The 1821 Club
Austin's real indie scene
That's important because with these young acts comes the matrix of fans who will make up the core Austin audience for the next generation. By the time local musicians turn 18, graduate high school, and enter college, their fanbase is automatically broadened by the annual fall influx of college students. The bands' challenge is to draft the new audience of students and nonstudents into their armies.
If that doesn't happen, the bands of high school grads who have played together since they were kids find themselves with an audience that can dissipate over one summer. Sometimes the bands were local faves at 16, but their careers are tanking at 19. Without the hub of high school, the daily social interaction is gone.
Call them the 1821 Club, this legion of young musicians in the "swing shift" age group – over 18 and technically adults but not yet 21, with its full-adult privileges. They're the age group that most understands the double-bind of all-ages clubs they are welcome to patronize but not drink in. It's a point of frustration, particularly for under-21 bands with a decent following who might be able to book into an all-ages club but can't deliver the bar receipts needed to sustain business. These bands and fans are the wandering tribes looking for the next oasis.
The 18- to 21-year-olds are still deeply connected to their under-18 brethren, a symbiotic relationship illustrated by bands whose members range in age from teens to early 20s, as in the case of Hero to the Villain's Luis Soto and Blues Mafia's Sasha Ortiz. In one reversal of tradition, 17-year-old Georgia Napolitano leads her band of over-18 musicians, while fellow U-18 bands are rising strong, with Chief Rival, Edison Chair, and AfterMath among the best.
Out in the summer music camps, admissions have not faltered, and a few are operating at top speed. The Paul Green School of Rock Music is participating with official Woodstock celebrations, while John Moyer of the Disturbed is one of the rock star teachers this summer at Natural Ear Music School. The classes are mostly full, a sign of general good health.
To showcase this ripe talent, Ruta Maya is hosting Next Up, a gathering of teen bands, every Saturday afternoon in July. And what's on the horizon? How about the U-13 bands? A trio of 12-year-old funksters. A pair of brothers from Bastrop playing traditional blues and folk. A quintet of classic rockers whose oldest member is 12 and youngest is 8.
The younger they come, the harder they rock.
"Chief Rival!" declared a rep from the National Association of Music Merchandisers during the South by Southwest Underage Day Party at Momo's in March. "They're the best band I've heard the whole conference!" (Full disclosure: Guitarist Zeke Barbaro is Austin Chronicle Publisher Nick Barbaro's son.)
High praise, indeed. Austin was never much of an instrumental band town, save for the jazz clubs, yet the emergence of Explosions in the Sky has had a tremendous impact locally. That's the band feeding Chief Rival's flights of instrumental fancy (and occasional vocals, like "On a Broken Horse"). Their well-crafted songs also suggest Sigur Ros, though they've been in an Ennio Morricone mood lately.
The short life span of the quartet (www.myspace.com/chiefrival), which has been together more than two years but "only serious for one," has yielded gigs at the Mohawk, Red 7, Room 710, playing with pals Hotel Hotel, Salesman, and their "big brother" band, Balmorhea.
"Conflicts often arise when our eclectic taste in music affects the individual style of our songs," explains Christian York, bandleader-guitarist and sometimes vocalist. "We resolve these problems by doing our best to blend the different sounds into one, although recently our music has developed a more definite form [because] we've narrowed our inspirations."
Georgia & the Boys
Georgia Napolitano (www.georgianapolitano.com), known just by her first name when she heads up her band, Georgia & the Boys, was rejected by American Idol judges in Dallas a scant three weeks ago, but it just might be the best thing for the 17-year-old. In a town like Austin, with its broad-based teen music scene, Georgia is the only young woman actively pursuing traditional pop as played by Christina Aguilera and Pink.
It's more sophisticated than the blues or hard rock most teens play and produce. Moreover, it doesn't have a built-in audience the way country music does here, nor does it have clubs that cater to the genre. That leaves her almost single-handedly forging a sound that has tremendous national potential but not much of an audience in Austin.
