Who all's in the band these days?
There's a guy from L.A. -- just got back from L.A., he was out there for like seven years -- his name's Matt Taylor, drummer. Bassist Mike Poulos, um...who was he playing with? He was playing with Tody Castillo...
Tody's still playing, right?
Oh, yeah. Tody, he just cranked out an amazing record.
Yeah, I got sent a copy of it by his management folks the other day, so... I haven't heard it yet, but I've heard good things about him from other folks. I used to see him with his old band, Tody and the Royals.
The Royals? Wow, that's a while ago.
It was a long time ago now, yeah.
Yeah. Yeah, he just had his record release this past weekend. It was great. It's nice to see things're happening with some other folks.
Are there other bands you're big on these days?
Well, the thing is, I'm biased. It's a relative term -- y'know, am I "big on 'em"? I hope they do well, 'cause they're really good friends. And I think they're good, but again, they're friends, and that's always...
Well, I mean, that counts, though.
Yeah. Um...yeah, there are a few people 'round town who I think are ready for a national market, and I certainly hope things go their way.
Who, just out of curiosity, if you don't mind saying?
No, not at all. Tody, I'm definitely a huge fan -- I've been a fan for a long time. It's nice to see things coming together for him. Um...that's the thing, I'll get in trouble, 'cause I'll forget so many people. Why don't we stop at that one? Let's just say that there's, y'know, several others.
What happened to -- not Groceries, but what're they called now?
Bring Back the Guns.
Bring Back the Guns. Bring Back the Groceries?
They're still around; as far as I know, anyway.
I've always been a huge fan of Matt [Brownlie, Bring Back the Guns singer/guitarist] -- anything that Matt does.
He's a good guy.
Yeah. He's another who's, I think...y'know, a lot of people need to hear. Whether you're into that kind of music or not.
It can take a little getting used to, but yeah. I remember the first time I saw them, I was just kind of like, "what the hell is going on here?" But after a couple of songs, it kinda sunk in.
He's one of those guys that I think realized a really long time ago that he could write a really good pop song, and I think at some point he just kinda got bored with it. And so he's doing a lot of stuff to keep himself entertained. And y'know, in the process he'll throw in these little things, and you'll think, "oh, man -- this guy knows what he's doing."
He definitely has it together, songwriting-wise.
Okay, so that's two.
So, you won't be in trouble.
One thing I was going to ask you was kind of how you got into the whole music thing here in Houston. I know you're from Chicago originally.
Yeah, I moved to Houston while I was in high school. I attended U of H [University of Houston] and ran into these guys that would sit outside and play guitar. It was cool. There wasn't bohemian about it or anything, they weren't hippies, they were just sitting out there, and they were these hilarious guys, and I was just kinda taken in by their little scene. And at that point, I just kind of dropped everything and got into songwriting. They taught me some chords on the guitar and, uh, I was obsessed. And I've been obsessed ever since.
So, I just kinda stumbled into it. Late, y'know? A lot of people, especially nowadays, are starting really young.
Fifteen-year-old geniuses in rock bands...
Yeah, they're everywhere, man! They're everywhere now.
Ben Lee and all those folks.
Oh, yeah. Sondre Lerche -- yeah, so many...
Yeah, he's pretty young, too.
So yeah, I started kinda late, and I guess I didn't really waste any time, y'know? I just jumped into it.
Seems like that... I saw you once with the Jeepneys, I think, a long, long time ago --
So, I was going to mention it, actually, but since you mentioned the band thing, I guess which one do you kind of "prefer"? Not different bands, but like by yourself or playing with a band, or...? I mean, I know they can be pretty different environments.
It's kind of seasonal. I've missed the band thing -- I haven't done it for a while, and so I'm very, very excited about it now. Very much into it. It's nice to write different parts, to think in terms of arrangement with, y'know, with four people.
But the solo thing is so self-sufficient. It's very mobile; I can travel.
You don't have to worry about four plane tickets.
