The Texas is Funny Records Fall Showcase kicks off tonight at The Ten Eleven (1011 Ave. B) at 9 pm for $5 at the door (all ages). Night two is at Hi-Tones (621 E. Dewey) at 9 pm for $5 (21+ only). Before you head out to the show tonight, check out this interview I had with label owner Scott Andreu on expanding the showcase, signing bands both here and out of state, and also the ongoing mission of the Bands I Know collective.
Adam Villela Coronado: So are you switching from annual to seasonal as far as Texas is Funny Showcases are concerned?
Scott Andreu: Possibly it will turn seasonal. We have a lot of stuff going on in early 2014 release wise and we wanted to have a showcase featuring bands that will be a part of those releases: Deer Vibes, Glish, Vetter Kids, and Young /// Savage. Plus we have big plans for what will be our normal yearly showcase. It will expand to being about much more than just us.
So this Fall Showcase seems to be marrying with or at least overlapping with the annual "Black Friday Blowout" show at 1011. Was it supposed to be this way?
Not originally. We had the showcase planned for 11/30 at Hi-tones and I had actually completely forgotten about the annual Black Friday Blowout. When I told James from Grasshopper Lies Heavy about 11/30, we decided to combine the two nights and promote them together. After we decided to combine the events, we separated the bands by the level of heaviness because some on Friday night play too loudly for Hi-Tones.
The showcase from January 2012 (at the White Rabbit) struck me for its wide swath of musical styles. The event repped indie country, art metal, space folk and all were either on the same label or part of the TIFR family. This weekend the lineup will be no different, featuring nu-gaze, post grunge pop and post punk. What is it that strings the TIF roster together?
All these styles of music are basically off-shoots of the punk/hardcore genre. When TIFR first started, I pretty much just worked with my friends and the genres were even more “all over the board.” We did a split for Grasshopper and God Townes and that's when I met Marcos Gossi. Since his joining, we have molded the label into something a little more focused, something along the lines of labels like Matador or Sub Pop.
TIFR has also begun featuring some out of state acts like Glish. Talk to me about deciding to support bands from outside of Texas.
Our first band from out of state was Heat Dust from New Orleans. We have also released albums from out of state bands American Thunder Band [KS] and Sixteen [KY]. Glish, from New Orleans, and Cherry Cola Champions, of Ohio, will be added to that list early next year. I know the label has the word “Texas” in it but I never had the idea that I would only put out Texas bands.
Now that isn't to say we don't care about San Antonio or Texas in general. We host as many bands as we can that are coming through town by either booking shows for them ourselves or supporting booking companies like Bexar Naked Booking. We want some of these national touring bands to leave Texas saying, "San Antonio was our best Texas date."
In July, the Bands I Know media collective (that you are a member of) scored a weekly spot on KRTU 91.7 [airing Sundays and Mondays at midnight]. How has that been going?
It has been going great. We pitched the show idea to the KRTU operations manager over a lunch at EZ’s in the Quarry last spring and he was intrigued. He asked us to do a demo show and he loved it. We won second place in best local radio program in the San Antonio Current, which was cool because we didn't know it was a category people could vote for.
BIK seems like it's been a little de-centralized since its 2011 inception. A few Youtubes here, a few blog posts there. Is the concept coagulating on KRTU?
I had the idea for BIK while floating on my back in a pool in New Orleans in the summer of 2011. I was still doing TIFR by myself and wasn't sure what direction I wanted to go with it. I did know I wanted to work with more bands than I wanted to sign to contracts.
At first, BIK was going to be a subscription-based 7" record club but morphed into a video project. It was a way to work with bands that had nothing to do with the label and was a fun project that I did with my brother Stephen. It did have the side effect of people finding out about the label because I was at their show filming them.
The radio show, however, is about giving voice to styles of music that are being heavily covered by Spin, Brooklyn Vegan, Vice and being booked in San Antonio by smaller booking companies. It's a way for smaller labels in the region (Crowquil, Trends Die, Crime Fighter, Community, Better Days Will Haunt You) and national independent labels to get some coverage in San Antonio. We want the radio program to be an anchor piece to an overall puzzle being put together by a very dedicated group of people.
What do you hope people take away from this weekend's shows regarding TIFR?
I want them to see these new bands we are supporting and get pumped up about them. We are staying true to ourselves, doing our thing and putting out music that we love.
"He was a small town hustler and would-be shaman with big dreams, a heart of gold and a silver tongue more suited to live at the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th Century than in today’s world. He was a perpetual outsider and definitely the truest rebel I’ve ever been close to. Jukebox - I hope you find all the things that escaped you in this life on the other side. I hope you will forgive me for not letting you know that I understood and respected you for who you were while you were still on this earth. I will always carry some of you with me brother."
-Jeff Smith, Owner of Saustex Records, on the death of John Thomas Jackson aka "Jukebox" (pictured above). Jukebox was a founding member and guitarist of Texas cow punkers Hickoids.
Read the full eulogy.
Download classic Hickoids' cuts with Jukebox on guitar.
Not an hour before I begin this review, Seattle transplant and Bad Breaks creative force Chuck Kerr tells me on the phone that he’s sorry he’s bad at giving good answers in interviews. I reply that you don’t have to say a lot to mean a lot. Case in point: the former San Antonio Current Art Director’s new Carry On EP begs the question, “What now?” without uttering the words. Being an SA scene vet in multiple bands, it’s no surprise Kerr was short on time and long on savvy when he logged these sessions over two days last December. In that time, he captured the sound of a scrappy talent in a victory lap that hopefully isn’t his last.
