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Experimental Pilot

DYNAMIC DUO: Robert and Stephen Vessenmeyer, vocals and guitars.

FORTHCOMING CD: Spark of Life, due out in early 2007. They also recorded a Steven Van Zandt single, I Am a Patriot, to commemorate 9/11.

FRONT PORCH ROCK: "We're rootsy and rural," Stephen says. "That's how I write, sometimes kind of spiritually. It's like redneck soul ... or acoustic soul."

BEFORE THE PILOT: The brothers Vessenmeyer (Robert, 40; Stephen, 43) first earned prestige through Men From Earth, which burned bright in the mid '90s. It included Jeremy Thomas of Basic Rock Outfit and Billy Wells and Shane Wanek of Gunburner; the guys got showered with rave reviews, and their tune Mary Jane could be heard on 98 Rock. They often jetted to big cities to showcase for major labels and landed slots opening for national acts, but the situation imploded on the cusp of hitting it big.

Stephen: "It was like something from VH-1 Behind the Music."

HEADLINERS THEY SUPPORTED: John Hiatt, NRBQ and Hootie and the Blowfish.

Robert: "We opened for Hootie when people were like, 'Oh, my god, it's Hootie!' It was a sold-out show, and they were really nice people."

Stephen: "Then there were some weird ones like Jesus Jones or EMF."

NEW BEGINNINGS: "It's difficult to start over once you get to a certain point," Robert says. "You get used to playing for a certain amount of people. Men From Earth was a big rock show, so we kind of went the opposite way with this act."

AUSTIN POWERS: After Men From Earth disbanded, the brothers went to Austin, Texas. They recorded Haywire and I Can't Find a Home with Josh Zarbo and Jim Eno of Spoon and producer John Croslin.

BESIDES THE MUSIC: Stephen co-owns Iris Photographic with his wife, Jody, and Robert works full time as an audio-visual tech.

IN THE GENES: Stephen's son, Noah, 13, plays piano and is learning bass. Ella Jet, 9, has formed the Little Whippersnappers with Uncle Robert, and they perform a song called Pinky Swear.

YANKEE HILLBILLIES: The brothers were born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised Roman Catholic but grew up in Reidsville, N.C., identifying more with Southern traditions. Robert: "There's some Catholic guilt in our songs."

CHECK 'EM OUT: 8 p.m. Saturday at the Garage, 662 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 424-5849. $10, features a Men From Earth reunion set.

Contact Julie Garisto at jgaristo@tampabay.com.

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