Back in the sandbox

The path to punk-rock success is pretty clearly marked. Bedroom. Garage. House shows. Community center. All-ages nights. Eventually, you make enough money to release a 7-inch. It gets reviewed in a fanzine and you manage to book a few shows out of town. And then you start all over at house shows ... but they're houses in someone else's town, which makes it cool and as close to "success" as most bands get.

Playground Heroes, a "foul-mouthed ska-punk" band from Kissimmee, doesn't pay much attention to the path. Formed in 1999 (originally under the moniker Eye Q), the band tried to get a foot in the door of the Orlando punk scene, but met with resistance. So, instead of packing it in, it packed up and hit the road. "Orlando didn't like us," says vocalist Chris Daley. "We couldn't catch on, so we just went somewhere else."

That "somewhere else" ended up being nearly two dozen of these fair united states and a couple of Canadian provinces. The Playground Heroes' self-booked tours -- five since forming -- have put more than 150 shows under its collective belt and most of those shows have been outside of Florida. Though the band may have neglected Florida -- and particularly Orlando -- in the early stages, that's something it's making up for now. After plenty of road work (and a handful of lineup changes), Playground Heroes is finally paying attention to its home turf. Ironically, that has put the band in the position of being the new act in town.

"It's hard to get into the scene in Orlando," says Daley. "There are only a few good places to play, and it's hard to get into those places and get people to come out."

"There are so many bands that have been around for so long that people don't like to give new bands a chance," concurs drummer John Vargas.

All this talk about being a "new" band may seem ironic given how long Playground Heroes has been around, but having worked the tour circuit for so long, band members understand how most scenes overlook homegrown talent. "When you're from out of town," says bassist Jose Laboy, "you get respect. But when you're local, people take you for granted."

Respect is exactly what the band has gotten on its road trips. Over the years, it has managed to make connections and build a fan base in such far-flung (and not-so-obvious) locales as Springfield, Ill. Though the going was rough early on, eventually, the band caught on.

"It was easy for us to get shows that ended up being for two people in some guy's garage," says Daley. "But it was pretty hard to get good shows. By the third tour, we knew bands, and we knew people in different towns, so it got easier to get better shows."

"We can play a show in New York and have 100 kids come out. We play in Florida and it's the five people we bring with us," laughs Laboy. "We went a little too far too fast."

Shifting gears to concentrate on its own backyard, Playground Heroes is "returning" to a scene that may not be prepared for its offbeat take on "ska-punk." That may be how the band refers to itself, but in truth, its sound is a little more eclectic than such a label would allow. After all, we are talking about a ska band whose only nod to brass is a drummer who occasionally busts out a trumpet. Merging the melodic energy of ska-influenced punk with an angular assault that brings to mind new wave insanity like Devo or Spizz, Playground Heroes delivers a defiantly high-octane show that leaves some fans a bit confused.

"We get compared to Minor Threat a lot, and we don't understand that at all," says Laboy. "I mean, it's a compliment to be compared to such a great band, but we just don't get it."

Daft comparisons aside, it's easy to see why it might take the band a while to catch on here at home. Its sound is a bit at odds with the prevailing trends in Orlando. "The pop-punk and emo scenes are very popular here," says Daley. "So if you don't play that, it's tough." And for audiences used to easily categorizable bands, Playground Heroes certainly provides a challenge. And though the band may be forced to hit the road again, at least it gave you a chance.

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