Exactly. Taking a plane is actually an option, when it's probably not with a band. And then the solo thing is fun, 'cause I get to program --
You play with a drum machine?
Yeah, a drum machine/sampler, and I trigger little things. I try to keep it as interesting as possible for a solo act. But y'know, right now I'd say I'm very, very into playing with a band, and I want to do that, if not exclusively, much more than I do solo. Although I do have some solo stuff coming up in Chicago, and Minneapolis, maybe in late April [of 2005].
So do you have tours and things lined up now?
No, not a proper one. I was gonna do a little Midwest thing that...maybe head up to New York. I'm gonna do these just like a week in the Midwest.
Did you play out a lot, outside of Houston, for the latest album, the 2003 album?
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely -- I did a West Coast tour, an East Coast tour, it was like a good month of touring.
How did it go?
It was great. It was really great.
People really liked the music?
Yeah; I mean, in certain spots... There were a couple of spots with early time slots, especially in New York -- CBGB's. I'm thinking, "oh, yeah, I'm gonna play CBGB's! It's eight o'clock, nobody's here!" Y'know?
Yeah, the opening time slot...
Exactly. And then the next night I played with some old Houston buddies in this really crappy Brooklyn bar, Rockstar Bar, and it was just a great night. So I tell people, when you're booking tours, don't get so hell-bent on trying to get The Knitting Factory and Sin-é and all this stuff.
As long as you can get a good time slot, it doesn't matter where you are?
Exactly. A good time slot should be your priority.
I guess there's kind of a mystique of playing at places like that -- y'know, CBGB's and The Knitting Factory...
If you have to, just get a picture, put it on your site, be done with it, and move on.
"This is us at CBGB's -- yeah!"
Get a t-shirt, and there you go.
Yeah. And I did a U.K. tour in October of last year. I had a blast over there; I had a great time. I played at The Cavern Club, which is a trip.
Is that in London? Liverpool?
Liverpool, yeah. Uh...a couple of cool spots in and around London -- it's a different ballgame over there, for sure.
What do you mean? I've been to England a couple of times, but I've never been out to see bands or anything; just visiting family.
Really? Yeah, I didn't get a chance to see bands, but from the perspective of a performer, I can tell you that here you tend to feel like you're having to convert an audience. You're almost guilty 'til proven innocent. Where there, they give you the benefit of a doubt -- they'll say, "well, okay, we'll just sit here and listen to this guy for a minute and see if he's any good." Here I think they kind of expect you to be bad.
People start out defensive, like they think you're gonna suck...
Yeah! You really have to go above and beyond to reel 'em in. So there was that; immediately, I saw it was just a different experience. I was just kinda taken aback by it, this crowd reaction, it was scary. It was like, "whoa, whoa -- what's going on?" [laughs]
"Did a different band walk onstage?"
Exactly! Yeah, I didn't know what was going on. But it was great, it was a great experience.
I saw on your Website, your press bio thing, how you've gotten some music on TV lately?
I don't remember the details, but I remember seeing something about it.
Show called The O.C., which I've never seen -- y'know, that's my disclaimer.
I've seen the ads, so...
Yeah, it's like the 90210, I guess, of this generation.
That's pretty good though; it's a big market.
It is, man. It's opened things up quite a bit, it's paid pretty well, y'know. They used a two-minute segment, as opposed to the standard 30-second one? So I keep seeing like the --
That's most of the song, there.
Yeah, pretty much
Which one did they put on there?
Uh, track number three, "Call Me". So that's been great, and they've used some other tunes as "beds" on some other TV shows. They're just these little snippets, but they're called "beds" -- I just learned that term three months ago. [laughs] I had to throw it in...
It's just kind of a cut, where they jump from one scene to another or something?
Yeah, a segue thing. Anyway, that pays a little amount, but it's, again, it's exposure.
How did you get into that?
Man...I've done so much promotion on the Internet that it's just kinda, it's seeped into that --
I saw that you're on a whole bunch of Websites, so -- all the different "indie-artist" Websites. That's a good way to do it.
