Band to Save Us: the last place you look Won’t Back Down
It’s been a busy couple of years for Houston-dwelling post-emo rockers the last place you look. After lurking under the radar a while and releasing debut full-length The Lies We Tell Ourselves to mixed reviews, in 2009 they released a vastly different followup, See the Light Inside You, which blew away quite a few people, this writer included.
I’d spent months wading through piles of half-assed indie-pop, generic alternarock, countless samey-sounding hardcore and electro bands, and things far, far worse, and when I put on Light for the very first time, I literally felt like I’d been sitting in a darkened room with the shades drawn, and that music suddenly stepped in and threw all the windows wide open. It was — and still is — an incredible album, a smart, polished (but not too polished) combination of heavy, heavy instrumentation, classic emo-tinged lyrics, and killer high/low vocal interplay, all mashed together in a near-perfect fashion that dwarfs pretty much any post-hardcore band you can name.
Personally, the album pretty much singlehandedly rescued the term “emo” from the clutches of guyliner-wearing pseudo-Goth rockers with horrific haircuts and far, far too many trips to Hot Topic under their collective belt. Whether they meant to or not, the guys in the last place you look managed to craft a set of songs that point proudly backwards to the glory days when “emo” wasn’t shorthand for “whiney guys in black.”
Frontman Nava‘s lyrics are poignant and soul-baring, and not in a cheesy, high-school-poetry kind of way but in an adult, working-out-the-world kind of way. He and the rest of the guys in the band somehow created a sound that was both sensitive and rough-edged, at the same time, wearing its heart on its sleeve and then staring you down, daring you to talk shit about it. It’s an awesome piece of work.
Unfortunately, this is Houston, and buckets of acclaim from fans and writers ’round here doesn’t necessarily translate to spots at SXSW or on the Warped Tour; it’s both the blessing and the curse of this city, in that being hometown heroes is well and good and all, and people here definitely aren’t in it for fame and fortune (if they are, they’re barking up the wrong civic tree), but it can be pretty rough when it hits you that nobody cares out beyond the Beltway. So great as it is/was, See the Light Inside You didn’t crack the world open for the guys in the last place you look.
On top of that, the band had to bid farewell to longtime drummer Andy Moths in the months following the album’s release; due to family and other commitments, he’d decided he couldn’t do the band thing anymore, and while it was an amicable parting, that meant the remaining members had to spend several months trying to find somebody to take his place. And then there was Nava’s accident, and the hospital stay, but we’ll get to that…
No matter what’s happened, though, the last place you look guys just seem to grin and shrug and keep moving. They spent all of 2010 touring relentlessly around the state (and a little beyond), even while holding down full-time day jobs, and after playing with a few different interim drummers, they found a new permanent band member in Mikey Garcia. Then they got tapped by rock dudes Unwritten Law for that band’s Texas tour dates.
Oh, and they were nominated for a few awards, including the 2009 Houston Press Music Awards (“Rock,” “Best Male Vocals,” “Best Drummer,” and “Best Local Song,” for “Don’t Make It So Easy”) and the 2010 Texas Buzz Awards, and somehow ended up getting played on 94.5FM The Buzz itself — no mean feat, in this radio-backwater city.
Happily, they show no signs of slowing down, and with the promise of a new release finally around the corner and a bunch of recent shows under their belt, SCR was glad to be able to chat a bit with guitarist Richard Sherwood about the band, the new stuff, the surprise radio airplay, and the fun of cramming a bunch of guys into a van to drive across Texas.
SCR: So, what’s the basic idea behind this weekend’s show? It’s for the forthcoming EP, right?
Richard Sherwood: Absolutely; we start tracking July 6th, and we are using this show to raise some funds and to showcase some of our new material.
And how’s work progressing on that? I thought you were working on the followup to See the Light Inside You a long, long while back… Do you have some songs already written?
We do infact have a bunch of songs written. We are really excited about the new stuff. Some of the songs are already a year old, but most are newer than that.
Our progress has been slowed by playing about 100 shows over the past 12 months, along with working regular jobs! We have also become increasingly more stringent with our songwriting, so the process naturally has gotten longer.