But if this were the end, what a way to go out. Carry On is 13 minutes of raucous, platinum-polished indie pop that flexes Kerr’s expanding musical charms. On “Feel It In My Bones,” Kerr waxes cynical about conspiracy theorists over spooky-cheeky grooves provided by bassist Ryan Teter (Mission Complete!), guitarist Jackson Floyd (Ronald Ray Gun) and pianist Alex Wash (Black Magic & the Full Expose). “Feel” is pure Kerr, all stomping snares, pounded keys and “Oooh-ooh-ooh!” choruses. When Kerr injects a joke about fucking corpses and Floyd shreds after verse two, the song becomes sing-songy mania.
In line with that crack on scenes and necrophilia, Kerr’s strongest musical weapon seems to now be his wry, often caustic point of view. He spent last year’s Bad Breaks painting and re-painting himself in relationship meltdown, often making us laugh at his delivery as we cried over his (our?) realities. Where the macabre melodrama of “Feel” pokes fun at conspiracy theorist paranoia, Kerr also snipes suburbanites “who will never shut up/’bout how proudly they are digging a rut” on the EP’s title cut. He implores a certain someone to “carry on” before “they carry you out,” with pianos and hand claps bouncing in mockery. The biting words and campy sounds cast Kerr as snide but sweet, like April Ludgate attending a prom she secretly loves.
Meanwhile, “Tell The World” finds Kerr returning to the well of love gone wrong, but in a way we didn't see last LP. The music is stripped to just Kerr’s voice over a piano (his fingers, not Wash’s) and a tambourine (god knows how) and it becomes clear why all his facetiousness has been funneled into wry character critiques. When Kerr tells a failed love that it’s them not him and that it’s breaking his heart, he sounds like any funny man caught in a moment of arresting honesty. No punchlines. No smiles. Just inopportune, unrelenting feels.
The moment is sobering enough on its own merits, but is underscored by Bad Breaks’ uncertain future. Kerr plans to continue writing but admits to being paralyzingly picky about collaborators. The hope is that Carry On sees him doing just that in Seattle.
Hear/buy this album.
Poverty, survival, and chasing dreams are hardly new themes in rap. But the genre has shown us that, in the mouths of a raw talent, the ideas can reinvent themselves with striking conviction. Enter LaJIT, born John Isaac Torres (23), a fledgling San Antonio cloud rapper who’s struggled with a broken family, suicidal thoughts and minimum wage jobs. His 2012 Black Sun EP attempted to chronicle the pathos of such topics with mixed results. A year later he returns with Blue Sun, an EP tackling the same issues but with muscle, consistency and, most importantly, confidence.
All three elements are thrown into sharp relief on “Cards in Hand,” where LaJIT says no victories come without costs. He casts a portrait of his troubled nephew against his own recent successes as an artist. Then he links both tales by admitting that he hasn’t had much time “to be a dad.” By cloaking this inconvenient truth in staccato verses, ethereal synths and machine-gun snare fills, LaJIT makes “Cards in Hand” a tragic hero anthem. Credit his co-opting of beats by Lil B producer Keyboard Kid and the mixing/mastering of Creekside Sounds labelhead Ldotsdot. Both musicians give Blue Sun a spherical, subdued sound that underscores the EP’s late night character.
LaJIT has also become more aware of who he’s drawing on and what his limitations are, working within them always with the intent to expand his abilities. On “That’s Life,” he updates the stoop-side musings of Nas’ “Life’s a Bitch” with the longing in Bone Thugz N Harmony’s “Tha Crossroads.” His voice is on the softer side of grown, but his hyperawareness and speed make his meditations lean. When he exclaims, “Am I really doing something wrong?!” to his skeptical-of-art father, he’s channeling a generation low on prospects and high on discontent that doubles down against all doubters.
LaJIT’s hasty maturity gives the impression that he is onto something big, even on clumsier, too self-focused offerings like “Look Into My Eyes.” He has the lyrical chops and a gift for choosing collaborators. If he can expand his lyrical focus beyond himself, he may become San Antonio’s street storyteller in the style of Nas.
Listen to Blue Sun single "Fear in Me."
"The dialogue from Spike Lee's Mo Better Blues rings true for all music art forms. All too often black people approach us after shows to apologise for the over abundance of...white people. As if it's a genuine surprise that black people would pass up the chance to spend $30-60 for a pair of concert tickets.
But with all music (created) by African people there's a dangerous pattern. We create it, nurture it, elevate it, and abandon it. For those of you who are not familiar with the movie, they [Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes] are speaking on the love/hate relationship relationship between Jazz artists and their jilted black audience (or lack thereof). But it's not only limited to Jazz: Blacks are a minority at Blues shows. Blacks are a minority at Rock shows (AND YES...WE CREATED ROCK N' ROLL). You see about 0 blacks at Raves (AS WELL AS HOUSE, JUNGLE/DRUM-N-BASS AND "ELECTRIC" MUSIC) and now my friends...surprise, surprise in 1986 in Long Beach, CA at a Run DMC show you might see about 20,000 Blacks...and 20,000,000 cops. But now?...it's more like 6 Blacks in attendance and Gary Coleman as security.
So those 'glory days' are over....On the other hand, the voice of Wesley Snipes represents the voice of non-traditionalists. I've been in many a debate with people who side with Wes. People who feel as though, if we get off the high horse and give 'em what they want, there would be no need for alarm...But what would happen if we gave 'em what they need? Hmmmm...."
-?uestlove, Things Fall Apart liner notes on the cut "Act Won (Things Fall Apart)."
More by Ultradialectics.
