The Real Heroes"The record was meant to be a 'grower,' so to speak."
That's how Real Heroes vocalist/guitarist/founder Benjamin Hotchkiss describes the local quintet's year-old second album, Greetings From Russia. The dapper, articulate frontman isn't being lascivious; he's explaining how the band set out to record a tight collection of well-crafted pop songs that listeners would want to spin again and again as opposed to an artifice that gets deep-stacked after the novelty wears off.
It's been a "grower" year for the Real Heroes. Before Russia, the band spent the first half of the decade struggling to find its place on a music map defined by niche. "We were too rock for indie and too indie for rock," posits drummer Joey Spivey.
Put another way, they had crossover appeal. From "Elise, Elise," the Cheap Trick-flavored rocker that opens Russia, to the runway-ready Lou Reed/Sweet contagion, "Move That Strut," the band's painstaking diligence in putting the album together resulted in songs capable of resonating far beyond the Red River corridor.
"We decided to take it out of the normal avenues," explains Hotchkiss. "We just started playing events that your average punk band from Emo's or Room 710 wouldn't go do. It's a risk, because you could lose your crowd that way, but we've discovered that we thought we were weirder than we are."
Since making that decision, they've secured an invite to play the 2005 Austin City Limits Music Festival, played a live set on John Aielli's KUT show, Eklektikos, and garnered airplay from local rock mainstay KLBJ.
"They played 'Move That Strut' right before 'Jamie's Cryin,' so I was in heaven," laughs lead guitarist Paul English.
Outside Austin, the Real Heroes played to full houses in New York this summer after getting good ink from The Village Voice. There, the band was likened to retro-pop acts like the Strokes and Franz Ferdinand. While the latter comparison in particular left them puzzled, they're not losing sleep over it.
"It seems like the key to being considered modern is to rip off someone who wasn't famous," muses Hotchkiss. "I don't know. Maybe we just like bands that were too popular."
Anyone who's followed Hotchkiss' musical development through the Duckhills and Bongo Hate can zero in on the clever lyrics and short stops that delineate the Real Heroes from the bandwagon. However, Greetings From Russia avoids the quick guffaw in favor of more disciplined songwriting.
"There's still humor in the music," says Hotchkiss, "but it's more like Ray Davies does humor."
Going into SXSW, the band's confidence has grown with Russia's gradual acceptance. English jokes that their odds "have increased by .5 percent," but the Real Heroes' cautious sense of optimism isn't a put-on.
"In a strange way, I feel kind of proud to be an unsigned band after this year with the way the album's gone," muses Hotchkiss. "It goes to show that if you work really hard on an album and make it the best you possibly can, then people might actually care."
SXSW showcase: Wednesday, March 16, 1am @ Tambaleo