Is it going to sound like you guys’ previous stuff? Heavier, more mellow, more melodic?
Well, we are hoping for “better”! This will be an EP of about 4 or 5 songs; we will definitely have some tough stuff, but not any tougher than See the Light Inside You…
I’ve got my fingers crossed, mind you, for more of the high/low dual vocals — my absolute favorite parts of the heavier tracks, at least, are when Nava does his roar/growl thing while Kevin takes the high part. Will there be more of that in the new songs?
Back when I reviewed the album, I was a bit nervous about the reaction I might get from calling you guys emo, since that term’s been so damn bastardized and tarnished over the past several years. What do you think of being tagged with that?
Personally, it does not bother me — I have loved emo for the latter half of my life — but I’m not sure that it’s the best description for us. I fear it will disappoint emo fans. [laughs]
I have to say that while I’m not a huge fan of The Buzz, I’m still psyched as hell that “Band to Save Me” is getting airplay over there, finally. How’s that feel, to hear the song on the radio now, even though the album’s been out for quite a while?
It feels good. Real good. In today’s radio market and music industry, it is probably easier to get signed than it is to get added into any sort of rotation on commercial radio.
Can you talk at all about how you got on the air at The Buzz to begin with? For years now, that’s always seemed like this impenetrable fortress that Houston bands were never, ever going to be able to break into, at least not without sounding like cookie-cutter alternarock.
Honestly, I have no idea… We have played The Texas Buzz [showcase] at The Scout Bar a bunch of times over the years…
One day A.D. called me and said, “My boss, Don Jantzen, is going to call you.” Then somebody told me they heard “Band to Save Me” on The Buzz on a Friday night. I assumed they were mistaken — then I heard it on my way to work one day. Still not sure why, but it is pretty cool. Keep in mind, we are 100% DIY — no manager or anything!
What the hell happened to Nava? I’d heard something about him being hurt in a wreck, and then saw the Houston Press blog about a benefit show for him earlier this week…
After a Critical Mass ride, he zigged when he should have zagged. Unfortunately, he broke his clavicle and required surgery… He does not have health insurance, so he is in mega-medical debt.
I know you guys were playing all over the state — and in Louisiana, too — this past year; any plans to go further afield than that?
There’re no specific plans to go further than that, but we probably will — it just seems like things are really starting to open up for us!
What’s the reaction been like elsewhere?
It’s been really amazing! A lot of people are really behind us, now. It’s weird, because now at out-of-town shows, there are people who know all of the words to our songs, and you have no idea who they are because it’s the first time [there]. That is probably the most rewarding part.
Any fun/bizarre stories from the road? I have to say, I’d be a little terrified to hang out in a van with you guys on those long drives.
The oddest time was when this lady started crying when she met Nava; she had been reading his lyrics and was totally emotionally overwhelmed to meet him… Crazy.
You should do a weekend with us. Matthew Keever from the Houston Press did a weekend with us; he’s still alive. He did sleep with a big old snake, play football with the singer from Unwritten Law, and sneak into a pool with some strangers… Pretty much a regular weekend for us!
How did the drummer transition go? I think the last time I talked to y’all, you’d just announced that Andy [Moths, former drummer] would be leaving, and I’m sure that was a pretty major blow. He was pretty jaw-droppingly great.
It was sad when Andy had to leave the band; he was an awesome drummer and all-around cool guy. We were very lucky to have some great drummers play with us, and we now have another awesome drummer, Mikey Garcia!
Now, to engage the Wayback Machine: how in the hell did you guys get from Six West all the way to the last place you look? I remember being blown away by that previous band way, way back in the late ’90s, and then you guys seemed to do a 180, sound-wise…
Oh, man… Who knows? That band was a heartbreaker for us, so I think we wanted to do something completely different… But we did not decide that consciously — I think we just did it because it felt different.
And to shift gears back the other way: what plans do you have for the future? Where’s the band headed, a year or two from now?
I think we’ve decided to write the best songs we can, and see where it takes us! END
(Live photos by J. Hart; promotional photos & feature photo courtesy of the last place you look.)