By Chris Gray
By Corey Deiterman
By Jef With One F
By Chris Gray
By Rocks Off
By Rocks Off
Even for the hipper-than-hip Austin Chronicle "Dancing for Architecture" column, this February 9, 2001, journalistic snippet was particularly snide.
"Bryan Bowden of the Young Heart Attack called to announce that Tony Scalzo is now 'a full-time member' of the band, joining the exclusive clique alongside ex-Barker Alice Spencer, Tune in Tokyo's Chris Hodge, and former Sixteen Deluxe players Bowden, Steven Hall, and Chris 'French Dip' Smith. How can Scalzo, a key member of hitmakers Fastball, join the Heart Attack fold? Well, other than the fact that the 'ballers have recently come off a long tour and have some break time coming, fact is Young Heart Attack have so far managed to play only one three-song set in their career, and have no plans for a follow-up until at least April "
While Scalzo has already left the fold, nuggets like that are par for the course for Young Heart Attack, whose members are most decidedly not seen as heroes in their own hometown. They just don't jibe with what Austin is perceived to be all about. They're too serious. They work a little too hard and rock way too hard. In a way, the AusChron was right. It is hard to imagine YHA playing even a three-song gig in the Cosmic Cowboy Capitol. Instead, their music belongs in front of a sweating throng of 16-ounce Red Stripe-swilling, head-bobbing, fist-pumping, Red Stripe can-throwing, moshing hooligans at the London Astoria. Maybe Motörhead and Supersuckers are on the bill. Maybe a fight breaks out. Maybe the police are called.
YHA may sound like London, but they'd just as soon be playing here.
"We were actually 'discovered' in Houston," says bassist Steven Hall. "We played the Metropol, which was owned by Tim Murrah, and he was a big supporter from the start. He booked us our first out-of-town gigs, then hooked us up with this Brit named Cliff Jones, who shopped us and eventually co-produced our forthcoming LP. So we owe a lot to Houston rock fans. I mean, we're now at a point where we travel the world, and Houston has the best fans, best drugs, best parties, really beautiful girls and kick-ass dudes. It's one of the best towns on earth to us."
It was the arrival of drummer Joey Shuffield (Wild Seeds, Fastball) and singer Jen Stephens that completed the current six-piece lineup. While the men had plenty of experience, Dallasite Stephens had never been in a real band. But according to guitarist Frenchie Smith, Stephens is a natural. "She had this great voice from the start that was a match for Chris's, but we thought we'd just have to wait and see if she was going to really be a rocker like the rest of us. But she's grown into it, like she's found something she's supposed to be doing. Now we're all just trying to catch up with her."
You can almost hear Robert Plant scream "been a long time since you rock and rolled" in the Young Heart Attack assault. The playing is rock and roll frantic, and the singers shriek in AC/DC fashion. Yet it's all highly competent and deceptively melodic for headbanger music.
Hall says he and Hodge joined forces because "we wanted to ignite the fuse and get back to the type of music we grew up on, but kind of modernize and reinvent it. We all love the '70s, bands like Springsteen and Black Flag, the Stooges, MC5, the Who, Zep and X. But let's face it, our stuff doesn't sound like 1974. It just recalls the essence of it."
Since being "discovered" in Houston late in 2002, the band has put out two successful seven-inch sides on UK label RexRecords and is now signed to another British label in XL Recordings, which will release Young Heart Attack's first full-length album, Mouthful of Love, in April. The band's 2003 UK single, "Over and Over," was an XFM Radio candidate for best single of the year, and it looks like current single "Misty Rowe" will do just as well. So the band doesn't worry that it's hardly on the radar in its hometown.
"In the UK things are a lot different," says Hall. "We never knew wild crowds until we played Glasgow, Scotland. Truly, truly gnarly. It's now getting to where we are recognized and stuff. We worked hard last year, nearly 100 gigs, and it has paid off. I've heard us on the radio some, and Frenchie saw us on TV. All that stuff rules, but we just try to stay focused on the quality and intensity of the gigs."
The band just returned from a British tour opening for current "it" band the Darkness. While on that tour, they were selected to open several dates for legendary UK hard rockers Motörhead.
"They turned out to be really supportive of us," Hall says. While the hard rock icons didn't share with the band any advice, they did offer some moral support. "One night at an after-show party, [Motörhead drummer] Mikkey Dee told this annoying dickhead from our record company to fuck off and leave us alone because he was just an annoying suit fucker," Hall recalls. "Those dudes are totally badasses."
The Motörhead gigs led to the band recording two tracks with Motörhead front man Lemmy Kilmister in Austin on January 30. "We invited Lemmy to our place in Austin to sing on a B-side for our next single, and he was into it. Then he decided it would be good to do a track for the solo record he is doing with various bands backing him. So he wrote this great tune in just like a half-hour, and the next day he brought in the lyrics and chords, we arranged it, rehearsed it a couple of times and laid it down to tape. Then he and Jen put vocals on and that was it. It happened really fast and turned out killer," says Hall. "That dude is awesome to work with. His attitude was really devil-may-care, like let's just get in there and put some ideas together. And it just came together very naturally."
Still, Hall says that he regards this less as a crowning achievement -- as all too many bands would -- and more of a stepping stone. "It's really cool and exciting that we now make a living from music, get to travel around, hang out with rock stars and stuff," he says. "But what it all comes down to for real is we just want to gear up and play our tunes, meet the fans, travel and have a kick-ass time doing it. And we want it all right now. The label, the agents, the business stuff is all necessary, but it's really an afterthought inside the band, as far as the day-to-day goes. On one hand it's just a rock band, but on the other hand we look to the future. We're very competitive and aggressive. We believe we'll go to a multi-album level and that the band will last. And we want to dominate. Over other bands, over every town.
"Some say cocky, we say confident. We take the peerless and fearless approach. We want to rule," he says. "That's all on the stage, of course."
Then Smith waxes a bit more philosophical. "Some bands take a thing as far as they can, and it just runs out of steam. But at this moment in time, I can't imagine wanting to be in any other band. It sounds like a cliché, but I think every one of us was born to rock. It's like an animal instinct, and you only know you have it if you are one of those animals."