By Dana Krangel
Photo: Abigail Rose Marsicano
Florida is so Flori-duh sometimes that it can be difficult convincing an outsider we have talented artists, let alone full-fledged live music scenes and successful bands who have spread their wings and flown to major labels. Over-the-top news stories, senior citizen migration, and alligator parties might overshadow our loud and proud music culture, but not every band in our landscape looks at our mess of a state as a reason to flee.
This is quite the opposite, actually. Why shift to a new city only to dream when you are already doing it for real? That’s the mentality of the homegrown heroes Band In Heaven. Technically Florida, not heaven, made this band, although sometimes your ears will toggle back and forth between the two options.
Does it get any more West Palm local music than a Dreyfoos School of the Arts kid staying in the nest and making good in his hometown? Savvy show-goers are all too familiar with this scenario but more times than not, the arts school training halts progress at the crumby bar cover band level. That’s not the case with Ates Isildak, the Band In Heaven’s front man and guitarist.
Ates has been a South Florida resident for almost ever, about the same amount of time he has been playing music. He’s been in a bevy of bands since the Dreyfoos days, watching and playing along as his fellow musicians grew into complete, polished performing machines. Bands he would want to listen to and see live and learn from. “When it’s fun playing shows with your friends, you feel like you can do it forever.” said Ates. And just like that, you have yourself a scene- an underground. It’s a place to play not just to be heard, but to be a part of something bigger than yourself.
While the South Florida adoration oozes out of Ates and his fellow Band In Heaven mates, technically they got their start in Orlando– but that didn’t last long. About three years ago, Ates and Lauren Dwyer, on vocals and keys, started the band in O-Town, quickly adding bass player Jay Tillman into the mix. Soon after, they returned to the Promised Land, aka WPB, and caught the perfect wave of emerging bands to play with like The Jameses, Cop City, and even local heavy hitters such as The Dewars and the now Warner Brothers-signed Surfer Blood who are still growing a big fat fan base.
The band name comes from a classic Talking Heads jam ‘Heaven,’ showcasing how deep their musical influence goes and how to wear your love for all things talent on your sleeve(s). While their sound might not closely emulate David Byrne’s stirring catalog, there is a sense of everlasting change and sustained dreaminess throughout. Their lyrics haven’t shifted focus over the course of their time making music, but the Band In Heaven has plenty of material that sounds different from each other.
So how do you describe the sound when convincing your friends to go to a Band In Heaven show with you? Ates says “It feels like a moment you can remember in a wistful and longing way but not trying to tug at your heart strings. It’s not music to fall asleep to but it’s not dance/club music. It’s somewhere in between.”
While Band In Heaven has been around for three years, only half of that time has been with the current, complete lineup. “Before, it was Lauren and I playing with different drummers but it was sloppy. Just for fun.” said Ates. But now, they are a complete band, and what do complete bands do? Cut complete albums.
Band in Heaven’s first full length disc, Caught In A Summer Swell, was released just a few months ago in September, 2013 and boasts their signature sound on ten tracks of raw musical motivation. Leading up to this debut album, the band released some tapes and a couple 7 inchers, but none of that compares to what they created on Caught In A Summer Swell because they created it together, from start to finish, as one entity. The earlier recordings featured a merry-go-round of musicians. But Caught In A Summer Swell is all Band In Heaven, as they are known today and as they hope to be known in the future.
It was a completely homegrown project in every sense of the word and along the way not only created a manifesto for fans, but a more tight-knit band bound to the West Palm Beach music scene. The entire record was a DIY project that would knock the craftiness out of heavy Pinterest users. Recorded in the drummer’s dining room and bassist’s bedroom, it took eight months of writing and recording to create their debut LP.
This lead to a different sound than previously released songs; more precise music and a signature sound. Opening track and lead single ‘Dandelion Wine’ quickly caught on locally and beyond with Ates and Lauren swopping vocals and perfecting the crisp Band In Heaven sound for the masses. So how did they go about writing such a perfect manifestation on their musical mission? Turns out, it happened to them, not by them. Ates told us “We decided that was the single after everyone told us it should be. To us, it wasn’t better than any other song but people kept saying ‘that one.’”
If it’s the music that brings you to the proverbial Band In Heaven kegger, it’s the music videos that will ensure you stay until the party’s over. Having already filmed and produced almost ten high-quality vids, this crew loves to turn their art into a visual spectacle that can be conveniently passed around the internet.
Ates sees it as a part of his craft: “We just love making music videos. It feels more like art and not like a chore.” But it’s not just the sheer end product that gets Band In Heaven all hot and bothered about creating music videos, it’s the entire process. Ates sees it as a way to work with others and share the creative spirit. “The song writing is personal but because it is personal, it’s boring almost – same lyrics, same melodies over and over. When it is a music video, it’s ok to have a lot of people help. For ‘Dandelion Wine,’ we had 30 or 40 friends to come help. You can’t do that on a song or recording but you can do that on a video.”
And through it all, it’s the band members leading the way in photo and video shoots, planning the art production and making sure they are exuding the look that they feel defines their music; their gift to the world but more specifically, South Florida. They produced the recording, hit the road for shows aplenty in New York City, and still show no signs of slowing down. As Ates puts it “[We’ll] keep doing it until we are not allowed to or no one cares or it feels old.”
They have so much to be proud of as a band achieving their dreams in South Florida, but what does Ates think is Band In Heaven’s biggest “write home to my parents” moment up to now? Local boy is as local boy does. “The moment where I felt most proud and most fulfilled was when the [Miami] band Jean Jacket covered one of our songs. Just hearing someone else play your music and learn the words– that was pretty amazing.”
With so many great accomplishments at their back, how is the Band In Heaven looking toward the future? In the coolest of ways. The band has partnered up with unofficial king of everything great, Rodney Mayo, to start a new local label called Decades Records. Rodney is the man behind some of Palm Beach County’s most important venues and hot spots like Respectable Street and Longboards. He has always been a major supporter of local music. The partnership means big things for everyone involved, including the other local bands sharing the label love like Jean Jacket and Gravel Kings. This is definitely an important conglomerate you will be hearing more about in the near future.
Of course, more touring is also on the menu. Why not, when it’s such a blast? Said Ates, “Whenever we go out of town, it’s a lot of fun. We haven’t been on the road for two months straight. My old bands have done that. That’s when it starts feeling really tedious. We haven’t gotten to that point, thankfully. It’s usually just like a sleepover with your friends which is nice.”
So are these locals getting too big for home? That might be the case, but touring will have to do for now because South Florida has and will always be home. There might be some more exciting scenes in New York, California, or Texas but Ates affirms, “We have seen those places and we have seen bands move to those places and do the same thing we are doing now. We talk about moving and we dream about it sometimes, but being in Florida, especially with Decades starting, makes it nice to feel like we are building something here rather than dreaming of escaping.” We’ll have to hold you to it.
The more bands that come down to our corner of this state and stay here, the more we have to be proud of and the greater the chance West Palm Beach emerges as the next local music destination. Tell your friends– South Florida isn’t just for Spring Break anymore.
Check their tunes out at soundcloud.com/thebandinheaven