Like so many South Florida musicians, Palm Beach County residents Jimmy Bradshaw, Jordan Pettingill, and Chris Jankow Jr. (known to most as C.J.) found themselves lusting after the urban allure of the great North. Jankow and Pettingill have been friends — and band mates — for most of their lives and linked up with Bradshaw in 2007 to form the first incarnation (then performing psychedelic dirge rock) of Cop City/Chill Pillars. They made their big decision in the parking lot of what would become, a short four years later, The Snooze Theatre, their greatest contribution to South Florida music yet.
“Being the morons that we are, we came up with a plan to be [in New York City] by Valentine’s Day,” Jankow says. “That might have been the first and last time we successfully met a deadline.”
All joking aside, the Pillars found NYC to be less than hospitable.
“New York was an experience, to say the least,” Jankow knowingly generalizes. “Sometimes I don’t even remember it, and I’m not sure if it was a good or bad time, but I can safely speak for all of us that we are happy we aren’t there anymore.”
The corollary is that the trio is happy to be home. The past four years have consisted of non-stop performing in numerous groupings but most notably the aforementioned Cop City/Chill Pillars, Love Handles (a CC/CP side project), and Krautrock-Dub ensemble Universal Expansion. These three projects perform in numerous forms with fluid lineups that sometimes swell to big-band proportions.
This dogged momentum has culminated recently with cult garage label Florida’s Dying releasing the first Cop City/Chill Pillars full-length LP, Held Hostage On Planet Chill. The Pillars currently recall the power trios of yore and the post-punk fixation with contemporary underground music, but they ultimately forge their own distinct dialect: trashy, inescapable grooves; uneasy, atmospheric zone outs; perfectly simple, comically misanthropic lyrics (“There’s a lotta things I got/That you don’t got/There’s a lotta things you got/That I don’t got”) chanted by druggy gang vocals; and a Phil Spector-like devotion to sonic walls, always heavy but never hard.
While Held Hostage finally documents the material the band had been performing live since their outdated “Weird Love/I, Animal” seven inch, released in 2009, The Snooze is certainly the greater testament to the group’s insatiable hustle.
Located in sleepy Lake Park, 80+ miles north of Miami, The Snooze Theatre was once a blues bar called The Orange Door. Attracted to what Jankow describes as the watering hole’s “low key vibes,” the boys befriended owner James Noble and set up shop, practicing and throwing shows. In December of 2010, The Pillars found themselves part of a Palm Beach County team of organizers putting together the two-day garage rock extravaganza, Zitfest, and there was little question as to where the festival should be held.
Jankow says The Orange Door offered the maximum amount of control and the minimum compromise. “We could do our thing with no interference from owners, security, etc.” The festival proved to be a strong showing from South Florida’s retro-and/or-lofi rock waves, with performances from Miami’s Jacuzzi Boys and Snakehole, Palm Beach’s indie stalwarts The Jameses and Guy Harvey, former (as in before they broke up) Florida’s Dying flagship band, Orlando’s Slippery Slopes, among numerous other acts from the tri-county area.
Zitfest would also provide the aesthetic template for The Snooze Theatre: low-frills, welcoming atmosphere; covers and drinks for those on a budget; and a serious focus on music. The Orange Door’s interior — virtually unchanged by Snooze management save for a slowly growing art collection and highly conceptual restrooms — greatly resembled an archetypal hang out like Saved By The Bell’s “The Max”. The vibe was perfect.
When word reached Jankow and the rest of the Pillars that Noble would be closing up shop, he and Pettingill rushed to see if they could help. The current arrangement is impressively simple: Jankow and Pettingill fill the calendar with events and James is allowed to book blues shows at his leisure. Jankow knew “the possibilities were endless.”
So far, The Snooze has hosted a healthy smattering of local shows, mix tape trades, and nationally touring acts (on Oct. 5, they’ll be hosting Drag City psych rockers Cave). Though still in its formative stages, the space has set a strong precedent for itself as an accessible, affordable clubhouse capable of sustaining patronage through open-minded, free-form programming that caters to the connoisseur, the eager fan, and the curious spectator in search of new music.
It was that strong, early precedent that attracted This Heart Electric frontman Ricardo Guerrero to bring his annual Death To The Sun “farewell to summer” celebration to Lake Park. Up until this point, DTTS has been a strictly Miami phenomenon: the first two editions (in 2009 and 2010) took place along the Biscayne Corridor at the now-defunct American Legion and Bar and featured a survey of Miami’s rock-experimental-and-other music scene. But when it came time to organize this year’s edition, Guerrero found himself looking elsewhere.
“The aesthetic just wasn’t there,” he says, lamenting Miami’s lack of spaces suitable for an all-day weird rock fest, i.e., dives and DIY spaces. The Snooze, on the other hand, is “perfect” for such an event, Guerrero says, citing the club’s balance of simplicity, low-maintenance inclusiveness, and sincere focus on music.
“Jankow and Jordan are active, touring musicians, so I feel they completely understand the process of a show,” Guerrero says, adding, “They are also masters of hospitality. Most venues treat musicians like they’re doing them a fucking favor by ‘letting them’ play their venue.”
Guerrero’s devout endorsement of The Snooze implies that CC/CP, in their numerous years of playing and performing together, were gradually accumulating a mental framework of the ideal DIY space. Of course, less than a year since its opening, The Snooze has not achieved its ideal. For one thing, the venue’s Monday-night open mics have “been slow to get going,” says Jankow, who envisions a loose framework in which anything can happen and anything is fodder for a performance.
“Ideally,” he explains, “people could come meet each other and spark up an impromptu improv set, or come prepared with a set to play. Hell,” he continues, excitedly, “we encourage whole bands to come and do their thing or people to just talk about their day on the mic.
“We joke about it catching on one day,” he says.
The sentence is steeped in self-deprecation, but it is easy to imagine the event catching on, at least as easy as it is to imagine that a former blues bar in the Lake Worth boonies could be one of the most vital precincts in the South Florida music scene.
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