by Jeremy Hart
Bands in Houston don't tend to last. Something about this city burns through the best and brightest, the most ambitious and talented musicians in town, tossing them aside when they're disillusioned and embittered. Maybe that's true of any city's music scene, true, but it sure feels like things here are more ruthless, somehow. It's hard being a music fan here sometimes -- put any effort into actually liking a band, and they could be gone a week from now. Why bother?
The first time I saw the arty, quirky indie-rockers currently known as Bring Back The Guns (formerly Gandhi in Vegas, Groceries, and, very briefly, One Mighty Leg), I remember thinking "great band, but they'll be gone in a few weeks; a year tops." Half a decade on, the band's still around and better than ever before. I've been meaning to write about these guys for a while now, honestly, and since the band's been through some fairly major changes lately, I thought it was about time.
With that in mind, I got a hold of lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Matt Brownlie and asked him for a bit of a rundown on the band's history, changeable band name, and current state.
SCR: Can you give us a relatively-brief history of Bring Back The Guns/Groceries/Gandhi in Vegas?
Matt: So the whole thing began as a recording project called Gandhi in Vegas. It quickly needed to be a performing band, as well, and so Erik and, later, Thomas and Blake got involved. We changed the name to Groceries after a little while. We did a couple of recordings with that lineup: the Knuckleheads & Icons EP, and the split-EP with DrillBox Ignition. Then Blake left to be a pilot (which he is now), we got a new bass player, did a couple of tours (one with Lozenge, one with the Octopus Project), started and scrapped a record, and then parted ways with the new guy. Ryan joined the band in October of last year. So far we've done a couple of tours and started the record over. Having Ryan in the band has been great. Everything is able to move more quickly than it ever has before. That's a big part of why we felt like it was time to go ahead and change the name of the band. The other three of us had disliked the name Groceries for a really long time.
Bring Back The Guns -- http://www.bringbacktheguns.com/
The Mission Label -- http://www.missionlabel.com/
So, is this basically the same band? Is this just another name change, or is it something new? Is the old Groceries sound out the window?
This is basically the same band, yeah. We haven't had time to teach Ryan nearly as many of our older songs as we'd like, but that's because we've spent this year doing stuff like touring and recording the full-length.
The old Groceries sound is intact, as far as I can tell. I don't know that I have a very clear idea of what our sound is, although I'm sure we have one. I mean, I write the songs as they come to me, and then we flesh them out in rehearsal. I used to think that our sound was in part rooted in some of our mathy-er instincts. I'm not sure about that any more. I haven't been quite as interested in the sort of complicated time-signature stuff we had been doing. Recently I've been writing all these concise, stripped down, efficient little pissed-off pop songs. So I don't know, I'd say that our sound is constantly evolving. Wow. I'm profound.
I guess I'm only able to pick out "our sound" in retrospect. Like, after we've written a bunch of material, I can look back and see common threads in the songs. But we're always really neurotic about trying not to repeat ourselves.
Where'd the new name come from?
Let me give a long answer to this one. I moved to Houston from Ft. Worth when my girlfriend-at-the-time came here to go to Rice. Erik came down later to help with Gandhi in Vegas. A little later I got my best friend and former bandmate Jana Hunter to move here. She in turn got one of her friends, Heath Flagtvedt, to move here. Heath and I became very close as well. Heath and Jana formed a band called Matty & Mossy with Matt Frey (who now plays with Swarm of Angels) and Jana's younger brother John, another D/FW transplant. They weren't around for very long, but they were amazing while they lasted. And almost all of the friendships borne of that band remain strong. The first song on the only album Matty & Mossy recorded is called "Christmas," and the refrain to that song is, "Bring back the guns." So that's where that phrase came from.
We picked it for our name for a slew of different reasons. For me, it's always just resonated as a great set of words, and it has a meaning to me that I think Jana intended (because I think she told me, but maybe not). In addition, we were starting to truly be uncomfortable with the old name. I, for one, found myself wincing everytime someone asked what my band was called. See, Groceries had no meaning for us whatsoever -- that's kind of why we picked it to begin with. But we were finding that, duh, people weren't readily associating that name with a "serious" band, whatever that is. Also, I think we were a little less "serious" when we started out, so we just kind of outgrew the name Groceries.
I sometimes think, though, that maybe Bring Back The Guns sounds a little too "serious". Or maybe a little too, as someone put it, "emo/indie." I'm personally really, really happy with it, though. What do you think?
Actually, I like it -- although, yeah, it does sound a bit "emo"-y... You've added a new member to the band, right? What happened to Blake?
Blake was ready to not be in a rock band anymore. Before joining Bring Back The Guns/Groceries, he had been in another band that had been around for years, moved out to L.A. to try to make it and had come back without too much to show. So he was just really burned out on the whole thing. The decision to split was pretty mutual and everyone is 100% lovely with each other.
Then there was this other guy. And I would rather not discuss that situation in public.
Anyway, I feel pretty confident in saying that Ryan is here to stay. He was a fan and friend of the band before he joined, and he's fit what we do better than we could have possibly hoped. It's great.
Are you guys working on any new stuff? I've only ever seen the one full-length... You're going to be on a comp coming out in August, right?
Yup, we're going to be on a compilation called Demons and Rare Meat. It's the debut release from the Mission Label in Chicago. We're pretty excited. There are some biggish names on it -- Schneider TM, the singer for TV on the Radio, Okkervil River, others. Go to www.missionlabel.com and check it out. It's going to be nationally distributed and dirt cheap, as I understand it.
And goddamn it, we're on our third attempt to get our full-length done. Third studio space, too, for that matter. But always with the same guys, Eric Faucette and Chris Ryan, aka Johnny Killed Rock'n'Roll. We're going back in for a week and a half soon. God willing, we should be as good as done by then. The plan right now is to wait and find someone to put the record out this time. We have a few friends interested in doing that, and we have some encouraging leads to more established labels. This record, when completed, is going to be a motherfucker. Just you wait.
How did the Midwest tour go? What kind of a response do you guys get outside of H-town?
We did two tours this summer, both of which went way better than they should have. I think that out of about 16-17 shows, only two really crapped out, and we knew they were iffy going in.
The response we get from audiences that have never even heard of us before tends to be really, really encouraging. I'm so excited to see what's going to happen once people have had time to warm up to these songs before seeing us live. It's not always the most immediately-accessible music in the world, and sometimes even the crowds that end up really liking us need some time to figure out what the hell we think we're doing.
I checked out one of the new tracks on the under-construction Website, "I Am The Voice of Sarah Strickland's Rage"; um, who the heck is Sarah Strickland?
Sarah Strickland is a friend of ours, of whose rage I happen to be the voice. There's not too much of a story beyond that. END