Out of Pawn

Austin's Best Bar Band, Buick MacKane

"Well, y'know, we are the best band in town," boasts Alejandro Escovedo of Buick MacKane, the abrasive "garage" band he's fronted since 1989. "Who's better?" he asks slyly while negotiating a tricky left turn after taking his youngest child Paris to see the family pediatrician. "The Hormones?!!"

Awright, that tears it! Now, you're getting personal! Just for that, I've made an executive decision that your voice, Mr. Critic's Darling, has been heard too much in the press. We already know what you have to say. It's time we ask Buick MacKane's true star, the sub-Bonham drum smasher Glenn Benavides, to tell us the real skinny behind this annoying, overamped bar band who've been known to clear the Hole in the Wall faster than a G.G. Allin exorcism.

"We may not be the best band in the world," muses Benavides about a band just now releasing their debut album, the Rykodisc-minted The Pawn Shop Years, eight years to the day after Buick's first rehearsal, "but we're the best fucking side project in the world! I can guarantee you that!"

"That's true," smirks Escovedo. "We'll take on any side project, anytime, anypl--"

I thought I told you to shut up!

"I got sick of the True Believers playing out there with guys I didn't even know," says Benavides. "Rotating bass players, no Javier." Benavides takes another sip from his Güero's margarita -- starting to acquire a rosy glow -- while reflecting on Doctor's Mob, that other New Sincerity band he served time with in-between Austin's first glam punk band, the Droogs, and Buick. "Doctor Mob had just broken up -- we quit on a five-record deal like idiots. So, I got back home and decided I'd live with my girlfriend, then decided, `I hate my girlfriend! I wanna get back to music.'"

The night his girlfriend kicked him out, Benavides met up with fellow ex-Droog David Fairchild at Conan's Pizza and was invited to move into a great house Fairchild was renting at the time, a brick duplex with a servant's quarters in back that was begging to be a rehearsal space. Realizing that "we should start a band in here," Benavides recalled the many gigs Doctor's Mob had played with the True Believers. "After I quit Doctor's Mob, I remember thinking I'll either play with Al or Jav. I can't decide who."

The results speak for themselves: Benavides didn't go for the cute one. Or did he?

"The first time I picked up Al for rehearsal," laughs Benavides, "I went down to Blockbuster [where Escovedo worked at the time], and he'd told me over the phone, `Yeah, I'll practice. Can you come get me?' So, I go to pick him up, and I walk in the store, and there's nobody in the store except this lady standing by the cash register in beautiful black jeans and this white silk shirt and this beautiful, long black hair. And I'm thinking, `Hey, beh-beh!' And she turns around, and it's Al! `Oh, there you are!' That was like the world's first buzzkill.

"`Can you help me with my gear?' `Sure.' I'm having to carry both guitars. Nothing changes."

Buick, named for a Marc Bolan tune, gelled almost instantaneously -- except for the second guitar player slot, which started with Miles Zuniga before proceeding through French immigrant Keef-a-like Thierry LeCoz (who, Benavides claims with admiration, "can hang out better than anyone"), and one or two others before settling upon Joe Eddy Hines. Even still, the band was going strong, playing an endless sprawl of wasted gigs fueled by the bar musician's best friend, meaning anything distilled. Then there were the ridiculous theme shows, anything from a "drag night" one Halloween that saw Escovedo oddly resembling Rosie Flores to their "grudge match" shows with newer bands like Pork or Blind Willie's Johnson. And let's not forget what seemed to be the band's almost systematic drive to alienate every clubgoer and scenemaker residing within the Austin city limits.

"We pissed people off for our own amusement," says Escovedo. (True: You never know when a heckler will trigger off a special, off-the-cuff rendition of "Sweet Jane" with customized lyrics instantly dressing down the offender.) "And the crowds dwindled immediately. And it wasn't just that, 'cuz at first, everyone expected the True Believers. And we weren't the True Believers. We didn't want to be the True Believers. It was totally different. Plus when we started out, there weren't any rock bands. There wasn't a rock & roll scene. What was happening was funk: Bad Mutha Goose, Joe Rockhead, Retarded Elf, things like that. They had their little thing going and we had nothing to do with that."

Escovedo, why are you talking?!! Go listen to some Chemical Brothers records or something! Just be quiet!

He does have a point, though. They were a band without a scene. It had been years since Poison 13 -- possibly the last local band Buick Mackane could have played with comfortably -- had broken up. Ironically, it was Poison 13's slide guitar genius Tim Kerr who would man the board when Buick entered Sweatbox Studios to cut what eventually emerged as The Pawn Shop Years four years back. If we hadn't just stuck duct tape over Escovedo's mouth and sat him in a corner with a Beck poster and a tube of Vaseline, he might explain that Kerr was instrumental in getting Buick to loosen up. The difference was audible after the Sweatbox sessions: Gigs immediately following showed Buick had emerged as less of a bar band and more as this scary, smouldering beast, drunk on feedback and groaning, sick guitar figures. Songs that still featured a Faces/Dolls rhythmic and melodic sensibility were now attacked with a harder, more metallic clang akin to the late Sixties Detroit rock ethic.