Yeah. That stuff is really paying off. It's like everything I've done with music, I've stumbled into it; it's been by default. The Internet thing, for instance... In 2003, I came down with this "panic disorder." I had no idea what it was, but, I mean, the result was that I was agoraphobic and basically indoors for like six months.
Oh, my God...
And so that pretty much set the groundwork for all the Internet stuff. Yeah. Yeah, it was crazy -- I didn't know what it was, I didn't know anything about it, but I knew it was, um, definitely something was wrong. And then, lo and behold, I find out so many of my friends have dealt with that.
I guess it's getting more common these days. My father-in-law is like that these days; he just doesn't leave the house unless he's going to work, so...
Yeah, it's really, really common.
How'd you get around it? Is it still affecting you these days, or...?
No...I mean, I take stuff for it, so the medication...
I'm not trying to pry or anything.
No, not at all. It's honestly no big deal -- and that's why I'm drinking the O'Doul's, 'cause the alcohol and the medication mix. [laughs] Yeah, so I was indoors, and it's really paid off. It's sort of a delayed reaction, with the Internet stuff, and I thought, "oh, well, this is kind of frivolous, all this stuff," but a year later, Internet sales have gone way up, and I've gotten all these little opportunities.
Yeah? A lot more people seem to be downloading stuff than they used to. I remember in the early days of those sites, it was difficult to get a whole lot of attention if you were on one of those Websites.
Yeah, I think the transition from dial-up to DSL has helped me out. Bandwidth's helped me so much. And it's...y'know, that's pretty much how I stay in touch.
The whole anxiety thing, was that before or after the album [I'll Be Here Awake]?
I'd just released it.
Oh, you had released it, okay...
I'd just finished it, and uh, y'know, had all these huge plans, PR campaign ready and everything, and it just sort of broadsided me. It's a funny thing, 'cause I'd never had a problem with stagefright like that. It was really strange. I was almost the opposite of that, where I wish I could have been a little more anxious of certain performances, just for adrenalin's sake. But in any case, yeah, this thing just kinda snuck up on me. And it was terrible timing.
Well, the reason I was asking is because on the album -- it just occurred to me while you were talking about it -- I heard your first EP and then I heard this one, I missed the one in-between [2002's Can You Still Look Adorable], and this one kinda sounds more, I dunno, vulnerable? More open than the first one? And I didn't know if that had anything to do with it, or...
No, the record -- the songs were already written by the time this stuff happened.
I was just curious how that worked.
Yeah... I think the next thing I put out is gonna be a, it's like a template for anxiety disorder treatment. [laughter]
The next album's going to be like a concept album about that?
I hope not; that sounds pretty shitty, actually. But it'll definitely be influenced by it the trials and tribulations of the past couple years.
I'm sure it'll seep in there somehow.
You said on the phone that you had a new album that you were working on; is it done yet?
I just finished it -- I master it tomorrow, in fact. It's a five-song EP of stuff in Spanish. [Ed. Note: It's out now; the EP's entitled Suerte Mijo.]
Oh, okay. Cool.
Yeah. Yeah, I, uh...y'know, I've always toyed with stuff in Spanish. Actually, that's how I met Matt Brownlie, 'cause he heard something that I did in Spanish.
Really? Have you done more of this? Have you other albums in Spanish?
I did a full-length...
I only know of the two EPs and the album.
I did one other thing, but I never put it out. So yeah -- it was just way, way out there, and... I dunno. It was just kind of a little, it was a break from what I was doing in English. It's a little more light-hearted, not as intense, and, uh, a little more psychedelic, perhaps? I don't know.
But anyway, this is the first time I'm going to market something, try to put it out. As it turns out, there's a really, really hopping scene in Spain right now for this type of stuff -- y'know, indie-rock in Spanish.
Well, even here I've heard that there're a lot more bands like that now. I mean, a lot of it is kind of that rock en Español thing, but then there's some actual Spanish-speaking indie-rock bands around town.
