well-earned DIY identity.

And all of that DIY has already landed the group in some very memorable places. In Akron, Ohio, Crawford’s hometown, in a tiny bar on a Sunday night, the band was being endlessly heckled by a strange woman. Hidden behind wild bangs and fronting a wicked strut, she swayed around the venue, calling out the band even before it began. “You guys should play, San Francisco! Play more,” and on and on.

She danced madly throughout the set, while the trio desperately tried to keep it together. Even Crawford’s mother, who was in attendance, wasn’t safe. The woman picked up the drummer’s mom and began dancing with her, determined to get the joint moving, all while yelling enthusiastically, “San Francisco! Play more!”

The owner of the small bar came up and advised the band to keep going. “You know who that is, don’t you?” He looked at them as they shrugged shoulders. “That’s Chrissie Hynde. The Pretenders? You guys should play more.” Afterwards, Hynde bought the group a round, exclaiming, “You guys are awesome, even though I’m a legend.”

With respect to Hynde and all of the legends before, French Miami is a band of now, trying to push through the boundaries in the music business.

During the last few months of 2008, the band briefly headed east and rented a tiny New York apartment, sharing a bed and writing constantly. For it, the band has a new album ready to record. “By bringing ourselves out of our element, we could actually keep the momentum going,” Curtis says.

With plans to record in Heiselmann’s now fully built studio and engineer the album on its own, French Miami continues to evolve and grow with a natural, almost effortless stride. It may be on its own, but the group embraces its independence as a key to its overall success.

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