In the knee-deep humidity of South Florida, floral satin and liquid gel lights seem uncommon, without a speck of attention, and a part of a scene claimed to be unseen since decades past — until 10 months back in a low-key venue around midtown Miami called The Bridge. That’s where local band Similar Prisoners comes in.
Similar Prisoners are coming to the forefront to evoke a scene with roots that derived from Canterbury, England and the days of Barrett-era Floyd and the progressions of the Soft Machine, to the emergence of baroque rock in Southern California by the Electric Prunes, West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, and Love. The band helps to bridge the gap between that era of rock to now, alongside the likes of Jacco Gardner, the Olivia Tremor Control, Dungen, and at times Tame Impala.
Putting together Melochromania, a monthly concert and record label of the same title, has become a major component in their aim, which features local psychedelia against a liquid light scenery presented by artist Ani Gonzalez. Frontman and guitarist Adrian Lopez has also recorded local bands such as Denudes and Similar Prisoners themselves under the label in his home studio.
The band was started by Lopez about five years back, who studied classical composition at various Miami institutions alongside bassist Pietro Scaffitto. Similar Prisoners is also joined by drummer Elliott Day and more recently fellow Infinite Channel videographer Thomas Tarpey, who plays keys and guitar.
Lopez and Scaffitto’s background in classical music is truly represented in their music. What can be heard is a symphonic rock precision that rivals with their Robert Johnson blues and psychedelic elements, which at times seems to borrow avant-garde trinkets as effects.
Ultimately, their sound leans back towards the band’s collective influence: the Beatles; a la the honky-tonk of Paul McCartney’s “Rocky Raccoon,” or the delicacies of “In My Life,” and which can certainly be heard on their 2014 album My World Keeps Falling. In their recent performances, much of Similar Prisoners’ songs are akin to Todd Rundgren’s A Wizard, A True Star (which the band has also said to be an influence) or even Rundgren’s first works in the band Nazz.
We talked to the band about their music, and what could be next for the possibly burgeoning psychedelic scene down south.
[Pietro] you are from Italy. Where in Italy and what brought you to Miami?
Pietro: I’m from Genoa, Italy […] I got to Miami because I wanted to study music. I wanted to study the electric bass.
Where did you study?
Pietro: I studied at Miami [Dade] College and then I switched to New World School of the Arts. I actually met Adrian first there [Miami Dade College] and then New School of the Arts.
Is that when the band had started?
Pietro: No, we met there. Sometimes he’d [Adrian] show me stuff because he was ahead of me in positions and we had some friends in common. And then he put together the band and when he hit me up I was knee deep into studying. And then I was managing a studio after another project and then I called him up, he showed me some music and I was like “Oh my god, this is beautiful, let’s get together.”
Adrian: The Similar Prisoners, I had founded the band. It’s had several lineups but this is the solid lineup.
How long have you been making music under the Similar Prisoners?
Adrian: I think around four or five years
How did Elliott get into the band?
Elliott: I’m from Washington, D.C. I’d planned another band and then I wanted to make more music that was more in the realm of short-structured, psychedelic rock type music. And my other band was more of a jazz improvisation jam band. I composed an ad in Craigslist and wrote that I wanted to make a band that was in the likes of Tame Impala, Temples, late Beatles, early Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane. Adrian hits me up later and is like “Dude, this is my band, I think you’d be the perfect fit.”
Pietro: We went through some drummers we wanted at the beginning to do something together just without definite direction. And then we wanted to apply for a contest called South Florida Rock Showdown and we needed to come up with music. Adrian had all of this music and we started working on that. We found a drummer, we basically got into the semifinals just submitting one song [“Jewels That Never Shine”]. And then for logistical problems it was crazy and the drummer didn’t pull through.
Adrian: I remember that you were like “Oh it’s gonna be so difficult to find a drummer,” and I was like “Let’s just try Craigslist,” and you were the first person to be brought up.
