Tag Archives: dfw

Flashbulb Flashback: Matt Cliff / Hand of the Man // 10.31.13

When he was fifteen, Matt Cliff was looking for a job. Combining his love for drawing and music, he approached Denton’s Polka-fusion icons, Brave Combo about show posters and they took him under their collective wings. Nearly a decade later, he spoke warmly of their influence on his career, “You never know how people will react when you’re a kid, it was a truly great opportunity.”

I met Cliff one afternoon last summer and learned he’s a thoughtful young man. His work is more human code than product or artifice. And as he mentioned quickly, he is consistently driven to be the best possible version of himself. He speaks with clarity reflective of the precision in his lines.

“I’m still super green, but I’ve learned how ruthless folks can be. All I’m concerned with is figuring out how to be truly happy.” It was his album art for The Black Angels record Indigo Meadow, which pushed his profile as an artist to the next level.


You know how it is, walking around a record store, looking for a record. Then a cover with its own gravity, you are drawn to something you may have never heard of before, but you think, “If these guys were cool enough to put this on their cover, there must be some other cool stuff in there.” Those are the records that find you, and the exhilaration is driven by artists like Matt Cliff.

Set towards his craft as an adult he looked for artists that suited his style, “You want to work with bands you like, so I’ve always sought them out. When you start, you might work for free, but all that time eventually translates to bigger projects.”

Working in pen and ink by hand for significant blocks of time, Cliff has developed a style reminiscent of the Godfather of Rock and Roll Art, Wes Wilson, who drew a piece for the Angels’ last album, Phosphene Dream.

“Art is a physical thing for me. I do a lot of line work; I think when you work on anything you should be exhausted. You should feel like you’ve done something.”


“It wasn’t until I sat down with Christian (Bland) that I knew it was a big deal.” As the two discussed the scope of the project, an adoring fan interrupted their meeting. When the fan asked who Cliff was, the Psych Fest impresario introduced him as, “our new artist.” If you listen closely, you’ll hear a wow in the corner of your mind, remarkable to hear someone feel a literal payoff for their work ethic.

December of 2012 into the New Year, Cliff created a half-dozen drawings for the liner notes. Back in Fort Worth, he sought inspiration with the album on repeat. Just over a week into the process, he received a call from Bland telling him the band wanted him to do the cover as well. Another wow.

Inspired by covers from the mid-60s – Disraeli Gears, Rubber Soul etc. – he rendered photographs out of flowers, based on the record’s title Indigo Meadow. Consulting the band throughout the process, photographer Courtney Chavanelle shot the images Cliff drew into the existing artwork.

Losing his father as a young boy, Matt Cliff his family remains central in his life. If one looks close, hidden references to the other Cliffs may be seen. Beyond buried treasure, The Black Angels encouraged the artist to enrich the visual play with structural palindromes and other illusory tricks which mess with the perceptions

“I realize how incredibly lucky I am to be able to translate what is in my head to a piece of paper. Many people never find a way to express themselves.” His voice is crestfallen rather than condescending or self-righteous, Matt Cliff has certainly found working hard at what one loves is key to happiness. He continues on his path, committing his talents to many fine artists like Spoon, Wilco and Tame Impala.


Flashbulb Flashback: Foxtrot Uniform / Big Getting Bigger // 6.26.13

Down the street from the corner of drunk and hammered was where I first met Kenny Uptain and Kelly Test. Keys Lounge was packed for Foxtrot Uniform and Quaker City Night Hawks, a blur of contagious rock. A pair of yin-yang raconteurs with whom I quickly fell in with leading to substantive musical conversations as well as finely hewn guff giving.

From such inebriated origins, our acquaintance grew as I caught them all over town. Love Shack, Woodshed, Lola’s, and Kenny swapping songs with other songwriters. There was no telling where I might catch the duo, but then time passed and the next time I saw them the two had become four. With nudging from their friends Oil Boom, the foursome without keys, debuted at Lola’s in a thunderous return from hibernation. Those damn caterpillars sprouted wings in a gnarly display of rock prowess. Adding another guitar and bass, the songs had teeth and the grooves of old had new profound depth. The transformation would not be complete until they added the delightful Katie Robertson on keys. A set at Magnolia Motor Lounge saw the roots elements coalesce with tangled-hearted Southern soul as smooth as old bourbon. Two weeks later, running errands, Edge of the World came on KXT and I realized Kenny was a really soul singer at heart.

On a sun-draped Sunday afternoon, I sat with the band atop the beautimous rooftop of The Live Oak. With smiling eyes behind his shades, Kenny lit a cigarette and told us about the gig from which he’d just come as he gazed into the bright blue sky. The rest of Foxtrot Uniform – Robbie Saunders, Katie Robertson, Zack Busbee – sat to my side.

