Austin (and its Music Network) will endure, Scandinavia and Interpol invade, and local alt-rock is sweeter than ever on Ear Candy.
After Andy Langer's cover story last week on high rents and low tides for the club scene, it's probably about time for a pep talk. So here goes. For starters, artistically, Austin is thriving. The capital city still fields the finest roster of musical talent in the state, easily outdistancing anything Houston, Dallas, Denton, Fort Worth, Lubbock, Amarillo, or San Antonio has to offer. Wednesday night of SXSW 03, you won't be able to throw a rock downtown without hitting some worthy local band's amplifier. Furthermore, Austin is still a primary destination for musicians statewide, regionally, and more and more, nationally (e.g. arty ex-NYC indie label Misra). At the same time, it's the unofficial base of operations for Lone Star songwriting legends like Billy Joe Shaver, Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett, some guy named Willie, and the nexus of next-gen Texans Pat Green, Owen Temple, Kevin Fowler, and Cooder Graw. Our modern and experimental rock scenes stack up favorably with Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle; Rolling Stone just named Austin the No. 2 college-music city in the U.S. Even in the current climate, it's not hard to see a wealth of opportunities. Perhaps prospective club owners will seek out less-trafficked areas like North Loop/Airport, where rents are much more reasonable than downtown and there's already a built in fan base. Or bands may bypass clubs altogether, appearing instead at alternative venues such as Jupiter Records, the Parlor, Ceremony Hall, and even the Playland roller-skating rink. Music is much too deeply woven into the fabric of Austin life, not to mention still a major component of the local economy, to ever be totally priced out of the market. Through some happy accident of divine favor, Austin remains that rare place where musical values far outweigh property values, and always will.
Knock on Woody
Austin Music Network President/General Manager Woody Roberts has hatched an ingenious way to quiet the network's critics at City Hall: quit. "I am not leaving the network, but we have decided to eliminate my position," says Roberts. He figures that since the manager has traditionally played the fall guy -- AMN has had five in its nine-year existence -- things might run a little smoother if "I take myself off the chessboard." That way no one can complain that too much city money is wasted on his salary, he says. Unless asked to stay on by the City Council, Music Commission, or music community at large, he plans to step down at the end of March and continue as a consultant. "I would not desert the staff," he vows. Roberts believes AMN has an excellent chance of continuing past September, when its budgetary allotment is scheduled to expire, because it's something local musicians can't afford to lose: "I feel this is Austin's most important music project," he says. Overseeing AMN since November 2000, Roberts will have plenty to keep him occupied while he waits for his future to be determined. Besides weekly broadcasts of KLBJ's Local Licks Live from the Austin School of Music, the second volume of the network's Reel Austin DVD series will be out soon, and plans are in the works for live updates from the Convention Center during SXSW.
Blame the Hives if you must, but during SXSW Austin will be awash in pale-skinned, socialized medicine-loving Northern Europeans, including the Raveonettes, Sahara Hotnights, the Flaming Sideburns, Sondre Lerche, the Mopeds, Pineforest Crunch, and the Tremolo Beer Gut. Although Japan, the Netherlands, and the British Isles (especially Ireland) will also be well-represented, the largest overseas bloc this year is the nearly 30 acts from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. SXSW Music Director Brent Grulke credits the bumper crop to the efforts of Dublin-based European rep Una Johnston, a good relationship with governmental cultural-funding bodies, and Scandinavian artists' previous experiences at the festival. Also, a record number of Australian and New Zealand artists, including Golden Rough, Innocents, and the Datsuns, will be on hand, as will others from far-flung locations like Venezuela, Brazil, China, Siberia, and well, Canada. Overall, Grulke says international bands account for about 15% of all SXSW participants this year, a similar figure to years past. While he hasn't given up on a certain former Smashing Pumpkin's new band, Grulke says not to expect any last-minute "sexy superstar" adds (what, Kelly Osbourne isn't enough?), though as many as 50 more local bands could be invited this weekend to help plug up the inevitable gaps. Also look for R.E.M.'s Mike Mills, X's John Doe, and Salman Ahmad of Junoon (the U2 of Pakistan), who've been added to the artists' panel on music and anti-war activism. SXSW wristbands go on sale today (Thursday) for $95 at local Star Ticket outlets. If the first 4,000 sell out, the price goes up to $115, which it does anyway on March 7.
