With just two recorded songs to their name, including #7 on the Top 50 SoFla Songs of 2011, West Palm Beach-based New Coke is one of the most exciting new bands in South Florida. Made up of three inveterate punks with long music resumes — singer-guitarist Danny Morales, guitarist Gabe Schnirnan, and drummer Steve McKean — New Coke combines punk, garage, powerpop, and rock for a resulting blend that features the melodiously jangled guitars of prototypical underground indie yet eludes easy categorization.
Beached Miami is throwing a show with New Coke, fellow WPBers Guy Harvey, and Miami-based Lil Daggers on Thursday, Feb. 16, at the Electric Pickle (RSVP). With the event drawing close, I recently spoke to Morales, a Connecticut native and the band’s lead “microphone swallower”, about New Coke’s formation, the reaction to their bloody cover art, and picking up timing cues from Richard Pryor.
So you moved here from Naugatuck, Conn. What’s it like in Naugatuck and why the move to West Palm?
Growing up in Naugatuck was the best childhood you could ever ask for. You come home from school, and you play in the woods till your mother yells at you to come inside. The section of town was a heavily wooded area called Indian Hills. You would get to different neighborhoods via walking through trails in the woods. One of my favorite memories is walking through the woods with one of my buddies and we hear this rumbling sound coming towards us. Out of the clearing, these older kids were driving the skeleton of an old truck. The only thing left on it was the bed which held a keg. It was the most punk rock shit I’d ever seen. It looked so bizarre. It looked like something out of Vietnam.
I moved to Florida in 2002 after I graduated high school. My sister and brother-in-law were moving away to eventually start a family and my parents and I wanted to be a part of that.
You guys seemed to appear out of nowhere last year with the release of your debut 7″ in November. Did New Coke emerge from other bands?
Steve played guitar in this great powerpop outfit called Billy Boloby, and after that did another similarly influenced project called The Nancy Boys. He also played guitar and sang in the infamous Die Stinkin in one of their many wild incarnations. Gabe played bass in Kill Now?! and another band called Dangerbang with pretty much the same members. I had this studio-only band called Sex me Animal with my good buddies Tom Beals and Jason Fusco. I also played bass for a short while in the Dirty Boxes.
[Editor’s note: The Dirty Boxes disbanded in 2010. Their music is still available on Myspace and worth checking out. Guy Harvey’s Devon Nelson played guitar. The New Coke 7″ mentioned in the question is available for free download on bandcamp. Stream it below.]
How did you, Steve, and Gabe come together?
I met Steve after watching Die Stinkin play and telling him how violent they sounded. We ended up running into each other in Atlanta for this garage fest out there, and losing our minds over all the bands that played — mostly the local Atlanta stuff like Gentleman Jesse and His Men, GG King, and Predator. It sorta motivated us to start a band proper when we came back to Florida. Steve wanted to play drums again and I wanted to swallow a microphone. My friend Eric “Ridgemont” played bass. Eventually Eric left and Gabe came in to take over on bass. I knew Gabe from playing guitar in Kill Now?! for a short while. Our style is very similar, so I knew he would be the perfect fit. Steve and I were drinking bourbon one night, put together the song which ended up becoming “He Got Stabbed in the Throat”. I showed Gabe the song a couple days later, we played it altogether, and we’ve been doing it ever since.
How often are you guys able to play together?
We try to play together at least once a week. We all work full time jobs, so we value our time. Gabe and I usually get together on our own, and fine tune arrangements. We don’t jam, everything is premeditated, even the patterns in right-hand picking. If we end up jamming, it usually means practice is over.
Are day jobs an issue?
Jobs are an issue, but that’s life. If we all lived off trust funds, I think the music wouldn’t be as angry.
The 7” is grounded in really classic stuff. Without imitating them, your sound’s informed by the Minutemen, Zounds, The Sonics, The Saints. Did you guys find your sound organically or did you try and play a certain way?
You can try all you want to sound like something you like, but all those influences are gonna come out whether you like it or not. Steve worships the Minutemen, and I’m sure that plays a part subconsciously in the writing process. If you imitate a band and all you peel back is the first layer, your interpretation is gonna sound pretty shallow. You might as well be a cover band. I don’t want nothing to do with that. I’m strongly influenced by early Swans, but New Coke doesn’t “sound” even close to that. We take more from their understanding of noise and empty space. Also the way you can be intense live without moving.
