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Air Miami - “The best I can say is that we were just kids and didn't know what the hell we were doing.” 
Air Miami : “The best I can say is that we were just kids and didn't know what the hell we were doing.” 
21st July 2023

Almost three decades after its release, Air Miami’s first and only studio album, Me. Me. Me., is finally being reissued on 28 July 2023. We had author Ethan Swan speak to the band and write this following piece to celebrate the release:


'There’s a funny moment in the spring of 1995, a time when people knew the band name Air Miami but weren’t sure what they sounded like.  There was a sense; Bridget Cross and Mark Robinson were only a year removed from the shimmering guitars and soft-handed romance of their previous band, Unrest.  Surely there was a next step in sophistication or lushness available to them?  The autumn 1994 release of the 'Airplane Rider' single presented a jittering, toothache-y glimpse of Air Miami that felt in line with Unrest, but more enmeshed.  There’s a windstorm quality to those two songs, a swirling sense of surround, a many-voiced kick.  On 'Stop Sign,' Cross sings, “I’m looking for a reason to get out of bed today,” but the song vibrates as if it hasn’t slept in a week.  The drums echo and startle like phantoms in the periphery, completing the sense of insomnia.  'Airplane Rider' was issued by Teen-Beat, the record label founded by Robinson in 1984.  It was a kind of homecoming: the label was Unrest’s base for many years, before signing with 4AD for their final LP, 1993’s Perfect Teeth.

It was during this funny moment that journalist Michael Vasquez visited Teen-Beat house—Robinson’s home, office, and practice space—to report on the label’s 10th anniversary for the March 1995 issue of CMJ.  Unrest’s demise was still a mystery, but Vasquez did ask Robinson to explain the difference between the old band and the new one: “Unrest was basically Mark,” Robinson replied, “Air Miami is Mark and Bridget.”  Friends and collaborators would get pulled into Air Miami’s gravity, but across the band’s existence this construction would ring true: Air Miami is perfectly Bridget Cross and Mark Robinson.  Their partnership, their sensibilities, and their synthesis; but also their obsessions, their argot, and their friendship.

Unrest broke up in the winter of 1994, giving only “exhaustion” as the reason.  Nearly three decades later, Cross is still vague: “The best I can say is that we were just kids and didn't know what the hell we were doing.”  Whatever collapse led to the end of Unrest, it didn’t hinder Air Miami at all.  “We started really quickly after Unrest,” Robinson revealed.  “Unrest dissolved in February of ‘94, and Bridget and I were recording on a 4-track in March.”  Reiterating “Air Miami is Mark and Bridget,” Cross spoke of that initial rush of creation.  “I remember being in Mark’s basement and writing songs together.  It really was a true collaboration.”  They both played guitar, they both sang.  The pair weren’t putting a lot of pressure on the recordings.  Robinson observed, “some of the songs that we did, I don’t even know if they were written.  I think it was just kind of like, hit record and play something.”  However casual the process, it was potent, producing nearly half of the songs that would make up their 1995 LP, Me. Me. Me.

After two months of basement incubation, Cross and Robinson put together a live band with Lauren Feldsher of Viva Satellite! on bass and Mike Fellows of Rites of Spring playing drums.  The latter partnership was inspired during an otherwise grueling stretch of tour: “I was playing with Royal Trux in 1993,” Fellows recalled, “and we did several days of Lollapalooza.  I think it was in New Jersey mostly.”  Unrest were part of the same stint, and the strange, martian tone of that tour brought the two bands together.  Fellows described most days as “really grim, like just hanging out in this parking lot.  Mark and Jennifer Herrema stole a golf cart at one point and just drove around.”  Watching Unrest play every day and becoming friends with Robinson and Cross were the bright spots for Fellows, and when he returned to Washington D.C. a year later, “They were like, do you want to be in our band?

