"We're Bloom, we're from Florida and we don't know any Slayer songs."
So says bassist and vocalist Devin Moore. He and Bloom are onstage at the cavernous Trocadero theater in Philadelphia and he's just gotten his first taste of that city's legendary heckling tendencies. In a city that verbally assaults sports teams and rock bands they like, an unknown quantity like Bloom has a tough row to hoe under the best circumstances. Unfortunately for Devin, his brother Brendan and drummer Jeff Lataille, these aren't the best circumstances. Not even close.
Despite the flush of opportunity that comes with playing before a sold-out crowd of 1,200, it's no exaggeration to say that few of those 1,200 are in the house to see this band from Orlando. Yet Bloom is not only having to deal with the ignominy of being an unknown quantity, but also with the fact that tonight's headliner isn't your average rock band. In fact, tonight's headliner isn't a band at all, but the SuicideGirls Burlesque, the touring version of the popular counterculture, not-really-porn website.
"Show us your tits!" was never so unpleasantly resonant.
Catcalls like that (and the far more frequent refrain of "Bring out the girls!") have greeted Bloom at pretty much every show of the tour so far. Philly is the 23rd night on a 40-date SG tour, and Bloom is the opening act for every single show. And although the band expects indifference at best and hostility at worst, Philadelphia is worse than worst, as evidenced by the outright brutality the crowd delivers to local openers Missing Pilots. The effect is not lost on Devin, and backstage, nerves have kicked in, his stomach is turning and he's pacing the hallway with a look of sheer terror across his face.
"I hate this," he says before heading out onstage. "I can't eat anything before a show like this because I know I'd just throw it up. This crowd is not going to be happy to see us."
Such self-effacing nervousness is par for the course ... offstage. Yet once Devin puts on his bass and Bloom kicks into gear, an entirely different picture emerges. Although it would be literarily convenient to say that the lights came up and the hecklers were converted to fans, singing along to numbers like "Remote Control" with reckless abandon, that's not quite what happens. But the retiring demeanor that defined Devin backstage melts away and in its place is a foot-stomping, stage-prowling, smartass rock monster that's half Gene Simmons and half David Letterman. The classily muted presence of brother Brendan (who, much to the crowd's delight, manages to accidentally unstrap his guitar mid-song) and powerhouse drumming of Lataille makes for a potent stage combination. To everyone's surprise, the band receives a more-than-polite round of applause when they finish. To everyone's shock, Bloom sells out of merchandise shortly thereafter.
"People just can't believe what they're seeing onstage," says Ryan Marshall. "They're like, 'Who the fuck is this guy that we've never heard of up there acting like such a rock star? Who does he think he is?' That sort of confidence is surprising, and it's going a long way to make people pay attention to the band."
One of the founders of Orlando's Back Booth, Marshall has long been a champion of Bloom, having formed a friendship with the Moore brothers many years ago.
"I grew up with Devin and Brendan, practically at their house," says Marshall. "I think I ran away from home a couple times and was taken in by their parents for a few hours before I would sulk back home."
The three attended college in Gainesville together and it was there that Bloom got started, with Marshall signing on as manager. Although his managerial duties at the time consisted of little more than "banging on doors," eventually his persistence landed the band a gig at the college town's venerable Covered Dish venue. One gig turned into many, CDs were released, brief tours happened and Bloom seemed to be well on their way. Although Bloom's formative sound was a rather blatant rip-off of their three main influences -- Pixies, Beatles and Pixies -- they connected with audiences and always seemed "about to make it."
But being on the brink of success isn't the same being successful and reality set in when Brendan moved to Sarasota for a job and Bloom, though continuing, turned into a commuter project. Eventually and predictably, frustration set in and Bloom Mk. 1 decided to call it a day. Marshall, however, wasn't quite so ready.
"They were broken up and not playing when I started calling them to come play the little Back Booth `when it was located near UCF`. I would beg them to play just one gig one last time. We had always talked about his band playing my club and how cool that would be. It was the kid dream stuff. Basically all their friends loved them and wanted one final gig. So Devin agreed and I never stopped bugging them to play. It would be one more and one more and then finally when we moved to a bigger venue downtown I convinced them to give it one last go before everyone gave up for good. "
That "one last go" turned out to be just enough push to initiate the beginnings of Bloom, Mk. 2. The trio began writing a new batch of songs and soon realized they had stumbled into a sound all their own.
"I had this long discussion with my brother, who was coming in every couple of weeks to work on the band," says Devin. "And I told him that I didn't really want to play anymore with him in this sort of capacity. He's always been out of town, so there was this stifling process of doing anything. So we had this huge fight and he's like, 'Fuck you, you can't kick me out of my own band.' We didn't talk for like two months after that. Finally he called up and we kinda worked things out and eventually he moved down here. It was cool when `Brendan` moved here, because we'd just go down to the Booth and work on songs all day.
"So much time had gone by," says Devin of the new songwriting process. "I was still writing in the same way, but maybe I was a little more mature, with some different influences."