Pong will release their Halloween-themed "Foot Foot" video Friday at Room 710 with the soothing, soft-rock sounds of Summer Breeze and Hello Kitty-fixated punks Sexy Finger Champs, plus special "Pong-vision" glasses free to the first 100 patrons on hand. Synthmaster Shane Shelton says the local quintet has finished basic tracks for album No. 2, which should contain more "studio trickery" than their 2001 debut Killer Lifestyle, at South Lamar's Porchlight Studios, where they bonded over nearby Maria's tacos and bouts of Grand Theft Auto... KOOP radio (91.7FM) is staging a "Women in Rhythm" benefit, 5-9pm, Sunday, at the Continental Club, featuring Jane Bond, Eve Monsees, Leeann Atherton, Jason & Beth Richard of Quatropaw, Joanna Ramirez, and Sis Deville, the South Austin supergroup of Shelley King, Floramay Holliday, and Carolyn Wonderland. Admission is $5... 'Tis the season for music festivals, and "TCB" couldn't help notice a Texas jazz titan on the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest schedule (www.nojazzfest.com) that UT's PAC has been trying to lure to Austin for years... Anyone who likes their music complete with fire dancers, live painting, digital art, and improvisational poetry won't want to miss Laura Scarborough's Synesthesia extravaganza at Texture Friday. Inspired by Georgia O'Keeffe and Kandinsky, the local pianist says her goal is to highlight the sensory connections between music and other forms of expression. "I want it to stand out," she says. "I'm putting a lot of effort into the show, and I want people to be touched by it." See p.90 for more information.
Lust Murder Box, s/t: On this moonless night of ominous guitars, forlorn keyboards, clattering electronics, and female vocals alternately venomous and languid, these post-Terminal 46 industrialists find the inner peace in impending doom. (CD release is Friday at Elysium.)
HeKill Three, 3.0: Nothing like a little bloodthirsty death-metal first thing in the morning. Devastatingly heavy yet surprisingly light on its feet, 3.0 tears away the thin veil separating reason and madness with the choleric tenacity of a disgruntled wolverine. (CD release Saturday at the Back Room with Pistol Grip Pump, Tea Bag, and Prime Element.)
Entirely recorded and mixed by The Action Is drummer Jake Perlman at his Affordable Sound studio, the 12-song post-Valentine's Day sampler Ear Candy paints as vivid a modern-rock tableau as 36 comparable minutes of 101X. If its roster were an airplay chart, No. 1 with a bullet would be Cruiserweight's lead-footed "Dearest Drew," which works an odd bowling simile into a hook catchier than most venereal diseases. Meanwhile, swaggering, metal-mad Room 710 progeny Excess Lettuce, Hobble, and the Spiders battle angstier Trail of Dead devotees The End Until Now, Auna, and Kelvin to a virtual standstill. National Pastime deliver a motivational, borderline didactic message with Everclear-esque power chords on "What You Can Never Have," until Kissinger crashes the assembly via dirt bikes and do doughnuts on "Alison." For "The Furthest Distance Between Here and There," studied elders The Action Is pile in the van and turn the X up to XI. Crossover-wise, Failsafe's "Burning Bridges Could Be Fun" might have the most legs, for recalling pre-"Name" Goo Goo Dolls (aka when they still rocked). In the end, the most remarkable facet of Ear Candy is that 12 such adept, talented, and diverse groups inhabit the magical 512 area code in the first place. Talk about bringing it all back home. (CD release is 8:30pm Saturday at the Ritz with Cruiserweight, The Action Is, Hobble, Excess Lettuce, Auna, The End Until Now, National Pastime, Failsafe, and the Murdocks.)
NYC-based gloom merchants Interpol, who stop by Emo's Monday with the Warlocks, are doing their best to bring turbulent post-punk introspection back to rock & roll. Last year's frosty Matador debut Turn on the Bright Lights is a double-stitched woolen blanket of melancholy, which guitarist Daniel Kessler tried to deny from the decidedly non-Goth burg of Portland, Ore.
TCB: Not the most cheerful album, is it?
DK: I don't know. It's an expressive album. We write music that's expressive and on an emotional level. At the same time, I think it's a rock & roll record, and it's pretty intense all over, in energy as well as atmosphere. I don't look at it as a downer of an album or depressing.
TCB: What are you trying to express here?
DK: Well, I mean, we're not really trying to express anything as much as I think -- like in our songs, there's always a sense of atmosphere [and] a mood, whether it's aggressive or pretty.
TCB: So do you guys wear black all the time?