A live recording from 1994 captures this lineup.  It has a sweet kind of garage band/Velvet Underground quality, stitching a starry-eyed, ringing repetition to a brash marching band stomp.  Robinson and Cross trade vocals and guitar melodies, a conversation that is somehow both dour and playful.  Most of the songs would end up on their debut LP, and on the live tape they sound familiar, but aren’t yet emotionally fixed. 'Neely,' so brazen and rascalish on the LP, has a blushing earnestness here, like it’s not quite willing to make eye contact.  Robinson asks for more stage lights twice, the second time pleading: “I don’t mean to be an asshole or anything, but can you turn all the lights on and just leave them like that?”  The disconnect is kind of heartbreaking, but it’s also easy to imagine how the light tech thought a dim, smoky intimacy would be right for this band. 

The Cross/Feldsher/Fellows/Robinson version of Air Miami wouldn’t last.  Fellows remembered, “it began kind of frustrating right from the get-go. When they were like, ‘We don’t want you to play drums,’ or however that went down, I was just like, ‘yeah.’”  Robinson recalled the specific intensity of those packed days: “All of this somehow happened in one year.”  The sharp rush of songwriting, the full band rehearsals, the live shows, the record contract, the full band dissembling.  Back where they began—Mark and Bridget—Air Miami nonetheless entered the new year ready to make a full-length record.  The version of the band that headed into the studio, according to Robinson, “was just me and Bridget with essentially a hired drummer, and then the producer, Guy Fixsen.  He was calling all the shots and we were letting him.  And it was great.”

Robinson and Cross allowing a producer to call even a single shot would be a surprise to anyone who’d previously worked with the pair.  But the making of Me. Me. Me. was an opportunity for Air Miami to break with Unrest’s headstrong tendencies.  Cross is blunt about the way they were used to working: “We shouldn’t have tried to keep all that control.”  Robinson conceded: “I think I was struggling with relinquishing control.  Unrest never really had a producer per se, not a hands-on producer.” 4AD suggested Guy Fixsen, whose previous work with Moonshake, The Telescopes, and his own band, Laika, was admired by Air Miami.  Fixsen had also remixed Unrest’s 'Cath Carroll,' as Robinson explained, “mostly because we were calling all the shots and the vocals [on the original mix] were way too low.”  In Fixsen, both the band and the label had someone they liked, and someone who understood the material.  Across one month—May 1995—Fixsen, Cross, and Robinson recorded and mixed the entirety of Me. Me. Me.

It’s a detail that seems like a joke gone too far, but 4AD agreed to let the band record in Miami.  “We named the band Air Miami because we had a fascination with Miami,” Cross remembered.  “We asked if we could make the record in Miami, and they said yes.”  According to Fixsen, “it was a bit of an indulgence that we went to Miami to do it.  I had never been to Florida before.”  4AD booked time at Criteria Studios, where parts of Saturday Night Fever, Rumours, and Hotel California were recorded.  The pace was nonstop at this hitmaking studio, as Robinson described: “There are five different studios, so while we were there, Julio Iglesias was there, R.E.M. was in one studio, that band Bush was there.”  He also recalled Air Miami’s specific setting: “We were in the budget studio, which was amazing because it was the smallest one and it had not been renovated.  It was all shag carpeting and wood paneling. It was just perfect.”  Pink hotel, celebrity sightings, jai-alai courts down the street: the band’s Miami fascination was fulfilled.

Fixsen intuited the effect it would have on the record. “The choice of location really gave it a sense of place,” he revealed.  “Not only in the sound of that studio—which was like the deadest, most 70s studio you can imagine—but also just in the experience of being there.”  One of the ways Fixsen prepares for a recording session is to ask the band to make a mixtape for him, “to get inside their heads.”  He arrived in Miami a few days ahead of the band with Air Miami’s mixtape in hand.  “I had a couple of days in this weird hotel on the beach kind of thing,” he reminisced, “and I particularly remember walking down the beach at night, listening to ‘I’m Not In Love” by 10CC.”  That feeling would persist.

