Playback: Ramones Signer Seymour Stein Visits Local Mentees Residual Kid
Plus Casey Monahan's exit interview, James Petralli's new side project, and SXSW's 547 additional acts
"It's all about the song." "Trends are over before you can spot them." "There are only two labels that define music: good or bad."
Seymour Stein imparts wisdom to me freely from the corner table in a coffee shop on Thursday afternoon. The 72-year-old record executive with tired eyes and million dollar ears isn't revealing tricks-of-the-trade. He's talking music and, thus, he's talking life. The father of Sire Records and vice president at Warner Bros. Records famous for signing the Ramones, Talking Heads, Madonna, Ice-T, and Depeche Mode considers Austin always worth the trip.
"Austin's a great spawning ground – there's a lot of great players here," he assesses. "People in the industry regard it as an important music center."
The New Yorker flies in at least once a year and rarely misses South by Southwest, a week he describes as "tumultuous" and even "hellish," but still a valuable outlet for discovering bands. Last year, on a tip from BMG publisher Kate Hyman, he witnessed local skateboard-obsessed teenage noise punks Residual Kid play a wild day party at Frank. They signed to Sire in the fall.
"I've never signed an underage band before," he admits. "I've never seen one I'm interested in. But they're not a boy band. They're experienced beyond their years. As good as they are, and they're very good, they're just going to get better."
Sire represented a dynasty of Austin Ds in the late Nineties: Don Walser, Dale Watson, the Derailers, and the Damnations, the latter managed by a pre-C3 Charles Attal.
"He's the king," Attal testified about Stein last week. "Never in my life have I encountered someone in the music business with more passion than Seymour Stein. He wants to talk about music with everybody. When I was new and no one would take my phone calls, Seymour was there, staying in touch, asking me what I liked."
Later, Thursday night, Stein's at the Parish on the sound riser, his cane resting on the board.
"I wish I didn't have to watch from here," he sighs. "But these days it's the case."
After Residual Kid shreds the stage with grungy sonic blasts in which frontman Deven Ivy rakes his guitar strings across an amp head and Ben Redman beats his drums so hard they fall over, Stein – 56 years the elder of any member – walks up to the stage, totally re-energized, with a contagious grin.
"Wasn't that great?!"
Exit Interview: Casey Monahan
"Hey, did you hear? I lost my job," jokes the irrepressibly affable Casey Monahan over the phone. Governor-elect Greg Abbott's decision to not retain him as director of the Texas Music Office, a position he's held since its 1990 inception, was trending. Funded to the tune of $280,194 annually, TMO promotes a favorite state industry.
As its captain, Monahan's helped Texas get a Grammy chapter, expanded the Manufacturers' Sales Tax Exemption to equipment purchases for record producers, and bestowed formal recognition to the pioneers of Texas music. He's also been a conduit of information, compiling industry resources like the Texas Music International Tip Sheet and Texas Talent Register while acting as a Yoda-like advisor to young Jedis in the music business. Reports of his termination left many wondering if the TMO's being dissolved.
"I absolutely do not think this office is going away because there's a mandate that the governor's office has a music program," he says, referring to section 485.001 of the state law.
As for Monahan's successor, your guess is as good as his. The only contact he's had with Abbott's team, who didn't respond to inquiries on the matter, was being fired. He isn't sipping sour grapes, however.
"An incoming governor wants to put their own person in, and I have no problem with that," he says before redirecting the community's outpouring of sympathy. "Don't say, 'Save Casey's job.' Just make sure your new governor knows the music business is important to you."
Before he cleans out his desk on Feb. 13, Monahan can update his résumé to highlight his position as the longest-serving head of a state music office, since Texas was the first state to have one. He shoots down my prediction that he'll work for SXSW, but confirms he's had "a couple of job offers."
"I'm going to hang out for at least a month with my son," he exclaims. "He's only 8 months old."
With his departure, Monahan leaves parting advice for the community.
"If you're in the music business, make yourself heard, not solely by your Marshall stack, but by your ability to engage the government," he pleads. "The only reason this office exists is because the music community came together in the mid-Eighties and lobbied the Legislature, saying, 'We're important.' You have to constantly renew that."
Currently between runs on the prog-garage roller-coaster known as White Denim, frontman James Petralli dropped to his knees in a hail of guitar glory under a new name: Bop English. Before debuting the long-planned side project at two Free Week performances beginning with a lively Parish set of lyrical rock & roll as backed by bassist Kevin Schneider, guitarist Jonathan Horn, and drummer Jeffrey Olson, the singer revealed that an album entitled Constant Bop arrives in April on Downtown Records (U.S.) and Blood and Biscuits (UK). "Man, I've been making this record since I started tracking in 2009," he offered. "It was 25 songs, then I whittled it down to 18, then both of the labels were like, 'You have to cut some more shit out of this record.'" Catch Bop English Saturday at Hotel Vegas.
SXSW added 547 acts on Tuesday, among them gospel preacher Kirk Franklin, surf-pop duo Best Coast, Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One's funky new Tuxedo, bluesy songstress ZZ Ward, and mini metalheads Unlocking the Truth. Some 10% were local, including Roger Sellers, Max Frost, and Black Pistol Fire. The Music portion of the conference runs March 17-22.
Vast Majority plays its first show in 35 years tonight (Thursday) at Beerland. The Houston punks' singer, sneering on transcendent single "I Wanna Be a Number," grew up into none other than local bassist Scott Telles of ST 37 and My Education. The reunion, including an H-town homecoming, occasions a vinyl re-release by Rave Up Records. Also playing: free-form assaulters Art Acevedo and cover conglomerate Raul's Royal Foot.
Johnny Winter's been removed from the Hall of Fame section of the Austin Music Poll. Turns out the late blues guitar phenom already earned his Hall of Fame stripes in 1984 – whoops. That section still has 11 great nominees ranging from soul, punk, country, post-rock, Latin, and one band with "Fuck" in its name. Vote online or using the ballot on p.57 of this week's issue before Feb. 4.