LaJIT is John Isaac Torres, a 21-year-old SA resident who spent his high school years on fixed income living with with an alcoholic uncle after his parents divorced. In 2011, he refused Zoloft prescriptions after contemplating suicide. Expectedly, his debut EP Black Sun attempts to chronicle the pathos of family dysfunction and, in some ways, it is a wild success. Producer Nicodxmvs (pronounced "Nicodemus") paints a soundscape that is as macabre as it is anxious. Beats percolate with a palpable insanity alongside the skeletal synths and piano samples. Credit LaJIT for cherry-picking the songs from Nicodxmvs' vault and also rapping with a heart attack's seriousness. The problem is that his reflections lack impact. He thinks money is overrated and that the idea of thinking money is overrated is overrated. His pontificating leads him to lyrics like "I'm the type to question Life and if God's fake." Not startling realizations for most of us. Still, on "Strange Pleasures" he deftly equates his generation's soul-searching with numbing one's brain from too many search engine queries. The unfortunate truth about LaJIT's quest for the same is that time is often the only solution. The hope is that he doesn't cross the precipice before that happens.
"If, for instance, the future of the movie business comes to rely on the income from Netflix's $8-a-month-streaming-service as a way to fund all films and TV production, then things will change very quickly. As with music, that model doesn't seem sustainable if it becomes the dominant form of consumption. Musicians might, for now, challenge the major labels and get a fairer deal than 15% of a pittance, but it seems to me that the whole model is unsustainable as a means of supporting creative work of any kind. Not just music. The inevitable result would seem to be that the internet will suck the creative content out of the whole world until nothing is left. Writers, for example, can't rely on making money from live performances – what are they supposed to do? Write ad copy?" - David Byrne, on the cloud and the music industry.
Full text here.
Being an old millennial (1982) and aspiring techy, it’s no surprise that I adopted digital music early. I owned a Diamond Rio PMP300 in 2000, which held around 30 minutes of MP3 that sounded like a cassette tape copy of a CD from the public library. I took it jogging until the face plate fell off. Even though I was outspoken among peers about paying for music in the digital age, I took to file sharing like Mark Zuckerberg to the color blue. I didn’t hate compact discs but they looked like software for Christ’s sake. I bought them understanding that I’d eventually buy something smaller and that something was the MP3.
I traded MP3’s online, burned and exchanged CD-R’s with friends and begrudgingly bought CDs until I could afford an iPod in 2008. When Spotify came stateside in summer 2011, I signed up for a premium account without even demoing the free version. I did not care ever about the tactile romance of analog music, nor did I care about how fragile it seemed. Digital recordings, whether on compact disc or on a hard drive, did not age and that, along with the increasing ease of digital music storage, was all I ever cared about.
It is, perhaps, all the reasons I obsessed about the accumulation of digital music that I now want to collect as much vinyl as I can now. In recent weeks, I’ve handled my 180 gram reissue of Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs the way one might bath an infant (they weigh the same it seems and require similarly mild soaps). Meanwhile, electromagnetic induction (a process happening while the record stylus converts the grooves into music), makes about as much sense to me as babies being brought by storks. I’ve accepted music as zeros and ones all my life; a needle dragging through hardened polyvinyl chloride and/or shellac to create sound makes me want to reevaluate all the things I was certain about: God, unicorns, being a 1.5 on the Kinsey Scale.
Because vinyl is delicate, it degrades easily. So you lightly run a carbon fiber anti-static brush across its petal soft mini-valleys. You clean it with vinyl gloves, a velvet sponge and ten drops of Tergitol 15 S-3 and S-9 in a gallon of distilled water. You protect it from heat, dirt and dust and it still degrades just from taking it out of the sleeve. It degrades further as the diamond-tipped stylus drags through the grooves. Your hands, even when clean, are covered in organic shit that destroys the sound over time.
This incidental wear, that you can’t stop but only hope to contain, produces a sound that is unique from the last time, even if you can’t detect it. It’s warm and rich with all the faults blurred, like drunk friends on a weeknight, miles away from stinking their work restroom with coffee-Gatorade piss the next day. Vinyl is those same friends years later, buying a blood-glucose monitor and Diet Pepsi and resolving to cut the crap. The memories purchased. The costs exacted. You can give vinyl the Chris Traeger treatment all its life; it will expire one day as surely as you will.
Privately consuming music has always featured the wet must of loneliness and, when the record plays, there is literally nothing but you and the aural snapshot of the band. Digital players, social media and the cloud seemed to battle this experience by, ironically, allowing us to share musical experiences from wherever our devices are (near or on our beds, likely). For the aging millennial that has spent most of his media experience on a computer and/or internet, listening to a record that can’t be synced to software that is also a purchase hub is not just unfamiliar. It’s downright frightening.
It’s quite possible to shut off the phone, power down the laptop and sit in front of your speakers and feel completely alone. But strangely, the more I place the vinyl and lower the stylus—with the care of a gardener moving soil and plant from one pot to another— the more I find myself in the wilderness downtown, but not alone.
“The monster about to come alive again.” That early lyric in Yeezus’ opening cut “On Sight” is the only guide needed to make sense of Kanye West’s latest brutal, disorienting and incredibly prismatic solo record. Imagine West ripping the spine out of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s “Monster,” then suckling the bone marrow while getting drunk on misogyny, race politics and guilt. Then imagine him vomiting on a Pro-Tools rig on record. It sounds abhorrent, but the end result is so insistent and confounding that it cannot (and should not) be ignored.