Guy’s got a very different brain than us,” declared Cross.  “But we all got along.  And he was excellent.  As I remember, he’s a taskmaster, like nothing we’d ever experienced before.”  The pairing of Fixsen’s approach and Air Miami’s receptiveness is the crucial foundation for the creative success of Me. Me. Me.  In pushing off their own need to control, Cross and Robinson were an ideal match for Fixsen.  “One thing I’ve realized over the years is that I’m really good at taking an idea and running with it,” explained Fixsen.  “I can be good at coming up with the idea in the first place, initiating it, but mostly I thrive when somebody's already got the energy of a spark of an idea.  And then I just love throwing petrol on that spark.”

Another key element of the recording session was the drummer, Gabriel Stout.  “Gabe was a great drummer to record in that room,” Fixsen remembered.  “He was a real soldier for the twists and turns of what Bridget and Mark wanted.  He was somebody who could selflessly give himself to a project.”  Because Cross and Robinson had booked the recording dates without a drummer in place, the addition of Stout was an absurdly lucky break.  “Gabe was dating someone who lived in the Teen-Beat house and was there often,” Robinson explained.  “I remember riding in his girlfriend’s car with him, seeing drumsticks on the floor and asking if he plays drums.”  Stout joined the band and was able to learn the songs just in time for his flight to Miami.

The human pieces assembled—Cross, Fixsen, Robinson and Stout—the band began working on the ethereal pieces.  The demo and live versions of the songs were full of thrill and melody.  Lightness.  The versions that emerged from Criteria are precise, sculpted, heavy with meaning.  “Some of them are really emotional,” Cross confessed, "and I kind of can’t even talk about them now, which is weird but true."  Me. Me. Me. unquestionably contains the jangling skip of 'Airplane Rider,' but it’s accompanied by a weighted ache, a deeply revealing acknowledgement of the wildness of life.  Guy Fixsen’s solitary beach walk as accompanied by 'I’m Not In Love' is a revealing emblem; The record’s terrain is outlined by all the spaciousness, all the nonchalance, all the anticipation and all the significance of that walk imaginable.

Beyond the songs themselves, the band brought a lot to the session.  So much was rooted in the day-to-day friendship of Cross and Robinson, revealed as sly allusions and shared loves.  “There were all these little references,” revealed Cross, “like ‘Sweet as a Candy Bar’ is from a Pam Grier film that we were really into at the time.”  Expanding this example into revelation, she concluded, “that was life then, that was important to us. It wasn’t cohesive by any means, but it was nonetheless us.”  Favorite records also slipped into the mix.  “I was so into Free Design and so was Guy,” recalled Cross, “so we would sample a bit of it.”  Fixsen confirmed, “there were a few samples chucked in there.”  These samples acted as a kind of exchange or conversation between Robinson and Cross, according to Fixsen.  “One was a dancehall thing that was a favorite of Bridget’s,” he explained, “Mark was very pleased he’d gotten a particular sample of this favorite track of hers. Me and Mark worked on that when Bridget had gone out for awhile.”

Structurally, the songs didn’t change much from the demo versions.  But Fixsen helped Air Miami reach each song’s potential through ornament, texture, and patience.  This is where the album best rewards headphone listening: the spaciousness; the sounds moving in and out of the background; the subliminal tonal shifts provided by ray-gun sounds, lurking bass throb, and skittering drums.  Fixsen was renowned for building songs in this way with his own band, Laika.  Part of this is the producer’s understanding of the difference between an artist and a gesture.  “You want a record to have its own voice, apart from the band’s voice,” Fixsen believes.  “You want it to capture a certain moment.”  Fixsen’s demonstrated understanding of aural space is what convinced Robinson in the first place that he’d be the right producer for Air Miami: “At the time, the stuff that he’d done with his own band just sounded really wild.  He’d added all these different elements.”  Robinson was so looking forward to Fixsen’s presence—“I imagined that our record wouldn’t even sound like us playing”—that he initially believed the producer didn’t go far enough on Me. Me. Me. I was disappointed,” Robinson confessed, “but going back to it, the record sounds incredible.  He did add a lot of weird stuff, it’s just subtle.”

