Checking In: Tia Carrera Catches Some Vibes

Late-night stoner jams still see the light of day

King kit and sovereign shred, drummer Erik Conn and guitarist Jason Morales neither invented the atom nor split it. And yet, as the nearly 20-year-old core of uranium-grade ATX rock trio Tia Carrera, their astral improv moves mountains then pulverizes them. New LP Tried & True on heavy indie Small Stone Records out of Detroit proves their massive mettle.

Jesus Christ Pose: Erik Conn (c) and Jason Morales (r) with Tried & True bassist Curt Christenson of Dixie Witch (Photo by Clif Wright)

Austin Chronicle: Where are you sheltering and under what circumstances? Who else is there and how’s that going?

Erik Conn: I’m personally held up at the apartment with my lady, just us and our cat. Overall, we’re really good, lots of island-time vacation pretending. Tons more guitar playing since I can’t actually set up a kit here in subsequent communal living.

Quarantined since the week before what would’ve been SXSW. We held tight for a solid 6-7 weeks barring trips to the recycle bins and trash, and little masked-up trips to our sunset spot. Otherwise, chillin’ and observing, lots of research and observation.

I finally broke out around mid-April to go skate.

Social distancing and all, so we’re not anywhere anyone else. Yet slowly but surely we’re venturing out for errands, albeit masked up and certainly not socially. First day back to work for my gal is today, June 3.

Kinda stressful, we’ll see how it goes here as the COVID numbers climb since “reopening.”

“As of last week, it’s been a lot of old Stones. I posted “Street Fightin’ Man” and “Gimme Shelter” this last Saturday as we watch the late Sixties repeat.” – Erik Conn

Jason Morales: I’ve been at home with my wife and son. I have to say it’s been pretty chill over here. Both my studio and wood shop are here at the house, so I’m pretty comfortable with the situation already doing most of my work from home.

We also have a mini [skate] ramp in the back yard and basketball hoop In the driveway. And we managed to grab what seemed to be one of the last above ground pools in Austin, so plenty of fun and exercise to be had here. Our neighborhood is pretty awesome as well.

Everybody tries to help each other out and we’re all trying to support the businesses around here that are trying to stay open by doing take out and stuff.

AC: At what point did C-19 shut down operations for you, and what went down with the ship, so to speak, both personally & professionally?

EC: My world effectively shut down the week prior to SXSW. The rest of the globe predetermined our fate, so I got into “corn-teen” mode pretty much right then. Obviously, it fucked up everything that has to do with being a musician.

Like most everyone locally, I reckon, we had some really bitchin’ shows during SXSW, yet we fully backed the decisions to cancel, albeit with a heavy sigh. What’s been a bit shittier is that the shows that were to follow SXSW were all road shows. Ya know, packed houses and with proper guarantees, etc.

For me personally, that’s been a bit of a financial hit. Alongside one of my traveling side jobs, which essentially sustains me for months at a time, I've basically been funding my end of my finances with my meager savings and the now postponed Euro-tour $tash. I’ve been selling off gear I don’t need, too.

I think the biggest bummer is cresting up to our best record we’ve ever released, yet no release party and moreso a postponed ultra-bitchin’ European tour. Alas, the tunes will still come out for thirsty ears. It’s just that the world has to recover both physically and financially (emotionally too, I s’pect) before we can all properly celebrate.

JM: Yeah, the cancellation of SXSW would be the beginning of it for me. We were all gearing up to light up the town with fun and music, and it all came to a screeching halt with that announcement. Looking back, it was the right thing to do, but a major shock to the system so to speak.

My band Black Mercy got started a week early, so we actually played three shows right before lockdown. As of today, though, I haven’t seen anyone from Black Mercy or Tia Carrera since then, so that’s a bummer. I guess it’s nice to know that the new Tia record will still be released, but like Erik said, a little bittersweet since the European shows can’t happen.

Morales and Conn from the wayback machine, 2009: Red River lost Austin venue Room 710 (Photo by John Anderson)

AC: As a global culture, people employ music for every purpose imaginable, obviously spanning religion to entertainment and everything in between. What happens to communities like ours when people can no longer access it in person?

EC: Heavy question there, Raoul. Yeah. For everywhere on the globe that partakes in live music, every level of production, vendors, backlines, lights/engineers, performers, bar tenders, club owners, and attendees, COVID-19 has straight up stolen the show.