The new material is easily linked to Bloom's earlier songs. However, where the band somewhat blatantly displayed their influences before, there's a new subtlety to the performances on O Sinner. In addition to being thoughtfully crafted (the album benefits immensely from Brendan's skills as an recording engineer), the songs manage to combine a streak of punchy melancholy that's as inwardly bleak as it is outwardly aggressive. It's the kind of music that doesn't fit too easily in the no-shades-of-gray music market of today. But even though such an indie power trio sound may have seemed a natural fit in the mid- to late '90s, Bloom's sound is too modern to be considered nostalgic. Putting a square peg like that into the round hole of today's music market was one of the primary challenges Marshall was facing as Bloom's manager.
"I really didn't know what I was getting into or what I could really do for them," says Marshall, who helped arrange Bloom's gig on the SG tour after bringing the 'Girls to Back Booth for their first live performance. "But I had gotten some experience from booking bands at Back Booth and I knew there had to be something I could do to help them. Now, look at where we are."
Where we are is Orlando, which isn't all that far from where things started. But things are definitely different now.
It's two weeks before the Philadelphia show, and two weeks into the tour, Bloom is in their new hometown, opening the SG show at (where else?) Back Booth. Early stages of road fatigue have already worn the band down. Devin's voice is shot and, after a debauched set from The Studdogs -- made all the more raunchy by the presence of the AntiBabe Fetish Models onstage -- Bloom just looks tired in comparison. It's not the most auspicious of omens, especially for one of Orlando's most impressive bands.
Nonetheless, a decent performance is turned in, applause is received, etc. Pretty much a typical Back Booth show for Bloom, except for the part where they load their gear into the van and drive to Gainesville. Then Jacksonville, Atlanta, Athens ... . I catch up to them again a week later in Columbia, S.C., and the scene is almost identical, except spirits are higher, health seems better and, once again, Bloom impresses an audience of people who have shown up to see Goth girls take their clothes off.
"You know, I've got nothing to complain about," complains Devin, laughing.
The sell-out crowds that are greeting the SG Burlesque show on a nightly basis are a mixed blessing. Despite minimal publicity, the money the 'Girls generate allows Bloom to travel in relative comfort: a new 15-passenger van equipped with GPS ("My wife," says Brendan of the system's digitized female voice. "I listen to everything she says"), hotel rooms, meal vouchers. It's not sleeping on dirty couches and scraping together pennies for food, and that's just fine by Bloom.
"We had weekend-warriored it forever," says Devin later. "Nobody had ever given us anything, ever. It was always, 'I like what you guys are doing, but I don't know what to do with you.' We had never done a tour like `Suicide Girls` ever. Sure, we had gone up the East Coast, to New York and back just like every other insane band. But that `SG` tour was great. We were babied. It's never gonna be like that again."
During a two-day stint in New York, a lot of things begin to happen. Already signed to Orlando label Cell Records (home to Weszt and, briefly, Precious), Bloom had been preparing for the release of their new CD in time for the SG tour. Production delays at the replication plant kept that from happening, but some other things also transpired in the meantime that would substantially change the label and Bloom's role in defining it.
Founded by local music fan Chris Miller, Cell got off to a bit of a confused start. People were hired by Miller to run the label, contracts were written, promises were made, lots of money was spent and not very many records were sold. Miller -- whose avowed mission was simply to help create something worthwhile and supportive for quality Orlando bands -- had begun to turn the label around, making some substantial personnel changes. Later, with the assistance of Marshall (who at first was simply sticking up for his band) and some new partners, Miller began streamlining the label to help it live up to its potential as a beacon of what Orlando had to offer. But first, some decisions had to be made.
We're at Ecco, an "Italian saloon" in Tribeca, on the afternoon before Bloom's second show at the Knitting Factory. I'm watching Miller and the new Cell crew try and come up with a new name for the relaunch of the label. It's pretty comical, especially as the main goal is to come up with a name before the end of the bottle of red wine on the table. A dozen or so ideas are tossed around. None of them stick, but the wine was good, so not all was lost. In fact, the New York stop is a productive one, as Bloom lands the support of a prominent booking agency (who will later get them a slot as the opening band for several dates of Urge Overkill's reunion tour) their Knitting Factory show is attended by the likes of Daniel Lanois (who will later express interest in working with the band) and, more importantly, the CDs finally show up.
And so it goes for much of the rest of the tour. Fans are won over in small numbers, tiny steps of progress are made, plans are hatched and then cancelled and then revised and then revoked. It's a grueling, organic struggle made deceptively comfortable by backstage riders and continental breakfasts. Once back in Orlando, a new label concept is in place -- Fighting Records will be run concurrently with Cell and will feature Bloom, Whole Wheat Bread and Grand Buffet on the roster -- and the band is preparing for the new release of O Sinner sometime in the summer, after the Urge tour and whatever other opportunities arise.
It's clear that Bloom aren't going to be on MTV by the end of the year, but that's not really the goal at all and that's what makes the process so interesting to watch. After all, when you're playing in a band because playing music is what you do, fame isn't the goal. It's being able to play the music you love -- your own music -- and hoping everything falls into place enough that you can keep on doing it.
"It's not frustrating," says Devin. "It just requires a lot of patience. We all have a lot to learn and we're all in it together, from square one."