Several years ago, when he was fronting the South Florida-based band Floor, guitarist/singer Steve Brooks offered this response to the webzine Feast of Hate and Fear's interview inquiry "What does music mean to you?": "Everything! I've spent most of my life buying music, supporting it, playing it, crying over it, laughing and going apeshit over it and sacrificing everything for it as well."
Music has even more meaning to Brooks now. It provides perspective, solace and sanity. He still plays music, still sheds tears about it, still makes sacrifices, but all these gestures have more emotional resonance. He's creating in homage to a lost loved one, and the immersive artistic process offers temporary asylum from his mourning.
On September 1, 2003, Brooks' boyfriend of three years died in an automobile accident. Halting a tour, he returned to Miami and put Floor on a hiatus that would become permanent. But he never imagined walking away from his calling.
"Music is not something I could ever give up," Brooks says. "If I didn't have this band, I don't know where I'd be. It's been a great distraction, a tool for me to get the fuck out of my head for a while. I struggle with the loss every day, and sometimes that grief takes over even on the road, but I'm thankful that music has kept me busy."
In early 2004, Brooks started writing new material. The short, sludgy songs incorporated his trademark "bomb" sound (two dangling, detuned E strings that detonate ominously when struck) and crystalline vocals. Brooks began jamming with guitarist Juan Montoya, another Floor holdover. Robotic Empire label head Andy Low, eager to release Brooks' next album, introduced the pair to former Tyranny of Shaw drummer Rick Smith, who in turn suggested bassist Jonathan Nuñez.
Torche's self-titled debut disc, released last May, combines tarry grooves, spaced-out riffs and disarmingly glorious melodies. Seven of the 10 tracks originated as ostensible Floor tunes.
"Torche was only a band for three months before we recorded," Brooks says. "Now I only write music with the band because I want this to be a collaboration rather than just my own vision. The next LP will fully represent what we've become as a band."
Before beginning work on another album, Torche planned to release a remastered version of its self-titled album ("the overall production should be ballsier," Brooks explains), but that project has hit some snares.
"The remixing has been a nightmare," Brooks reports. "In all honesty, I don't even want to think about it anymore."
Torche's fall tour should provide welcome respite from the ill-fated reissue. In addition to showcasing some unreleased tracks, Torche fleshes out its set lists with songs from Floor's 2002 self-titled record.
In many ways, Brooks' touring life has improved since the Floor days, when he slept at rest stops and bathed in dirty sinks. "We're still not makin' the money we should," he says, "but I prefer to be poor on the road than poor at home."
Another reason Brooks enjoys getting in the van is that he's not especially enthusiastic about Miami.
"Isolation helped us develop into the people we are, but I think it cursed us in a lot of ways," he says. "If we lived in a city that was closer to more diverse environments and music cultures, Floor might have taken off in the early '90s, instead of being a local dead-end thing. I eventually want to get far away from Florida, but I have to give this band a real chance of doing something great before I say ‘Fuck it.'"
Once a brutal self-critic, Brooks intones that phrase regularly now, and embraces its cathartic power.
"I don't take things too seriously anymore," he says. "Life is too short and uncertain to be focusing on the negative all the time. ‘Fuck it!' feels good when I say it."firstname.lastname@example.org