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Flashbulb Flashback // Saved By The Crack Pipes / 1.16.13

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Good shoes are invaluable, more so than most any accouterment. One must not be satisfied with comfort, finding the right feel is the real moral of the story. The sound of the heel against the pavement, the best shoes allow you to feel the earth beneath the floor. Footwear does not dignify itself until it has proven itself to be vital across a path of unwavering distance. Perhaps the creases along the forefoot recall a drunken night walking home in the rain. That vitality aids us past obstacles while ennobling us towards future endeavors.

I returned to Austin, after an on-again-off-again relationship with my hometown, to a music scene that had exploded along with the presence of those yellow bracelets. Leaving Los Angeles for The Violet Crown proved less distance than anticipated with celebrities becoming the norm amidst the crane-stacked urban wiles. Late that summer I stood in a field between Sheryl Crow and Los Lonely Boys as both flogged away at SRV tributes and felt grossed out by the business of the whole thing. This was when the word “weird” would start to lose its meaning as the streets were overrun by the phrase Keep Austin Weird.

Working in a record store requires blinders as much as it does focus and there can be times when releases blur together, or at least, that’s how it worked for me. But what stands out most from that weird era was the music of The Crack Pipes. When friends from elsewhere would ask after the scene, The Crack Pipes were permanently inserted into my responses. Once Emperor Jones released Beauty School, few mixes left my hands without a tune from the gentlemen I was calling Revival Rock. While the nomenclature left something to be desired, what I was reaching for was this sense, both on record and especially live and in person, that I was being revived from a listless sleep.

When I was a kid I had to learn how to use smelling salts because my mother had fainting spells, I would turn the little metal cap while she was busy and take the burn until I couldn’t take it any longer. That’s the feeling that best describes the band, who melt down rock and roll, and recast it with a fine balance between soul’s articulate heart and the delightfully rowdy noise of punk. With the voice of Ray Pride burning at its heart, the quintet runs on a high-octane soul. At a time when I was getting burned out, The Crack Pipes, stacked with talent, reinvigorated the heart of rock and roll. When asked about their 17-year evolution, Ray made it simple, “basically, our sound is a result of us pouring everything we love into a blender and hoping we get people’s ears drunk.”

Bridging the Chicago blues upbringing of guitarist BillySteve (check also Churchwood) with the love of noise drummer Mike Corwin and Ray derived from bands like The Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth. Bass player Nick Moulos (check out Party Lines) grew up ripping skate punk in Austin, even playing with Tim Kerr from The Big Boys. In addition to the Pipes various backgrounds, Ray cites additional reasons for their longevity, “We all got along real well from the very beginning and no one is the crazy perfectionist super boss.”

But beyond influences, my sense of “revival” stems further from the religious connotation of raising the spirit. Whether catching them at my favorite Austin record shop, Trailer Space or down at Mohawk, the fervor with which The Crack Pipes hit the stage whips every room into a crazed throbbing mass. Like a bomb ticking its way to an explosion, every show in my memory is colored by that high-energy revelry. After one such show at Emo’s, fueled by the feedback and glory of the closing collapse, I declined rides and walked a rainy mile to my car. The smile never left my face and the night’s music play in my head over the downpour as I recalled OBN III’s Orville Neeley bounding into the crowd during their set only to joyously flip my ballcap into the crowd behind me.

The shoes I wore that night have been with me for almost seven years now, only had them resoled once. They continue to fit, no matter what the situation. If you were to walk around in them, they wouldn’t fit you like they fit me. Shoe metaphors aside, I have convinced The Crack Pipes to come tear the roof off of The Grotto, sharing the stage Friday (1/18) are Oddlot and Fungi Girls, two bands who come to shred and make gut-check rock music.

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Flashbulb Flashback: Taylor Craig Mills / Totally Classic, Man // 10.30.13

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When I arrived in Fort Worth, I read the skies like my ancestors and found The Moon. Behind the bar, there was a gentleman who carried himself with ease. After the bourbon was poured, we exchanged pleasantries. Such were my early months knowing Taylor Craig Mills. We’d see one another at shows. That handshake, the nod of the head or tip of his Open Road Stetson, the little things showed presence; from gestures like a kind word, or a short-and-sweet anecdote, everything was in its right place. And when I heard him sing at 2012 Weekly MAF, his Mills & Co. performing a divine set in the cool darkened oasis of The Durty Crow, it stopped me in my tracks. Mills’ voice set against lush arrangements gave one the sensation of time slowing.