In a word: horror. Much is made of West using industrial sounds, select collaborators and a minimalist sonic approach, but the most resonating element of Yeezus may be that it literally sounds like a futuristic nightmare. EDM, indie rock and (most beguiling) dancehall are cut and pasted into magazine-lettered rap ransom notes. Multiple songs are jarringly interrupted by contrasting samples with blunt-force effect. “I Am A God” ends simulating the primal screams and heavy breathing of someone falling prey to Leatherface. On “New Slaves,” sleazy horror keyboards paint racism as a monster that keeps coming back in the final act. “Hold My Liquor” is a living nightmare for any rap mogul: unable to keep the drinks down or employees in line or lovers close, crashing one’s Range Rover into a bootycall’s Corolla. But Yeezus is no more comprehensive than on “Blood on the Leaves,” which eviscerates decency by framing Nina Simone’s rendition of “Strange Fruit” firstly around West’s loneliness (“All I want is what I can’t buy now”) and then around his perceived injustice of being financially obligated to a pregnant groupie (“Now you sittin’ courtside,/wifey on the otherside./Gotta keep ‘em separated./I call that apartheid”).
This is this record’s other dominating thread. West has never been known to not run off at the mouth, but Yeezus sees him setting his irreverence to “Tony Montana with M16.” It’s not just that he’s using Johnny Cochran (his baby mama’s deceased father’s once teammate in O.J. Simpson’s defense team) to illustrate a woman’s sluttiness or comparing his fist to a civil rights sign when inside a woman's vagina, it’s how often he contradicts himself.* On “New Slaves,” West indicts the hip-hop accessory industrial complex which he aggressively participates in. His tirade is revealed to be fueled less by rage and more by futility (for all his success, he’s still black in a world largely controlled by whites). His conclusion: vowing to take revenge by grudge-fucking a white girl in the Hamptons, a plan that victimizes women, his oppressors and, ultimately, himself (by legitimizing the Black Brute stereotype). If you listen to West the way feminists read Hemingway, then the tragedy is as loud as the misogyny and consumerism.
Further complicating things is West’s reliance on vicious deadpan. It’s simply too difficult to tell when he’s kidding or if he’s even interested in being funny. See “I’m In It,” where he equates a bra unclasping with a negro spiritual (“Your titties,/let ‘em out/Free at last./Thank God, almighty”) or “Hold My Liquor” where he reminisces about some pussy that “Had me dead./Might call 2Pac over.” West seems to be both taunting his haters and challenging his fans, inflating his depravity to the limit and literally trying to make as many enemies as possible.
All of which makes Yeezus sound like an apocalypse of the spirit, celebrating everything that is brilliant and deplorable about West, so much so that it often feels like a desperate plea for relevance. The cyclopean irony here is that West’s art has never lacked accolades, his anti-hype campaign resulted in a furor of media speculation and the album is so compelling that it’s destined for year-end lists based on its sound and attitude alone.
More importantly, it seems that West’s work trajectory is revealing him to be rap’s Miles Davis. Like the iconic jazz trumpeter, he’s not always the reason for the genre’s new directions (Yeezus could easily be the result of him just discovering Goblin, Ten$ion and Pretty Hate Machine), but he continually puts himself at the center of the newest, strangest, most engaging elements in popular music. His last three albums reveal the restlessness often associated with tortured geniuses (coincidentally coming after his mother’s death). For five years, West has been running from whatever sonic tapestry he crafted on his last album, while simultaneously plumbing the depths of his personality. If Yeezus is West reaching his core, then it puts him on par with sociopathic art figures like Howard Hughes, Vincent Van Gogh and Mozart. The album may not best represent West’s body of work, but it immaculately captures the way we see him live his life: excess, narcissism, low and high brow in the red, teetering on oblivion at times. Given a media-entrenched country’s emotional ambivalence towards celebrity, it may be West’s most cautionary and relevant work to date.
Buy this album.
*This sentence originally referred to the inserting of a sign into a vagina, which was found to be an innacurate description of the lyric. Stomping Grounds regrets the error.
Fight one, where I scream and she laughs.
Fight two, with the stranger without her pills.
A poem about chasing Ascher’s balloon in the rain.
A song about family.
Fight three, about writers who don’t teach.
Sex in the garage.
Holes in the wall.
Tears on the backseat.
Dents in the car.
Spouting about Ascher being a man.
Seething in the driver’s seat, admitting nothing.
Driving my brother, “Crazy,
man. This is it.”
More by Justin Oullette.
Is there a modern genre more spiritual than R&B? I’m not referencing the presence of God so much as the emotional core that holds fast after the genre has been sonically stretched to Tantric proportions. Many of its champions barely sound like one another (ever listened to What’s Going On right after The ArchAndroid?), but the messages seldom change: I love you. I miss you. Let’s fuck. And, oh, what’s wrong with the world today?
It’s this context that helps shed meaning on Gentlemen Streets, the latest release from Nick Mery aka Merykid. The fact that Streets is the first title to bear Mery’s proper namesake tells us he’s starting a new chapter and is, at least, trying to drop the “youthful” persona. He enters the R&B fray as a five-year industry vet, having licensed his music to CBS, charted on Garage Band’s Top 25 Acoustic Artists and been nominated twice at the Feel Good Film Festival. All these accolades have been accompanied by a restless genre stretching of his own. He’s made eclectic folk his hallmark (as Merykid), but has also veered into garage rock (The Great ‘85) and psychedelia (The Texas Weather). In other words, Streets makes sense because R&B is forever mercurial and Mery is comfortable with his own weird. You’ll likely be, too, because, well, James Blake is in the world.
