Blown up

Shoney Lamar proves there’s life after Florida
By MATT PARISH  |  October 8, 2008

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SIMPLE MINDS: “Richard Brautigan and Jim Jarmusch were both doing things the way I like them done,” says Shoney (a/k/a Justin Shirah, left, with Doug Carter).

Let me take you back to 2002 in Daytona Beach. Late summer. Hurricane season. Shoney Lamar, an ex-new-metal guy turned folk-blues bard, was just getting things started, driving back and forth between Daytona and Orlando for shows. His friend Doug Carter was getting a degree in audio engineering at Full Sail University.

“There were two hurricanes that year,” says Carter. “One came and ripped all the shingles off my house; the second rained all over the roof. I lost my bed, that’s about it.” Sound under-devastating? Note that this was pre-Katrina, at a time where hurricanes operated more like a giant, windy apparatus of the FEMA state lottery.

“They ended up handing me $11,000, which was enough for a pretty pro recording set-up,” says Carter. Sweet.

I’m at the B-Side with Carter and Lamar (real name Justin Shirah) on a non-hurricany night, discussing the long trip up the coast and into the strange territory of music they’ve found themselves taking, quietly thriving on home-recorded demos passed out to drunk friends on CD-Rs. Bassist Carter has adopted an Ivy League look, with a sweater over a collared shirt and fluffed hair that maintains a kind of Kirk Cameron–esque float. Lamar, who sings and plays guitar, still looks every bit the Floridian, with a chain around his neck, perfectly messy hair that sort of recalls late-period Pauly Shore, and a pretty fly leopard-print-lined hoodie.

“I really don’t know what we’re trying to do,” says Lamar. “I like simplicity. Minimalism. There’s no era of music or art that I can point to, but people like Richard Brautigan and Jim Jarmusch, from totally different times, were both doing things the way I like them done.”

“Simple” would be a misnomer — the band’s recordings veer from stark vocals and acoustic guitars to nightmare alleys full of junked percussion and dissonant flutes. Lamar plays guitar in a shucking, rhythmic way that betrays his time put in under the flag of late-’90s metal. The songs are more or less straightforward folk and blues sent through a rusty modern radio filter — Lamar’s voice both ravages and exults in the past 10 years of the Pained Male Pop Singer, all growling blue notes and shuffled funk.

But Lamar drags it through some muck. He points to Tom Waits as a prime inspiration, and that shows up in scrappy harmonies throughout his work. Both “I Smell a Brat” and “My Pet Ghost” (which you can hear at the band’s MySpace page) take left turns with haunted-house back-up vocals. “Eat Red Meat” (on his latest CD-R, “Do It to Everyone”) somehow manages to fit in clarinets straight off the Residents’ Duck Stab.

“I’m not trying to be weird at all,” says Lamar. “I’m just writing music and putting things in the songs that sound right.”

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  Topics: Music Features , 10-14-2008, Tom Waits, Ivy League,  More more >
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