When Plains' frontman Michael McGinnis is working, he's holed up in the recording pit of Honor Roll Music, a studio-warehouse in Little Haiti. His 6-foot-3 frame is hunched over three side-by-side monitors, his eyes staring at the screen's mixing software and audio waveforms. His 9-to-5, he says, is more like a 1-to-midnight. But most of the time he's just staring.
"The Plains model is to be straightforward rock with a little nuance. Sometimes I don't know how to evolve our sound. I kind of burden myself," admits the 29-year-old Kankakee, Ill., native, who moved to Miami four years ago and lives a few blocks from Honor Roll.
Since unplugging from the Midwest, McGinnis, the band's principal songwriter, has been recording everything here. He's usually alone, in the studio filled on this Monday afternoon with a piano, two electric guitars, a San Miguel Arcangel candle, a pack of American Spirit and a flatscreen TV bearing the screensaver of a majestic lion. (He is not the lion, he says with a laugh, though his thick tangle of facial hair may suggest differently.) In January, McGinnis, guitarist Jorge Graupera, drummer Jorge Rubiera and bassist Max Johnston shot the music video here for "Swim," their new album's first single. The song, he says, is a brooding but aggressive nod to the newfound pressures on McGinnis' writing career, and like most of Plains' output, represents blue-collar guitar-rock punched up with thundering intensity.
"In the past year I've been narrowing down Plains' sound to radio-friendly, cool rock," he says. "Now I'm toying with the idea of publishing everything, opening up the Plains palette wide."
Plains will likewise rehearse here before Saturday's Block x Blog, a Fort Lauderdale arts and music festival that falls not coincidentally on Record Store Day, the annual tribute to mom-and-pop record stores across the country. For the occasion, Plains will perform new songs off the album at the festival, and release a free download of another single, "Hurricane City," on the website of the band's Limited Fanfare label.
Functioning as an after-party of sorts to Record Store Day at nearby Radio-Active Records, Block x Blog will reign over three stages at Revolution Live, Green Room Nightclub and America's Backyard, with Plains and 30 other local bands and DJs holding court along with vendors and food trucks. America's Backyard's punk- and hip-hop-flavored lineup will have Protoman, Sound Sleeper and Lil Daggers slinging rhymes on the outdoor patio. Plains joins Revolution's rock-and electronica-centric bill, featuring Coral Springs' Millionyoung, Miami's Afrobeta and Brooklyn beat-makers Holy Ghost! Miami fuzz-rockers the Jacuzzi Boys, Suede Dudes, the Riot Act and others will rock out the adjoining Green Room, a venue where festival organizer Phillip Roffman says he may chill during downtime.
"Yeah, right. I'll get downtime. Sure. I'll be running around like a fool with my head cut off," says the 22-year-old Florida Atlantic University graduate and owner of Fort Lauderdale promoter Subculture, which sponsors the fest with music blog Consequence of Sound and Radio-Active Records.
Hyperbole aside, Roffman says the idea of Block x Blog marries his sensible appreciation of Record Store Day with the glut of bands currently sculpting South Florida's unique sound, while immersing both in the visual milieu of 1980s nostalgia. On Block x Blog's website (BlockxBlog.com), Roffman bills the festival as "nostalgia for the days spent at the arcade and record store."
"Can I be honest? I know that sounds weird," Roffman says. "There's a logic to this. I thought about the blocks we're using -- America's Backyard, Revolution Live and Green Room -- but also digital pixels, which are made up of tiny blocks, right? I think about '80s pop culture and old Nintendos and Super Mario and 8-bit culture. Just like pixels coming together to create a bigger image, let's do the utopian idea of assembling a big festival using members of Fort Lauderdale's community."
Roffman says Revolution's stage will be transformed into a "video game playground," resembling a Mario Bros.-style level with green pipes, 8-bit textures and clouds. Upstairs, concertgoers can play Nintendo games on old-fashioned TVs and find the video-game works of Kristin Frenzel, Ian M. Santos, Hilda Vazquez, Keegan Hitchcock, Mark Gil Perez, Brandy Rumiez, 8-Bit Lexicon and others. In Green Room's upstairs loft, meanwhile, a Vinyl-Only Art Show will display groovy artworks printed on wax disks.
Despite the caliber of venues, Roffman says Block x Blog operates on a shoestring: He relied on local businesses and the help of Revolution Live owner Jeff John, who donated the spaces, to model Block x Blog as an "anti-Ultra Music Festival."
"There's this festival that plops down in Miami with big sponsorships and then leaves immediately. There's no benefit to it other than entertainment," Roffman says. "I don't see Miami locals getting involved with that. I know Block x Blog isn't anywhere near the caliber, but I wanted to show what Fort Lauderdale truly does have and what sounds we can make."
Block x Blog
What: A videogame and '80s nostalgia music and arts festival in downtown Fort Lauderdale, running simultaneously at Revolution Live, America's Backyard and Green Room Nightclub.
When: 6 p.m. April 20 – 4 a.m. April 21
Lineup: Revolution Live (100 SW Third Ave.): Plains, Holy Ghost!, Millionyoung, Krisp, AbdeCaf, Afrobeta, Deaf Poets, Gaps, Eons, X3sr, Rickolus; Green Room (109 SW Second Ave.): Jacuzzi Boys, The Riot Act, Suede Dudes, Ex-Norwegian, Killmama, Boxwood, Rebel, the Gun Hoes, the Hongs; America's Backyard (100 SW Third Ave.): Protoman, the Politix, Sound Sleeper, Lavola, the Goddamn Hustle, Bluebird, Lil Daggers, Jabrjaw
Cost: $25 for Revolution Live and Green Room; free for America's Backyard.
Contact: 954-449-1025, BlockxBlog.com