Ex-Florida band New Roman Times enjoys a re-launch of sorts with New Granada Records

"New Roman Times...Sweet Florida sunshine...Soon!" reads the latest blog entry on the Austin-by-way-of-Orlando band New Roman Times' Myspace page. While the band has returned to Florida numerous times since they left for greener pastures nearly three years ago, this visit they arrive with a new album and the support of a new label, Tampa's own New Granada Records.

The foursome's sophomore effort, On the Sleeve, continues their style of re-imagining the sullen sounds of the '80s. Their dramatic, Dark Wave-influenced alt-rock isn't necessarily groundbreaking, but it's well done, and the perfect music for dancing and brooding — spiraling guitar notes pierce washes of synth-phonic sonics, back-and forth boy-girl harmonies contrast bassist/backing vocalist Josie Fluri's sweet and piping sighs against lead singer/guitarist Daniel Owens' deeper agonized tone, and driving rhythms carry it along at a sure and steady pace.

New Roman Times was initially formed in Orlando by married music-making duo Owens and Fluri. "We were the band for a while and we'd bring on other people to play with us, a revolving cast of characters," Owens told me in a recent interview. By 2005, they'd written and developed enough material for their debut full-length, International Affairs, the inaugural release of then-new, now-defunct Orlando-based indie label, Social Recordings.

The label had the finances, the connections, a solid album to get behind and positive feedback from the media once International Affairs dropped. Success seemed certain. According to Owens, "They had a lot of high expectations, but they really didn't know what they were doing." Owens says the label spent all their money up front and never made it past the initial publicity boost "Things wane so fast. You really have to be on top of it — you can't just make one initial push and expect that it'll have lasting power. It doesn't work that way."

The band's relationship with the label eventually dissolved, on-again off-again drummer Mike Allen became a permanent member, and in 2006, as the buzz surrounding their debut cooled, the three decided to re-locate to Austin. "We wanted to start new and get a different atmosphere around us." But the move was delayed after Owens fell down a flight of stairs and tore every ligament in his ankle, putting him in a cast for the next several months. "There wasn't too much rock 'n' roll going on at that point," he says.

The band finally made their way out West in the spring of 2007. After bringing on a fourth member, guitarist/synth wizard Harris Thurmond, the re-formed New Roman Times dove into Austin's music scene. "The connotation is Austin is the live music capital of the U.S. and Orlando is Disneyworld and boy bands. And there is a vast difference in mindset between the two," Owens says. "In Orlando, there's not a lot of bands or even really a culture that feeds growth. So there's a lot of mediocrity — people don't strive, they're just happy doing what they're doing. And Austin has that element, too. But there are also a ton of really good bands here, and then you have the cream of the crop, and if you want to be the cream of the crop, you have to be really good and have your shit together. You have to put the effort in, network, rehearse. You have to market yourself, sell your band, have great songs. It's not just getting up there and hoping you're good enough."

New Roman Times is slowly but surely getting recognized in Austin. Regular tours aren't feasible as yet since all four members work day jobs to support themselves, and producing an album is a lengthier process for the same reasons. But that doesn't mean they're inactive. "We're always working on new stuff, new songs, always try to grow and evolve."

Owens and Fluri called the shots for International Affairs. Owens dubbed it "a totalitarian situation — not a dictatorship, but like 'This is what needs to happen and this is the way we should do it.'" The making of On the Sleeve was a more collaborative endeavor. "We all got together and collectively said, 'We are going to make the best record we can make.'"

Owens and Fluri are still the band's primary songwriters, but they make sure to leave room for interpretation by their bandmates. Sometimes they'll send out a demo and have Allen and Thurmond add their parts to it. Other times, "We'll bring it to practice and say, 'Here's the song' and then I'll tell them what I kinda have in mind and they'll take that and make it their own. And sometimes I don't even bring anything more than the melodies, and everybody just falls into place with their parts."

On the Sleeve returns to the subjects Owens likes best: "love gained, love lost, finding somebody, losing somebody, the ups and downs and valleys and peaks of being human and having your heart involved." Other songs have more specific inspirations."Belle Du Jour" is loosely based on the 1967 film of the same name that stars Catherine Deneuve as a frigid young wife unable to be intimate with her husband, but compelled to fulfill her dark fantasies by working as a prostitute while he's out. Owens delivers the lyrics in a mellifluous murmur: "And she lives in a style that she could get used to / And she moves in a way only she can understand / And she says all the words that you know that you want to hear / And then she smiles and then she disappears." When he kicks into wail mode, Fluri's pretty vocals chime in with whispery delicate allure.

Right around the time New Roman Times was completing the album, Owens got an e-mail from New Granada's Keith Ulrey, who'd kept up with the band since their O-town days. "I was like, 'Hey, you want to listen to some new stuff?' And he was like, 'Yeah, send it.' And the next day he called me and said, 'I have to put out this record.'"

The band's experience with New Granada has been a positive and rewarding one. "Keith and Susie don't have a lot of money but they work exceptionally hard." Owens also appreciates Ulrey's honesty — "If it's good or bad, Keith will give it to me straight" — and says that Ulrey is always trying to improve his game plan and look at things from different angles.

New Roman Times' shows in Orlando and Tampa this weekend support the release of On the Sleeve and are presented in celebration of New Granada's 15-year anniversary.

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