It’s heavy to ponder past just going on with life. We adapt somehow, if we can. Lots of tunes still coming out, though. That's super rad! The live-stream jive has all been cool.

I love the new Shiner record! Ours is still gonna come out too. It's my favorite thing we’ve ever done.

I dunno, man, music soothes the savage beast and transports the listener to myriad of memories and desires. Probably one the main things keepin’ everyone’s shit together. Sittin’ couped up at the crib, “When was the last time you shook your ass to this track? Nile Rodgers at the helm and guitar, Chic ‘Good Times’ full-length version, hell yes!”

As of last week, it’s been a lot of old Stones. I posted “Street Fightin’ Man” and “Gimme Shelter” this last Saturday as we watch the late Sixties repeat. I dunno.

“My family has been very lucky. We were commissioned to make face masks for a local recycling business, so the three of us spent the month of April sewing around 500 masks from scratch, which kept us afloat financially until we received our Trump change.” – Jason Morales

JM: Man, I haven’t really thought about it like that. I really am still holding on to the idea that this is temporary and it will all be back to normal soon. At least I hope!

Clearly our community is hurting. Our way of life as performers and fans, bar tenders, bar owners, and production people has been turned completely upside down, and while I must admit the break has been nice for me personally, I can’t imagine what it must be like for the people whose life and income depend on the live music and bar scene in Austin. It’s a major part of the culture here and it has basically been snuffed out by the virus, and now the horrible state of our country.

With everything going on right now, getting back to a “normal life” seems almost unimaginable.

AC: Everyone’s had to shift or drastically alter their work situation. What does that look like for you?

JM: My family has been very lucky. We were commissioned to make face masks for a local recycling business, so the three of us spent the month of April sewing around 500 masks from scratch, which kept us afloat financially until we received our Trump change, which also did help out quite a bit. I’ve also been busy in the BBQ Shack Mastering recordings for Andrew Duplantis’ band Miles Per Hour and Don’s (Migas) band in Tacoma called Gold Sweats, while finishing mixes for Auntie, Black Cutlass, and Cruel Summer.

June is looking kinda slow at the moment, but I did start this week off with a couple of carpentry gigs.

AC: What’s your soundtrack for the apocalypse and what role does music play for you as a fan and scholar of it in times of hardship?

EC: Without music I’d be at an incomprehensible loss. Even with just the jam in my head, like some random Genesis tune playin’ on repeat until I can get something else going, that one tune – whatever it may be at the time, favorite track for not – is the soundtrack of that moment in any day. Since I was a kid.

Hummin’ some tune, “What the hell is that damn song?!” “Oh duh (four hours later), it’s your own riff, dumbass – finish writing it!” I don’t think I’m ever not listening to music even when it’s not actually being played. I’m not alone with that I’m sure.

“Make sure you’re registered to vote.” – Conn

Far as apocalyptic tunes, for months now I’ve been heavy on the poolside jams of my youth, easy listening Seventies rock like America, “Ventura Highway,” “Tin Man,” etc. Good times vibes. Lots of Hendrix, Zeppelin, too, yet kinda been on a Soundgarden kick as well:

“The crewmen thank her, then lay down their oily blanket.”

In conclusion, I don’t think I have an actual end-of-the-world jam. Maybe Queen’s “Under Pressure”? Hell, I couldn’t choose just one and I’d have to throw in something I played on just to say I lived here 1970 thru whatever. I guess I just hope there’s always music being created, playing somewhere, and at the very least inside my head.

Parting shot from me is this, something I’ve been telling my friends over the past few months: “Let’s all keep dreaming the dreams we want to see come to fruition and not the ones we don’t.”

Make sure you’re registered to vote.

JM: I have to be honest: I’ve been so consumed by the news that I haven’t really been listening to much music. NPR during the day at home or on the radio at the job site prompts a lot of F-bombs and heavy sighs, and Colbert and John Oliver at night, funny and extremely informative. The 3 o’clock rock block on KOOP is on the daily for backyard poolside hangs or ramp jams.

Back when we were making masks, we had two sewing machines set up in the living room and we were jamming records quite a bit. The original Get Carter soundtrack was in steady rotation. Aside from that, there is the occasional late night solo stoner jam, just me, my stash, and my guitars, lights dim, eyes closed, catching the vibes.

Photo by Jason Morales

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