Born in England, but a resident of Texas for many years, Georgia is as bubbly and effusive off stage as on, with her British accent and fresh-faced looks providing extra charm. That she writes as well as sings and dances puts her on par with 1980s pop queen Debbie Gibson, the first teen girl to write, sing, and produce a No. 1 single. For the moment, she isn't complaining.
"The hardest part is booking gigs," Georgia says. "There are so many amazing bands in Austin, and since it is the live music capital, it's full of great musicians looking for a chance to play.
"So many people will turn you down, tell you you're not what they are looking for, or that you don't have what it takes. I always try to remember, '100 people will love you; 100 won't.' Just take notice of the ones that love you."
Hero to the Villain
When the Back Room went under in 2006, it kissed off one of the last Austin stages where a metal band could get respect. That's too bad for Hero to the Villain (www.myspace.com/herotothevillain), at the forefront of a young metal scene handicapped in two ways: Venues for teen bands are limited, and venues for metal bands (Headhunters, Red Eyed Fly, Red 7) aren't always all ages.
Hero to the Villain has a secret weapon, however, one that arms them for the upcoming struggle to be heard. The deathcore quintet – Luis, Johnny, Anthony, Veronica, and Chris – was part of the BlastBeat program (www.blastbeat.org) for young bands in Austin, and by participating in it, the group learned the basics of running a record label plus how to organize a band. H2V are also part of the burgeoning teen metal scene that includes I See a Ghost, Baphemetis, and Within White Shadows.
"Our toughest conflict at the moment is just trying to get our EP recorded. Studio time is very expensive. We're trying our best to save up and get it out to our fans soon. Anybody that can help us please let us know," Luis half-jokes.
"Metal has always appealed to us for the simple fact that it's very complex," he continues. "In order to understand it, you have to dig deep. I scream the lyrics because if people want to understand it, they won't be quick to judge us, but look further.
"We were given a gift and want to put it to a good use and change the world one song at a time."
The art of the harmony has not escaped Edison Chair (www.myspace.com/edisonchair), a power pop trio from Dripping Springs that owes as much to mod as New Wave. Propelled by hooks and charismatic stage presence, Edison Chair's songs are so poised to make a big leap that Austin-Nashville country singer-songwriter Monte Warden recently brought producers Bruce Brody (Rickie Lee Jones, Pulp Fiction) and Jose Alcantar (Blue October) into the studio with them.
"The harmonies are by far the hardest part to pull off," swears guitarist-vocalist Nathan Thrash. "It takes a lot of effort to getour voices synchronized, compared to instrumentation."
And like teen scene kings the Fireants, currently with the Nancy Fly Agency, Edison Chair discovered that having a go-get-'em agent solved many booking woes. Rajiworld's Roggie Baer, who promotes Jovita's Sunday afternoon series ALTWorld, signed the trio to her stable of stars, booking the group into prestigious venues such as the Belmont and Antone's. Nathan, along with bassist Martin Aker and drummer Wes Armstrong, is most pleased with the results.
"The first ALTWorldworkshop we ever played was our best gig, because it sparked a lot of buzz and contacts," Nathan relates. "We had the judges giving us a standing ovation! The saturation of music in Austin often makes it hard to break through to new venues and clubs, and sometimes to potential fans. However, it is the live music capital of the world, so this is expected. It is an unbelievable experience to both live near and play music here!"
By the way, where did the enigmatic band name come from? "It's a secret!"
Among all the bands joining the 1821 Club, none is as revolutionary as Mother Falcon (www.myspace.com/motherfalconmusic). Their lush baroque pop is classically based, with modern quirks such as accordion and mandolin. At the heart of Mother Falcon is Nick Gregg, vocalist, cellist, mandolin player, guitarist, and songwriter. His extraordinary vision of the classical pop landscape reveals a few milestones, such as the Incredible String Band and Brit folk-pop of the 1970s, with more cultivation from the likes of Joanna Newsom and Final Fantasy. And, without realizing it, Mother Falcon is the natural heir to the Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra, a pairing begging for a good stage.
