Glamorous Youth

Sharon Osbourne put the local kids of Pure Rubbish in front of millions on MTV. Then things fell apart.

I arrived early at the hulking, windowless, converted factory in a silent, godforsaken stretch of no-man's-land that's not really the Warehouse District, nor the Third Ward, nor the East End. Francisco Studios -- a grim, three-story brick building -- has been changed into something like a

rock-and-roll hotel. The fluorescent-lit hallways are bare, save for a Coke machine and a pay phone on the bottom floor. Padlocked doors hide the heavily soundproofed rooms that house the hopes and dreams of dozens of Houston bands. At this early-afternoon hour, you can't hear a thing. Since there's nowhere to sit, I lie on the cold concrete floor and flip through the current issue of Vanity Fair, wherein, lo and behold, I find an Annie Leibovitz photo of Pure Rubbish's friends the Osbournes. Small world, though that sort of fame seems a long way from this dank hallway.

Suddenly I hear singing coming from the parking lot. It's the Who. "But my dreams / They aren't as empty / As my conscience seems to beeeee / I have hours, only lonely / My love is vengeance / That's never freeeee." It could only be Pure Rubbish.

Le monde at their feet: Pure Rubbish's Mike McWilliams at the Stade de France.
Courtesy Willie Dunivan
Le monde at their feet: Pure Rubbish's Mike McWilliams at the Stade de France.
The boys got their goals from their dad but their hearts from their mom, Tracy Dunivan.
Jeff Fitlow
The boys got their goals from their dad but their hearts from their mom, Tracy Dunivan.

The Dunivans head up the stairs and unlock the door to every musical teenage boy's dream. Inside their rehearsal space, Pure Rubbish has made a home away from home. A couple of ratty old couches are shoved in one corner near a mini-fridge (contents: one can of Bud, one bottled water) and a small coffee table. In the other corner are a soundboard and studio equipment. Evan's drum set is the room's centerpiece, and a multicolored disco ball hangs from the ceiling. The walls are festooned with guitars, black light posters and a huge picture from the Beatles' Abbey Road photo shoot.

On a white bulletin board, the band has made a to-do list. Under "top priorities" someone has scrawled "write songs." Derek cues up Abbey Road on the system, skips forward to "I Want You," adjusts the atmospheric red, blue and black lighting, and joins Evan and me on the couches. Derek says he and his brother spend the better part of every day here -- sometimes slaving away on a new demo, sometimes not.

The kids are having a tough time with their new producer, whose name -- along with that of the new major independent label they're working with -- they don't want to become public yet (the deal's not sealed and all that). They respect him a lot, and they're listening to him, but so far the results have been frustrating. What people have seen and loved from Pure Rubbish has always been the unbridled pure hard rock/punk/metal energy of their live performances. And that's not where Derek's and Evan's heads are right now. They're listening to a lot of late Beatles and peak-period 1970s Stevie Wonder. Asked about his favorite recording artist of the moment, Derek says it's Alicia Keys -- not the answer you'd expect from a guy fresh off two Ozzfest tours. He says he wants to make albums that have elements or even whole songs of flamenco or reggae-style music.

I had spoken with the producer a few days earlier and I read the Dunivans his prepared statement: "These kids have the world at their feet -- the world is their oyster. But now it's what they make of it. They need to get in touch with what people are interested in, not what Pure Rubbish wants them to hear. They need to get in touch with who they are and how that's connected with the world. Because right now I don't think that's where they are."

When I finish, there's some anger -- there always is when somebody tells you that something you've worked hard on isn't good enough. Each brother uses the word "ridiculous" a couple of times, but it seems more a defense mechanism than something they're going to rally stubbornly around.

"They say we don't have enough energy," Evan says. "We're young; whatever we do is gonna have a lot of energy. That youth is gonna translate."

Derek then cues up a couple of the new demos. The first isn't very memorable, but the second is much better. On that one, Derek says, they thought they had rocked stuff up enough to suit their producer. But he says they aren't there yet.

"I thought I was compromising to make that song," Derek says. "I guess we're going to have to go all-out cheese rock. Something like She's! Got! Looks that kill!"

Right now, Derek's head is swirling with philosophical questions, musings that come out in musical form as overly textured and complicated songs. The music he's making now is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a hugely talented young man, but it's not going to get them back to the Stades de France of the world, if that's indeed where they want to go.

Suddenly, apropos of almost nothing, Derek turns the chat on its head. "What are your spiritual beliefs?" he asks, and then answers his own question with talk of karma, reincarnation and his "weird fascination with that force field that is God." He ponders the insignificance of man in the grand vastness of the universe, and then he says that God is sending him messages through TV commercials.

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