NEW TIMES, November 1990
THE BITE STUFF - BY GREG BAKER
You might think the tight-minded would walk on by, saying this isn't music at all, it's just damn noise, turn that shit down! However, the members of Scraping Teeth assure such is not the case. "We always get a strong reaction", says bassist Isaac Ersoff. The groups guitarist, Frank "Rat Bastard" Falestra, picks up on the idea: "Rock and roll is supposed to cause a reaction. When it first came in, people hated it. That's what rock and roll is. People either hate us or like us, there's no in-between." Does it bite, or does it have bite?
If it is difficult to embrace the ragged, jagged sounds of Scraping Teeth, well, that's part of the challenge, part of the fun, and ultimately, part of the payoff. The Miami-based trio is breaking new ground that lies somewhere between aggressive (call it progressive if you absolutely must) rock and dissonance for its own sake, between the obscure and the ungrippable styles of new music and the blatant and overly popular structures of standard rock-roll. They may be way out there, but once you get the hang of it, they become way-in as well. It's, um, cool.
It's unlikely you'll find yourself humming along to songs such as "Death by Refrigerator" or "Machine God Noise," but that doesn't mean Teeth music doesn't contain logic and structure. It does, coached in a dense and often flatulent combination of angry guitar riffs, drones, squawking bass, more drones, screams from hell, drums that punctuate in blood, progressions that seem aimless except that the aim is not to be linear and predictable. Both active and reactionary, this music's boundaries are drawn only by the inspiration of the moment. This stuff's wild, man.
"I call it 'pizza music,'" Ersoff says cryptically. Falestra points out that it's "music not to think to." And drummer Dimthingshine sums up the Teeth grind as "acid-rock mayhem of the day, of the moment. Feelings of the world as we feel it." At first glance, then, the world hurts like a misdirected dentist's drill on full blast. Hitting a nerve.
As unfair, critically speaking, as it may be, you did get some idea what this terrifying trio is up to by checking a few song titles: "Torture and Stuff, "Blow Me While I Shit" and "My Car Blew Up and Took Me with It." This ain't exactly Bobby Mcferrin territory.
This reason it's unfair to go by a handful of songs titles is that, much like the actual songs, the music of Scraping Teeth is timeless, endless, boundless. They don't play songs, really, it all runs together, changing at every show, and it's all on tape -- you could say the trio doesn't have any songs, or you could say they have thousands of songs. "We have more hooks per minute," Falestra notes. But it all happens so fast. Most bands rehearse a song, play it, and play it at a club. Then they're married to that song for the next three years. I've done that (with other groups). I want to come up with something new every minute. That's why we record every show. We can look back and refer to things, and redo a song if we want. It's all documented. It's a challenge to us to equal a group with a planned format, but this is viable music." (At one point the band found itself playing to a completely empty club. Someone walked in and asked them what the hell they were doing playing to no one. "We're recording," came the quick reply.)
Falestra knows what he's talking about. Like his two associates, he's made his bones in a number of areas, including work with more traditional rock bands. He also writes a music newsletter called Second Opinion, runs a productive recording studio called Esync, is a accomplished producer, engineer, has his own record label called Esync Ocular Exchange, and organizes the annual Expo-mental music series, which begins on Tuesday.
Bassist Ersoff is a classically trained player (the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York), records and occasionally performs with another group, Spongong, and also runs a label, Fuk-M-All Disc. Drummer Dimthingshine was behind a number of vinyl slabs released in the eighties, also runs his own label (Thingsflux Music), composes for film, writes reviews for various publications, and has worked with groups ranging from jazz to metal. He can also scream like the devil's own whipping boy. "I didn't know I was going to be screaming my head off," he says. "But when I heard the music, I felt it needed screaming."
Falestra was already running the show on Thursday nights at Churchill's Hideaway (presenting a mondo bizarro mix of music and performance art), when Scraping Teeth came together in January. He had known Ersoff for about a year and had been familiar with 'Shines work for about eight years; the first time the three played together as Scraping Teeth was on-stage. No rehearsal, no nothing. Get up there and rock. "The first lyrics," Falestra recalls, "were the front page of New Times. Whatever was there on the cover became our lyrics. Then Isaac started coming up with concepts on tape and paper. We played off the sounds coming out of the monitors -- it's always improvised." (To this day, the band still hasn't rehearsed. It's all done live, on the stage, now.)
Ersoff believes some people follow the group just to see what they might do next. Even the band doesn't know that. Generally, Ersoff will kick a groove on bass, Dimthingshine will pick it up, and Falestra will squeeze from his alternately tuned guitar progressions and riffs inspired by the polyrythms of the other two. Sometimes 'Shine, who calls himself a cross between a rock drummer and a Muppet, will take the improv lead. Whatever the case, the three are savvy and talented enough to immediately react to one another's playing. Then it all comes together as a sort of dense noise that, if you mentally peel away the layers of distraction, contains surprisingly smart and compelling melodies (and, yes, hooks) that are unlike any that have come before. "We do things that aren't cliche," Falestra notes. "We break ground, we break sound barriers. Ten years from now when this becomes pop, we'll be able to show people our tapes from ten years ago and say, "See?"
Apparently some portion of the Miami music audience is smart enough to see already. Scraping teeth are now booked every Wednesday at Washington Square, and Thursdays at Churchill's. Perhaps there is something to be said for challenging music. Maybe there isn't anything to be afraid of. "I'm not satanic," Dimthingshine asserts. "I'm not possessed. It's just that everyone thinks I am." Falestra adds, "You can't be afraid of what the audience thinks." You can only hope the audience does think.
SCRAPING TEETH and guests perform Wednesday at Washington Square. Miami Beach and Thursdays at Churchill's Hideaway, Miami.
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