We learn Kenny is disappointed to know Ray-Ban is owned by an Italian company before he explains FU’s evolution from two to five after autumn’s Huj! Huj! Hujrah!, a gritty groove-monster dressed for heavy rotation. Sipping a beer, he turns to Robbie, and asks, “how’d we meet you, idiot?” Despite Kelly’s cynicism, Robbie was discovered in Kenny’s efforts to troll social media for a bass player. He would slide over to guitar after they tracked down rugged bass player Zach Busbee.

Fiinally, Ms. Robertson was found at Basement Bar, as she recalls, “They asked me to go on tour with them that night.”

In the past month, they’ve been doing pre-production tracking in Cisco — grown up recording comes later. Kelly interjects during the discussion of recording timeline, “Y’all are just making up terms. We recorded some stuff. It has been a few months. Good to mess around and see where we take it from there.”

At this point, Uptain slips into a gruff-throated character, “And then I murdered a women who wouldn’t quit yelling in 1971. I spent 12 years in prison in Tennessee. And that’s where these songs came from, my bunkmate was a man named Blue. He passed away and I took his songs.” Returning to mock diva form, he mock instructs me, “Write all that down, Lyle.”

Flashbulb Flashback: Forest Aten / Fearless Clarinetist // 5.11.14

On a bright afternoon last August, I met favorite social media follow and Clarinetist with The Dallas Opera Orchestra Forest Aten. He effortlessly took me into the world of the Pit. Educated amongst great talent at UNT and SMU, Forest joined the SMU’s faculty while still a graduate student. Shortly thereafter he found his place as a contract player, immersed in music for the past 35 years, performing for all but ten of those with The Dallas Opera.

“We all make compromises in order to perform at the highest level,” he tells me how he became involved assisting fellow musicians negotiate contracts. Back in 1981, realizing he needed something to occupy the off-season, Mr. Aten took his love for Scuba diving to the next level as a guide on international Scuba-based trips, “the two seasons worked together perfectly, allowing for great travel. Wherever we took a group, I arranged goodwill showcases with local accompanists, often at the Embassies.” He passed on his spirit of adventure to his daughters, taking them on those Scuba expeditions.

He continues with élan, “Musicians tend to be quite adept underwater, it must be related to the total awareness required for performing in an orchestra.” Indeed, both activities lend themselves to a state of consciousness known as “flow,” presenting us with cascades of optimal neuro-chemicals. In fact, diving and orchestral performance share essential elements necessary for the flow state; as Forest described, there must be what is known as “deep embodiment” once one has established a “rich environment,” which manifest what writer Steven Kotler describes as, “a combination platter of novelty, unpredictability and complexity.”

Forest speaks enthusiastically about those he has worked with or been inspired by, his tone shifts as though switching gears on his motorcycle. Theorists who study flow states further describe how the process can be amplified by guiding others toward their own flow states, so it makes sense that Forest Aten’s teaching life is not limited to Scuba.

With his wealth of experience, coaching is another way our fearless Clarinetist maintains this optimal psychology, at places like Durango’s Music In the Mountains or the Arundel Festival  in England. For over a decade he has participated in Kammermusik based in Santa Fe. Formed in 1996 by nurses who performed in Kansas City, they offer professional teaching for adult amateur musicians. Allowing folks access to the significant benefits playing music offers, preeminent players from across the nation tutor privately and develop small groups for one-of-a-kind performances. Originally focused on woodwinds, they eventually expanded to include strings, “It is extremely rewarding work, the camaraderie tends to bring folks back year after year,” the yearly colloquium recently moved to Santa Fe University.

The Coaches’ show is an opportunity to perform in uniquely brilliant groups, he recalls the rarified air he has shared in the desert. Fascinating students seek this environment – spanning between ages 18-80 – doctors, lawyers, educators, pilots and physicists come for a week of making beautiful music. “The whole process is refreshing, working in an environment with such enthusiastic people. We try to keep the instruments in their mouths, keep them playing the whole eight days. We know they are committed, no matter their skill level.”

In 35 years, Forest Aten has seen the world of symphonic music through booms and busts, declines and resurgences. Companies are uniting these days to develop new works, and he explains that this reduces local risks and balances out the conventional tendency towards performing the hits. With production budgets towering above Symphonies, the Opera’s orchestra acts as the engine of a massive machine, manifesting pure sound to the audience, “We are unknown, we live in a pit.”

Flashbulb Flashback: Count on The Cush // 11.12.12

{Updates: http://www.thecush.com/}

Recently I chatted with husband and wife duo from The Cush. Burette and Gabrielle Douglas fluidly alternated while recounting their history. Beneath the individuals as well as the music there is inherent patience, no point is forced or over-articulated. On record, songs organically unfold as though ordered by crystalline imperatives. Throughout their run, The Cush have been able to sustain this patient, thoughtful approach, as Gabrielle explains the mode of releasing three records in the eleven years, “We thought it was important to go out, experience life and come back and create.” And they did, leaving Texas for Vermont a few years back, Burette adds, “we were wanting something fresh,” and the transition proved vital to their progression.