Mery understands the fundamentals: some butt-bouncing beats here, a sultry hook there, stacks of synths, plus guest verses by able rappers and one vocalist. The difference here is that Mery (writing, playing and co-producing with Edwin J. Stephens) drenches everything in a coat of space. That is, the music literally sounds meant for baby-making at zero gravity.
Streets soars on opener “Countdown (To The End of the World).” Mery lets wordsmith Carlton Zeus rule with his gravelly bro timbre for nearly half the cut, before entering the hook in a volley of vocal effects. Then he leaps into a respectable (if short) rap verse. This is the same guy who played “Master of Puppets” on a banjo.
The rest of Streets seldom hits as hard as its opener, but it makes several killings because of Mery’s sonic approach. Lead single “True” is why-won’t-you-love-me balladry stuck in the retrofuture. The warbly synths and glitchy snare don’t just reveal Mery’s love of vintage tech sounds. They also work with a cache of ambient synth noise to evoke that dreamy “4 am” sound. The same is true about “Baby (I Know),” which sounds like Mery giving a post-coital pep talk to his lover, their space suits still drifting around them. Meanwhile, “All I Had,” the suite “Strange World” and the beginning of “Now or Never/Just Say It” wouldn’t make sense on most R&B records, but end up becoming displays of Mery’s IDM prowess.
And on two tracks, Streets induces head-scratching. “Good Day” has Streets’ best segueway (from “All I Had”) and a spastic killer speed-verse from folk-rapper Chris Conde. But Mery mars the song with an un-enthused chorus. It aims for cool, but lands on meh, despite the fact that the cut makes “Galactic Trap” sound viable. (Conde was crashing on Stephens’ couch when he offered to freestyle over a demo of “Good Day.” Mery didn’t know him from Adam but gave Conde a try and decided the verse was, “the best thing I ever heard.”)
But the clincher is “Give It Up,” a smoldering soul anthem Mery built on rhode keys and abrasive guitars. The song will pique the interest of many simply because soul-rock chanteuse Carly Garza is credited in the track listing. She’s relegated to three-word-hook duty. The fact that Garza and Mery, both exceptional singers, aren’t engaging in any give and take (she doesn’t even get a verse) is criminal, especially as the boy-girl duet holds a cherished place in R&B’s history. On its own merits, the anthem is still a centerpiece, just a centerpiece that begs, “What if?”
Even so, Streets is a triumph. It takes a few listens to sink in, but the record makes R&B sound like it’s inhabiting Mery’s world and not the other way around. But also, Streets marks Mery’s fourth genre shift in as many years. He may not yet be the relentless genius his artistic output implies, but it’s clear Mery has no plans to slow down.
Buy this album.
The night I drove the lance;
words like water and blood. I felt like God
was anything I could create.
Art industry. Inspired
to unearth old works:
Chapbooks bound by staples and bubble jet.
Childrens’ stories with stick figures
The foul limericks I called poems.
The lazy anecdotes I called stories.
The absent women I called songs.
You snapped me out of my throes,
love, when you gathered your
art and drove into the school night.
I slept with a babbling mind
and a letting heart.
This post is a revision of a previous work.
In February 2011, I tried expanding my writing credentials. I was fast approaching a year's tenure covering entertainment and nipple pasties with San Antonio Current. So I applied with Backbeat Magazine, founded by Korova co-owner Angel Castorena and Puro Pinche blogger Stephanie Guerra. By that time, Backbeat was sans Guerra—she worked roughly 18 months as Managing Editor—and it may have had something to do with what followed. Today, I'm reminded of it as I read a recent Current story on Castorena acquiring booking responsibilities at Limelight on St. Mary's.
I gave Backbeat four stories. The first (on Alamodome's Illusions Theatre) was pro bono per Backbeat policy. The second was a profile on Eye in the Sky Collective founder Anthony Erickson. The third and fourth were profiles on Local 782 and the beatsmith-turning-councilman Diego Bernal. Castorena promised compensation shortly after I submitted copy and then delivered excuse after excuse for delaying payment. Days turned to weeks, as the deadline for another set of stories rapidly approached. Castorena finally paid me after I threatened litigation (which would include compensation for time missed at my community newspaper).
However, he post-dated the checks after next deadline. I deposited them anyway because I was broke and needing to pay bills (however wrecklessly). I promptly gave notice, citing his payment behaviors and the feeling that I was supporting a villain. The following week, Castorena contacted me saying the checks bounced and asking what I would "do about" the fees. I told him he would get nothing from me in light of his behavior.
My tale is common and perhaps boring to many, but that is precisely why I'm telling it. I wasn't surprised by Castorena. A colleague told me he had screwed musicians all over the city. But like any budding working artist, I was desperate. And Castorena knew it. Most scene workers have stories of being either screwed out of pay or prospects through Castorena. Some have not been paid; others, simply led down a road of broken promises followed by limp restitution.
I know several people who have been wronged by Castorena. But more importantly, if you are reading this, you probably know someone else who has been slighted by Castorena. He owes money to and has broken promises with nearly everyone who works the scene in San Antonio. As a result, some people are no doubt scoffing at these words, as if I'm asking water to not be wet.
That's why I'm taking the time to write this. The Current polarizingly criticized The Korova's sound system and their efforts to improve the same at Limelight. Their tone struck a chord with Castorena, who aired his grievances with the alt paper in an equally polarizing Facebook status (promising to re-launch Backbeat as a counter medium, see thumbnails). Local members of the scene spouted off (including me here) on the matter. A week later, I'm left wondering if things could have played out better.
