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Bite This!

Sink your teeth into the 1997 Houston Press Music Awards

Despite problems with their former label (they're now on Houston's own Justice Records) and an insane road schedule, the easy symmetry between the group's core members -- Wonderland, guitarist Dane, bassist King and drummer Harrington Squyres -- remained steady. But that ended a few months ago when Squyres abandoned the rigors of the Wonderland orbit to devote more time to raising her daughter. For a replacement, Wonderland turned to ex-Beat Temple skin man Chris Axelrad, who had proven his chops while filling in for Harrington Squyres in the past. And while Dane's ragged guitar work, coupled with the relentless backbeat of the King/Harrington Squyres rhythm section, remains unmatched, Axelrad's funk leanings do lend a punchy dynamic to the mix. So there's no reason not to predict another Music Awards landslide next year. (H.R.)

Best New Act
Texas Guinness Lovers

In a little over a year, the Texas Guinness Lovers have progressed from playing their first gig at Amy's Ice Creams and Coffees (for gift certificates) to performing at events such as the KTRU spring concert (alongside national acts such as Spoon) and a couple of Infernal Bridegroom theater productions (Woyzeck and Tamalalia 2).

A barometer of their ever-increasing popularity has been their regular Tuesday night gig at Rudyard's, which has gone from attracting a small audience to a consistent crowd that's hooked on the band's non-traditional renditions of traditional songs, pulling on a repertoire that includes Irish folk, Texas swing and Latin ballads. (They've also done a great rendition of the old Thunderbolt transmission ditty in the past.) Their lineup features and has featured members from bands such as de Schmog, Drynod and Sprawl: Killian Sweeney (guitar), Thomas Ayers (drums), Chris Bakos (bass), Roberto Cofresi (guitar), Jennifer Nera (fiddle) and Bo Morris (tuba). Various band members take turns at the vocals, and it's not uncommon for instrument-swapping to occur, both of which make each of their shows a little different.

As the slogan from the Irish brew that gave the band its name goes, "Guinness is good for you." (J.H.)

Best Act That Doesn't Fit a Category
The Suspects

Song of the Year
"Caffeine" by the Suspects

If Carolyn Wonderland is the established wave, first-time winners the Suspects may be the next wave. In the past, the competition for Best Act That Doesn't Fit a Category tended to consist of the musically homeless (due to the lack of an appropriate category) and the truly unclassifiable, with the prize generally going to the weirdest of the lot (that would be Beans Barton and the Bi-Peds). This year, however, the winner turned out to be the Suspects, a three-year-old ska band made up of some really normal guys: vocalist Thomas Escalante, guitarist/stunt vocalist Bill Grady, guitarist Alan Hernandez, bassist Charlie Esparza, drummer Claudio De Pujdas, trombonist Hunter Close, tenor saxophonist Chuy Terrazas and keyboardist Joe Cote.

Another surprise in this year's music awards was "Caffeine," a single off the Suspects' debut disc, Ninety-Nine Paid, which took Song of the Year honors despite being well over a year old. (An overwhelming number of votes from the 1997 nominating committee led to the song's inclusion on this year's ballot.) How I Learned to Stop Worrying ... and Love the Ska, the follow-up to 1995's Ninety-Nine Paid, was released in March and has been moving like hotcakes; already, its sales have surpassed those of its predecessor. Next up for the Suspects is a grueling nine-stop, ten-day tour that will take them as far north as Wisconsin, followed by a month of downtime. Their music may be infectiously peppy and energetic, but hey, even rude boys need their sleep. (J.H.)

Best Industrial/Noise
The Hunger

Anyone who doubts the power of commercial radio should take a look at the Hunger, for it's given this industrial rock band an insurmountable edge in this category for years. The band's original incarnation, keyboardists/vocalists (and brothers) Jeff and Thomas Wilson and bassist Brian Albritton, got plenty of local attention back in 1991 thanks to heavy rotation of their sweet synth-pop single "Never Again" on Houston radio stations. Later that year, following the addition of band members Stephen Bogle (guitar) and Max Schuldberg (drums), the Hunger released a full-length CD, Leave Me Alone, on an independent label that unfortunately went belly-up. Forming their own label, Gut Records, the band went on to release their second CD, 1993's Grip, which featured "Communication Breakdown" and "If," two singles that received generous amounts of radio airplay in Texas.

That caught the attention of Universal Records, and the Hunger was signed to the label in 1996; their Universal debut, Devil Thumbs a Ride, was released that same year. The disc's first single, "Vanishing Cream," garnered airplay at stations coast to coast, and the band began an almost year-long stretch of national tour dates to promote the CD. Currently, the Hunger is working on the yet untitled follow-up to Devil Thumbs a Ride, which should be released some time in 1998. That's when we'll see if the breakthrough band has what it takes to keep their radio audience captive. (J.H.)

Best Local Label
Justice Records

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