Tonight I will be with Shinyribs at the Rockin’ Rodeo with Shinyribs at 9:45pm. On Saturday the band that I have with my brother, No Show Ponies, is going to be playing Austin at the One 2 One club. That show starts at 9:30. Opening act John Neilson starts at 7:30pm.
I would like to try to attempt to explain my band No Show Ponies. As a friend recently commented to me, writing about music is like dancing about architecture. However, I write about music all the time to various degrees of success, so I will wade into the deep end again. Writing about oneself, and one’s own artistic endeavors, is even more challenging. Oneself is infinite, while others, although they may be filled with mystery, take up a more defined space in one’s mind.
No Show Ponies is first and foremost a rock n roll band. Although our sound is completely different, much like Shinyribs we genre hop quite a good bit. This is great for creativity and I believe makes us more interesting, but is not good for the modern idea of branding. However, primarily again we are a rock n roll band. That is our bread and butter and our driving principle.
To confound those of you even further we have also gone through a very extreme sound change in the last two years. When we first moved to Austin my brother Ben and I were without a band. We had also spent the last seven or eight years playing loud guitar driven rock n roll. We were tired of this approach, and as I said we didn’t have a band to base our sound upon anyway. During our first two years in Austin we primarily played two man acoustic shows. When it came time to make our record, The End of Feel Good Music, we wanted to make a record that was acoustic in nature, although with loud drums like early Rod Stewart records. Because of the friends that we had made, and used on our record, the record ended up sounding more alt country then rock n roll in a lot of places. This is a genre that Ben and I don’t listen to in any great deal. There is no one to blame but us, but this was not a natural fit for our talents. That being said I am overall proud of the record, as there are several, what I deem anyway, great songs on it, and we will always have the great memories of recording with members of the Gourds, our friend Missy Beth, Jon Dee Graham, and others.
We eventually developed a live band, that sounded completely different from our debut record already, but in the months following the recording that band disintegrated. Over the next two years we picked up the pieces and rebuilt the band. Although we had strong identities as writers, we didn’t have a strong identity when it came to our band’s sound. In these two years we found that sound. Part of the missing puzzle was finding the incredible drummer Alex Morales. For the first time since moving to Austin we had a drummer that could play the complex polyrhythms that we so desired. I moved to bass, which is the instrument I primarily grew up playing. The biggest and most essential key move, the move that I believe for the first time gave us a unique sound, was moving my brother to the main guitar spot. We also decided to be a three piece, partly out of necessity, and partly because we realized, even in its infantile stages, that this was the start of something that was sonically exciting.
My brother, who grew up playing acoustic guitar, can not play a traditional blues solo to save his life. However, if you know anything about the history of rock n roll, you will know that limitations are often essential for invention. Because of my brother’s extremely strong right hand picking technique, which again was developed from acoustic guitar, he is able to play extremely intricate arpeggios in the style of Johnny Marr and Lindsey Buckingham. And again, because he can’t solo in the traditional sense, he is able to jump from highly intricate and musical rhythm playing, to post punk noise solos that are pure raw energy. I’m telling you there is no one that plays guitar quite like this kid.
I would call what we do independent rock n roll. That is in my mind different from indie rock. That is splitting hairs with language, but as Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lighting and a lightning bug.” Rock n roll pushes the vocals up in the mix and doesn’t shy away from big emotions. A lot of current indie rock seems to me to be almost shy of expressing anything too definitive, as the singers are often weak or purposely buried in the mix.
What we do is an amalgamation of the kind of powerful rock n roll that came from the 60’s combined with the more experimental music that came out of the post punk scene. I’m not kidding on the new record we go from a song that was influenced sonically by Public Image Limited, noise rock, and New Order, into something that could almost be a Beach Boys song. However, for the first time in our history as a band since moving to Austin, I believe that we have a sound strong enough to bridge these different worlds.
I think that our sound is also unique for Austin, largely because of our origins. None of us our native Texans. Ben and I derive from the North East and Al comes from New Mexico.
The North East influences us in ways that we probably didn’t even realize until we moved to Texas. It informs both our sound and our lyrics. Sound wise I believe that this makes for a much tougher rock n roll sound that is a descendent of the music that came out of the large North Eastern cities in previous decades.
I have noticed, since I moved to Austin, a kind of almost scatological and surreal sense of humor. The way people often speak truth to power in Texas through humor is often through word play and drawing conclusions between disparate things. We grew up on the darker, more vengeful humor of the North East. People like latter period George Carlin and Bill Maher come to mind. It also helps if you understand that we are reading a lot of Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter Thompson, and other writers, whose modus operandi is to point out the absurdity in the American system. We also love those songwriters like Morrissey, Leonard Cohen, and Lou Reed, whose humor is jet black. Please believe me that I am not saying better or worse, only different.
When you add all of that in with Al, who brings the tribal rhythms of the South West, and a passionate encyclopedic knowledge of rock n roll drumming, you get something exciting and unique. I call Al’s apartment the “drum museum” for the incredible collection of vintage drums and percussion that seems to be in every nook and cranny. This is a guy with a serious dedication to his craft.
I realize in looking back on what I’ve written, that I have sort of described what we do in long form, written around things, and not given one an easily descriptive blurb for what we do. I’m fine with that. If something is too easy to define, unless it’s the Ramones or AC\DC, it’s probably simpleminded too. If rock n roll still means anything, then that is what we do. This is music that is both literate and primal, that is both aggressive and beautiful, and that wants to have you both sing along and make you feel uncomfortable at times.
Recently we recorded an album to old analog tape with the great Ramsay Midwood. This new album, when it debuts, will showcase this new found confidence and sound. If you want to get a taste of what we are doing before then, please come and check us out this Saturday at the One 2 One club. Again we start at 9:30. In closing to describe what we do, I would like to co-opt and paraphrase Paul Westerberg: This is rock n roll played in a hurry, with sweaty hands and unsure reason. This is our blood.