Best Of 2012

“We are able to separate the work from our marriage" —Susie Ulrey, w. Keith.
Photo by Todd Bates
“We are able to separate the work from our marriage" —Susie Ulrey, w. Keith.

Susie and Keith Ulrey have been married 12 years, but she met him when she was 16, so they’ve known each other almost 20. A petite beauty on a motor scooter, she's living with Multiple Sclerosis and coming out on top. She and Keith do their share of funds and awareness-raising whenever possible, and Susie’s even due to speak at a few panels about experimental treatments soon. She's also a recruiter for an HR outsourcing firm and works from home; he runs small Seminole Heights indie record shop (and “Best Vinyl Survivor” award winner) Microgroove, and as of September, is the sole proprietor after an amicable parting, which found Keith purchasing former co-owner Carl Webb’s share. Together, the couple runs the New Granada record label and play in the band Rec Center; a percentage of select CD sales go to MS research, including Rec Center's 2012 LP, Tin Year.

Their work together on New Granada Records was a natural progression.

“I think it was just a default of being married, and being in the same bands,” says Keith. “Of course we’re going to work on it together. Most of the earlier releases, we were already kind of working on together, anyway.”

The label was originally a co-op, a way to put out recordings of their own bands, eventually morphing and becoming an Ulrey-run endeavor. “It wasn’t until Candy Bars in 2006 that there was actually a scenario where we wanted to put out something that none of us were involved in. At that point, it was really just Keith and I,” Susie explains.

“That was the first time we approached a band as a label and said, ‘We want to invest, we want to put money into your band,” Keith elaborates. The Candy Bars record came out in 2006, number 11 on the New Granada roster; come November with The Winter Sounds, they’ll be at 31. “And this year’s been our busiest year. By the end of the year [2012], we will have released six titles, which is a lot.”

The proceeds from all New Granada Presents shows still go directly back into the label and backing bands. "We’ve been able to put these releases out, either with putting very little money into them personally, or investing in them and getting paid back," Susie says. “As far as the collaboration on the label, he handles the business side of it, I am more of the advisor. And I’m with him when we meet with all the bands and I have a lot of input as far as that’s concerned, and I can also offer advice to the bands, because not only am I in a band, but I’ve walked with him through this whole process.”

“Susie’s kind of like final say – like, veto power. If I get excited about a band, I want her to get excited also,” Keith says. “Not that we carry any titles at all, but I guess if an outsider were looking in, she could almost be like A&R. Once the band is signed, then she’s done, I handle everything after that. I do all the business and the numbers and the money. She’s more my conscience in helping me decide.”

A few not-so-great decisions were made without her input, so everything goes through her first. She’s the calm, grounded core of the partnership; when he starts obsessing over a band, he brings it to her and she gives him some cool-headed perspective. In Rec Center (this year’s winner of “Best Album” with Tin Year), they switch roles a bit. She writes the songs with Michael Waksman and while Keith admittedly has no songwriting ability, he does have a great ear for arrangement and makes his two cents heard when he likes something — or not. “When we’re in the band space, she’s a band member. She’s prone to being told something’s not good.” He also stands as only one of two drummers whom Susie has ever worked with.

“I don’t take it personally anymore,” Susie said. “There can be uncomfortable moments for the rest of the band if there’s bickering going on, so we try our best to keep that in check. He says what’s on his mind. I try to take it as constructive criticism.”

“We are able to separate the work from our marriage.”

Arts & Entertainment

CAUGHT OFFSTAGE: The dancers in Moving Current.
CAUGHT OFFSTAGE: The dancers in Moving Current.

The University of South Florida’s dance company in residence, led by Artistic Directors Shelley Bourgeois, Erin Cardinal and Cynthia Hennessy, is that stellar example of why Tampa is a little more culturally sophisticated than many think. When your friends from the big city pooh-pooh our metro, pop on a vid from and show them MC’s vivid dance narratives told through poetically inspired movement. No doubt they’ll see how masterfully the moods range from light and mischievous to intense and heart-wrenching. After getting that taste, take ‘em to see Moving Current live during their 15th anniversary season. The collective’s “current” is inspired by the idea of electricity, and Moving Current’s performances continue to electrify. 813-237-0216, [email protected].