Elliott: Yeah, and so what happens is Adrian hits me up saying “Listen my name’s Adrian I’m based out of here, here’s my band, check it out, let me know what you think.” So I went to the Bandcamp. The first track I listened to was called “From Man or Beast.” It starts off with an introduction and by the third section it’s an instrumental guitar solo or melody. And by the time I heard half that solo, I just paused the track and was like, “Dude I don’t need to hear any more of this, I’m emailing this dude right now, we’re gonna start this project right now, I’m gonna go start practice.” I came down and met both of them and just clicked like that, like instantly.
Pietro: You don’t know this but I remember that day, you were in, I came a little later and you guys started working.
Adrian: Oh right we were already working on “Jewels [That Never Shine”]
Pietro: Yes. And then I get there and I look at him [Elliott] and I’m like, “You are already in. How is it?” and he was like “Man, the dude is awesome he’s perfect.”
Elliott: The funny thing is, I hadn’t told them this either, but I came for an audition/jam, and before I had finished setting up my drums I already knew I had the spot. If I wanted to take it or not, you know what I mean. So that’s where we got our beginning and we started with long, marathon practice sessions. Adrian had a shit load of material.
Do you base your recordings off of the improvised/jam stuff?
Adrian: Stuff usually comes from a chord progression that I have and then we just piece it from there
Elliott : Yeah, and a lot of the times what happens is we really don’t end up having a lot of structure and we really don’t do a lot of improvisation. One of the things I like about the Prisoners is that playing from a jam point, an improvisational band, like the Phish and Grateful Dead fan that I am, and playing in a band that represented that genre a bit, I was kind of used to improvisational stuff. And like hey, we’ll jam it out and see where it goes, if it’s good it’s good and if it’s not we’ll meander along. I thought you know what, let’s just make the shit sound good period and play it that way and put it all together and so that way we know it’s just gonna sound good.
Adrian: We know where we’re going and when we want this kind of vibe and we want that kind of vibe. If you take time with the composition you can give people that roller coaster kind of jam band. Pink Floyd is a lot like that; it sounds like improvisation but it’s not at all.
Are you at all influenced by Piper at the Gates of Dawn and [Syd] Barrett’s solo work?
Adrian: I got into Bowie, and Bowie is very into Syd and [I] partly discovered him through Bowie. But they’re all in that same line. I just love that kind of songwriting that’s like, you don’t know where shit’s going. Everything resolves strangely and it’s very beautiful.
(the artists on this playlist were chosen by Similar Prisoners; songs curated by Gabby Strang)
Who else do you think is most influential to you guys?
Elliott : A lot recently, in the past two years, it’s been what Tame Impala is doing. They have created such a fucking new way of thinking about things musically. For me, it’s just taken me to a whole other place. Like, you can do this. I just love them. I mean obviously my biggest influences are, if you’re talking from a drum standpoint, definitely Led Zeppelin. For any rock drummer you gotta get familiar with that and Zeppelin for me was my favorite. And also King Crimson. When we did an interview on WVUM, Adrian talked about In the Court of the Crimson King being his favorite album. Although I wouldn’t say that’s my favorite album, there are things in that album that resonate with me so deeply that they come out in my playing just because they’re there.
Adrian: For me, musically, my dad is an audiophile and always had a huge collection and I was always listening to things. But from what he tells me, when I was like 3, King Crimson was what I said, “More of that! More of that!” to. And I was listening to Billy Joel and all that stuff that I could have easily said “More of that!” to. And for some reason as a child that was it. That I think is what made me a musician. Ultra syncopated, y’know. Being in Cuba who knows what kind of stuff I was hearing that made me musical, but King Crimson’s stuff was what set me on the path. For songwriting, the Beatles were the ones that kind of showed me that every song could be like its own little project. And that’s how I see us, we’re like yeah, some songs are related, but anything it’ll be a pairing of them. I see every song as its own little project and I don’t see it as all under the same umbrella. And the Beatles are like that too.
