Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Just Visiting For A Decade No More

When singer/songwriter/guitarist Johnny Roset Cervini first started forming a band in 2000, it was nearly impossible for him and rhythm guitarist Mike Burke to get together. So over the last decade, they settled. They kept in touch, scraped together savings, and occasionally worked on demos with session players while pursuing other opportunities in and outside the music industry.

Cervini had even started a label, Black House Records, representing and managing other bands for a time (and recently signed rapper Caspa Narkz). But all that changed last year. One decade from the earliest beginnings of Just Visiting, Cervini met someone willing to give his band the lift it needed. The timing could not have been better.

He was one step away from turning his attention toward New York real estate. But fate wouldn't have it. While earning his license, he also met drummer Michael Demetrious (who was about to do the same) and everything clicked: bassist Dennis Burke (Mike's younger brother) had already filled in during demo recordings, the investment was secure, and Cervini still owned Black House Records. They had a band, a label, and one last chance to get it right.

"Yes, I used to manage other artists including my own band, but ultimately the only artist I could truly trust fully and blindly was myself," Cervini says. "Other people's continued motivation is hard to gauge."

Cervini's is not. With a back shelf full of unreleased material, English and Spanish, Cervini committed to Just Visiting and it didn't take long for them to be noticed. They were invited to be interviewed on "The Ron & Fez Show" on Sirius XM Radio. And for the first time, they felt the power of quickly developing a core audience.

"We have a whole bunch of new fans all over New York State because of that broadcast," Cervini said. "And there was an obvious spike in sales on iTunes."

The two songs noticed were Glass Of Whine and Life In A Shoebox, songs originally released in 2008 but revived with new videos this year (Life In A Shoebox is coming soon). They are as fresh today as they day they were released, galvanizing with intensely personal lyrics and arrangements that make them original.

Glass Of Whine is directly inspired by Elliott Smith and early REM. Conversely, Cervini muses that Life In A Shoebox was composed after listening to too many Nirvana and Beatles songs on the same day (specifically About A Girl and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band). He may have been mad stoned on both occasions, he said.

"What I want is for people to feel safe when they are listening to the music," explains Cervini. "As much as we like to treat pain, misery, and breakups as isolated incidents that only destroy us in a unique way ... certain pains are generic. We've all felt them, and it allows the songs to resonate."

Nothing strikes those same chords as well as an unreleased confessional hidden away on YouTube called VNS (a.k.a. Very Nice Song). Unpolished and imperfect, it conveys the feelings of vulnerability after the collapse of a relationship with a girl named Vanessa.

"It's basically the only leftover of a whirlwind romance I got caught up in," he reflects. "The circumstances were wrong. The timing was wrong. Too much Jameson (whiskey) was involved. There was an age disparity. In other words, I miss her."

As strong as thematic qualities of all the songs might be, Just Visiting is still unsettled in its sound. Not everything you find captures the same infectious rawness and throatiness of the early demos. But many tracks do, even on the Spanish songs that Just Visting will compile for a separate LP from any debut album.

"The first album will be released by 2012 and it will most likely be with the assistance of a parent company," Cervini says, referring to some early talks that he describes as moving along in a healthy manner. "Some of the songs will sound familiar, but then it's up to the listener to choose his or her favorite, for whatever reasons they may be."

Life In A Shoebox and Glass Of Whine by Just Visiting Drowns Down At 9.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

If the songs aren’t enough to convince you to add Just Visiting to your watch list, consider Cervini has another secret up his sleeve. To manage his split personalities, he leans on his friend Eva “Evil Ruins” Ruiz, who owns and operates a bar at 149-05 Union Turnpike in Queens. It’s called Cheap Shots. She’ll be the one with devil’s horns and a world championship belt from the WWE. He'll be there, playing a few sets and getting advice on Aug. 20.

You can find Life In A Shoebox and Glass Of Whine on iTunes. But exploring some of the other singles is well worth it. Specifically, end with shaky arrangement of Lust and angst within the Spanish single Nunca Pense. They’ll help you understand what Cervini means when he says “I’m running toward a light that will eventually blind me.” Sometimes, aren't we all.
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