Well, if you hear any good ones, send 'em my way, man! 'Cause it totally seemed like, uh...
I get e-mail from somebody every once in a while, saying, "oh, yeah, I'm in a band -- we sing in Spanish," and all that stuff, so...
Yeah, the stuff I've heard here in the States -- and even in South America and Mexico -- it's a little bit dated. A lot of people can't seem to get over The Cure, enough to not sound exactly like 'em. It's always kind of bugged me, so...
You're just looking for something a little different from that, then?
Yeah. Y'know, again, it's not too far removed from what I normally do. But it's kinda -- I guess the word is "subtlety"? There's not a lot of subtlety in rock en Español.
Was it a challenge, writing in Spanish? Since you've been writing in English all this time?
No, it's actually a lot easier.
Yeah, phonetically it's easier to come up with, y'know, certain phrases and things. It flows real nicely. And it's fun to just write off-the-wall shit in Spanish, 'cause it's so "stock," y'know, lyrically? You can actually have emotion.
Lyrically like what?
Um...y'know, if you think America radio is bad, lyrics being cliché after cliché after cliché, this stuff is worse. It's worse. [laughter]
That's kind of hard to believe.
Oh, man -- if I could only translate some of this stuff... So, yeah, I have fun with it. I always have a lot of fun doing this stuff, and I definitely wanted to go back to it. Y'know, the stuff that I do in English, I'm essentially selling it on my own, promoting it on my own -- you have to take the attitude of a lot of the successful indie labels out there, and that's that you can't be afraid to work one record for a few years.
As artists, you think, you know, you watch MTV and this or that, and you think, "man, I've gotta put out a record every year." If you've got a million bucks behind you, yes, then you should.
Or they'll drop you from your label.
Exactly. But with this, you've gotta -- it takes a little bit longer to get it out to people. So, I'm gonna keep working this record for a little while, until it basically pays for the next one, and that's how I'll do it. Sound business, y'know? As eager as I am to put something out -- I've got tons of songs, but uh... So this is a little, it's a different market, and I like putting together projects and putting out records. The artwork and everything, it's exciting, y'know?
Do you do a lot of the artwork?
I got a promo copy of the last album, so I wasn't sure who did the artwork on it. Didn't know if that was you or somebody else.
Yeah, that was a guy that I know, his name's Rene. And it was funny, I was kind of explaining to him what I want, just the daisy, and he said, "you mean something like this?" That's it! That's the cover; gimme that! Scanned it, and that was it.
Well, that's cool. The age of digital printing, right there.
What do you think this is all going to head to, I dunno, in the end? Are you hoping to one of these days get signed by a major label, or are you hoping to keep doing it on your own, or...? I mean, obviously, nobody wants to keep running it out of their apartment or whatever forever, but y'know.
There's part of me that obviously would want as many people as possible to hear what I do, and the only way to do that, I think, in a short amount of time, as opposed to five years or something, is a major label. But for the most part, they really do scare me.
They scare you?
Yeah. Y'know, at this point I know a lot of people that've been in deals, and uh, you know, they've gotten some shitty deals. Worse than getting dropped or not getting the support that you wanted is being in limbo -- not being able to release something. That's scary; that, to me, is scary. Getting dropped, well, hell, if you're gonna get a big advance, give it to me -- then drop me, I don't care.
And then you can go wherever else you want.
Exactly. That's true. So that's not a problem, but I've known some people that've been stuck in these situations, and they can't really do anything, and that sucks.
So you're pretty determined to at least keep control of it yourself, whatever happens?
Yeah, unless a great deal comes along, which, they just don't come along, these days.
It doesn't seem like it.
No. Now they're wanting to take artist's merchandise, just stuff that was unheard of even, y'know, five years ago. People are signing these crazy deals, now. So, you know, I'm not hellbent on doing it on my own, but at this point it's tangible, it's realistic in terms of making some money, actually turning over a profit, and being able to do this full-time. And at the rate it's going right now, it's growing a little bit more every month, and every month something sort of catches me off guard, and I think, "o-kay...that's awesome!" It's a big lucky break, and another little source of income here and there. Before you know it...
