Off the Record

White Arrows Singer Mickey Schiff Was Blind, But Now He Sees (Literally)

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Wed, Sep 7, 2011 at 8:00 AM
click to enlarge MATTHEW WARDENAAR
  • Matthew Wardenaar

Born legally blind, Mickey Schiff experienced his surroundings as though they were a Monet landscape -- all colors and shapes and softness. When he was 11 his vision was corrected, turning the word into edges, hard angles and lines so sharp that he was startled into nausea. Now that he can see, he makes music as brilliant and colorful as the world he knew growing up.

"Visuals needs music as much as music needs visuals," the singer explains. Maybe that's why people describe his band White Arrows' supercharged, dance-y, indie rock as "tropical crunk" -- an explosion of colors, a banging low end and hooks that sound just as at home in a warehouse party as in a club. "We Googled tropical crunk," Schiff says, "and a picture of us came up! We are tropical crunk."

In their song "Voyeur," a simple beat decorated by a keyboard hook blooms into an organized cacophony of guitar and maracas. Their video for "Save Me a Place" is set in an underwater seascape and features crabs skittering amongst diamonds and pearls. In their live shows, guitarist Steven Vernet plays a glow-in-the-dark red tambourine, while keyboardist Andrew Naeve sings backup vocals bathed in pools of blue and red light.

"As a kid I wanted to be a contrarian," Schiff explains, which is why he got into '60s garage rock and punk as a teenager, and why he moved to New York City to pursue a self-designed degree at NYU in shamanistic ritual philosophy of music. While at NYU, he started recording songs in his dorm room -- tracks that eventually would make up the White Arrows' self-titled debut EP. "I actually didn't have any intentions of performing [the songs] live," Schiff says. "But then when I moved back to L.A., I started practicing the songs that were on the EP with the dudes and took it from there."

One of the "dudes" was White Arrows bassist J.P. Caballero, an old family friend with whom Schiff had always felt a strange connection. Once the band got going, he says, their parents revealed that he and Caballero had the same biological father. Another of the dudes was Henry, Schiff's baby brother, who started playing drums for White Arrows when he was only 16. "Henry's GPA went up when he left for tour," Schiff says. "J.P. is a genius and he was like an on-set tutor."

Now, White Arrows are releasing their first vinyl single, "Get Gone," on Brooklyn's Ooh La La records, enjoying the fruits of an Australian Hyundai commercial featuring their song "City Boy," and preparing to open for Weezer at a plush casino in the high desert. For a band that has had a reliable lineup only since spring, that's not bad. But Schiff, who is half-Puerto Rican, has something else in mind: "They just did the score of West Side Story at the Hollywood Bowl, and I was thinking of how cool it would be if we opened, since it's a half-Puerto Rican score. I'm Tony and Maria's love child!"

White Arrows' song "Get Gone" will be released as a 7-inch single on Ooh La La Records on Sept. 7.

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