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The Power of 12

Arthur Yoria and Matt Maloney launch a new local label with a roster of one

As Pantera would put it, both Arthur Yoria and Matt Maloney are far beyond driven. Maloney parlayed his relatively small size and average talent into a basketball career that took him from the Ivy League to six years in the NBA. Yoria is one of Houston's most perfectionist musicians, and while he hasn't yet made it to the music equivalent of NBA ball, he appears to have the talent, savvy and drive to do so.

Now with the launch of 12 Records (12 was Maloney's Rockets jersey number), these two overachievers are teaming up. Maloney and Yoria met through a mutual friend. "It was shortly after I moved back from Atlanta a couple of years ago," remembers Maloney. "I think we were going to meet Arthur for a drink and my friend put the CD in the car stereo and I said, 'Wow, that's impressive.' "

"We talked about it for more than a few months before we did it," adds Yoria. "It was an idea floating around. At first I was still talking to labels and doing showcases and stuff, but it didn't pan out."

Maloney, who's a big fan of Britpop, dabbles in music himself, and he and Yoria are collaborating on the creative end as well as the financial. They have yet to record any of this material -- for now, the focus is on getting Yoria's name out there. (The two have no plans to sign any other artists.) The campaign starts May 17 at the Engine Room, where Yoria will release his first full-length CD, I'll Be Here Awake.

Yoria is tired of the traditional schmooze-with-the-majors shtick and is ready to try a new approach. "After all the showcases and flirtations, I thought to myself, 'You know, it's really simple. I want to do a record right now. I don't want to wait for someone else to decide when it's time for me to make a record. I can make a good one -- let me make one and we'll sell 'em. No matter what level you're at, the key to success in music is to operate like a label. It's not your hobby. Matt and I were on the same page as far as what could happen."

Since the Press last looked in on Yoria (see "The Velvety One," by John Nova Lomax, October 3), the sophisticated modern popster has undergone major changes. Gone is the excellent band that once backed him: steel guitarist Matthew Rhodes, drummer Ilya Kolozs and bassist Dwayne Casey. Now Yoria is toying with the idea of playing guitar backed by only a sampler.

"My new attitude is that if I'm not having a good time, then something's wrong," he says. "That was my problem with the last band. When you're not having a good time and things are really tense, that's okay if you're the Eagles and you're making craploads of money. Go ahead and take different limousines, that's fine."

But he's not riding in any limos now, and not getting any younger, either. "If I was 21 I would say, yeah, go ahead and wait for a label," he says. "Have a few band fistfights while you're waiting. It can be fun. Grist for the old Behind the Music episode someday…But at this point I need to be having a good time and obviously writing the best songs that I can. If either of those things are being hindered, I think you should make an adjustment."

Yoria also says that his old band's sound, driven by the interplay between Rhodes's steel and Yoria's ethereal voice, had run out of steam. "It had been two years, and we'd done a record," he says, though he means two EPs. "That was why in the beginning I came out as a solo artist instead of a band. I knew that I would want to change. Call me fickle, but if I'm getting bored, I can think of other ways to be broke. I always thought that I would like to have a rotating cast. Next year we could have accordions or whatever."

Some of Yoria's old songs sound strikingly similar to the Norwegian popsmith Sondre Lerche (see "The Velvet Viking"). Turns out they're fans of many of the same artists, including Os Mutantes and Jeff Buckley.

Scandinavians "learn pop like a language," he says, contrasting Lerche and company with American hipsters. "They don't have any hang-ups. You can throw Tina Turner at them and they'll embrace it as long as it is quality songwriting. They get into craft before the aesthetics -- those come later. When they first start out, they don't worry about looking cool. Here, you get into the scene first, and after you've been in it awhile, then it becomes okay to start listening to Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick and stuff like that."

Yoria's competitive nature, good looks and mainstream dress have set him at odds with the American hipster set. Racket brings up an infamous houston.music posting, in which one "Adrian Houston" masterfully satirizes our local indie rock scene's snobbery. (Go to Google Groups and put "Houston music" in the search engine to find the original January post and its recent supplement.)

In it, Houston spends two paragraphs talking about his taste in clothes, women and philosophy before he comes to brass tacks. He purports to want to start a band, but warns potential bandmates, "I don't have any particular talents, I will just sing, but I need to join a band in order to complete my elite and unique image. I would like to join a band that dresses fashionably and plays music that is highly impressive to the individuals in my fashion demographic."

Yoria has already seen it. "That guy nailed it," he says. "I get so into the business side of it that I don't have time to worry about stuff like that. I don't care who comes to my shows, I don't care who buys my CDs. The thing with that scene is that they're even picky about who listens to them. They're terrified that these people might start coming to their shows and they'll have guilt by association."

Yoria and Maloney have no such concerns. At 12 Records, it's the more the merrier -- even if you don't like Perrier.

A Song For…the Elderly

J.T. Van Zandt, the oldest son of Townes Van Zandt, recently accompanied Austin City Limits founder Bill Arhos to the Austin nursing home where Arhos's mother lives. "After visiting with some of these old people for a while, I thought they would stay totally catatonic," Van Zandt remembers. "But then Bill mentioned that I had a guitar in the car, and they just came to life." Van Zandt was moved by the experience, and he promised he'd be back. When he returned, he brought Will Sexton and Santiago Jimenez Jr. with him. These gigs have quickly evolved into a big idea that's getting bigger every day. Van Zandt is starting a nonprofit called A Song For… to organize musicians to play at nursing homes across the state. "'A Song For' was Townes's most depressing song, probably the most depressing song ever put out," Van Zandt says. "I wanted to take that beautiful title and turn it into something positive."

Many musicians have been informally gigging at nursing homes for years, but Van Zandt wants to organize the process. "I'd like to start with 16 homes, selected by need, and hit 'em four times a year. That would be basically a show a week. If that works, I could have an office full of organizers. I'm still on a volunteer basis, but I'm gonna hit up everybody from the adult diaper companies to the denture companies and tell them that they've been making money off these people for a long time and they need to sponsor an individual show. That way, the musician would get a per diem to cover expenses and a modest gig fee, unless they insist on volunteering."

But what musicians would really get out of A Song For… can't be quantified on a bottom line. Van Zandt says that it's a chance to play music in its purest, most noncommercial form, "the same as it is in Mexico or Africa." Then he boils the idea down to its essence. "I hope it will rejuvenate the music in our society and the nerve endings of our old people, and educate our youth on the power of music and the importance of our elderly. Kills a bunch of birds with one stone."

If you're interested in helping out, contact Van Zandt at jtvz1@cs.com.

Scuttlebutt Caboose

The best-band-we've-seen-in-a-while award goes to Chango Jackson, the local rock en español act formerly known as Moscas. CJ put on a brilliant if brief set at the recent Earthwire.net Sayonara Bash. Moscas was once described in these pages as "a Hispanic Meat Puppets," but that was a long time ago, and Racket would liken the band's latest incarnation to a ska-tinged Trail of Dead. The Earthwire set was 15 minutes of pure adrenaline, and a video of their performance at the recent South By Due East fest shows that it was no fluke. SXDE was in late March, when war jitters gripped the nation. The members of Chango Jackson took the stage in matching white chemical suits and gas masks, except for singer-bassist Tino Ortega, who wore enormous Trevor Horn from the Buggles specs…Local psychedelic indie rockers *mytwilightpilot* signed with New York-based Feel Records early this month. Feel is run by former Houstonian and current recording artist Brady Brock.

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