It adds up.
Yeah; you're running a little business. And if you're not scared of the work, everything's fine.
How's that going with the new job, there?
Believe it or not -- the thing is, since I am working with my family, there's no one cracking the whip.
They understand, at least.
Yeah. So I'm doing a lot of my stuff during the day, and I'm actually getting a lot more done being up at seven as opposed to noon.
Yeah, that can be tempting.
[laughs] Yeah, exactly. So, it's working out so far. I'm a little more exhausted than I used to be, and I definitely have to allocate my time.
Are you pretty much running the label, then?
I knew you were doing it with [Houston Rocket] Matt Moloney; is he still part of it?
Uh...he basically invested the money.
Okay, so he's the "money guy."
How did you meet him? It seemed like two different worlds, there -- pro basketball player and...
And who-knows-what, yeah. Yeah, that was strange. It was a guy that'd been coming to the shows, that was a friend of his, and so Matt -- he's always apparently been really into good music -- he gave him a copy of the first EP, and he liked it. We got together, and... We'd been talking about it for a while before we actually did it, so... I mean, it worked out nicely. He's actually...if there were more people like him -- it's almost a throwback to a previous century, y'know, the benefactors.
Kind of like a patron.
A patron of the arts, exactly. And he's one with really good taste, who's not demanding. He understands the business, the process, and so forth.
He's not going to tell you what to play or anything like that.
Oh, no. When he could -- he's a really good songwriter himself, and he's a great singer. He's so modest about putting anything out or anything, but I've got some great stuff of his.
It's funny; I wouldn't have guessed that.
It is. He was playing it for me the first time, and I just thought, "this isn't you; come on, man."
I read a couple of odd things on the Website. For one thing, I saw you were playing South by Southwest. Are you looking forward to that? Is it part of the "big" South by Southwest thing, or is it one of the "side" things?
Yeah, a side thing. But y'know, I've played it a couple of times previously, before, and the best thing about it is that you get a wristband to go see some really cool bands. Y'know? But as far as actually doing business these, I don't think it happens too often, unless you're already about to blow up.
You don't think it's gonna help you too much, there?
Um... I mean, I'm hoping it does, maybe with some booking agents and things like that. I've got good management in L.A. that will bring people out, and you know, you have to at least make a few contacts or something. 'Cause everyone converges for that one week.
It's kind of a crazy feeding frenzy.
Yeah, and the thing is, with Houston -- at least, Houston pop-rock or whatever, indie-rock -- they really do look over Houston, for some reason. So I don't know what the deal is with that. The times I got into it were from my L.A. connections; it almost felt, "yeah, but he's from Houston!" "Aww, shit." [laughs] "Go ahead, let 'em in."
Sometimes it feels like there's a major rivalry between the two cities.
Oh, there is -- there is. They see Houston as a kind of a hick thing when it comes to the business.
Which is a shame.
Yeah. I mean, there's some good songwriters here. But getting back to your question, am I looking forward to it? Yeah. It's when Austin is... It's really the only time it's cool for a whole week, y'know? People walking around, everyone's late 20s, early 30s, and everyone's chill and into decent music.
This is gonna sound really sad, but I've never actually been to the whole thing.
It's hit or miss. I've been there where it's just a bad idea to go -- we should've just played and gotten the hell out of there. But y'know, there're always at least three or four good shows that I'll go see, free of charge.
The other thing I was going to ask about was that I saw something in an interview with you about you guys doing New Edition covers? Or a New Edition cover? What song're you playing?
I don't know that one...my God, that was a long time ago. So, do you get up and do your Bobby Brown dance moves?
I don't; I've completely mellowed. I do like a Bedhead version of New Edition. Yeah.
Just kind of slow?
