Though the name of Miami’s Haute Tension sounds like it might generate a taut, stressed-out vibe, the band formerly known as Mo’Booty actually makes chill, slow, surfy riffs stamped with deep and dreamy male vocals. There is, however, some tension in the noir sound that recalls long days spent sweating in the tropics, just waiting for something, some mystery requiring a deadpan voiceover, to happen.
The duo includes photographer and visual artist Monica McGivern, a New Times contributor, on bass and back-up vocals, and singer and guitarist Alexandre Merbouti. Michigan native McGivern moved to West Palm Beach and then to Miami to be a part of the contemporary art scene. Merbouti grew up in the Bay Area and France and has been in Miami for ten years. After he taught McGivern to play bass, they paired their instruments and vocals with a drum machine, and Mo’Booty was birthed.
The two recently changed their moniker. “We came across a sign in France that said, ‘Haute Tension,’ meaning ‘high voltage,’ and it kind of stuck with us,” Merbouti says of the decision. The band, which recently recorded its first LP, also undertook a major challenge this summer: to play every day in August at a different venue in Miami-Dade County.
It was inspired by the group Thelma & the Sleaze, which did the 29-day World’s First Intra-City Tour in Nashville. McGivern contributed footage to the documentary directed by Seth Graves about that experience. The film even won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2017 Nashville Film Fest. During Miami’s hottest month, Haute Tension has embarked on a similar tour: 31 Days in Dade.
“Someone warned me ‘Be careful what you wish for’ when I told them what we were doing,” Merbouti admits of the plan, “but so far, it has been really fun to see what happens every day. It has forced me to look at the city differently, especially in the booking stages. In a way, it does feel like a regular tour because of the logistics with different venues every day and loading gear, but at the same time, you don’t have to drive hours to different cities, and you get to sleep in your own bed every night.”
As a working photographer who covers music events and nightlife, McGivern feels like she’s been training for this endeavor her whole career. The only difference is, she says, “now there’s just more gear involved, and I’m in front of the lens more rather than behind it. The tour is a practice in being present and surviving whatever unexpected events come up. I feel tired but can’t forget that we chose to do this, and having a choice to do this is an incredible privilege.”
So far, McGivern says, the band has played in some very Miami venues, such as Mary’s Coin Laundry, a place where, she says, they “normally go after gigs because they’re open 24 hours with authentic Cuban food and laundry services.” The band has played bars such as Churchill’s Pub, Gramps, and Nancy and indie spots like a Little Haiti DIY warehouse and the Center for Subtropical Affairs, where, she says, “we sang to a bunch of plants and some people too.” She’s excited to perform tonight at Emerson Dorsch Gallery as part of the Clifton Childree-curated show I See the Spotlight in You, as well as August 25 at Swampspace Gallery for Swampstock, alongside bands such as Pocket of Lollipops and Worm Serpent Dragon.
This Friday, August 17, the group will perform at the biannual, 24-hour rager All Night Skate at Super Wheels in Kendall. “We will be playing in the center stage of the rink under the disco balls while people skate around us,” Merbouti shares. He says he’s “considering investing in wireless gear for a possible guitar solo on wheels… We’re really excited because it is one of the biggest nights of the year for them, and it’s the last weekend of summer for people that go to school.” The event will also feature DJ Woozles spinning at his custom surfboard table.
“This is arguably the biggest party of the tour aside from the album release,” McGivern adds, with a nod to their August 31 Sweat Records release party. “There’s such a nostalgia factor to roller skating, especially at a place like Super Wheels, which Miami locals will remember as Hot Wheels.”
Though the two usually record their music with drummer Cody Mentelos, he doesn’t tour. So they snagged superstar drummer Nabedi Osorio of the State Of, Afrobeta, and Nu Deco. “Nabedi is down for anything, and it has been great playing with her,” Merbouti says. “She also makes great pizza.” McGivern calls her a “rock star” (and agrees about the pizza). Mentelos will rejoin the band for their album release at Sweat. “The drum breakdown in our single ‘What Would You Say’ was written by Cody,” McGivern shares, “and it’s one of my favorite moments on the album. I have to dance to that part whenever I hear it.”
Haute Tension has also booked a Wednesday-night residency at Gramps’ Pizza Tropical happy hour. Though the gig was originally supposed to be just part of the tour, Gramps owner Adam Gersten loved the idea and is booking the band weekly during that time slot. The first of these happy hours featured the ethereal sounds of Dracula and DJ Lindsey Mills, who spun Brazilian subtropicalia selections. “We’ve had great responses so far, but you really can’t go wrong with live music, cheap drinks, and good pizza,” McGivern says.
After 31 Days in Dade wraps, the band will hit the road for St. Petersburg, where the group will play a huge party September 7 at Yoko Phono Recording, the studio where Haute Tension recorded its upcoming album. A big album-release show will take place September 8 at Bumblefest in West Palm Beach.