Shake Your Money Maker
You never know where you’ll find a lead singer. Kia Warren, a former club kid from Baldwin, was working as a manager at the Surf Lodge in Montauk three years ago, tidying up one afternoon when a wave of Mississippi blues crashed over her from a duo’s sound check across the way.
“What is that?” she thought to herself, in the retelling swiveling her head to look over her shoulder. “It was almost like a double take.”
It was good, it was loud, it was muscular and metallic. Sign her up.
The resulting union could be heard at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett recently, when Revel in Dimes — with Warren fronting Eric Simons on guitar and Washington Duke on drums (the two from the sound check), plus Chris Waller on bass — rang in the summer season as Memorial Day weekend broke across the land.
“How’d everybody do over the winter?” Warren asked the crowd, the mumbled response revealing how bleak it can get out here. From the young and well-to-do enjoying their good fortune over aluminum bottles of Bud Light to the ruddy-faced windblown sailor fresh from delivering a boat from Newport, his unsteadiness increasing by the minute, those gathered were resolutely focused on the warmer months to come.
“We just got back from overseas” — specifically Holland, she would explain later, where the welcome at music festivals and clubs for this diverse band striking out into new, hybrid territory was so warm, the experience so positive, she said it changed her life.
“I’m feeling a little shy,” Warren told the audience in her hot pants and form-fitting halter top. “There’s a whole lotta space between us” — this by way of urging the beery celebrants closer to the stage. Dance, why don’t you. And they did.
Revel is one of several local bands gaining a profile, playing regularly here and in the city and at private gigs, with a record on iTunes, Spotify, and other online music sites. Its sound is pure American, a little Mississippi blues crossed with a little Chicago blues, pushed by driving bass and drums.
Revel are regulars at the Talkhouse this summer. If you haven’t been there in a while, the place, an institution, really, soldiers on, though maybe, like society itself, a little cleaner, a little brighter, a little less smoky. The Talkhouse has offered a steady diet of blues and bluesy rock over the years, to the point that if on a given night a mid-’60s song from the Who gets spun between sets it’s as if someone had opened the front and back doors to let a fresh breeze blow through.
But not this night. Simons appeared in a floppy newsboy cap, but before long was mopping his face and neck with a white towel à la James Brown as he worked wonders on his electric guitar, warming up with some slow funk and working it into a frenzied wall of sound, transitioning from hard rock to the hyperkinetic tempo of punk.
The dude with the Hendrix hair on bass — that would be Waller, they call him Premo — was happy to break out a harmonica when it suited him, while Warren, when she wasn’t pogo-sticking like some ska-head or smacking a tambourine, could’ve passed herself off as Patti LaBelle’s niece with her blend of bluesy and raspy vocals.
Backing it all up, Washington Duke authoritatively kept the beat, at one point unleashing a long, thundering drum solo that shook the shirt fabric of anyone in proximity.
The morning after, he called the solo a bit sloppy. (Loose, someone else might’ve said.) He was speaking over a paper cup of Jack’s Stir Brew coffee at Amagansett Square. Warren nursed a ginger-lemon health drink.
They’re all New Yorkers. Kia Warren called Montauk home for seven years but recently made the move to Brooklyn. Premo lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Simons in Bushwick. When they’re playing out here the band crashes at Duke’s, the only one for whom this is home. One of the sons of Tony Duke, the late Boys Harbor founder, Duke spent a decade living and working in Brooklyn, where he met Simons, and they worked together as sidemen in various bands. Duke has since returned, to Springs, where he lives with his wife and two young boys.
Both drummer and singer were still recovering from giving the Talkhouse crowd its money’s worth — roughly a two-hour performance, whereas on the recent tour in Holland they might have done single 50 or 60-minute sets straight through.
“We really have to pull stuff out of our back pocket for these long gigs,” Duke said. “We need to double the amount of music, which is tough because we don’t want to play covers.”
“Our songs are written as a collaborative effort,” he said. “Kia will add some lyrics and a melody. Actually, Premo is a good songwriter.”
“He’s like an onion,” Warren interjected. “One day he surprised us, just sat down and started playing the piano.”
“Or the harmonica,” Duke added. “We asked him out of the blue if he could play, and he tore it up.”
Waller, a.k.a. Premo, is the newest member of the band, the final piece of the puzzle, and they found him the old-fashioned way: They advertised.
The band’s name, by the way, came about by accident, as in, “Hey, you wanna share a cab ride?”
“Yeah, I’m rubbin’ dimes” (that is, broke, tapped out).
“What did you say? You revel in dimes?” And, just like that. . . The band’s got an eight-song album, their second, coming out later this summer. “Today it’s like, ‘What’s the single?’ ” Duke said. “But I feel like the whole album is a single. It tells a story.”
“It sounds raw,” Warren said, “and is super-conceptual.”
Serendipitous, too. They recorded to tape — you can rent and reuse old ones — and, as they ran it through the machine, in between the tracks “these phantom sounds from a previous recording came through,” he said, “like abstract classical,” she added. “These violins were in the same key we were in,” he said, “and it was just the effect we were looking for, a ghost, these haunting strings there just by accident.”
They did more than take a pass on going digital, its antiseptic nature not suiting the Dimes’ scruffy sound: Warren sang live on the album, no overdubs.
“For us, you know, it’s rock ’n’ roll, it needs to be not too constructed,” Duke said. “Also, we’re not that kind of a band,” Warren said. “We’re a live band. It’s better to be honest.” Catch ’em while you can.