Firstly, I don't apologize for my tone or words on Castorena. He is a phony that uses his professed "love" for local music to exploit scene workers. The fact that, even now, he tries to make me feel bad (see below) for wanting to be paid for my work is proof enough. Like all good manipulators, he has apologists, including some people he profoundly relied on with Backbeat, but who were paid months behind schedule (if at all).
But it's those reasons that make the recent Current article (all due respect) feel like such a missed opportunity in hindsight. Castorena is insidious to local music culture and is gaining steam. Now would have been as good a time as any to publish whether he has plans to work with more integrity now that he has acquired prime real estate. Ignoring that conversation simply because it's based on a commonly accepted knowledge does not negate its importance.
In the world of creative professionals, the Angel Castorena's are everywhere. They found companies like Demand Media Studios to pay new writers less than pennies on the word on the promise that they have "the potential to influence millions." They pay advances on script-writing jobs only to disappear with an incomplete draft, never paying a full deal (and certainly no royalties). They hire writers at minimum wage/part-time, make them furnish their own computers and participate at the CEO's church. They run Craigslist ads that say, "IT'S TRUE. WE WON'T CHARGE YOU TO PUBLISH YOUR WORK."
People like Angel Castorena diminish the creative professional. They are why talent leaves for Austin, Seattle or any other art-friendly pasture. They are why I left a career in newspapers to work the door at a bar in College Station. There are already too many of them forever minimizing the worth of writers, photographers, graphic designers, visual artists, and musicians, while simultaneously pretending that they are their champion.
Rather than harp on Korova's shitty sound (a worthy conversation still), I'd rather ask Castorena what his plans are regarding paying local bands that open for national acts. What will be his pay system when he re-launches Backbeat? Meanwhile, I'd like to ask the community why we give our work to someone who isn't interested in paying for it. Why do we also patronize him when he outmanuevers other SA promoters? What will we do now that he is on the payroll at N. St. Mary's? At what point will we say "No" to this show or that gig with his name on it because we know starving such a beast is better than feeding ourselves?
There's no need to ask Castorena about his motivations and drive. His motto is "Never say die" and he'll live it to his last show. All he needs is our time, money and talent.
The night I drove the lance,
my first words in months.
It was a retreat
where worship is putting tool to medium and God
was anything I could create.
In my throes, you asked where I was. Your face burdened
by sleep, concern and closet light.
I did not know then
why I was sad.
Discuss for me a bit the legacy of Ledaswan. Three EP's since 2004 right?
Yes, two seven song EP's and one six song EP. A couple of online only releases. As far as tour, we toured the midwest, west coast, and Texas.
How did this break up happen?
The break up was basically a shaky one just because of the personal tensions that come with a "regular" break up, so it was like a break up within a breakup. Basically, Jaime couldn't play in the band if we [he and she] broke up and if that was a truth and I wasn't at peace with myself, then I had to walk away from it all because it just went on too long that way.
Ledaswan was on the brink of releasing a new record. Tell me about it.
The music was getting very progressive in a good way and I enjoyed writing with everyone in the band. However, I think just something died inside me towards the end. I was feeling uninspired with the more gritty rock type stuff. I was trying to push it in a few different directions as we had experimented with electronic, ambient type stuff with a groove, which I really dig.
It's clear that you didn't want this breakup and so it's not surprising to see you taking your music out to solo gigs and open mics. Are you carrying on the Ledaswan catalog as your own now? Are you looking to form a new band using the Ledaswan name or start something else entirely new?
I am only performing Ledaswan songs that I wrote or co-wrote with Jaime. And I am writing new material. My intentions are not to go "solo" because I'm an artist and I want to continue to evolve as one, wherever that takes me. It's also an outlet; that's one reason I tried to still keep the band together regardless because it was everyone's outlet (so I thought). But they didn't see it that way. And right after we [she and Jaime] broke up, I felt I wasn't sure I wanted to continue playing music, but I was grieving this aspect of my life and I have to release all the shit I'm feeling. I’m a very sensitive person.
I'm uncertain what is going to happen with the recordings we have. Maybe we will post some of those songs or maybe not. [I’m] not using Ledaswan's name, just Erica Swan at the moment.
Having moved on from this project that was heading toward the decade mark, what are you feeling?
Moving on from this project, I'm feeling inspired (ironically) by the breakup and other relationships in my life that are in limbo or have ended. And excited about new relationships musically and just with myself. I am happy to at least be back at my roots and feeling natural about the songs I write and sing. I want to collaborate with people and experiment with maybe some electronic [or] indie, while still integrating my first love of heartfelt songs and guitars.
Erica Swan's next show is Friday, 3/1 at Melinda Martinez Art Studio (628 S. Presa).
More by Vanessa Mejia.
It’s unlikely anyone would confuse space-rockers Pop Pistol and tribal beat-smith Mexicans With Guns (aka Ernest Gonzales), but a cursory glance at their music indicates the artists’ affinity: introspective tones, rain-maker rhythms, fastidious dynamics. Maybe it’s both acts’ helix-like intimacy that makes the MWG remix of “No New Years Know” feel a hair bit pedestrian. In this first piece from a forthcoming Animal Prisms remix collection, no party seems intent on taking any risks. MWG rides the original song’s main guitar riff and verses too hard. The signature Latin bass pulses and percussion are merely window dressing here, making this remix feel less like an explosive set piece and more a likeable intro or interlude.
Gonzales hits harder in a recently released track that is, ironically, more subdued. His collabo “Somber Arrows”—with lo-fi beat conductor (and San Antonio City Councilman District 1) Diego Bernal—is instrumental hip-hop at its finest. Part of an EP that is also forthcoming, both Bernal and Gonzales (under his birth name) weave a hypnotic tapestry of warped pianos and haunting string plucks over linear bass drops and a reverb drenched snare. The cut is Preemptive Strike-era DJ Shadow with a dash of SA swagger.