Mills is a storyteller in the Texas tradition, able to conjure the wilds of our state’s longing as well as the isolation of that Lone Star. 2012’s Don’t Ever Look Back Twice is a bounty of sculpted layers, rife with characters caught up in the perpetual grind. Star-crossed lovers and tragic subplots line the hallways of these tunes, swelling with enigmatic pathos echoing long after the music stops.

Opening with a haunting whistle, the album is as evocative as a collection of short stories and has been in heavy rotation since making its way to my ears last year. When we met up at The Aardvark late in the summer, it was Mills who asked the first question, “So what are we doing here?” Soon we were talking about his first band, with his brother, called Voight. During those early musical experiences, he realized, “Songs have the best reach to the human heart.” It was this thesis that eventually launched Mills&Co. in 2010. Then came Our Souls To Keep, the album’s closing tune with the meditative refrain, “Don’t let it go to your head,” and he’d found his sound.

Folks who had known him for years were astounded to hear what he’d been working on, and the scene responded positively. Tom Urquhart and Tony Diaz from KTCU’s Good Show allowed him to record a demo in their studio, getting twenty-two songs down in the first session. Soon he would join Blackbox’s roster of artists and find even more fans.

Mills & Co’s sound centered on the front man’s true tenor, a vocal ability often wasted in traditional rock forays. Developing material for the project, he sheepishly approached friend Jeremy Hull, bass player for cowpunk masters Holy Moly, followed by drummer Joe Carpenter. “I thought the warmth of Jeremy’s bow worked well with my voice.” Filling out the lineup, Mills turned to Kris Knight formerly of Handclaps and Harmonies[i], giving him a keyboard player with a strong head for harmony. “I wanted a more natural feel. No matter how strong your voice is when you’re battling lead guitar and amps you get drowned out and people miss the point of everything.” Whether seen as a two, three or four-piece the songs always resonate.

In addition to his own music, Mills and Knight joined Un Chien, allowing our mustachioed hero to return to his bass player roots, “Its fun to play my part and not have to worry about everything else.” The band destroyed their Joy Division set at Rock Assembly 2013, Mills nailing Peter Hook’s melodic bass lines. Recently signed to Hand Drawn Records, their full-length debut releases December 6th.

Taylor Craig Mills continues to write new tunes for the next Mills & Co. record, telling me four songs have already made their way onto set lists. He will continue to find new ways of connecting with people, “I’ve done the rock and roll show and that’s a blast. But the reason I became a musician was to have an effect on somebody. Sometimes it’s a song that makes your night, week or even your month better.”

Flashbulb Flashback: Livin’ the Dreamy Life / 6.19.14

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[Updates: http://www.dreamyliferecords.com/, http://loliferecordings.com/, http://www.jakepaleschic.com/%5D

Fort Worth’s Southside bubbles with house shows, shout-outs and the best sort of neighborly coincidences at places such as Chadra, where I often bump into Jen and Robby Rux, the husband and wife analog missionaries spearheading a fuzzed-out DIY uprising. Sometimes, if I listen closely, I can hear reverb decaying off into infinity from their Fairmount Headquarters. Whether recording in their studio, performing in various outfits, or booking shows for local and road acts, these two are always working. So I knew we’d have plenty to cover when we sat down to eat at the delightful Lebanese spot.

Summer sees two long-term Dreamerz’ projects come to fruition. Alongside the folks over at Lo-Life Recordings, they will open Dreamy Life Records. The store, coming to life July 12th, will be across Park Place from Chadra, sharing a space with resale clothing shop Itsee. Robby Rux explained with typical ferocious optimism, “We thought it was time to give our growing music community a place in the neighborhood to get involved, catch the occasional show and, of course, check out some cream of the crop records.” The Bricklayer explained beside his wife – who he calls Red – with the high-energy of a drummer racing to cover everything, “We’ll be doing the Pop Up shop even after we open,” debuting in their future parking lot during Near Southside’s Open Streets.

http://dreamysoundz.bandcamp.com/album/group-therapy-vol-1

In addition to the store’s opening, the sequel to last year’s Group Therapy compilation will celebrate its release in July at The Where House. Core favorites return, they were sure to include the new flavor in fine balance as well. As they spoke, recalling the sessions at the world-renown DIY space that’s equal parts Art and Rock, Robby’s talking hands thrust in my direction excitedly, “Doom Ghost’s song is a pure punk, you know what I mean, unadulterated by all the crap from the 80s and 90s.”