Best Actor

Sorensen was all over Bay area stages last season, playing multiple lovers in Stageworks’ The Blue Room, a naïve young American threatened by omnisexual ghouls in The Rocky Horror Show, a smug would-be rescuer of females in Becky Shaw, and an earnest American come to Weimar Germany to find something to write about in Cabaret. And in every role, he was just about perfect.

Watch: Recently married Natalie Symons and Jim Sorensen — Most Promising Playwright and Best Actor — talk w. CL's David Warner during the Best of the Bay awards reception Sept. 19 at Creative Loafing, and Natalie almost spills the beans about a part she just might be writing for her husband.

Best Actress

Sargent had a near-impossible mission in Tampa Repertory Theatre’s Streetcar Named Desire: to make the audience forget Vivien Leigh’s iconic performance in the film. But Sargent did it: her Blanche DuBois was skittish, vain, manipulative, self-deluding, fragile and tragic. She dominated the play and brought down the house. Amazing work.

Best Album

An album 10 years in the making, Tin Year is an impeccably crafted LP by veteran local musicians and New Granada Records leaders Keith and Susie Ulrey, plus Brian Roberts, Melissa Grady and Michael Waksman. Longtime collaborators Susie and Michael whittled down years of songwriting to the 13 tracks that were recorded, mixed and mastered by this year’s Best of the Bay-winning sound engineer and studio, Mark Nikolich at Atomic Audio. Tin Year is a thoughtful and stunning collection easing between buoyant folk roots, warm indie pop and gently-driving alt rock. Susie's pure piping vocals soar bright and vibrant, or glide delicate and serene over shimmering cello-fused instrumentals, complementing the delicate masculine vocal harmonies and occasional turns on lead by Keith and Michael. Overall, salve to the soul.

Runners-up: Morean Art Center, Florida Craftsman Gallery

Best Artistic Director

With remarkable rapidity, Davis has made freeFall Theatre into a jewel of a venue, a place where incisive straight plays and potently re-imagined musicals (this season’s Cabaret) are consistently offered on the highest levels of theatrical art. In Davis’ capable hands, first-rate Shakespeare has again become an annual event (The Comedy of Errors) and he’s shown an openness to local playwrights (Rip.Tied.) and a fine instinct for contemporary triumphs (Becky Shaw). He deserves our thanks.

Best Arts Festival

Runners-up: Gasparilla Arts Festival, Florida Craftsman

Best Badass Debut
Phil Bardi

I'm not sure exactly what San Francisco composer/multi-instrumentalist Adrian Younge and his "Venice Dawn" band played during their set at Antiwarpt 2012; aside from some cuts off latest release Something About April, it was all a blur of unadulterated badassness. A natural showman in hip aviator-style eyewear, Younge traded off instruments with his bandmates, from bass to organ and synths to flute and sax, then back to bass again. He expressed his excitement about being in Florida, struck a bargain at the beginning of the set — "Give us your all, and we’ll give you our all. Do we have a deal?" — and left both sides feeling like champions as the near full-house at State Theatre got the fuck down. Now that’s what I call a Sunshine State debut.

Best Band Resurrection

Weezer’s Pinkerton and Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister both dropped in 1996. It was also a good year for Tampa area music, as evidenced by the formation of Spiller and the release of their debut recording that year, Gold Leader EP, which features a catchy, sunshine-drenched mix of alt-rock and power pop. The reunion on April 7 at New World Brewery featured original members John McNicholas and Marcus McCord with new drummer Vinnie Cosentino. The Semis and Jensen Serf Co. opened, demonstrating the delightful progression of Tampa Bay indie rock through the years. Gigs at Heatwave and Antiwarpt have since followed; new music and more shows in the works.