Angel Autopsy is not your average metal band. In fact, it's somewhat of a stretch to call them a metal band at all. Rather than exploring anger and animosity in the large measures preferred by their genre peers, Angel Autopsy is actually a dorky conflagration of artiness, folkiness and heaviness that just barely passes the genre smell test. With a not insubstantial amount of humor evidenced in songs about Mr. Potato Head, clowns or other unlikely subjects, it's clear that, despite their heavy moniker, Angel Autopsy is swimming against the tide of metal expectations.
The band's dorkiness becomes obvious when bandleader Mecca herself an atypical metalhead explains that her music comes from the "abyss of her rotting brain." The darkness of that imagery quickly abates as she giggles: "I bought a red microphone cover today. It feels like I'm singing into a clown nose."
Clad for band rehearsal in a fuzzy leopard-print jacket and spiked collar, Mecca's personality defines the perfect trichotomy of music nerd, art geek and headbanger. Even the band's rehearsal space is unusual: A swath of black mesh with daisies stuck through it is draped across the ceiling and oversized music notes from an elementary-school classroom are scattered throughout the room. Green chiffon clings to the wall by a thumbtack and purple-glitter bat lights hang from the rafters. In the opposite corner, a coffee-stained binder filled with Mecca's poems sits on a white bookshelf.
"See our took box?" Mecca points to a blue box with cartoon kids and the words "Literature Based Reading Activities" painted across it in yellow. "I got that at an elementary school, too. But it's my father's old toy box with the clowns and elephants that I really love."
Mecca began Angel Autopsy after she left famed local band Dirty Barby. "I was tired of it all," she said. "I wanted to experiment with different sounds and vocals, and there was no way I was going to be able to do that with them."
And experiment she has. Until recently, she had never established a steady lineup for Angel Autopsy, which she believes allows for her band's ever-changing sound. "Every time I see Angel Autopsy play, it's with different people," says Luke Neston, a friend of Mecca's from UCF. "Once I saw them with a cellist. Now there's no drummer or second guitarist. But I think that's part of what makes Mecca's band so good. She plays the same songs and the same venues, but she's always changing. It's never the same show twice."
The current lineup of permanent members Mecca, Christophe (bass) and Florizel (saxophone) still features new instruments and ideas flowing through the band's processes.
"Florizel's trying to add some new instruments to the band," Mecca says. "He just got a pennywhistle, which we'll be introducing ... He's got a recorder too."
Florizel, in a beige polo shirt and khaki pants, is the most animated and perhaps the most quirky of the group. He taps his toes when he plays the sax, like a true music student.
"I'm here to add something special," he says. "I'm just not sure what that is."
Now that Mecca finally has stable members, she has realized her band isn't the original Angel Autopsy anymore. "We are still Angel Autopsy, but we're really something different," she explains. She now refers to her evolving band as Mecca Nism and Her Rusty Tears.
"And we're the Rusty Tears!" Florizel screams.
Mecca describes them as a "post-op Angel Autopsy," wherein her character Mecca Nism comes into her own. It's difficult to tell where Mecca ends and Mecca Nism begins. Mecca is the giggly girl with the operatic voice who loves to go to poetry readings. Mecca Nism is the screeching demon lady with the bloody neck singing about bodiless heads and plastic flowers. Somewhere between her flaming red hair and her pointy high heels, the two intertwine.
"Mecca Nism is a girl from hell who's been torn apart and re-sewn together, Frankenstein-style," Mecca says. "She's part android, part demon, part human."
Sometimes it's hard to resolve the fact that this vituperative demon lady comes from someone as giggly and personable as Mecca. But the singer sees little conflict in her music.
"I like metal because it's something breathable and versatile," she says, adding that it's a form that allows her to express both beauty and ugliness. "It just kind of sticks with me."
What the cat dragged in
When she's not performing, Mecca attends or performs at poetry readings at Austin Coffee and Film and Will's Pub for Stray Cat Publishing, a company dedicated to promoting local writers and artists. Stray Cat Publishing has a team of poets who perform at slams and spoken-word events.
"I tend to think of myself as being a dark, experimental musical poet," she says. "I bring musicians and Stray Cat pretty much lets me perform a 30-minute song for my reading."
She's currently working on a soundtrack ("think rock opera") to accompany a graphic novel featuring her performing alter ego Mecca Nism. The book's progress will be documented (and previewed) on her website (www.angelautopsy.com) until she finishes it next year.
Although Mecca's web developer calls during rehearsal to say she's deathly ill and won't be able to put up the new Angel Autopsy website in time for the band's gig the next day, this is only a temporary delay.
Nonetheless, Christophe groans and plucks out basslines to tunes by Billy Idol and Bob Dylan. Then his shoulders bunch and his eyes close as he sings "Every Rose Has Its Thorn."
Embarrassed, he grins once he realizes he's being watched. He's not used to being in the forefront. "I was in a cover band," he says. "My father and I played in Tampa bars when I was 15." He looks at Mecca, saying, "She provides all our support." His eyes don't move from the singer, who is pacing about the room as she talks on the phone. "She gets us on track and forces us to be dedicated."
Mecca and Christophe are connected beyond their band duties; they've been dating for about half a year. Since he still lives in Tampa, they're trying to figure out a better way to be together. "The band forces me to be here, which I'm really happy about," says Christophe.
Looks like there's no site for tomorrow," Mecca says and hangs up the phone. She tries sincerely to still look happy.
"S'OK," Christophe says. "But let's get practicing for tomorrow."
Mecca nods and adjusts the clown nose.
Something wicked comes
For Angel Autopsy's performance at the Florida Music Festival the next night, Mecca has forsaken the fuzzy jacket and black top for a torn white sweater and ripped fishnets over red tights and a skirt. Red smudges line the outside of her face, plunging down her forehead. Christophe and Florizel are clad, Clockwork Orange-style, in suits and bowler hats.
Mecca approaches the microphone and sings a cappella about running someone over with her car. Half the crowd screams. Half the crowd laughs. Members of the audience who came to find head-banging metal not this folky art dirge wonder where the drummer is.
But everyone's eyes are fixed on her, and it's her eyes that sell her show. Mecca's red and pink eye shadow extends out past her eyebrow and far below her lower lashes. Dark eyeliner traces those eyes that blink and stretch with nearly every word.
Mecca Nism emerges as Mecca's body convulses. Her head violently cocks from side to side. She inhales sharply and stumbles backward to mimic dying.
"She's probably the best performer in Orlando," says Mike Wagganer, lead singer of Orlando pop band Real Love Diplomats, at a show the two bands recently played together. "She puts her entire body into what she's doing. No one else does that."
Mecca finishes the Angel Autopsy set solo, with a Jewel cover, "You Were Meant for Me." Jewel's soft whispers are tossed aside for screeches and screams as the plaintive lyrics suddenly become a horrifying and grotesque plea. Mecca Nism has taken over.
At the close of the set, once again, half the crowd screams. Half the crowd laughs. But Mecca smiles.