Freeks and Geeks

Thanks to their cool world-music electronica and some major help from the Internet, the Supreme Beings of Leisure may become the first rock stars born on the Web.

After something of a deer-in-the-headlights reaction to the emergence of the Internet, the record industry finally seems to be realizing its important contribution to the future of music enjoyment and delivery. A number of established artists have already endorsed the use of MP3 technology, but it's taken big-buck mergers and high-profile takeovers to finally convince the majors that it's time to get with it. Alas, there's been a lot of talk but relatively little action so far, leaving the field wide open to Web-savvy indie renegades and new online music ventures to reap the benefits the Internet has to offer less mainstream artists.

As anyone who's typed "MP3" into their search engine may have noticed (and more people are typing in those letters as opposed to that other popular three-letter word, if recently published reports are to be believed), the Web is now overflowing with sites offering instant music downloads, audio and video streaming, and increasingly varied sales and promotional opportunities for unsigned or up-and-coming musicians. While the Web hasn't yet generated its own real star -- despite the efforts of garageband.com, UBL.com, and a host of other A&R oriented Web sites -- it has become increasingly valuable as a means of creating a buzz for emerging acts. A case in point is a fledgling Southern California band, signed to one of the more forward-thinking independent record labels, that's been getting more attention in cyberspace than most groups thus far.

It's rumored that L.A.'s Supreme Beings of Leisure came together via an AOL chatroom, but the reality is far more straightforward than that. Three years ago, they were all recording demos in the same studio; one thing led to another, and they ended up collaborating. The outcome was Oversoul 7 -- a musical quartet of three programmers-instrumentalists, including Ramin Sakurai, Kiran Shahani, and Rick Torres, and vocalist Geri Soriano-Lightwood. After a short-lived deal with local electronica indie Moonshine Records and a demo deal with A&M, the group -- now renamed Supreme Beings of Leisure for no other reason than someone else had trademarked the name Oversoul -- eventually found a home at Palm Pictures, the label formed two years ago by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell.

Blackwell's proven reputation as a music industry visionary and his positions as founder of the online video/audio broadcast Web site Sputnik7.com and director of Listen.com, the Web's largest MP3 directory, has prompted one of the first "underground" promotional campaigns (literally of global proportions) for a newly signed band. In the three months since completing their self-titled debut album, the Supreme Beings of Leisure's Web single, "Strangelove Addiction," has consistently been one of Listen.com's most downloaded MP3s as well as having reached the coveted number-one slot on one of MP3.com's neighborhoods. Banners for the band have cropped up on music sites all over the Web, while their recent live shows have typically involved tie-ins with Internet and new media companies. (In fact, they played to packed houses at Listen.com's party at LunaPark during last November's Webnoize '99 Internet music conference and at the El Rey during last winter's Rezfest digital film festival.)

Even though they got together unspectacularly, and being a part of the Internet music revolution certainly wasn't part of their original game plan, the group members seem completely at ease with their Web associations.

"We're all total geeks," says Soriano-Lightwood, who, in fact, comes across more as an intelligent and fashion-conscious businesswoman than you might expect of a singer in a nerdy Web band.

"Yeah, we were the loners in high school," acknowledges the more bohemian-looking Sakurai, the group's keyboardist and main programmer.

They're teasing, but there's more than an ounce of truth in what they say. Soriano-Lightwood, it turns out, is from a whole family of Web heads. Her brother-in-law is a Clio Award-winning Web designer and her husband is a programmer; the three of them worked together on the Supreme Beings of Leisure's Flash-enhanced Web site. And Sakurai, Torres, and Shahani are all self-confessed computer nerds, each with their own living-space/computer-music setups. ("It's very non-feng shui," says Sakurai of his Studio City apartment turned home studio.)

The four also admit to sharing a sense of exclusion in their formative years -- and not just due to their geeky solitary pursuits. All of them were brought up in America, but their bloodlines stretch from India to the Dominican Republic, through Japan, Puerto Rico, Ireland, and Iran to Hawaii.

"We're basically mutts," quips the Indiana-raised Sakurai who has an Iranian and Japanese-Hawaiian heritage.

"We didn't really fit in where we were raised," agrees Soriano-Lightwood. "But all of our cultural references have been filtered through white middle America. I think it gives us a broader mind-set and larger influences to draw upon."

This is certainly true of the songs on their new album, which presents a unique hybrid of laid-back electronica, jungle rhythms, dance floor funk, and a wide variety of classical ethnic and Western styles. Subtle nostalgic touches flavor songs like the down-tempo ballads "Never the Same" and "Last Girl on Earth," on which Soriano-Lightwood's easygoing vocal style evokes images of cocktail lounges and steamy Pacific island nights, all within an up-to-date electronica framework.

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