Yeah, that's the fun part, it's just taking a song and pulling it apart. Um...what's funny is that recently kids have been coming to shows -- I was playing at this place in West U. called Crossroads every week. It's a coffeeshop. So I was playing there every Friday, and I started getting a high school crowd.
Well, that's cool.
Yeah, which is really cool. And these kids that were really into good music -- I was very surprised.
Hey, I hear The O.C. has good music, so obviously, the kids know more than some of the adults out there.
Yeah! It's actually, it was kind of inspiring. I was talking about Nick Drake with these kids, and they knew him.
Oh, yeah. They were into really good stuff.
I hadn't heard of him 'til after college, so...
Yeah, I came into him kind of late.
I led a sheltered existence.
That's good. You discover things late, you appreciate 'em more. But anyway, these kids started coming, and you could do a New Edition cover with them and pass it off as your own song.
Careful -- Bobby Brown's gonna come after you.
Yeah; he's scary, too. Him and his wife.
Have you been listening to anything non-Houstonian lately that you've really liked? I'm always curious what folks have in the CD player and all that.
Uh...Autolux -- they're a band I've really been getting into. Josh Rouse, 1972. He's a singer-songwriter guy, he's out of Nashville, and he's put out a record that really kind of Marvin Gaye-influenced. It's interesting, his take on it, 'cause it's not quite Marvin Gaye.
Out of Nashville, that'd be kind of odd.
Yeah, he's very Caucasian, but nevertheless, a great songwriter. That's about it, man. I just, y'know, I go back a lot. I've always mentioned this one guy, he's been my biggest influence, an Argentinian guy named Piero.
What kind of music does he play?
He's like a South American Nick Drake guy. 1960s, '70s...
Kind of folky?
Yeah, it's kind of folk-pop. But he's amazing. I never get bored of listening to him -- and I've listened to him since I was a kid, my mom turned me on to him. It's funny how that never gets...
Never went away?
No, no. I always go back to that. But as far as new stuff...I have quite a few, but I'm more a fan of songs. Now, with the Internet, I'll pick through and get some stuff here and there.
Yeah, there's kind of a song-oriented culture, as opposed to an album-oriented culture, y'know, in the indie world these days, 'cause you can download a song or a whole album or whatever you want, so...
Right. Which, y'know, I will admit I'm probably missing out on a lot. A lot of good records -- 'cause I do like listening to records. I don't consider myself to be one of those people with really short attention spans that needs a huge beat and guitars in his face for me to sit down and listen to, listen to something, but yeah, I've been disappointed in the past with a lot of stuff.
You go out and spend a bunch of money and there's about four good songs on this thing...
You get your hopes up, and it turns out to be, "okay, why'd I spend my twelve bucks on this? This sucks."
One thing I'd forgotten I'd wanted to ask: are you at all a David Garza fan? Because for the first album, what I heard -- y'know, not necessarily that it influenced it -- but I heard a sound that I thought was kind of similar to his, so I was just curious.
I get that a lot. It's been mentioned in a lot of reviews. Uh...y'know, not huge -- and that's not because I wasn't...I just didn't get around to it. It was actually Tody that turned me on to David, and I've listened to...probably, like I said, not enough of it. And he writes some great songs, and then he writes some really awful ones. Here's what the guy does: he'll go to a...
Am I gonna have to edit this part out?
You may. I don't wanna talk trash about him. No, no...
I didn't even know if he was still recording these days. I've only got a couple of his albums.
Yeah, he got dropped from whatever major label he was on, and then he's still out there doing it independently. I mean, he's one of those guys that did all the groundwork with his independent label, to where he'll still 30,000 units of whatever he does and probably do much better than he would have on a major label. But I think...I understand he puts out a lot of stuff knowing that, that he's got that fanbase.
Knowing they'll buy whatever?
Yes. Quality control is...
That's kinda crappy.
Yeah. You said it, too. But when he does write those tunes, they're gems, man. It's amazing. It can be amazing. END