Jen nods adding, “What Son of Stan did musically was like nothing else he’s done. He recorded one track at a time, drums then guitar and so on. Honestly, I wasn’t sure it was going to work, Rob thought Jordan (Richardson) might’ve lost it.” The two, who have seen their share of music magic, were gobsmacked by Richardson’s combination of efficiency, proficiency, vision and soul; a potent combination that continue to make him a man to watch.

http://dreamysoundz.bandcamp.com/album/group-therapy-vol-2

Jake Paleschic’s Psych-Country balladeers Patriot bring a new tune. Accounting for the Dallas Dreamy, the Group adds two outstanding rockers: gnarly rippers Street Arabs and classic surf punkers Ape Hangars. “I love this tune from Road Soda, he’s got this Cramps vibe,” licking his chops, he imagines future recordings from the one-man band. The highly-anticipated Bummer Vacation, I’ve been excited about these cats since first hearing their plans at Rock Assembly, and who can blame me, with members of Dallas’ Sealion and two of the Southside’s finest bands, War Party and Skeleton Coast, they’re bound for heavy listening. Transcendent duo The Cush include a track as well; shaking his head, Rux adds, “Dude, that record is so good. I can’t wait ‘til you hear that one, man.” Dinner flashed by, and as I listened through the recorded conversation, I was laughing all over again at the rapport of a friendship built around the age-old love or records.

 

War Party // If “Tomorrow’s a Drag”, what was yesterday // 10.31.13

{Updates: https://thewarparty.bandcamp.com/}

Cameron Smith is a grand raconteur, he speaks with purpose and a reverence for language and ideas. Interactions follow the tangents of constant reference. My interest in his band, War Party, dates back to the final West Berry Block Party. Eventually, we would talk for hours over High Life at Magnolia Motor Lounge, covering topics from skate vids’ to strange Hardcore cultural offshoots.

A couple of months later, asked to book a showcase at Lola’s, my first call was to Smith, his Lo-Life Recordings cohorts Doom Ghost and Bitch Bricks filled out the bill. In conjunction with the inaugural show, they invited me to participate in a promo video, as the interrogator in a parody of Tom Snyder’s classic PiL interview. The folks at The Fort Worth Weekly were kind enough to allow us to use their foyer as our improvised set.

Tyler Moore (bass) wrote the script, Peter Marsh (drummer) directed the shoot, and Cameron Smith, Verne Marigold and Bitch Brick Alena Springer spoke in brilliantly broken British accents throughout the afternoon. The following December, back at MML, we had War Party onstage as a part of a Benefit for Norton Records, hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.

At Bearded Lady last summer, I was curious about War Party’s full-length, Tomorrow’s a Drag. Smith sat down with me over beers and beneath an umbrella, obscuring as best it might the magnesium sun at our necks.

The record was produced under continued collaboration with Eagle Audio and Britt Robisheaux, which as Smith explains was a simple choice, “We did the split with Doom Ghost there and Britt really gets what we are doing.” Tomorrow’s A Drag is a an uncompromisingly solid album, each song manifesting its own style within the context of War Party’s sound, “We purposely started this band without a genre, without something we would get stuck in, so we could just write we feel.”

Garage rock fuzz spills and congeals around Smith’s feverish vocal abandon. Not only do they rock, but they swing as they pull from prototypical youth sounds of Punk and Doo Wop. He recites the satirical one-off genres, “Turf Rock, Slack Metal, and of course, we’ve done the Don’t Wop thing on ‘Problem Solver’.” The songs resonate with the gurgling dissatisfaction of our times, saturated gloriously with a rebellious joy – covered in barbed hooks which may never be removed.

Adding depth to the songwriting corps, Williford and Moore contribute lyrics on a pair of gritty rippers, “Death of a Radiator” and “Hamsterdam” respectively. “Radiator” depicts life from the road, perhaps a modern day quintet of Beats in lines like, “I got a song in my head, it keeps me up all night” from (I Get High With A Little Help From My) Fringe.

Photo by Steve Watkins

Photo by Steve Watkins

Expanding the party, they’ve added Spacewolf aka Christopher Walden on trombone, “Instead of Ricky grabbing the trumpet occasionally, we’ve got a sense of permanency with the horns. Whether harmonizing together or just that low end underneath everything.” In addition, Walden has brought out the organ parts Williford’s plays on the album, further filling out the band’s sound.