Fifteen years ago, Phil Longo joined his first band. Having somehow convinced the members that he could play an instrument (which he could not), Longo, through sheer force of will, began his journey through the Central Florida music scene. That first band didn’t last very long, but the experience soon led Longo to become a member of a well-regarded punk group, and from there, through a series of sonically divergent but philosophically similar bands, Longo has been an omnipresent, if unheralded, component of Orlando’s musical fabric.
As we sit in the blissfully frigid environs of Burton’s Bar and Grill on a hot June afternoon, the discussion about his long and often complex history in the area (see sidebar) is continually punctuated by recollections where Longo’s dogged determination to “play music,” “get involved” or “make something happen” has, more often than not, resulted in all three occurring.
“I guess that’s my talent,” he says. “I’m not the most talented musician or player, but I’m stubborn and I’m persistent.”
That persistence has found Longo in a wide variety of roles in bands, all of which he embraces. Whether playing punk, atmospheric rock, indie pop or some combination thereof, he’s been able to slot himself into established acts like Telephone, New Roman Times and Mumpsy and was a central figure in the conception and creative evolution of groups as divergent as the Hot Six and the Country Slashers.
And now, Phil Longo has a band that he can call his very own. Basements of Florida, more than any other group Longo’s been involved with, was literally willed into existence out of nothing more than a goofy idea: a bass-and-drums ensemble with no need for guitars or vocals.
“I wanted to see this work for a long time,” says Longo. “You wouldn’t believe how many conversations I’ve had with bass players where we talk about how no one gives the bass credit, and how wouldn’t it be cool to have a big bass jam like on Spinal Tap. But it always ends at ‘Yeah, it would be cool.’”
In true Phil Longo fashion, the actual birth of Basements of Florida was a combination of determination, fortuitous timing and a little spontaneous dissembling.
“I was talking to Patrick `O’Neal, drummer for the Country Slashers` and I was listening to these song ideas he had, and they were pretty good.
“One day after the Slashers had practice, I went into the Social `where Longo works as a bartender` and saw a poster up for the Joe Lally show. So I walk into the office and say, ‘Hey, Jodi `Goetz, booking manager at the venue`, is there an opener for the Joe Lally show?’ and she said, ‘For the Slashers?’ I was like, ‘No, I’ve got this other band called Basements of Florida.’ The next day she texted me to tell me I had the show, so I called Patrick and said, ‘Guess what? We’re opening for Joe Lally.’”
The opening gig was impressive, as it saw the new group – Longo and O’Neal on bass, accompanied by Mumpsy’s Jeff Ilgenfritz on drums – wailing through a tight set of instrumental jams that were as forceful as they were concise. Despite the low-end-heavy lineup, the songs came off as gimmick-free and highly melodic.
“There could have been more thought put into it,” laughs Longo. “But we did it and it worked.”
While Basements has yet to occupy a substantial portion of Longo’s busy dance card, this new group is particularly resonant to him; not solely because of the novel musical attack, but because the band represents Longo’s willful approach to music.
“I’d like it to be a special-events thing,” he says. “The idea is that you can do whatever you want. If you really feel something, just do it.”
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