After spending most of the 90s with area band Buck Jones, it was reasonable for them to seek a new creative environment.” Moving up to the more tightly packed North East, the group established dual citizenship. They have worked with great musicians in both areas, allowing them to carve out a place for themselves amongst the music scenes in places like Brooklyn, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The time they put in is evident in performance as well as on record, and the songs connect with folks, imbued by genuine craft, Burette says, “Not much phases us, its all about making good records. With each new project, we take a sonic step forward.”

Those records have garnered them attention throughout the States and abroad as well, allowing them to tour Europe, performing in places like Berlin and Stockholm, “They take care of artists over there,” Gabrielle adds, looking forward to their next visit. In addition to tours, there have been festivals, a couple of years ago they were part of The Black Angels’ killer Psych Fest that also included Pink Mountaintops, Warpaint, Silver Apples and The Raveonettes.

The Cush makes smartly mixed albums, marvelously presenting an elegantly strange beauty that unveils itself without fail. Starting with 2001’s self-titled record, they have continued to create noise pop with a solid psychedelic undercurrent. Littered with unexpected sounds, perfect sonic moments recall slowcore favorites Bedhead, American Analog Set or Knife in the Water. Tunes that drift along on the clouds of a changed time, the listener falls into the spaces between notes – a hint of lo-fi, soft touch, drone, the kind that slows your breathing. The steadiness of a track like “Precious Time,” entrances as the melody capers out into infinity. Or “I shout love into the atom,” which comes on with a machine’s intensity, fluttering out on wings of vibrating tones.

Returning home, this last year has been a tough one, seeing Burette through recovery from a broken hip. For a while, he was chair-bound for playing and stuck on the crutches to get around. He tells me that the screws will come out soon. They are laying down scratch tracks for the next record and look forward to hearing more of the great music coming out of Fort Worth, as Gabrielle points out, “Almost every show we play with local bands has blown my mind. Its very genuine around here, people are doing what they love to do.”

Flashbulb Flashback: Rachel Gollay / Ironic Chanteuse // 7.10.14

{Updates: http://www.gollay.net/}

Though born in Chicago, singer/songwriter Rachel Gollay’s formative years were spent in the town of Rockwall, which she says, “has since become a mall.” TCU drew her to Fort Worth, where college allowed her musical skills to develop and introduced her to many future collaborators. Music lovers are lucky stint in Bloomington proved academia was not for her. After completing her course of study, she brought her exceptional talent back to Cowtown.

Upon her return, Facebook served as a profound tool for reconnecting with music folks like Russell Jack and Stephen Beatty. Un Chien, Beatty’s newest band, invited her and her guitar to jam and things went from there. When we spoke, the band had just won Fort Worth Weekly’s Indie-Rock Album of the Year and Gollay picked up the Panthy for her vocals on Against Love from the self-titled album from Denton’s Hand Drawn Records.

Following those successes, I wanted to discuss her upcoming solo debut Built For Love, after her outstanding opening set before Jacob Furr at Live Oak. With her silver left-handed Gretsch, she started solo before welcoming out bandmates Joshua Ryan Jones and Russell Jack. The baroque pop had an immediately striking ease which recalls all-time great Aimee Mann.

The record is as stylish and sonically adventurous as the performance indicated, full of tunes Gollay has worked on for years while retaining the sweep of creativity within the recording. Her employer was so impressed by her drive that they initiated a company-wide arts grant in support of the record, “I hear people talk about their day jobs, I have a job I love and I have music. At the end of the day, I’m a very lucky broad.”

Releasing next month, Built For Love shows signs of monster talent, and the sparkling depth of character rewards repeat listening. “At a certain point, I realized that in order to truly flesh out these songs I needed to work with other people. You can be independent – alone or with other people. It becomes a whole different animal when you start adding people. It pushes me even more.” When former neighbor Russell Jack, who’d been producing records in New York, let her know he was returning to Fort Worth, yet another piece clicked into place, “I’d always appreciated his sensibilities and his approach to producing. So we recorded some rough tracks, and then he brought in his friend, drummer Josh Jones.” Diving into the collaborative process, they sought out producer Taylor Tatsch, who was still tweaking the levels when we spoke.

Flashbulb Flashback: Crossing Lines with The Longshots// 7.18.13

Whether midnight had come or gone, I was somewhere between a daydream and the slippery head of a June-cooked insomniac. My spine slowly began to descend into the ground but I was unwilling to give in. Being stubborn often pays off – at least that’s what we tell ourselves – but on this particular night, I was rewarded. My trusty headphones strapped on, I saw: Joey Gorman burning across my handheld blackbox.

