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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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By Julie Garisto
Published August 17, 2007
The guys: Ryan Reilly, bass; Evan Brenner, vocals; Robbie Pereira, guitar and vocals; and Brad Whitsett, drums.
Debut album: New CD out this fall.
More than a band name: The guys use Variety Workshop for projects outside the band - video production and other multimedia.
Hell on wheels: They're all skateboarders and produce skate videos.
Chunky but not crunchy: They play eclectic music, but they're not a jam band. VW mixes up rock, punk, reggae, ska and soul. "It's heavier and louder than a jam band, and the songs are tightly structured," Brenner says. (Reilly and Brenner answer questions.)
Open mike psyched: "We were open mike warriors!" says Reilly, 23, recounting the days before the band formed. Reilly and Pereira performed the free-for-all nights in Clearwater and Palm Harbor. Dubbed the Ryan and Robbie Show, the guys played songs by 311, Fugazi, Weezer and Sublime. Their strangest cover was Paranoid Android by Radiohead.
Space jam: In their early days, they practiced in a space that's now legendary, a building in a mobile home park that attracted friends and other local musicians, such as members of the Satsukos, Incredible Crisis and Weaksauce. "It was a little shack in Dunedin," Brenner, 26, says. "We just devoted the whole summer to sweating in no air-conditioning and intense practicing seven days a week."
Reilly: "Five hours a day, plus the occasional beer."
Brenner: "Or 12 ... I joined in 2003. I was basically the friend who came to all the practices."
Reilly: "We'd see him singing along in the background and said, 'Hey, let's give him a microphone.'"
Brenner: "At first, I didn't know a lot of the parts, so I would just run around the jam space like a mad man, break tables and chairs and do anything to draw attention to the band."
B-rad is rad: "B-rad is Whitsett's nickname. In his absence, his band mates gush about the 19-year-old's drumming talent and ways with women. "We went through a lot of drummers before he joined in 2005," Reilly says. "He's been our longest-running drummer. ... We were playing in a cover band for money, down at this big club in Ybor," Reilly says. "Brad dominated up there. The ladies love him. He had just turned 17, but you have to be 18 to play clubs. ... Sure enough, after months and months, they decided to card us all and yelled at us (and fired the band). It wasn't like he was big-headed about it, but he was so emotional. He was packing up his kit, and was, like, 'Man, why do they got to be like that? The bitches love me!'"
Family man: Pereira, 25, is engaged and has a 2-year-old son, Skyler, with his fiancee.
They keep it going: When VW plays Keeping It Going, nearly the entire audience gets on stage to sing with the band.
Tough love: "My parents' whole view was," Reilly recalls, "'if we're going to buy you the guitar, you're going to take lessons.' The teacher said, 'If you're going to take lessons, then you have to practice - 30 minutes a day, at least, five days a week.' Sometimes I would cry because I was 9-10 years old at this point. I wanted to go out and play. My mom was like, 'You're practicing!' (He mimics sobs and wails.) ... I would do the same thing with my kids."
In the genes: Brenner says his grandmother, Helen Brenner, sang at Carnegie Hall. "I guess I had hidden attributes I didn't know about until I joined Variety Workshop."
Check 'em out: Saturday (8/19) with Griz Collective, Skull and Bone Band and others. Pegasus Lounge. 9 p.m. 10008 N 30th St., Tampa. $5. (813) 971-1679.