Pietro: I, as a bass player, came over here from Italy for my own reasons for playing electric bass. And I was into Jaco Pastorius, fun, jazz kind of vibe. So I came over here and then immediately switched, as soon as I started studying, to double-bass jazz. And I stayed there for years. After that I went to composition and I studied contemporary composition to have a broader view of music and still I didn’t. And you know I played rock when I was a kid but then by the end of my composition school I really zeroed in on one band — The Beatles […] In fact, when I heard “Jewels that Never Shine,” the voice immediately evoked John Lennon and the vibe was exactly what I wanted to do. After that I have to say that my major influence, right now, as a bass player, is Paul McCartney. Because after the classical music and all that I feel that this is the sound that I want.
Adrian: I wanted to keep it genre-specific but in the classical genre of the music the music of [Johannes] Brahms is always gonna be very influential on me and very inspirational. And for jazz, Charles Mingus. For every genre I find, like, a beacon. Like those, I always learn from them, even while writing rock songs, there’s few things that you take from those influences.
How did Melochromania come together?
Elliott: Melochromania started right fucking here. I’ve seen it from the very beginning, from, “Hey we should play a concert in a church and sell beer and make it sound awesome because the acoustics are gonna be great,” to what it’s become, it’s amazing. For me, what I love about it is that I’ve seen a vision in someone’s mind truly come to life and become something that’s fuckin awesome and that we totally love
Pietro: Yeah, there was this fan of ours who had a space in the place where we go [to play]. So we go there one night and it was a really cool place and I liked it. And immediately I heard about the owners that are really trying to do something, and I was conscious about the fact that a band like ours — after dealing a little bit with what’s happening in the scene in Miami right now — I realized the best thing would be to have a place where we do our own venue. And as soon as I saw this place, I knew it. And some time passed, we had gigs, The Prisoners started going …
Adrian: Yeah, and then it became that whole thing where it’s hard to find a scene with this kind of music. And Churchill’s is not open to it.
You guys aren’t too far off in the music scene, but I guess at times Churchill’s does lean on booking heavier rock and garage rock music.
Adrian: Yeah, they give so many nights to straight up noise and electronic stuff that it’s hard. They’ll do an event here and there but it’s not easy. And we wanted [to do] something. We saw something called Acid Test San Francisco, and there’s psych scenes all around the U.S., and it’s something that is picking up, so I was like what do we have to do to start building the steps for that around here?
Pietro: Actually, the first time we went there [The Bridge], they were talking about this big room with stuff inside. They were going to free it up, and I really thought “I want that,” the day after we go, they cleared it. We go there, me and Adrian, we explained [Melochromania] and they immediately saw it. Like, these people were already in tune with it, for some reason.
Adrian: And what’s really great about it is that they stuck with it, even when the turnouts have been eh.
Elliott : Kind of what’s spun out of this is that the Melochromania thing has been growing so fast and is so cool that what Adrian’s decided to do is make a record label and start recording.
Pietro: What’s important to understand about Melochromania is that since the first time really some magic was created among the people who collaborated out of their desire of creating and seeing this vision. And all of these people.. Ani [Gonzalez], Marlon [Ammann], the guys from the Bridge, everybody.
Adrian: I mean it’s a growing thing, that’s what I like about it. The other thing is that there’s a lot of others. Lucid Gallery has a weird psych jam scene around it, some of the people there are starting to become a part of this, and these guys from Peyote [Coyote] over here. So you start seeing the constellation of the psych scene in South Florida. It was there, and hidden, but we kind of dug it out and still are looking.
When I had gone to Melochromania it felt like you were in someone’s home watching these bands, which can be a good thing with a venue.
Elliott : One other thing I really dig about Melochromania is that we are constantly bringing in different bands; every month is different. It’s an experience and also that people can just come and be there and just experience this all together. And the things is that there’s always something going on. We start off with these two DJs and they just keep it rolling with top picks.
Adrian: It allows people and a lot of venues that have become popular in Miami to have an escape. You wanna escape the Miami reality and it does that. We didn’t plan on it, but I think that its biggest strength is that.