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Sittin’ pretty: (L-R) Joe Vanavan, Damara Stolfo, Mikey Corcoran, Joe Terry

FEELING AT HOME

Out of an 18th-century house in Hudson come Luxury Flats, relaxed and recovered and ready for the rock world

By John Brodeur

Summer 2005: A clothbound CD sleeve shows up in the Metroland offices. Held tight by an elastic band and a gold button, its brown fabric cover is hand painted with green blades of grass, emblazoned with a faint, haphazardly scribbled logo. Inside, a two-track disc: One song, a country-rock boogie; the other, a low-gear lope. The vocals come from two different lead singers; the recording, doused with reverb and fleshed out with slide guitar and banjo, recalls the farmland indie-rock of My Morning Jacket.

Several months later, there’s a neat square envelope with a wax seal. The seven-song disc within is stamped with the same scrawled logo as before, but the music is remarkably different—raw, intense, full of promise, devoid of pretense. The first track, “Monkeyfunk,” is a swirl of heavy drums, snarling male vocals, piano and electric guitar; the next, “Bad Wizard in a Sweatsuit” has an organic, glam-rock swagger. Tempos rush and recede, songs take unexpected left exits into riff-rock territory, endings blur into noise collage. It’s dimebag and cheap bourbon rock; T-Rex and Sebadoh and Zeppelin and the Jesus and Mary Chain locked inside the same padded room.

This is how the Hudson-based quartet known as Luxury Flats were introduced to the world, through these two impressive demo discs and a handful of live shows that came recommended with superlative-heavy buzz. They quickly found a wave of support in both their hometown and Albany: Valentine’s owner Howard Glassman has called them “the best band in the area right now, bar none.” (Multi-instrumentalist Damara Stolfo says, “We owe a lot of what we’ve become to Howard. From the first time we played, he’s always supported us.”)

Singer-guitarist Mikey Corcoran is wiry and tall. He looks like a young Tom Petty with a three-day-old beard. When he walks, he just kind of leans his body in his chosen direction. His shirt is usually buttoned below the solar plexus.

In 2001, Corcoran and his longtime friend and drummer Joe Terry were playing together in a Philadelphia band called Terminal Crash. They were beginning to make a name for themselves in the competitive Philly rock scene when Corcoran nearly made literal use of his band’s name.

“We were doing the band, recording this record,” says Corcoran, in a stoner’s low, measured tone, much the opposite of his raw-throated singing voice. “I just went off the deep end, taking drugs and stuff, to the point where it was just like, no turning back . . . ”

“You were on your own, dude,” Terry interjects.

“I was really trying to go all the way,” Corcoran continues. “I was out of my fuckin’ mind. I obviously wasn’t myself.”

“I love this dude to death, he’s like a brother to me,” says Terry. “But there’s that time when people are either gonna make it or they’re not. There’s nothing you can do for ’em. I can’t hold this dude down and say ‘You’re not gonna fuckin’ do this!’”

“You tried that in Philly, like physically.” Corcoran chuckles at the bittersweet memory.

“Yeah, I tried and it didn’t work, so I just kinda got pissed. I kind of did write him off, but I was still like, ‘What’s gonna happen with this dude?’”

Stolfo adds, “He had basically given up Mikey for dead.”

Things began to change when Corcoran went into rehab. “My intention was just to get on something like methadone and go back out and start raging again, get a job and be a responsible whatever.” But the former Hare Krishna devotee had an epiphany. “I had these crazy dreams—these intense, Krishna vision-type dreams. Granted, I was also coming down off of lots of heavy stuff. But it made me just swing completely back in the other direction.”

A friend of Corcoran’s offered him a place to stay near Hudson (“a shed in the backyard,” says the waifish Stolfo; “it was a nice shed,” he counters), where he immersed himself in the Krishna lifestyle: “Shaved head, the garb. That was it. No music.” Soon after, he shipped off for a six-month stay in India. But his new style didn’t last for long, thanks in part to doughy comic actor Jack Black.

“On the plane back from India, I was watching—I won’t say the movie . . . School of—I can’t. But there was a montage in the middle. I’m sitting there in a fuckin’ dress on the plane, and I’m watchin’ this montage where they show all the greats—the Who is in there, Jimi, the Ramones—and it was like a shot just rushed over me. I knew that I was in the wrong place and I had to find some middle road. It’s so lame, but it was just powerful. It basically made me see that I loved playing music, not just rock music. It makes me feel really comfortable.”

Today, Corcoran is comfortable playing croquet in the backyard of the band’s compound, Spook Rock, a spacious 18th- century Dutch Colonial in the town of Greenport, just east of Hudson. All four band members live here—Corcoran, Stolfo, Terry, and bassist Joe Vanavan (Joe V., they call him, always)—as does Terry’s girlfriend, Nicky Karas, who also had a hand in designing the packages for the band’s two demo CDs. This is their universe, where they eat, sleep, record, swim, play lawn games.

