South Florida isn’t necessarily known for its surfer scene. The waves just aren’t that massive or dramatic here. They are usually these little undulating lumps that hardly last for a nice ride. But that’s just enough surf for the mellow, echoey sounds of Miami’s Mo’Booty. (Update: the band changed its name to Haute Tension in 2018).
A play on the band’s guitarist and singer, Alexandre Merbouti, Mo’Booty began as a solo project for the musician, whose previous project was Booty and the Browns. He is also involved in groovy shoegaze band Seafoam Walls and punk rock four-piece The Bearings.
Monica McGivern, known to many in Miami’s music scene as a photographer at live shows (she regularly contributes to Miami New Times), later joined him as a bassist. During our conversation in McGivern’s studio apartment at ArtCenter South Florida in Downtown Miami, McGivern often places her hand on Merbouti’s knee, as he coyly pulls on one of his curls. Yes, they’re a couple.
Neither hold back about the humble beginnings of Mo’Booty. When she’s not at live shows or shooting for Miami New Times, McGivern documents many of South Florida’s local musicians. While she stayed at the Miami Beach local musician/sound engineer and the founder of the International Noise Conference, Frank “Rat Bastard” Falestra, she got to know many of these local artists. But she connected with Merbouti one another level and felt inclined to work with him even though she never played bass.
“I remember, in particular, he would come over and use like a loop pedal … and I would just be like sitting by idly, and I’d be like, ‘I’m a person. I can play. Just teach me. You don’t need a machine.'” she says with a laugh. “So he did,” she adds turning to look at Merbouti.
But she wasn’t just some groupie looking to get closer to a musician. She had some talent from — of all places — playing the Euphonium in school, from 5th grade to her freshman year in high school. “Coincidentally, they’re both bass clef, rhythm instruments, so rhythmically I was familiar,” she says. “It’s just a matter of teaching.”
Merbouti admits it was not hard to show McGivern what to do on the bass. “I was teaching her fingers what to do, but I could already tell she has an ear,” he notes. “She already knows what things are supposed to sound like.”
Whereas McGivern has a more classical background in music, Merbouti is more of an amateur, despite the fact that he learned classical piano as a kid. His real teacher, however was a Ramones CD.
At around 12 or 13 years of age, Merbouti became obsessed with a Ramones CD compilation he asked his mother to buy him that he would listen to “religiously.” Looking for a way to absorb it beyond playing it on repeat, he picked up a guitar to learn the parts. “I ate it up,” he reveals. “I found this little guitar in my brother’s room, and I learned like every single song, and that’s pretty much how I started learning guitar.”
As the varying sounds and styles of his other bands reveal, Merbouti has a talent to adapt to different styles of rock music. Asked why he is drawn to surf rock, he explains, “I’ve always been into that kind of sound, but I have never heard it exactly like how I wanted to hear it. Like, I’ve been into surf and Quentin Tarantino movie soundtracks and stuff like that. That sound is really cool. I wanted to recreate that sound but kind of like in my own way.”
Barely a year old, they’re still a young band, which also includes Cody Mentelos of The Bearings on drums. Still, they show a confident stage presence while experimenting with the Mo’Booty sound. “I’m still finding my voice,” notes McGivern about her style of playing, “and being able to speak fluently and confidently with writing my own stuff and jamming together and experimenting with that.”
Jamming, as she puts it, is more than creating new material between the couple. They bring that experimentation to their live shows often. Though they have some set songs, they also like to meander in their playing. “That’s been the most exciting part for me,” says McGivern, “and being able to add that immediacy of expression into the performance.”
Still, they have already been making waves in Miami’s scene and beyond. Not long after their debut show, they warmed up the stage for two Nashville bands, Natural Child and Faux Ferocious, at Miami’s Gramps. It was their first show with a live drummer. Then, in March, they played Hotel Vegas at SXSW.
Now, they are about to play what could be the biggest music festival in Miami, next to Ultra, III Points. “I feel that this is the most representation that they’ve had of local bands,” says MCGivern. “Each year, they’ve been able to grow it.”
But III Points is more than a music festival. It’s a multi-media experience, also involving art, tech and film, and Mo’Booty also something special scheduled for the festival’s film component, Vanguard Film Week, which kicked off Monday at O Cinema Wynwood (screening details here). They will debut their first music video on Thursday as part of Nuwave, a series of locally produced music videos.
The video is for a new track called “Dano,” which was made in collaboration with Skate Free Miami who are partnered with the Miami Foundation and the Miami Transit Authority and the support of Skate Free, the organization behind Miami’s new downtown skate park. The band co-directed the video with local cinematographer, Michael Atwood, with artistic support by illustrator Brian Butler and a cameo appearance by Falestra.
The video follows a little kid played by the emerging young skate talent Zion Effs who takes to the streets to head to the skate park. Atwood, who is a skater as well, got on a skateboard to get some special shots of the video’s protagonist, whom McGivern lights up describing. “We got this cute little 7-year-old kid that’s got this ‘fro, and he just has this mean mug while he’s skating … We want to represent the city, so we have him skating from Overtown, over to the lot, and we just saw shots of it today. It’s absolutely gorgeous.”
Beyond releasing a music video, their music will have its first physical release via a cassette compilation by a record label called Viva La Records, based in St. Petersburg, Florida. They plan to release a second volume of their Mix Tape, in celebration of Cassette Store Day during an event in on Oct. 21. Viva La Records Mix Tape Vol. II will feature a track by Mo’Booty called “Probably True.” You can pick up the cassettes at the event or via the label’s Bandcamp website.
But ultimately, McGivern says, she would like to see Mo’Booty release a full length vinyl record. “We need an angel investor!” she says with a laugh. “But no, I think that we believe in the music enough that we will figure something out.”
In an age of digital streams where almost anyone can release an album by uploading it to Bandcamp, these musicians value something tangible to represent their music. “With so much technology, it’s so accessible that the internet release doesn’t feel like you’re doing anything at all in any way,” says Merbouti. “It’s like, cool, Stereogum just streamed your whole album, now anyone can listen to it … Everyone’s heard it once, and they’re like, cool, I like it or a I don’t like it, and no one feels like they have to go back to it.”
McGivern adds that a physical item for the band is important for the fans as well as the band. She says, “It’s an awareness of the momentum that you’re building and the experience that you’re creating, and we are aware of what that can be through a live performance, and then to capitalize on that is to have a physical album that someone can invest in and almost feel like they’re contributing to your success right then and there. I think that’s important. I think that’s what the vinyl is a representation of.”
Mo’Booty’s music video for “Dano” will premiere Thursday, Oct. 6, at the NuWave Film Festival at O Cinema. They perform at III Points, Sunday, Oct. 9, at the Sector III Stage.