It's 7:30pm on Friday night, and school is out. Teenagers clad in black hoodies and tight jeans kiss the brick wall separating Emo's inside bar from the real world. Down the block, across the alley, the line spills into a pool of young men with younger women latched onto scrawny arms. Glittery eye shadow blends with scabby elbows. In this crowd, life is over at 22.
Three guys to every gal, seven minors to every drinker. Here in the chilly January air feeding Austin's concrete jungle stands what's left of the scene, if that's the sort of thought to which these juvies subscribe. Their scene might not reach past the end of their broken homes' driveways. It might comprise the entire cafeteria come lunchtime, if they've stayed on campus that long. It might provide solace in the din of the rare all-ages hardcore show. And tonight on Red River, it's meeting time.
Hours pass, and, finally, amps and mics clash in a fury of feedback, and boredom transforms into poorly hidden anticipation. Faces light up like uncles on Christmas Day, not because Junior's favorite bands are taking the stage, but simply because Junior is at the rock show. At this fragile age, nothing ranks higher than residing in the place to be. Parents are just obstacles on the road to maturity. As if you didn't know that already.
Creeks of loners become rivers as the outside hall fills with the chatter of a million wishful thinkers. First set showcases the Visitors, Austin newborns filing with local rock producer Rory Phillips to be the next Emo's draw. Locals At All Cost follow closely behind, and patches of concrete become needles in haystacks. AAC screams, bellows, explodes, and crashes. Movement creeps up front like a cat preparing to pounce. The excitement is contagious. But nothing is as jubilant as a crowd seeing a band after a year in waiting.
The Rise. Few bands are able to mesh political rantings with dance beats. The Rise is one of the few. Two songs into the frenetic set, a monkey boy climbs a midroom column and swings from the rafters, feet dangerously close to unknowing noggins. And silhouetted by vocalist Cory Kilduff's graphic animation streaming from a projector haphazardly duct-taped to said rafter is the first stage-diver of the evening. Don't tell him that stage-diving died with Kurt Cobain. His bravery blast inspires countless others in a show of trust and utter joy.
Energy bounces off the cavern's walls as Kilduff scream-sings into the mic. Guitarist Stuart Reilly's fan club looms at stage right, as a petite in a pink sweater yelps, "Stuart! Take your top off!" Yes, there are women where mosh pits once lay.
Kilduff's banter distracts his legions as guitarist Jimmy Welsh changes a string, Danny Wood tosses the weight of his bass from left to right with the throbbing of the electronic beats, and the show shoves forward back into the realm of fantasy.
Bowing under the force of a thousand screaming fans, Kilduff wants to please.
"I don't know. Maybe we'll be back next year," he lures. "Ah, probably not." The Rise's annual set is done in less time than it takes a jury to find Spector guilty. But the night is far from over.
The minions shuffle inside to catch the last half of Velorum's set, a telescopic glimpse of what's to come outdoors with Recover. Those who can't fit into the smoky sauna indoors wait pseudo-patiently outside for Austin's latest major label success story. Recover is a steamroller. Their mix of hardcore and emo seduces both emotional girls and testosterone-ridden boys. Headbanging takes the place of shoegazing on this platform.
Songs about cigarettes, L.A., drugs, and crushes. Preteens and twentysomethings converge shoulder-to-shoulder to feel the passion careening from the stage like shrapnel. That feeling is more physical than any bump or bruise. Invincibility is built by those who retain a powerful thrust. Singer Dan Keyes' bouncing onstage is an Eminem impersonation, but his lyrics breach a different wall. Controversial only to those living in bubbles and parents, his true-to-life poems of parties and pain strike a resounding chord in this crowd of teens.
"It feels so good to be playing to all my friends and family," Keyes admits, his Izod collar standing on end. The crowd ebbs and flows in time to the songs, every once in a while someone darts onto the stage as if they just couldn't handle being down there anymore. Keyes & Co. encourage it, in no way wishing to calm the numbers. As the last notes of the last song reverberate into the night sky, "family" hanging out backstage rush forward, clothes-lining as many band members as possible. Together, they fly into the ecstatic crowd, not one of them touching the ground.
As quickly as they went down, Keyes rises shoulder level to the masses as though he were on some high-dollar hydraulic pedestal. But that's not the way things are done around here. He takes a step, and another, and soon it's clear that the vocalist is walking across a sea of outstretched hands. A modern-day messiah, walking on urban water.
Recover will play hundreds of shows just like this one nationwide over the next year. However, what's good for the goose isn't always good for the gander.
In the summer of 2000, five semistrangers bonded together to form a truth collective that rocked. Time passed, and a group that began with five songs and a house party became one of Austin's favorite sons. Shows became powerhouse spectacles with Cory Kilduff rushing across the stage, belting out prophecies. Over introductory beats and pounding rhythms, his battle cries set the stage for a very promising future. And they called themselves the Rise.
Relentless touring bred a reputation unsurpassed in indie circles. The Rise was signed to Ferret Music before those executives saw a single show. Their booking agent was gained on that same reputation alone. Word of mouth can be a fiery blessing.
However, the road to rock stardom isn't always lined with gold. One final tour with Orange County's A Static Lullaby resulted in an end to the dreaming. Suddenly in L.A., the reality of risk rose to the forefront.
"We met with major labels," Kilduff explains, "and it was just fucking disgusting. After we left, we just felt like we needed a shower."
This was not the way the tattooed throat had envisioned his entry into the international music world. Among bandmates Ben Hicks who has since taken a hiatus to bring up baby and Stuart Reilly, giving up home, family, and friends without any definite reward simply wasn't an option.