Pop Pistol's next show is Friday, February 22nd at Sam's Burger Joint. Doors 8 pm, all ages, $10 pre-sale/15 at door.
This interview took place in late January over tapas from Mon Thai Bistro. It has been edited for continuity. Stomping Grounds regrets that the tidbit about the dorkiness of both Adam Villela Coronado and Ryan Teter did not make the final draft.
AVC: What’s it like growing up in a musical family?
CG: I had to listen to my mom sing and play all the freaking time. I’m an only child so I like being alone and being in the quiet and all that. It was strange because my mother was always singing and, even now, sings out of nowhere.
In an environment like that, do you endeavor music just through osmosis?
When I was a kid, my grandma started giving me little piano lessons, so I learned a couple of classical pieces…But I didn’t continue it then because “child” Carly was not interested or something. Or I would get frustrated the way kids do. Which is silly, because I remember liking it and being proud that I could play these pieces on piano. I don’t know why I stopped.
When did you start actively playing guitar like you do now?
I was about 14. That was when I became friends with Nina [Diaz of Girl in a Coma, in 2002]. Basically, it’s strange because…Hold on, I’m getting ahead of myself. In middle school, I was in band.
What did you play?
[Laughing] Saxophone. Clarinet and saxophone. When I tried out for band, I think was rebelling against both of my parents, “I don’t want to play guitar or drums.” Instead, I chose the saxophone, the most random instrument.
So your “punk” move was saxophone?
Yeah, and the assistant band director played beats on his lap had me repeat them and they got progressively more difficult and I could play every single one of them. He said, “She’s a drummer.” But I was, “I want to play saxophone” and he was like, “Ooooo-kay, I guess,” so they started me out on clarinet.
Do you still practice the saxophone or clarinet?
[Smiles] Ooooh, no. No, no, no, no.
The last time I tried, I couldn’t even get a sound out of it.
How long ago was this?
When Chuck [Kerr] and Chris [Maddin] were doing the Kid A thing [the full-album covers project at Broadway 5050].
They wanted brass for “National Anthem.”
Chuck was desperate for a saxophone player. I was like, “I can’t play saxophone.” He was like, “You can just make noises.”
But Nina was playing guitar and I thought, “Oh, that’s really cool.” I don’t know why it was cool when Nina did it and not when my mom did it.
So let’s call what you’ve been doing recently in the music scene—booking and playing shows, leading the open mic and so on—your professional career. How long has that been going on?
I was 19 and I had just come back from New York [from college in 2007]. I got a boyfriend [guitarist Danny Cantu] and he and I played music together in Blue Means Go. They were always his songs; we kind of worked together. It started as him on guitar and me singing and then we added a bassist and drummer. We just kept going through drummers, so I decided to play drums.
We [she and him] broke up in 2010 and we were both like, “Let’s keep the band going,” and we did that for one show and I was like, “Fuuuuuuck this.”
And since then you’ve been kind of doing things here and there. The first time I saw you was at a Nicolette Good gig in 2010, where you were singing backup. I thought the same thing that Nicolette eventually admitted to on Facebook: that you upped their cool factor.
[Laughing] I love Nicolette…
I take it that at this time, “singer-songwriter” Carly Garza had not yet really emerged.
[Laughing] I still haven’t…I had one song written after the band broke up. I would take out my laptop sometimes and do some stream-of-consciousness writing and then kind of organize it into some semblance of poetic whatever. I had only a few songs back then.
When did you start taking over the Martini Ranch open mic? I’ve only ever gone when [Pop Pistol bassist] George Garza Jr. has hosted it.
I took over in 2012 because Nina was doing it and she wanted me to take over when she went on tour. Well, she was on tour for half of 2012. I feel like I got better at performing.
My impression of that gap between Blue Means Go and Martini Ranch is that you just kept popping up. You were in Black Magic [and the Full Expose] and you did backing vocals for Nicolette…I saw your show at Blue Star with Jason Christopher Trevino and you were playing an art premiere [in fall 2011]. It was a mixture of covers and originals and it felt like the Carly Garza that I know was kind of emerging at that time.
That’s basically where I’m still at. My writing process has been so painstakingly slow.
I’m not sure. I’m just barely learning how to write songs right now and I hate everything I write.
My songs are really, really personal and they’re about people, you know? A moment in time or a certain conversation I had with somebody and I’ve had people ask me, “Is this song about me?” and I’m like, “No, [laughing] I don’t want to talk about it.”
[Laughing] “No, it’s not, but this conversation is over.”
Maybe everybody is that way.
Everybody encounters this struggle. Mark Twain forbid the publishing of his memoirs until he was dead because he didn’t want to be around to be accountable. I understand that, but I often think that we need to start giving less of a fuck…which reminds me, what have you been working on lately?
I have five [original] songs that I play in front of people. And two others that are basically done, but I’m still getting up the courage to play them. I probably will at these upcoming shows. You know, I see people [other artists] and get inspired by them and then frustrated because I can’t be like them.
I’m still learning how to write. I have a lot of pieces in my GarageBand…a lot of them are crap. Some parts of them are really good, but I need to do something with them. Now I’m like, “What’s the most important part of a song? A melody. How do I come up with a strong melody?” And going from there…The most success has come from having the words and thinking of a melody and plugging chords in at the end. I know it’s different for every songwriter. But I’ve only just discovered that this is how I have to go about this process.