Reiterating her “taskmaster” accusation, Cross recalled how Fixsen pushed the pair into uncomfortable, productive places: "‘Special Angel’ is one where Guy really really made us work to get our vocals together.”  This grind is completely absent from the recording, however.  Robinson and Cross’s vocals are as light and wide-eyed as a first take.  The space they find together—the wordless hums; the delicate overlaps; the unencumbered clarity of their twinned voices singing “I know you”—is the space of two people meant to sing together, a culmination of a long-shared history.  In the words of Mike Fellows: “Whenever I listen to any Unrest or Air Miami I’m like, man, those guys can really sing.”

Air Miami recorded three songs with Fixsen that didn’t make it onto the record.  'Pucker,' the band’s contribution to 4AD’s 1994 compilation All Virgos Are Mad, was re-recorded, transforming the cool distance of the original into a slow burn, feverish and close.  Teen-Beat announced an EP for the Criteria version of the song, but it was never released.  'See-Through Plastic' has a similar intimacy, Robinson’s cooing voice joined to ringing chords.  The third chopped song, 'Warm Miami May,' is remembered by Robinson as a favorite of 4AD’s Ivo Watts-Russell, but the song was cut from the original release.  The story behind its removal reveals a kind of dream/nightmare job that existed in the 1990s: “Today it’s probably some sort of A.I., but back in the day there was a person who would listen to every record that came out through the Warner Brothers distribution system.  If anything sounded too much like another song, they would not release it because they didn’t want any legal issues.”  According to Robinson, “They said ‘Warm Miami May’ sounded like this Blood, Sweat & Tears song.  It does kind of sound like that, but it was completely unintentional.

Listening back 27 years later, Fixsen finds the backbone of the record, the particular magic that defines his interplay with Air Miami.  “As you listen to that record,” he explained, “there’s a sense of people becoming curious and getting excited about an idea and following it through and getting into the zone.  All these feelings that are some of the more basic, lovely kind of communications you get with a piece of art, right?  Bridget and Mark were open, and we got progressively more open.”  The recording complete, openness fulfilled, Air Miami began work on the rest of the record.

The design process would continue the “Mark and Bridget” collaboration of Air Miami.  “I did the graphic design,” Robinson explained, “but Bridget and I talked about what it should be.”  The pair brought different elements.  Each lent a photograph of their parents.  Cross contributed the nature photography, taken from her childhood set of Wildlife Treasury Cards.  “Apparently that’s a copyright issue now,” she noted.  “I was weirdly obsessed with this book of airbrush art,” Robinson revealed, “so that’s the front cover, the woman with a baseball hat on.  That’s actually a painting by Hideaki Kodama and not a photograph.”  Graphic design was a persistent obsession for Robinson, who said he’d “always wanted to do things that were really precise, things that were hard to do with paste-up and drawing it out.”  Me. Me. Me. would be the breaking point: “It was the first thing I ever did on a computer.  I remember buying the computer and two weeks later the artwork was done.”  At one point in our interview, Robinson tried to check a song title.  “I have all the records and CDs out in front of me, and there’s no good way of looking at the tracklist,” he confessed.  “That artwork is kind of crazy.”  Remembering that the label had their own design department, Robinson observed it was rare for 4AD to release a record that wasn’t designed in-house.  “I don’t know if that ruffled any feathers,” he wondered.

One decision that was made outside of the collaboration was the record’s title.  “I came up with the title,” declared Cross.  “I was aware that I was incredibly selfish, like ‘me me me keep talking about me me me can we come back to me now?’  I had some awareness about that.  God, I was a monster.”  Robinson, however, contradicts this harshness: “She would always say that, even in Unrest.  But she was just joking.”

