Fragile Rock: Austin's Emo Puppet Band
Maybe the world's only emo puppet band?
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
11:00AM, Wed. Jun. 3, 2015
This all started because a man named Brently Heilbron got divorced.
Or: This all started because Brently Heilbron, formerly of old-school Austin improv troupe Monks' Night Out and frequent perp of other legendary hijinks around town, has been writing songs and musicals for decades.
"The first one I wrote," Heilbron says, "was called 'Hurray for Gregory Peck’s Ass' – and they put it in his biography."
[Note to self: Fact-check that shit, Brenner.]
But, okay, and this Fragile Rock thing happened because –
"It was a way to channel the sadness," says Heilbron. "After the divorce, I was laid off from work. I was at the Statesman at the time, and they laid me off. And I was hired for another job soon after that, but they found out that I'm a comedian and they rescinded the position."
So this whole emo puppet band thing was …
"Yes," says Heilbron, a sudden grin imping his gauntly handsome features. "'Based on Actual Sadness!'"
"So I was channeling the sadness," he continues, "doing it in a satirical way that I personally enjoy, a way that I’d wanna see myself. And I found some old journals that I wrote when I was a teenager, and put some of the writing into this context. You know, lines like 'My life is a mirror, you see what you wanna see,' which sounds really deep when you’re 15."
So he's writing these songs.
"So I'm writing these songs," says Heilbron, "and I got together with some friends – a bunch of improvisers who are also musicians – and Shaun Branigan, he's an actor at Esther's Follies, he built the puppets. And we made a video, Jessica Gardner directed it. And now, at this point, there’s ten members of the band, two roadies, and a therapist."
There's a therapist?
"Each show is a realtime concert of songs that I wrote, but there's also a mandatory band therapy session," explains Heilbron. "It's kind of a behind-the-scenes Metallica approach, and borrowing heavily from the whole Eugene-Landy-and-Brian-Wilson thing."
So there's an actual band, with Heilbron himself singing, with Ryan Hill (lead guitar), Cynthia Ward (bass), Jayme Ramsay (drums), and Bryan Curry and Kim Stacy as back-up vocals. And in front of them, there's … well … um, why are there puppets?
"There’s a disconnect when you have puppets or cartoon characters," says Heilbron. "You can get away with just about anything. We’re all nice people – but it’s fun to be nasty. We all have that part in us, that ego-trippin’ part of making rock & roll, making art – and it’s just so ripe for satirizing. You can channel your own sadness, your own pain into it – and the puppets are a nice buffer for that. So we get to laugh our asses off, but they, the puppets, get to be very serious about it. Which is why the band breaks up almost every show – it’s very rough, there’s a lot of egos involved."
And now Fragile Rock, fronted by that achingly sensitive Milo S., has a run at The Institution Theatre?
Heilbron frowns. "We have a band residency at the Institution Theatre," he corrects.
Yeah, they certainly do.