Joey is Enfant terrible of Fort Worth’s Junk Rock dynamos, The Longshots, we often communicate on the fringe of conventional schedules. Our exchanges are often just what the doctor ordered, and by “doctor,” I mean the voices in my head. My fellow nighthawk sounded bleached out, as though power smoking through bus stops, “Doesn’t matter how dependable a man is when you get involved with Greyhound.”

A familiar feeling, I stretched out and laid flat like a quarter on the train track, “How’s everyone holding up?”

While I know that Joey is a Texan, he has his own place and time, “I’m goin’ recon, hitting LA first. The boys are flying out in a day or two.”

“How’s the bus ride treating you?”

“Ah, man, not bad, except for the Meth-heads. Everybody’s cool but them.”

I contend, “Meth’s not a good bus drug.”

“You got that right, especially in this heat,” nods our westward soldier from the front lines.

Later, after his arrival, I ask how many folks he’d sat next to, quickly he replies, “Five, everything on the Greyhound was insane.”

Nick Cornetti, Chief of Austin’s Pau Wau, the label responsible for the release of The Longshots’ 7” last year, “First heard them at a show in Ft. Worth, it kinda reminded me of Richard Hell. I love Richard Hell!” Cornetti started Pau Wau driven by boredom in order to “bring more attention to bands that were being overlooked.  After a few months I realized I’m basically running a record label.  That’s when I got serious and started looking for investors and distribution. With artists, I mainly look for bands with an original sound that know how to put on a good live show. Touring is important too, I most likely won’t work with a band if they don’t plan to tour at least four months out of the year.”

The Pau Wau 7” features “At a Time Like This” and “The Chase,” from the quartet of Gorman/Paleschic/Zobel/Luther, recorded by recently-Grammy-fied multi-talented Son of Stan alter ego, Jordan Richardson. The sessions evolved into an explosive debut, three tracks each from the founding trio of songwriters.

Last week I asked Joey how far back his rock roots extended, “My first show was Skynyrd with ZZ Top, it was before I’d heard much Skynyrd. But I just wanted to see the guys who did Sharp Dressed Man.” With a healthy supply of new material, The Longshots are armed with merchandise and an even thicker attitude – visualized by the Big Tex on Fire cover art by Linda Degrow Kingsley. As the big guy waves, you can imagine big things on the horizon for The Longshots.

Flashbulb Flashback: The Fingerstyles of Darrin Kobetich // 9.11.12

{Updates: http://www.darrinkobetich.com/

The first time I heard Darrin Kobetich it was one of those blessed surprises. He was certainly not playing when I sat down for brunch, but within in a few minutes, as though creeping up on me, Kobetich’s fingerstyle had wrested my attention away from the delicious food. An almost hypnotic display of technical proficiency not just of instrumental acumen, but further of techniques from all over the world. The tunes bear a sense of transit, of a journey across a distance. You might notice Middle Eastern, even African or Asian tones pooling with sounds from the Delta, the Mountains and the spaces in between.

We met up for a beer at The Boiled Owl and the first thing I noticed was the enormity of his hands. Swept back to his performance, those very same hands covered his guitar with nimble quickness. Originally from Long Island, Kobetich’s family moved to Weatherford when he was a teen. By then he had already picked up the guitar, as well as an appetite for good records, “My dad had Chuck Berry and The Ventures on the turntable, he was the one who showed me my first chords. We never had a generation gap growing up, not musically.” Darrin beams happily recounting his own daughter’s discovery of Led Zeppelin and Thin Lizzy.

Continuing on this rock and roll trajectory, he joined thrash-metal group Hammer Witch in the late 80s. The album Legacy of Pain was re-issued a couple years back, “Its been doing great in Germany and Japan.” While he says there’s no danger of a reunion, Hammer Witch is alive and well for international thrash collectors. From there, our musical wanderer was a part of a band called A Million Pounds. A band inspired by Mr. Bungle, that he says, “just wore itself out.” There has also been his Bluegrass work, first with Electric Mountain Rotten Apple Gang and more recently with Blackland River Devils.

Earlier this year, Darrin Kobetich released his fourth record, The Longest Winter, an intricately winding collection of tunes. A tribute to his wandering ear and very agile hands, his records blend myriad musical ideas into one cohesive whole. Deepened by the sounds of water, bugs chirping and wind chimes, the album has a natural flow, “about a third of it was improvised, and there was a lot of studio fun as well.” Using an array of instruments, he creates a exciting landscape like the score for the listener’s imagination. The blues, bluegrass and even a flash of his old metal days, blend together with other genres and with Fahey Street, he pays his respects to the great master John Fahey.