"I'd been playing in bass-guitar-drums bands and having a good time but wanting something bigger," Nick recounts. "A friend in orchestra and I started writing with cellos, instruments we'd been classically trained on for years, and realized it had a lot of potential. We started off with three cellos, then we realized that all these years of playing Bach for hours on end paid off, giving us skills to write songs that would challenge us and the audience would enjoy."
Named for a dubbed expletive in a Bruce Willis film on TV, the 12-piece orchestra walks a highly demanding tightrope of individual schedules and jobs. "Nick is the heart and soul, the creative force," declares Yun Du, violinist for Mother Falcon. "I'm more the brain, making sure everyone knows what's going on, scheduling appearances and stuff. Not everyone has their own transportation, carpooling, scheduling, logistics."
Of the dozen members, Tamir Kalifa positively levitates the band. The Maryland native moved to Texas after meeting two Austinites while attending film school in Prague and was "hired to just play accordion on one song," but he asked to stay on after his exquisite tenor worked with Nick's own yearning style.
"We've been talking about how interesting vocal harmonies are, and with 12 musicans, a good number of us are capable of singing," Nick explains. "We're trying to incorporate things we really love about bands like Grizzly Bear with classical rhythms and catchy melodies."
If that sounds likes an unusual combination, he doesn't think so.
"Music today is two steps forward and one step back. You have a lot of 1980s dance and garage rock coming back. So if it's going back in time, we'll just beat everyone to the 1700s."
At the rock camps and music schools, teachers and administrators fantasize that an arranged band will thrive after it leaves. Meet AfterMath (www.myspace.com/aftermathrox), the two-boy, two-girl pop-rock quartet that's done just that since its inception at the Austin School of Music four years ago.
AfterMath's sound is a canny mix of 1960s garage rock and trippy 1980s synth groove, featuring the rich vocals of Rachel Thompson and sounding like Jefferson Airplane in Vans. It's a sound that coalesced when bassist Livvy Bennett (see "Six Under 17," Jan. 16) joined Rachel and original camp band members Dustin Berlanger and Justin Beamon. Their enviable performing schedule includes venues such as Güero's, Momo's, the Red Eyed Fly, and the Sunday ALTWorld series at Jovita's. That experience has not been lost on 16-year-old Rachel, the lead singer who understands what lies ahead.
"The big problem is competing for an audience with all the other bands," she explains."Austin is great in that it provides us with opportunities no other city would have, but the opportunity is also there for everyone, and it's very competitive. I think the times for some of our gigs, like afternoons,is also a drag on getting people out to hear us.In Austin, everyone is out doing stuff during the day, and they think of live music as a night deal."
AfterMath recorded a live CD at Roadhouse Rags, and original material will be released later this fall. Rachel has also been developing solo material for her debut at Ruta Maya on July 18.
Ruta Maya's NEXT UP Schedule
Saturday, July 11, 2-5pm
South of Center
Madison & the Elmo Project
The Apple Trio
Georgia & the Boys
Saturday, July 18, 3-7pm
Hero to the Villain
Saturday, July 25, 3-7pm
The PA System
Avenging Poor Yorick
The Peterson Brothers
THREE UNDER 12
South of Center
The e-mail subject line was intriguing: "12-year-old kids' alternative funk rock band." That's South of Center, a trio of preteens playing spirited, funky-bottom sound with panache. Veterans of the ALTWorld series, Noah, Julian, and Josh have been playing together since the fourth grade.
The Peterson Brothers
Most kids taking up modern instruments can't wait to plug in, but Glenn, 12, and Alex, 10, play traditional music, often on acoustic instruments. The brother act, which hails from Bastrop, isn't afraid to plug in for jazzier tunes or experiment with bouzouki. Recently, they've expanded and added their friend Sean, 12, on drums.
Nancy Coplin swears the Aviators are one of the most popular bands to play the big stage at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, and one listen tells you why. Lead singer Tristen is a 12-year-old ball of fire, bouncing in front of four red-hot players from Natural Ear Music School playing classic 1960s rock: keyboard man Cole, guitarists Canaan and Matt, drummer Alan, and show-stealing bassist Lincoln. Wait until you hear them tear up "My Generation."