Today’s Feature – January 20-21: The Floating Men

January 21, 2008 at 2:10 pm (Today's Feature)

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Been to Nashville before? If you consider yourself some sort of music aficionado, the answer better be yes. Nashville, a land that breathes and feeds music; a city that appreciates a good melody for what it really is: pure ol’ fashioned human expression.

So what’s it take to hold the privileged title of “Nashville Legends”? A lot of hard work, enthusiasm and of course, superior talent and songwriting. After seven critically acclaimed albums, this is a title reserved for Jeff Holmes and Scot Evans… The Floating Men.

Their latest offering, “Pleasurado!” is the prefect crown to their designation. Like any Floating Men album, the goal is “to create the richest, most enduring popular music experience of the listener’s life. We strive to make each album always instills a fresh, vital and deeply rewarding sense of discovery.” It’s certainly unique among other works of popular music, addressing “the sexual, chemical and socio-economic issues of America’s dark side with intelligence, maturity, artistic delicacy and yes, where appropriate, bawdiness and humor.” The collection directly attacks the topics behind what is “perhaps the most basic of all human truths: sexuality.”

The passion doesn’t stop here for Holmes and Evans, having already written over half the songs for the next album. Before you scope out the records you’d like to add to your collection, make it out to a Floating Men show. It’s “two-and-half to four hours of passion, sweat, drama, heroics and incredible musicianship,” whether “from a smoky little three-piece acoustic trio or a 7-piece armada of rock and roll fury.” It’s there you’ll see the two musicians “continue to focus on barely evading utter failure.” Pretty funny. Jump into the XXQ’s.

XXQs: The Floating Men- Jeff Holmes

PEV: How and when did the band first form?

Jeff Holmes (JH):The Floating Men evolved out of other bands that Scot and I led in 80’s. If you want to waaaaay back, Scot and I played in the Furman University Jazz Ensemble first, then formed a blues band. The Blues band eventually evolved into a new wave/punk band, which eventually evolved into a southern gothic college alternative band… our family tree is pretty crooked and complex.

PEV: Growing up, what kind of music were you listening to?

JH: I started out with rich foundation in American folk and popular music. My paternal grandfather played harmonica and guitar for dances and medicine show-type events in the early 20 th century. So my father grew up in a musical household and became a pretty fair folk guitarist himself. He was a big fan of bluegrass, folk and country and an excellent ear for quality writing and musicianship. He introduced me to The Beatles when I was about 3 years old; I can remember him saying how great the songs were but that I should “never, ever grow your hair like that.”

So I had a pretty diverse range of influences in my early years. By the time I reached my early teens, I was locked in my room studying blues and rock guitar heroes (Winter, Beck, Page, Clapton, BB, etc.) for hours every day. In my later teens, I immersed myself in jazz, fusion and prog rock, which was a nice complement to my formal music training in classical and jazz guitar, vocal performance and music theory. By the time I hit college I was a pretty formidable guitar slinger, but I was becoming increasingly interested in writing. I studied Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen in my room, Gregory Corso and James Dickey in English class, and everything from Bach to Brittan in music class. In the end, my aspirations shifted from guitar hero to songwriter. Perhaps all these diverse and somewhat esoteric influences might help explain why our music is so hard to classify.

PEV: Was there a certain point in your life when you knew that music was going to be a career for you?

JH: My first conscious thought. Period. It was never in doubt.

PEV: What were the earlier days like for your music? When you were just starting out and getting into the music business.

JH: It was pretty easy in college because we didn’t have to play gigs if we didn’t want to. But once we graduated and hit the road for a living, it was HELL. I drank and/or cried myself to sleep on more than few nights because I was utterly penniless, hundreds of miles from home and literally hungry. It’s a great weight loss program, but not recommended for the casual musician unless they’re comfortable with the bulk of their daily caloric intake coming from free draft beer at the club every night.

PEV: What was it like the first time you stepped into a studio to record your own music as a band?

