Budokan rock

Not really what you'd expect in a sushi bar. The otherwise cool, modest clamor of dishes clinking and Kirin bottles toasting and waiters explaining the fishy menu gave way to the scooting about of chairs and tables to make way for...a very loud rock band. The four guys filling the front of the space with their big amps and drums and mike stands that Friday night weren't about to waste their not-long-awaited debut on wussy sonics. So what that the yuppies scattered about the restaurant looked pained at the first roaring chord? That set of throttling, towering pop songs made an impression on a room that couldn't ignore it.

In fact, almost exactly one year ago, Floor 13 produced a sound that nearly shattered brick walls, glass windows, and eardrums at Deep Sushi on Elm Street, back when then-manager Scott Melton was encouraging that sort of thing; many of his waiters were downtown musicians. It may have been the lineup's first show in a tiny venue, but they played it like rock stars at Shea Stadium. And once it was over, that surging confidence--if not air of entitlement--left a tinge of promise that lingered in the room. Floor 13 was a good band only destined to get better.

"I wanna sell 15 million records," says Winston Giles, frontman-guitarist and founder of the band. This is not a popular attitude among the local, indie-obsessed contingent, but then, Giles isn't from these parts--he's a transplant from Melbourne, Australia, via Los Angeles. "If I end up with a Ferrari, I've earned that. I want Ric Ocasek to produce our records. I'm tired of that underground, humble, indie shit."

Giles, at 25, already believes himself a rock star. From his days living above his dad's pubs in Melbourne to his nights as a roadie for L.A. rock acts to his present-day life in Dallas with his finally fixed band, he's walked the walk in hopes of stumbling into a self-fulfilling prophecy. If he believes he's bigger than lo-fi life, maybe the rest of the world will too. It's a question of whether the songs can support the dream, whether the connections are in place, whether Dallas and the rest of the planet are ready for this kind of step-skipping. The band has, after all, brushed away offers from local indie labels to release its first record. They want to wait for the bigger fish to bite.

"I love my songs--they're my babies, and I've got a great band. I'm not gonna fuck this up. I'm moving more into that Cars-Flock of Seagulls thing, that '80s thing," Giles says, without a trace of irony. "I'm good at it."

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At the time of the Deep Sushi show, the music didn't quite evoke the glory days of early MTV, or by this critic's ear, the self-indulgent rants of mid-'70s glam or the hyper-sexed anthems of Cheap Trick (circa One on One) like it does today. Back then, the act was a standard four-piece playing concrete rock arrangements, and member solidarity was still months away. Giles had only part of his permanent team assembled: ex-Static member Josh Weber on guitar and journeyman Duncan Black (Dooms U.K., Slowpoke) on drums. These two would stick with Giles, but by early summer, veteran bassist Alan Hayslip would give way to newcomer George Terry, and Giles would add nice-guy-about-town Brodie (who prefers to go sans first name) on keyboards and samples. And fittingly, the big sound would only get bigger, the slick sound slicker.

"We're probably 20 years too late for what we're about, but we like that," Terry says. Giles' bandmates are lounging around a new Inwood-area club called Kangaroo. The threat of pretension looms in the shadows, yet despite the members' collective aim toward mondo fame, they come off as effusive and giddy, if not terribly down to earth.

"Basically, we wouldn't turn down a chance to make a living doing what we love to do," Weber adds. "Right now we're just at a neat little buzz."

As they should be. The band's self-released, self-titled EP, intended more as a press demo than a public sale, boasts four songs of the glossiest behemoth pop around. The CD kicks off with "The Sucker," and the production runs as deep as it does wide (pushed by engineer Dave Willingham): the hiss and pop of a needle settling into a vinyl groove, and then Brodie's ricochet Prophet giving way to a growing gush of atmospheric everything else. In a heavily affected vocal croon, Giles stutters: "My love she is / So vain and so cold / I am a sucker / I fell and fell hard," and in the ensuing explosion, it's easy to understand how the whole is just too dense, too cocky for any mere sushi bar. It's great song, as are the other three on the disk, as ambitious and insidious as Machiavellian pronouncements.

"Our music just comes out that way," says Black. "If we don't like the way something's sounding, we say, 'Are you kidding? This is awful. This is not gonna be on the radio.' The problem with shooting any lower is that you may be a big thing in town, but you drive 20 miles out, and no one's heard of you."

Ah, like Funland or UFOFU in their heyday, or even Tripping Daisy right now--three talented, big-rawk hopefuls that went after similar Holy Grails and came up empty-handed. In the wake of those tragic and untimely snuffs, Dallas is left with few bands that carry themselves the way Floor 13 does, like vehicles built for alt-rock success.

The band could, on local stages, fill the empty shoes of those lamented acts. It has the attitude, the desire, and most crucially, the talent. Hell, with an average age of 24, every member already looks like a rock star, and who can resent that kind of optimism in ones so young? Floor 13 is like a start-up corporation that Merrill Lynch would keep at least one eye on, just in case.

But believing it's Dallas' next Great Rock Hope is premature. And at some level, for the time being at least, the members know it: The current restructuring of the big-label industry in the wake of over-signings is something the band knows it may have to wait out. "It could be three or more years before things really happen for us," sighs a morose, impatient Giles.

