May 8, 2008

Beautiful Bodies Singer Alicia Solombrino Presses the Flesh to Get Band’s Album Made

By Timothy Finn, The Kansas City Star, Mo.

May 8--Since fourth-grade, Alicia Solombrino has wanted to be close to the center of attention. Her heroine back then was another charismatic Italian with lust for the limelight.

"I loved Madonna," she says. "I used to go to talent shows and sing and do these choreographed dances."

Fourteen years and several bands and solo acts later, Solombrino is at the center of the Beautiful Bodies, a hard-rock/dance band that is about to birth its overdue debut record, "Touch Me."

The album gets its official release Saturday, more than three years after Solombrino started the Bodies with a friend and collaborator and several months after half her band walked away from the project, including the drummer she had spent nine months finding. The process taught her several lessons, like: Hard work pays off, and you can't choreograph fate.

"Making the album took 10 times longer than I expected," she said. "There was a time when I started to wonder if it would happen."

If perseverance made it happen, you can chalk that up to role-modeling. These days the Madonna idolatry is long gone. Instead her role models are women with more primal charisma and traits: PJ Harvey, Courtney Love and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. That's who Solombrino had in mind when she started the project that preceded the Bodies, a solo extreme-folk act.

"I'd do these acoustic shows and just go crazy," she said. "I'd scream and head-bang with an acoustic guitar. People either loved it or totally didn't get it. They figured I was on something, but I wasn't. I didn't even drink back then."

Solombrino was itching to start a larger project, one not as avant-garde as her solo act or her noise-rock band the Pixel Pandas: "I wanted to start a band that rocked hard but you could dance to."

She hooked up with a guitar player, Mike Corte, and the two started writing songs and looking for a drummer. They'd spend nine months finding one.

"We tried out tons of them," she said. "Nobody worked out. I started to think the band was never going to happen."

At a party one evening she literally bumped into the guy she was looking for, Nick Organ.

"He ran into me," she said. "I said, 'Excuse me.' He said, 'Get out of my way.' I smacked him, and then we started making out.

"Toward the end of the night I told him I was in a band and he said, 'You'll want me in it.' "

He was right.

"Nick was great," Solombrino said. "He was kind of all over the place, but he really had something. We loved him."

The band became a four-piece shortly after that when Organ attended a Pixel Panda show and decided its bassist, Luis Arana, had to be in the Bodies.

"It was at a Halloween party," Arana said. "He was dressed like some demon. He stood in front of me and screamed, 'Hit me in the face with your bass. Make me bleed.' Then he asked me if I wanted to join the band."

Seven months later the Beautiful Bodies performed live for the first time. The response was immediately good.

"It was at the Treehouse in Lawrence, and the place was packed," Solombrino said. "A lot of friends from Lawrence and Kansas City showed up. It kind of took off from there."

She used connections to get the Bodies opening gigs for big-name bands with fans that, it seemed, would be receptive to the Bodies' brash, hard-rock dance tunes and her wild punk/dance-diva act: the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Blood Brothers, HIM.

Inevitably fans returned, especially to the all-ages shows, where young girls arrived dressed and coiffed like Solombrino.

They wanted to take home something more than another T-shirt. They wanted recorded music.

In November 2007, better tardy than never, the Bodies went into the studio and started laying down tracks. Then drama occurred. After recording his parts for the album, Organ quit the band.

"He was having some musical difficulties," Solombrino said. "He wanted the band to change its style, to be heavier and more progressive. I wanted people to dance."

She wasted little time finding a replacement. She called Brian Jewell, who'd been drumming for Lovers in Transit, who were about to break up.

"At first I thought, 'Whoa, I'm not really ready to jump back in the game,' " he said, "but I said I'd consider it. I'd only seen them play live for about 20 minutes at that point. They had one more show scheduled (with Organ), so I checked it out and I was like, 'Yeah. Why not?' "

Problem solved, until the next one erupted. In January, while the album was still being finished, Corte left the band, citing financial reasons.

"I was out of town, and he quit without telling me," Solombrino said. "But once I got confirmation, I was like, 'Fine. Now I'm gonna find the best guitarist in town.' "

The name that she stopped at in her cell phone was Brodie Rush, the star of his own band, Be/Non. Like Jewell, Rush agreed to come into a band under controlled circumstances: It had coined a sound and recorded their parts for its debut album.

For Rush, that required some adjustment. "It was kind of like getting into a cover band," he said. "I was playing a part ... I had to be careful not to slip into Brodie.

"I was glad once we got to rehearsal for the first time so I could go through the material. I thought the songs were good, and Mike's playing was good, I just thought the tones were a little thin."

Jewell had just come from a band where he'd replaced the founding drummer, Ryan Shank. For him, the situation was familiar.

"I already had some experience learning someone else's parts," he said. "This was even easier because I had the (tracks) to listen to."

Before she could officially finish business on "Touch Me," however, Solombrino had to work things out with Corte, her collaborator. "At first he said we couldn't have his songs," she said. "He said they were his. It took a month, but he finally said, 'OK, fine.' "

The latest edition of her band has been getting "really positive" reactions, Solombrino said, even from within the band.

Asked how the new band differs from the original, Arana said, "The drums aren't as chaotic, and there's better tone in the guitar. Now you can hear each of us when we play live."

They recently played at RecordBar for the Architects' CD-release party and made an impression on the headliner.

"Alicia is one of the most formidable frontpersons I've ever seen," said Brandon Phillips, the Architects' lead singer. "Her potential to move crowds is enormous. And Brodie is, as we all know, a sick guitarist. I'd think this band would be exactly the right conduit for him."

Solombrino is as proud of "Touch Me" as she is of her reborn band, and she credits the guys who left before "Touch Me" was done.

"I really like some of Mike's stuff," she said. "The main riff on 'Touch Me' is awesome. It really catches people. 'Strut' and 'Osculator' are perfect examples of what I want. Mike really stepped up when we were recording."

She is holding promo copies of the album as she describes it. And even without the artwork or the song titles and with the album's name scrawled across the disc in a Sharpie, she coddles it and talks proudly about it, like Madonna with child.

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saturday The Beautiful Bodies will celebrate the release of "Touch Me" at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Uptown Theater. The Nomathmatics will perform after the Bodies. Admission to the all-ages show is $10.

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