"Tim Kerr is a great producer," enthuses Benavides. "He's the one that said, `Less is more.' He's the king of less-is-more. We have a song on the record called `John Conquest, You've Got Enough Dandruff on Your Collar to Bread a Veal Cutlet.' We used to play it full-speed." Benavides then starts singing the riff at an agitated speedmetal clip. "We used to call it our tribute to Stryper," laughs Escovedo, out from his corner. "Tim rearranged that tune so that we got that groovy, Stooges/Hypnotics-kinda beat happening."

Arrggh! I guess we're gonna hafta tie you up, aren't we, Escovedo?

The album was initially slated to come out on Biff Parker's BiffCo Records as a six-song mini-LP, but as its release was delayed further and further, Escovedo negotiated a deal with Rykodisc. It's truly the luck of Buick MacKane, however, that The Pawn Shop Years finally sneaks into shops after Escovedo the solo artist left the label over diminished expectations. This doesn't faze the band in the least.

"The way we see it, it's like the old indie record business," says Benavides. "You put out the records, we'll print the t-shirts and stickers. We'll promote it, we'll play the shows."

Now that we finally have Escovedo's ropes and gags securely fastened, maybe we can finally get down to the important stuff here. What does Al bring to Buick MacKane, Glenn?

"I realized at that first practice that Al's one of those kinda guys who just wants to play. I really respect that." Escovedo is indeed a hell of a guitar player, and as any live Nuns bootleg or parts of The Pawn Shop Years will prove, he's a
fantastic, James Williamson-like lead guitarist. But you have to practically goad him into playing lead.

"Yeah, you're right," agrees Benavides. "He's a great lead guitar player!"

"But I think he loves playing rhythm more than anything," adds Fairchild.

"We have these fantasies about who we're gonna kick out of Buick, and who we're gonna replace him with," says Benavides. "It's beautiful. The thing about Buick is, whoever's not around gets the crap. When Joe Eddy's not around, Dana [Smith, Escovedo's wife] is in. When Al's not around, anybody is in. When Dave's not around, the guy from Son Volt's in. When I'm not around, it's not Buick."

Isn't the songwriting entirely Escovedo's department, though?

"Not as much as people think," says Benavides.

"Most of it's Al," says Fairchild.

"Dave's the secret weapon," says Benavides. "He comes up with good melodies. Al has forgotten some of the best things he's written, because he's so spontaneous. That's why we record all our rehearsals now, just in case we forget a great groove. But as much as it's all Al's, it's not all Al's.

"Dave brings everything to this band. He puts our equipment in his truck, stores our equipment in his truck...."

"I can drive like nobody's business," says Fairchild.

"The guy can sing his ass off," continues Benavides. "The guy knows melody, he can play every instrument in the book. There's me on one end, Al on the other, and Dave's in the middle. He's the most talented musician in the band, bar none. He's the one who asks, `Can't we do this?' No, we can't, 'cuz none of us can do that!"

What does Glenn bring to Buick, Dave?

"Well, the band is mostly defined by how Al and Glenn are getting along at the time. They do scrap a lot, and what that brings to it is..."

"...someone for Al to scrap with!" cracks Benavides.

"He's the other half of Buick," says Fairchild. "It's Al and Glenn."

So, you guys are Mick 'n' Keef, basically?

"No," corrects Benavides, "more like Annette and Frankie."

"It's a great mix of people," say Benavides. "Then, you've got Joe Eddy on the other end, who we're still trying to figure out."

"With Thierry, it was kind of our Dolls phase," says Escovedo, who has somehow wiggled free of his restraints. "We were more Stonesy. Then when Joe Eddy first came in, it became more bluesy, Texas roadhouse-sounding, in a way. In a noisy, uneducated way, but nonetheless, it was kinda leaning in that direction. After we recorded with Tim, we got into the feedback/noise factor, which I love. It's great."

Damnit! Isn't there any way to shut you down, Escovedo?! Apparently, he's only as restrained as Buick MacKane. At one time, laughs Benavides, Escovedo would read off tour schedules in practice, saying, "Okay, the Orchestra is opening for Tom Petty at the Erwin Center. Buick's playin' at the Kwik Wash on South Manchaca." Now, Buick's album is out on a label Escovedo can no longer call home and the band will hit the road starting in April, touring Europe and the States while Escovedo searches out a new solo deal.

"Oddly enough," jokes Escovedo in a private moment, "Buick might end up doing better than my solo career." With any luck, these guys' future pawn shop visits will be restricted to purchases, not searches for a loan.


Buick MacKane's SXSW showcase is Saturday at Steamboat, midnight.

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