Brodie's level-headedness and industry savvy, through his work at Last Beat and PolyGram, could help the band negotiate some of the common industry pitfalls. But in their current incarnation, they haven't played more than a handful of live shows, an element they want to hone to crystallized perfection. During a recent show at Trees, opening for Austin's Sixteen Deluxe, the band filled the vacuum-like room with determined aggression, willing itself to be louder, bigger, and brighter than the sound system would allow. In their nostalgic quest for glory, the great concert seals the deal.

Giles has subscribed to this theory since his platinum-rocker-obsessed days in Australia. In fact, it was a particularly solid 1992 Red Hot Chili Peppers show in Melbourne that convinced Giles to cross the Pacific and land in Los Angeles, land of a thousand rock stars. Just after he arrived, Peppers bassist Flea introduced Giles to his hero, Jane's Addiction's Perry Farrell, and from that moment, the starry-eyed Giles was sold on the American Dream.

"In Australia, selling 30,000 is a gold record. That's not enough," Giles says. "My band [an Aussie version of Floor 13] was doing fine there, but I wanted to take it to America."

Giles lived on Venice Beach for a while, ducking immigration and working in restaurants before a Texas connection talked him into coming to Dallas to play with Black. Giles and Black clicked ("Duncan's a hard-hitting sonofabitch," Giles gushes), and the newly employed Deep Sushi doorman talked two of his overseas bandmates into joining him here, which they did until their money and courage ran out. Giles sent them home, sucked it up, and drafted Weber and Hayslip. The Deep Sushi debut was the result.

Giles confesses regret that Australia isn't quite in the industry loop, the world he wants so much to be a part of. "I'm terribly homesick," he says. "Just last month I had a $430 long-distance bill. And I hate it that my friends might think I'm a deserter."

In fact, Giles worries about a lot of things. Right now, he's concerned about a fight he and his bandmates had earlier that day, about Giles having to back out of playing a show because of his new job at Kangaroo. "It's killing me. I raise so much hell when one of them has to miss anything, and now here I am having to cancel," he says, trailing off.

Despite his attitude that this is his band, that these are his songs, he's increasingly aware of his attachment to--his dependence on--these musicians, and that may worry him too. Without them, without their input, patience, and talent, Giles is just another guy with a guitar and a dream.

"We fight all the time, like a family," Black says. Though occasionally, with Giles' temper and stubbornness, Terry, Weber, Black and Brodie just have to "let him go"--a phrase both Giles and the others use, describing their response to Giles' dictatorial benders.

"We let him think this is his deal," Terry says, laughing. "But we keep him grounded." When Giles passes through the room during the interview, Weber and Terry abruptly stop their train of thought to break into an overloud pseudo-diatribe: "...and that's when Winston's b.o. got so bad we had to tell him!" Giles smirks and moves on. He gets this ribbing all the time.

Much of what the band says, in fact, sounds vaguely like in-joke sound bites, no doubt the result of spending so much time together. Though when the subject rounds back to Real Goals--to the Big League and Floor 13's destiny with it--the members turn serious. Sort of.

"Corporate rock does not suck," Black insists, perhaps in an attempt to dispel his own doubts. Brodie nods in agreement. Right. And do any of you guys listen to corporate rock? "No way."

Floor 13 performs February 27 at Club Clearview.Log on to the band's Web site at www.floorthirteen.com.

Scene, heard
Darlington--which is French for "tattooed band"--has just released its 43rd seven-inch EP, this one coming from Mutant Pop Records. The vinyl delight, titled Bowling Betty (so named for a song about a chick in a bowling alley, and no duh), will be available in the color purple to the first 500 folks who ship three bucks off to Mutant Pop (members.aol.com/mutantpop/index.html), the same label responsible for the likes of Jon Cougar Concentration Camp and The Hi-Fives...

Want to know why the Good/Bad Art Collective is Street Beat's favorite cause? Because of shows like this: On February 19, Baboon, Budapest One, Little Grizzly, and International Sparkdome (the new band from Craig Welch, ex of Brutal Juice) will play the Good/Bad's latest benefit for, well, the Good/Bad, damn it. The show, which will be held at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, costs four bucks, a bargain at twice the price...And in other Denton news, Chris Plavidal, the man behind Stumptone--which released its first single last year on Dave Willingham's Two-Ohm Hop label--is joining the mass exodus of Dentonites to the Big Apple. Sending him off in a going-away party will be Mandarin and Couple 19, at Dan's Bar on February 24. Stop by and wish him well...

Word is that longtime local pianist Dave Palmer, best known for his work with drummer Earl Harvin (the two released Strange Happy in 1997 on Leaning House), has joined a new band: Ponga. The group, which is scheduled to release its debut April 6 on Loosegroove (home of ex-New Bos band Critters Buggin), also features Skerik of Critters Buggin and Peter Buck's jam-band Tuatara; revered avant-orchestrator Bobby Previte; and composer-pianist Wayne Horvitz, a frequent collaborator of Previte and John Zorn's. Should be very...groovy.

--Robert Wilonsky

Send Street Beat your rock-star dreams to rwilonsky@dallasobserver.com.

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