JH: It was part natural, part intimidating and awkward. It felt like a culmination of my evolution as a writer and musician but, being a perfectionist and somewhat green, I worried excessively over a myriad of minute details that, upon reflection were trivial in the grand scheme of things. You can’t and shouldn’t micro-manage every note every musician plays, every sound the engineer dials in, etc., but green songs and green musicians never sound like you envision, so it’s understandable that I was never satisfied- I simply didn’t have the tools to translate my ideas into well-written, well performed, well-record music. As the quality of the writing, playing, producing and engineering progressed, the process became much less arduous. Nowadays, if it takes more than a couple of days to record an entire album, then I probably need to hit the woodshed and re-write the songs, because everyone else in the process are top-shelf pros that zero in on exactly what is needed with dazzling vision and sensibility; if it’s well-written, they’ll only make it better. And we seldom need more than one or two takes, again, as long as the writing is up to my standards.

PEV: Tell us about your first live performance on stage with The Floating Men. What was going through your heads?

JH: “Damn, these songs are really working! We’re going to be superstars overnight!” Boy, were we surprised.

PEV: What can people expect from a live Floating Men performance?

JH: OK, I’m not even going to pretend to be modest on this one. It’s simply one of the best shows you’ll every see. Two-and-half to four hours of passion, sweat, drama, heroics and incredible musicianship. I’m the luckiest writer on earth to be surrounded by what I consider the finest collection of musicians I could ever imagine. Of course the line-up can very from a smoky little three-piece acoustic trio up to a 7-piece armada of rock and roll fury. It always works, no matter the configuration.

As a vocalist, a smaller band or even a solo acoustic concert works beautifully simply because it’s easier to sing when I don’t to strain to hear myself.

As a composer and performer, however, the larger line-ups are a dream come true for my inner “rock star.” I don’t think there is a better one-two punch in the guitar hero world than Chris Cottros and David Steele on the same stage- it’s utterly jaw-dropping. Throw in jazz and pop master Jody Nardone on keys, Steve Ebe on drums, and Andra Moran on backing vocals and it becomes a “supergroup” of Nashville’s, perhaps the Southeast’s, most exciting and explosive musicians. Anything can happen and usually does.

PEV: What do you want fans to take away from “Pleasurado!”?

JH: We don’t aim too high (wink):

Our sole goal with “Pleasurado!” and all its predecessors was to create the richest, most enduring popular music experience of the listener’s life. We strive to make each album so densely bejeweled with musical and lyrical treasures that, from the first listen to the thousandth, it never gets old and is always instills a fresh, vital an deeply rewarding sense of discovery.

PEV: How is “Pleasurado!” different from other albums out today?

JH: I’d like to make three points on this topic:

1. Musicianship : See comments on live performance above. ‘Nuff said.

2. Stylistic Vigor: Many bands are either formulaic, simple-minded or both. Many of those who aren’t are compelled or even forced by their labels to “dumb it down” for commercial purposes. I am fortunate to work with intelligent, talented, well-educated and highly experienced musicians in an environment free from commercial pressures. Our only formula is that there is no formula. Anything goes. If we can dream it, we can be it. At any given moment, we may be your favorite rock band, jazz ensemble, bluegrass trio or opera company. Is it self-pleasuring? Absolutely. Do we care? Hell no.

3. Subject Matter and Content: In popular music, the sleazy underbelly of the American or, more specifically, the Southern Experience is almost inevitably addressed with (often hackneyed) humor by novelty or comedy acts. In popular media and daily conversation, the emotional, physical and mental dimensions of this same suite of topics are so often addressed in broad generalities. We so often hear whispers about “problems in the bedroom” or “a drug problem,” the details of which are nearly always left unspoken.

“Pleasurado!” addresses the sexual, chemical and socio-economic issues of America’s dark side with intelligence, maturity, artistic delicacy and yes, where appropriate, bawdiness and humor. And it deals with these topics in relatively specific detail. Exactly what is wrong in the bedroom? Exactly how is his drug problem impacting his life? What is really being said in online adult chat rooms?