One of my goals this year is…I really need a band. I want to learn how to play with other people. Sometimes I get together with musicians and it’s like, “What do you want to work on?” and I’m like, “[indistinct noise indicating that she is shutting down].”
I’m seeing a parallel here. Being an only child, naturally pre-disposed to being alone. So frequently we see you with just your vocal, guitar and a mic.
And I don’t write with other people. It scares me.
That’s weird because I remember being at Broadway 5050 in October 2011 and watching you, Libby Wardlaw and, I think, Melissa Malick all sing backup for Chris Maddin and Chuck Kerr doing “Monster Mash.” I could tell that doing the backup was spur-of-the-moment and that kind of interdependency was a sight to behold. Is there just reluctance for you to take the reigns?
I guess so. I once did a jam of my original material with Dave Terry [drummer for Kubrick]. It wasn’t like we were going to start a band and it was liberating and something I need to remember. But then I was, “No Dave, play that beat this way…” and it felt like I shouldn’t be taking myself so seriously.
For me, the thing that I associate with you the most is the Martini Ranch open mic. Why has that become such a fixture for you?
[Quizzically, but smiling] I don’t know. Cause it’s there. I haven’t had any new material, haven’t been playing shows. Black Magic has been trying to record.
There’s this weird tension in your career. I can’t think of the San Antonio music community and not think of some key players—[recently departed Bad Breaks creative force] Chuck Kerr, [singer/songwriter/broadcaster] Nick Mery, [label owner and promoter] Scott Andreu, Pop Pistol—figures that always seem to making a noise. It feels as if you do the same thing except it’s in this weird form.
Well for me, it’s about practicing in front of people. Forcing myself to learn new songs. Getting used to play with people. I’ve made new friends through this thing. It’s a good thing.
And there is also this coming together of disparate musicians. Someone is playing generic bar songs. Someone else is playing Texas Country.
Yeah. We’re not all the same. At Chris Maddin’s thing, it’s the indie hits. At Martini Ranch, I’m the person playing indie hits and everyone else is playing Sublime or fucking Weezer [smiles].
Shifting gears, tell me what was going on at the KRTU Plugged In Session with the use of loop pedals and so on.
I’d been wanting a pedal for a while. Nina was using one for her shows and it felt like it would help me write. I just needed something because I’m tired of playing shows with just a guitar.
Did the sessions feel tentative to you? I felt I was catching you in a state of rapid change.
It’s funny you’re mentioning that because I want my next incarnation to be entirely different from what I’ve been presenting onstage. I don’t want to be seen as a singer-songwriter. I want to have a band that represents [my music]. But I’m just now learning about gear. I’m still learning GarageBand.
Well, discuss for me the place you want to carve out for yourself in the community. It feels like you’re interested in doing more than simply evangelizing people of your music.
Well, I definitely want to connect with people through music. I mean, isn’t that the point? It’s really important for me to continue to make friends through music. Finding people to play with. I don’t know. It’s a lot to think about.
The San Antonio scene is weird. Part of me just wants to leave. Part of me feels like I have a space to fill somewhere.
Most artists go one of three ways in San Antonio. They give up. They move away. Or they stick it out. What’s your motivation for staying if you decide to?
Honestly, to finish college. I’m not here because I wanted to come back from New York. I was so devastated to come back from art school; my dreams were crushed [because of financial problems]. I need to follow at least one of those dreams. It’s hard for me to talk about the community here…I don’t know. It’s because I’ve had relationships with people who are big parts of the San Antonio art and music community and I think they felt the same ambivalence that I do. It’s like, “I’m a fixture here. A lot of people are looking at me. And yet, I don’t want to stay here. But I want everyone else around me to be better.” I don’t know. Why would I want to be here when many people are complacent?
Well, I had a revelatory talk with Chuck Kerr one time about something similar. He admitted to being guilty of having his little chunk of territory and being able to score a show when he wants and do the shows he likes and not really carry the scene nor his own career onto a national stage. Not really being interested in doing the work of projects like Local 782, which are trying to elevate the art and music community to something greater than it already is.
I just don’t know how successful that will be ever. And that type of work, I don’t have any interest in doing it because…I don’t know. I mean, I evaluate everyone I see on stage, asking myself, “Should they really be doing this? Should I?” I mean, [growls]. I’m a shit talker…
Carly Garza and Lorita Drive will play a special Valentine’s Day show on 2/14 at The Mix. Doors at 8 p.m. 21+.
Buy Garza’s KRTU Plugged In Session here.
More by David Terry.
There are a few revelations in the short doc recorded by Carly Garza at KRTU’s Studio B. First, the burgeoning SA songwriter is sure of her influences, but not necessarily how they define her sound. Garza’s clean, cool rhythm guitar is a dead ringer for Grace-era Jeff Buckley. Her flirtation with loop pedals betrays her interest in one day making a Saytown answer to Age of Adz. But the four originals and surprise cover (Morning Benders’ “Excuses”) here show Garza playing it strikingly safe. We hear her as we might at her open mics at Martini Ranch: one guitar, a lone vocal and a few harmonic layering tricks. Secondly, even if her music is still finding its footing, Garza’s sound is still united by that voice. Her sensual, haunting pipes sit at the crossroads of Buckley, Winehouse and Apple (the latter two are unique contraltos). The feeling is that Garza needs a Mark Ronson or Jon Brion to provide her contemplative soul rock with gaudy ornamentation. With such a fate feeling like destiny at this point, Garza’s KRTU Plugged In Session is an intriguing footnote in a career that will hopefully launch sooner than later.
Buy this album.