It’s around noon on an early July Sunday, the sky teasing the possibility of clear-and-sunny. The band members are sitting on the patio, sharing a joint, discussing what to do with the wheat in the field behind the house. One of three resident cats circles and figure-eights the tangle of legs beneath the picnic table. Sensing the need to entertain, Terry runs to gather up an old, yellow, Sony cassette Walkman. He plugs the antique into a pair of small computer speakers and plays an Erykah Badu tape.

“I barely knew these guys when they moved in,” says Stolfo. Despite being the junior member by several years, she is essentially their manager, handling their booking, business and correspondence. She’s the only lifelong upstate New York resident among them. Luxury Flats are her first band. “Mikey was like, ‘I’m gonna start a rock band. You wanna play the piano?’” She and Corcoran began playing, writing, and cohabitating immediately.

After having been out of touch for a few years, Terry called Corcoran “out of the blue,” and found out about the new project. He began making weekend trips up from Philadelphia to work on music.

Vanavan, who had been playing music with Terry since high school and was familiar with Corcoran from around town, was impressed. “Joe [Terry] would come back to Philly with these tapes, and we would hang out and record in my basement. He played me these tapes, and I was like ‘Holy shit! Mikey, back on the horse!’”

“Off one horse and onto another horse,” quips Corcoran.

Feeling the get-out-of-the-city bug, Vanavan, who has played music with Terry since the two were teenagers, soon relocated. “I was at a transitional point in my life. I needed a total change. When I helped Joe move up here, I was like, ‘Where do I sign?’ I just took that leap into the unknown.”

Early in their cohabitation, conflicting work schedules placed a premium on rehearsal and recording time. “It was like camp when [Vanavan] first got up here,” recalls Corcoran. “We would have these charts, like cooking charts, and everyone had a day, and you had to get down there and cook this fucking meal . . . ”

Terry clarifies, “so everyone was in the practice spot by [a designated] time.”

“It was very tense. We felt this urgency.”

That urgency carried over into the sounds heard on their demos, recorded mostly live here at Spook Rock. As heard on the demos, the Flats have two distinct personalities: an electric rock band, and its acoustic freak-folk doppelgänger. This versatility is both a strength and a weakness—Stolfo’s Yamaha CP70 piano can be a beast to both transport and tune; Terry’s muscular drumming (he plays kick on almost every beat of every measure) borders on overpowering; and the band’s tendency to swap instruments during acoustic sets can be a sound engineer’s bane. (In the acoustic setting, Terry plays banjo and guitar, and takes a significant portion of the lead vocals, while Corcoran bangs away on percussion, Vanavan ping-pongs between bass and lap-steel guitar, and Stolfo plays harmonium.) As one listener remarked following the Flats’ set at a recent outdoor show in Hudson, “They need their own sound guy.”

The band’s shapeshifting makes them a hard one to define, but as Corcoran puts it, “We’re a rock band, I guess, but I don’t think about it that way. It encompasses all this other garbage that people throw into it. There are some songs that aren’t meant to be loud. You can’t sing the same loud as you can softly.”

Terry finishes the thought. “Nobody wants to always be in a station. It’s fun to play guitar; it’s fun to hear different sounds. I guess it is like a whole different band.”

“We’re trying to find the balance,” says Vanavan.

One place that balance can be achieved is in the studio. The Flats plan to record through the month of August, and hope to emerge with a full-length album early this fall, which will likely be self-released—although there is some debate over whether or not they will make their own packaging this time out.

“I don’t think we’re gonna do that again,” Stolfo states flatly.

“This time it’s gonna be different!” Corcoran offers enthusiastically. “Nicky has this idea. We’re gonna make it simple.”

“You can still have a model and get it made somewhere. We can pay the local print shop to do it.”

Terry pipes up, “I want to have the recording, then worry about the packaging.” A good point, indeed.

“It’s only been a year,” says Corcoran, “but we feel like we could be putting out three or four recordings a year. We have tons of stuff. But we don’t have a label or anything like that.”

“When you’re doing everything yourselves,” adds Terry, “what do you do with it? It’s kind of overwhelming.”

But Stolfo thinks it’s that DIY esthetic that makes them what they are. “I think it’s important for us, at the beginning of this band’s life, to do it all on our own,” she says, “because then we know we’re not half-assing it, and we really are sincere about being together and making this our life for now.”

Luxury Flats will perform tonight (Thursday, Aug. 3) at Stray Bar (521 Warren St., Hudson), and on Aug. 11 at Valentine’s (17 New Scotland Ave., Albany) as part of the Hawaiian Rawkfest. For more information on the band, visit www.theluxuryflats.com.


ROUGH MIX

 

Got Rough Mix items? Contact Kathryn Lurie at klurie@metroland.net or 463-2500 ext. 143.



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