I am particularly proud of how all of my writing, not just “Pleasurado!”, handles the entire spectrum of human sexuality, from the romantic to the unusual, with candor and comfort. If the aspiration of art is to illuminate basic human truths too complex or subtle to be articulated in ordinary discourse, why do so many artists, and indeed western culture as a whole, ignore the details and astonishingly richly varied specificities of perhaps the most basic of all human truths: sexuality.

Sorry for preaching. I’ll step down from my soapbox now.

PEV: How does the music on “Pleasurado!” differ from that of your earlier works such as 2002 release, “A Magnificent Man”, and 2004 release “The Haunting”?

JH: Here again, it is an issue of subject matter and ongoing maturation as artists. Perhaps the most notable difference, at least from my perspective, is that “Pleasurado!” has as much intellectual impact as it does emotional appeal. Not that it is a chilly or clinical album by any stretch; it’s just more objective musically and lyrically, which feels right on the mark given the subject matter. I think the subject matter begs for slightly less sympathetic characters and slightly more numbness.

PEV: Can you tell us about the meaning behind the name, The Floating Men?

JH: In one of our previous bands, shortly before it evolved into The Floating Men, a critic said we made it look so easy he thought we were going to float right off the stage. That was a very high compliment that became our central mission. Hence, it was natural to adopt it as our name.

PEV: Is there an artist/band on the scene right now that you think is “on the rise” and we should all be looking out for?

JH: I’m sorry, I’m so out-of-the-loop in the popular music world I have no idea what’s going on out there. The last acts I got really, really excited about were Jeff Black, Angie Aparo, Tom Waits and Beck, so I’m not the most up-to the-minute tipster.

PEV: How has life on the road been for you? Best and worst parts?

JH: These days it’s good. As I said before, it was pretty awful in the early days. Worst Part: Having to share rooms with other band members. Best Part: not having to share rooms anymore.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about the members of The Floating Men?

JH: Scot has a PHD and is a professor and researcher specializing in the growing field of community psychology. I am a biodiversity conservation consultant and co-chair a large national conservation organization.

PEV: When the band gets to relax or have some down time, what can we find you doing?

JH: Laying on the sofa staring blankly at The History Channel or out in the woods studying rattlesnakes.

PEV: How have your friends and family reacted to all your success? Are you surprised at where you are now, from where you started?

JH: Success? I would characterize it as barely evading utter failure. My mom is still waiting for me to pay for having her driveway paved. And no, I’m not nearly where I thought I would be, especially in the first few years of The Floating Men’s existence. We have attained the level of success I always said I would be willing tolerate, but not nearly what we wanted or expected.

PEV: In all your travels (US or International), which city has been your favorite to play? Why?

JH: I can’t say! That’s like asking me which is my favorite child. Even if I do have a favorite, I’m not telling!

PEV: When you write music, what kind of environment do you surround yourselves in?

JH: I have an antique chair beside the fireplace in my living room. I pour a cup of expensive dark roast coffee and begin what my wife calls “rocking and muttering” as I work through lyrical and musical ideas.

PEV: What’s one word best describes The Floating Men?

JH: Good.

PEV: So, what is next for The Floating Men?

JH: I’ve already written over half the songs for the next album but, for now, we’re going to continue to focus on barely evading utter failure.

For more information on The Floating Men, check out www.TheFloatingMen.com

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2 Comments

  1. gustave said,

  2. Ben Danley said,

    I recently had the chance to see Jeff Holmes at a solo show in Youngstown Ohio. I have been an avid fan of The Floating Men for years but have never had the pleasure of seeing them live. I was nervous that after 6 plus years of waiting to see them that my expectations would surpass my experience. After seeing them I have to say I will never be able to make myself pay money to see any other band ever again. His description of their live preformance being “Two-and-half to four hours of passion, sweat, drama, heroics and incredible musicianship” is right on the nose. Hands down the best show I have ever attended in my life, and if you consider yourself a lover of music and lover of lyrical poetry…well you have to get over to I-Tunes and check these guys out!

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