Despite the similarities, you guys have an original sound. Still, it’s fun to ask which bands you listen to for inspiration.
For the last couple years, I’ve been into a lot of old soul music, mainly the beautiful compilations put together by Dave Godin called Deep Soul Treasures. Singers like Doris Duke, Irma Thomas, Chuck Edwards, to name a couple. Very much into Jeffrey Lee Pierce and the Gun Club, The Kinks, a lot of Australian stuff like The Scientists, and The Birthday Party. Gabe is influenced by Green Day, a lot of the early Cramps recordings with Bryan Gregory on guitar, and Public Image Ltd. Steve and I are Greg Cartwright fan boys to the fullest. Also, 80s hardcore like The Dicks, Fang, Flipper.
Personally, I learned my way around the guitar, and singing from listening to old black comedy records like Flip Wilson, Dick Gregory, Redd Foxx, and mainly Richard Pryor. You don’t need to hump a metronome to know about timing, just listen to a master communicator use words in the right places, at the right times. It’s the tightest band you’ll ever hear.
Do you guys have any favorite local acts?
There’s so much quality music coming from this area, and all of South Florida in general. If you have to move to Portland to start a band, then you’re probably fucked to begin with. Good luck, I hope you find your way into a corner. Locally, I’m in awe of the band Honey Train, and their backwards 13th Floor Elevators party anthems. My man Tom Beals is a big inspiration to me and he’s been playing under a lot of different names. Now he has a new band Yellow #6 which is great. How much time you got? Including Miami stuff too! Take notes: Holly Hunt, Slashpine, Bartholin, The Jellyfish Brothers, Evan Mui, Bonnet People, Nervous Attachments, Suede Dudes, Mario Speedwagon, Self and Other, who I’m looking forward to playing with in Miami. My slick homeboy Daniel [Mugruza-Ocampo] in Fourier and Universal Expansion.
[Editor’s note: New Coke will be playing with Fourier, The Band in Heaven, The Jellyfish Brothers, and Self and Other at Churchill’s on Mar. 23 to celebrate Holly Hunt’s Beatriz Monteavaro’s birthday. Holly Hunt, Honey Train, and the Jellyfish Brothers each had a track in the Top 50 SoFla Songs of 2011.]
“All I Want is your Sunshine” is an instant classic and an amazing song. Tell me about it — how did you guys come up with it?
Thank you so much for saying that. It was a song that I had written about my girlfriend Nancy Mae dumping me. In the song she dumps me, but in real life we are happy and together. I just wrote it as a reminder to never take her for granted, or anyone for that matter. It’s also the first song Steve and I played together and realized we were going to be more than a drunken punk band.
[Editor’s note: The front cover of New Coke’s 7” sports an aerial view of an angry white dad walking in on his daughter in bed with a black dude. The back cover depicts the scene just moments later, the mother consoling the daughter in the same room now splattered with blood. It would appear that someone got stabbed in the throat. Thus, the next question.]
Let’s talk about the murderous cover art for the 7”. Where did that idea come from and why did you have to kill a black dude?
What if the black dude killed the older white guy? Or maybe one of the white women took out both of them. All these songs are about situations, and fear in general — people ruffling up their moral fabric, and acting out because they don’t know any different. That cover could easily have been two homosexuals running away from the bigotry of their own family. The time period can be different, the people can be different, the fears are the same. We are showing a particular story of how some of that fear played out. We are just observers in this whole thing, and we happen to write songs about it.
Do you think a photographer who documents wars overseas does it because he likes to see murder and death? They’re just preserving time so others can observe and form their own opinions. Everyone involved in that photo did it for art’s sake, and we love them very much for doing so. We’ve gotten criticism and worry over that cover from many people. If you’re concerned so much about people liking what you do, you have no business doing art.
What are the plans for New Coke’s next release?
We will continue writing new songs, recording with multiple people, and having no regrets.
New Coke is playing with Guy Harvey and Lil Daggers at the Electric Pickle on Thursday, Feb. 16. For full details on the show, visit the Facebook event page.