In Good Company

Dane Sonnier got the call last winter to add a couple of acoustic licks to a track on an upcoming CD by some local Christian hard rock act. He responded by joining the band.

Formerly of the Galactic Cowboys and Sonnier Brothers, Sonnier is doing what many a hard rocker of the subliminal Christian vein has done round these parts: intermingle.

Ever since the success of King's X in the early 1990s, Houston has developed a reputation as a hot spot for Christian hard rock, producing not only the band most consider the measuring stick for this sound, King's X, but also the Galactic Cowboys and Atomic Opera (all of which record for nationally distributed Metal Blade Records, based in Los Angeles).

Unlike with mainstream rock, the musicians in these bands, with help from many non-Houstonians of similar ilk, consistently play on each other's solo records, sometimes forming full-fledged side bands as a result.

Some individual talents have developed nationwide audiences as solo artists or as recognizable artists in band contexts. King's X guitarist Ty Tabor carries his fans with him to his other projects, like Platypus and Poundhound, and to solo efforts. On the latter, he also brings his peers along. On 1998's Moonflower Lane, Tabor's second solo release, Galactic Cowboys drummer Alan Doss contributed, as did Atomic Opera's Frank Hart, who played cello.

"I sincerely love the solo stuff and the stuff with Platypus," says Tabor, who adds that playing in other outfits helps. "Suddenly you don't have to get all your ideas through one venue. It helps creatively. There's more product out there. There's more to listen to. The numbers grow as people pass around CDs. It helps the career of King's X, too."

So when Sonnier, who says he's still interested in a solo career, joined local positive-rockers Sevenfold, he unconsciously started retracing the footsteps of cult icon Tabor and unintentionally brought the quartet into the fold of Houston God rockers.

Unlike King's X, the Galactic Cowboys and Atomic Opera, Sevenfold's sound is less metallic, more straight-ahead radio rock. In its "J"-dropping, the band is similar to King's X and Galactic Cowboys, in that there's very little, if any (or just masked references to He and Him). The band's second CD, Things Left Unsaid, is being self-released Wednesday, May 10.

When asked for his thoughts about receiving an indirect invitation into such a select society, Sevenfold drummer Joey Wright says, "I do not know why that happens. I thought of it. And we admire those bands greatly. And to be in that category is nothing but positive. They're really talented musicians."

Sonnier was one of the first of those "really talented musicians." After bassist Monty Colvin and drummer Doss disbanded Houston's Awful Truth, they recruited vocalist Ben Huggins and Sonnier to form the Galactic Cowboys. Sonnier eventually left to form, with his brother Len, the eponymous band that disbanded last year. With a baby on the way and no full-time gig to support his family, Sonnier (already a father of one and stepfather of another) was eager to join a fully functional outfit.

Grammy-nominated producer Steve Ames had requested Sonnier be brought in to Sevenfold's recording sessions last November. After studio work and a couple of part-time gigs as Sevenfold lead guitarist, Sonnier was asked by Wright for some help finding a full-time lead player. Sonnier basically said, "Yeah, me." "We share the same beliefs," says Sonnier. "Now I wouldn't go as far as saying we all run the same road. We don't. But the principle of belief is there."

Sonnier understands the crisis of faith confronting bands like Sevenfold.

"They have yet to reach where it is they're going," says Sonnier, over the screaming voice of his two-year-old daughter in the background. "But with the Cowboys, I've been through a lot of what they're going through, being or not being a Christian band. Trying to speak your mind and not offend anyone is hard to do."

Cut-and-Pastiche

Over the past couple of years, Negativland, the duo of Mark Hosler and Don Joyce that masquerades as a "band," has attacked Christianity, U2, Casey Kasem and Pepsi. Negativland's weapon? Its brain-dead brand of sampling and appropriation. What's truly curious about Negativland's all-seeing, all-exposing eye is how a couple of California-dreamin' sad sacks can generate so much attention with so little artistic talent. People with solid gonads and persuasive tongues have been beating up on Big Religion, Big Entertainment and Big Industry forever. Couldn't these two boners have found less conspicuous though no less worthy targets at which to bare their pitifully tiny teeth? They could have started by looking at their reflections in the mirror.

Last year at No tsu oH, the place where impressionable flag-burning liberals hang out when not writing "poetry" or making "music," Negativland showed its latest piece ofŠ whatever it was. Part movie, with spliced images of random destruction and kids drinking Pepsi (as if the two were directly related), and part music video, this installation, while visually engaging, amounted to nothing more than a jumping-off point for Negativland to push its anticorporate agenda. Never actually committing to real jobs, Hosler and Joyce, who've been at it as Negativland since 1980, are full of criticisms, short on solutions and even shorter on delivering ticket-buying customers any artistic catharsis.

One part of Negativland's shtick is replaying an audio tape of everybody's favorite radio voice, Casey Kasem, cussing and cursing in a Napoleonic rage in the studio. What effect exposing Kasem's blue streak has on the rest of the planet is unclear. It's as if there were some deeper sociopolitical meaning behind the DJ's rants. Note to Negativland: There isn't. It's just funny. Period. Why present the excerpt as anything else?

If these two duds really wanted to make a statement, they'd either join the editorial board of The Nation or learn to play instruments well and attempt one of the most difficult endeavors known this side of hitting a slider: making good music.

The couple, in its intellectual cesspool of blatant ignorance and half-formed ideas, will be preaching at Rice University on Monday, May 15.

'Round Town

Don't know what the big deal is about having two DJs spin at the same time, but Afterdark's production Saturday, May 13, at the International Ballroom (or "I-Ball," as it's called), 14035 South Main, pairs local and predominantly UK DJs together. Though these pairings are pitched as DJs against or "versus" each other, they're really all about the love. Tickets are $25 at the door. For more information, call (713)339-8052.

Elsewhere, Pauline Oliveros celebrates Mother's Day with her brand of "deep listening" music by performing Friday, May 12, at MECA Auditorium, 1900 Kane. For more info, call (713)802-9370. And Simpleton is holding a CD release party for its latest, What Do You Want to Do, at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak, on Saturday, May 13. For more info, call (713)862-7580.

E-mail Anthony Mariani at anthony.mariani@houstonpress.com.

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