Me. Me. Me. begins with the needle-sharp 'I Hate Milk,' a breathless rush of panic followed immediately by the jangling skip of 'World Cup Fever.'  It’s an exhilarating opening, a hollering run down the beach, a big splash into saltwater.  Then 'Seabird' starts.  It’s a drastic shift, the submerged conclusion to a dive.  Sound changes underwater, everything weighted and deliberate.  If the guitars of 'I Hate Milk' were stabbing points, the guitars of 'Seabird' are flannel sheets and lingering hugs.  The song is so expansive, it describes an individual position and a specific landscape, but opens to a universal human yearning.  “I think ‘Seabird’ is probably the best song on there,” asserts Robinson.  Cross’s performance is so vulnerable, while the song builds a bed of empathy around her.  On the heels of 'World Cup Fever' it can be jarring, but the transition speaks more to the twisting moods seen across 24 hours of a human life, less to the commercial demand for records that were obviously classifiable.  Not everyone could appreciate that.

Are they Devo or are they a dreamy indie-pop trio?” wrote Dion Bozman in his review of Me. Me. Me., “I don’t know.  Neither does Air Miami, apparently.”  Paul Hampel’s review described the record as “Alternately fun and pretentious.”  Jeff Vorva alleges, “This is what happens when you cross New Order with New Age.”  Even Andy Stevens’s glowing “Grade: A” review says “the overall experience is exhausting in its schizophrenia.  Not bad-exhausting, like running a marathon or something, but good-exhausting, like a primal scream.”  A search for interviews with Air Miami, any response or attempt to counteract the narrative revealed nothing.  “The reason you don’t see interviews,” according to Cross, “is because there weren’t any.  I was done.  I don’t know who I thought I was, I just didn’t want to do that.”  Robinson located the origin of this resistance in the final days of Unrest: “Before Perfect Teeth, we were just doing whatever we wanted and on our own schedule.  But when we did the 4AD thing with Unrest, in the US we were on Reprise Records.  All of a sudden, we were doing tons of interviews, and we did a couple of weird shows at Warner Brothers distribution centers.  It was kind of exhausting, and not really something that was a priority for us.”  Reflecting on it now, Cross is understanding but regretful. “I have a lot of shame about that, but I just didn’t want to get battered again by bad reviews.  I think it was just protective.  I didn’t quite get that if you have the support of a label you have to do your part.”

Following the September 1995 release of Me. Me. Me., Air Miami went on tour.  The shifting lineup of the band would continue.  Robinson recalled, “Gabe did one short tour with us after the record came out and then moved back to Michigan.  We were just bringing people that we know on tour with us, like Fontaine [Toups] from Versus was our bass player on that tour.”  The constant lineup changed culminated in 1996 with drummer Phil Krauth joining Cross and Robinson to reform the Unrest lineup that split in February 1994.  “At the very end of Air Miami we didn’t have a drummer,” remembered Robinson, “so Phil was our drummer.  It was like Unrest covering Air Miami songs really.”  This return to the familiar structure of their old band provoked an unresolvable realization for Cross.  “I really loved that record, and I love the songs,” she acknowledged.  “But I’m still not sure what happened with Air Miami, why Phil wasn’t on it, why it wasn’t an Unrest record.  And I don’t know if that’s something we even want to talk about because it’s painful, you know?”  While Air Miami never officially broke up, they played their last show on March 9, 1996, almost two years to the date from Cross and Robinson’s very first songwriting session.

There are two songs on Me. Me. Me. where Cross and Robinson sing together the words “I know you.”  Amid all the movement of this record—the frenzy and skip, the sinking and drift—this paired acknowledgement feels like gravity, a truth that makes the rest of the tumult, glee, and sadness temporary.  All the harmony, all the inside jokes and traded notes, “I know you” feels like a permanent truth.  Cross is equal parts grace and lament when asked to reflect on the intense, balanced collaboration of “Mark and Bridget” that made Air Miami work.  “I am proud of the whole thing, but it has something unfinished about it—as in we didn’t do our work to continue what we could have.  We stopped playing together and even being friends for awhile.”  But against this truth, she is clear in her opinion of Me. Me. Me.  “I’m always surprised by this record.  It might be the most favorite record I’ve ever been a part of.”

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