"No matter what, even the biggest rock stars are going to fall one day," Kilduff states matter-of-factly. "Either you manage it well or you don't. It's just not worth it."
Thus, the Rise discontinued its rapid ascent. Bassist Danny Wood ended up in local touring workhorses Trail of Dead as well as start-up AM Syndicate, and drummer Kemble Walters moved to L.A. to play guitar with Juliette & the Licks, as well as keeping up with local rockers Vise Versa. Reilly emigrated to D.C. to attend law school, and Kilduff remained behind in Austin, designing rock mag Law of Inertia for design firm Sons of Nero. What could've been dissolution of dreams became merely a shift in plans.
When the boys could've easily hung up their hats and unpacked their suitcases to begin a life of domesticity, music was not an optional sacrifice. It is, after all, the lifeblood pumping through their veins. With new songs left over from the doomed tour, they went into the virtual studio with Rory Phillips and recorded new release Reclamation Process, a concept album integrating more electronic elements into songs analogizing the demise of the human voice. The only disappointment is that kids across the nation won't be able to see this total expression of veracity performed live.
As a further slam to the music industry, the Rise decided to put out Reclamation Process not through Ferret like their previous record, but as a free exclusive bundled in Kilduff's mag. There will be absolutely zero profit made from this record. Why? Because that's not what it should be about. Especially music containing messages important to young ears.
"I think that listening to this kind of stuff growing up probably affected my outlook on a lot of things," opines guitarist Reilly. Indoctrinating youthful minds in this day and age falls in line directly behind eating and sleeping. While love songs and ballads might reach out to the widest audience, political debate is the most important tactic in Bush's wartime America.
"I can't write songs about girls," admits Kilduff. "I'm just not that kind of dude. I sit there writing lyrics, and I've got Fox News on in the background. That's what I'm interested in."
Ah, fuel for the fire. But with live shows this frantic, anger toward the current administration alone isn't enough motivation. Even grownups have idols.
"If you're not musically [influenced by them], you can't be from Texas and not be influenced by At the Drive-In's live shows," Kilduff says. "I think that's what's wrong with generations of younger kids who never got to see them. They don't understand what a live show can be. I feel like shit if I'm not trying to live up to that. "How can you play the kind of music we do and not strive to be like that?"
"Before signing to a major, we were still doing the same thing, living the same way. Just floating, going on tour, getting off tour, going back on tour. We were doing the same thing that we're doing now even before we had a major label backing us. It's the same bullshit."
This is the other side of the spectrum.
Dan Keyes and his 22-year-old brethren in Austin's Recover have seen a brighter side of the music industry. After five years of constant touring, Recover was signed to Universal Records branch Strummer, and they couldn't be happier. Strummer not only pushes the new release in every venue possible but paid for a summer house where the boys wrote This May Be the Year I Disappear. Rent, bills, and parties on Strummer's dime: a rock star's dream. That and being on the same imprint as At the Drive-In offspring Mars Volta.
Disappear is anthemic in nature and catchy in stature. Tracks revolve around love and alienation, typical teenage emotions, and songs are structured around the familiar four-four rock & roll formula. The kids absolutely love this record, as well as everything else Recover has ever put out.
But youngsters aren't the only ones paying attention. Interscope bigwigs Jimmy Eat World took Recover across oceans last year, and next month they're trekking across the nation with New Jersey melodic rockers Armor for Sleep. How did four 22-year-olds playing keggers in their friends' basements step onto the soapbox for alternacore?
"It was pretty insane, as a spectator to the whole thing," reasons Recover and the Rise producer Rory Phillips. "It's just ridiculous amounts of serendipity and being in the right place at the right time. Not to discount their talent, but it was just the best of all worlds. They had the talent and the songs and the music and also the right people hearing the music at the right time and wanting to back it."
It's all about luck. And universal emotions don't hurt.
"I'm just not too into politics, you know?" states lyricist Keyes. "I'm more into, like, love and drugs and shit." The elements of the human condition.
Don't write off these musicians as emo, though. Their determination to connect with fans is unlike any mainstream occurrence. Those parties that raised Recover still happen today, although maybe less often. Hardcore fans are divvied out CD-Rs of rare B-sides. And while the idea of scene holds an uncomfortable connotation to these thrashers, the idea of family is stronger than ever. Political statements just don't matter here, because in the game of life and love there are no politics.
"What was that Recover T-shirt idea we had?" asks bassist Ross Tweedy to Keyes.
"We're rock & roll as fuck, and we don't give a shit."
"I'm very protective of my whole indie scene. There's this really big contingent of right-wing hardcore kids coming out right now. It's fucking ridiculous. I get really bitter about it. Why are you here? This is about community. And they say, 'Fuck scene, and fuck the community. We don't care about any of that stuff.' It gets to me. That's what happened when I was writing this last record. I was dealing with a lot of those kids that would talk to me and say, 'I'm going to vote for Bush because I'm against gay marriage.' What?! You're 19! How can you be against gay marriage? And they're like, 'Well, because of the Bible.' Get the fuck out of my scene! I'm not trying to be totally intolerant, but it's like me going to church and saying, 'Fuck your superstitions.' Why would I go there to do that? I'm not wanted." Cory Kilduff, the Rise
"Fuck a scene. Fuck a scene. Scene ... scene. Fuck a scene. Scenes are bullshit. You don't even know. Most of our friends in Austin are musicians. Everybody's a musician, so I guess Austin is a scene. All of Austin, the whole thing." Dan Keyes, Recover
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