Trading Groceries for Guns

Matt Brownlie talks about his band's new name and a very strange year

A little over two years ago, we put forth the theory that winning a Houston Press Music Award brought down a curse upon your band. We had plenty of evidence in hand even then -- most prominent among it the cases of Japanic and South Park Mexican. Those two acts took home six awards between them in 2001, and before a year had elapsed Japanic had broken up and South Park Mexican had gone to prison for 45 years.

The spooky trend has continued -- one of 2002's big winners was bluesman Little Joe Washington. Less than a month after winning an armful of trophies, the pint-sized guitar shredder was hauled off to the pokey for nonpayment of traffic tickets. This manifestation of the HPMA jinx wasn't content to bite just one winner in the ass -- later that day, Washington's $450 bail was paid by Pete Gordon, a suddenly poorer member of the El Orbits, another of that year's winners.

Last year's awards have proved to be no exception. For some, the jinx has been nastier than ever. Opie Hendrix and the Texas Tallboys won their first trophy ever in 2003, and since then, not one but two bass players in that band have died.

And then there's the indie rock/post-punk band once known as Groceries. First, before we get to how the curse of the HPMAs caused them their weirdest year ever, a little digression is required. Regular readers of this column will remember last year's feud, which pitted yours truly on one side and Groceries front man Matt Brownlie on the other, and which arose out of our perceived mutual disrespect. Brownlie and I drove each other insane and took a little bit of the city's music scene with us. I called Brownlie a bunch of names, he called me a bunch of names, an anonymous poster on the Hands Up Houston message board, evidently quite the Groceries fan, muttered something about burning my house down. We had a nasty public pissing match on the Engine Room stage at the awards ceremony, where I presented them with their award for Best Indie Rock. (I thought about pulling a Charlie Rich. In 1975, the Silver Fox was called upon to present the Country Music Association's award for Entertainer of the Year. On opening the envelope, Rich scowled, read out the words "And the winner is my good friend John Denver," took out his Zippo, set the card on fire and stalked off the stage.)

We were both nuts, bug-eyed insane. I can well imagine it was the same for Brownlie -- for me, for a while there, the mere utterance of his name in my presence was like Larry or Curly saying "Niagara Falls" in the presence of Moe. My eyes would glaze with hatred. The knuckles on my balled fists would turn white. My blood pressure would go through the roof. Cloudlets of steam would escape my red ears and flared nostrils. Slowly I would turn, step by step, inch by inch

But believe it or not, all that's in the past. We avoided settling our differences with pistols at ten paces and just shook hands on it. We've thought about continuing the feud Andy Kaufman-style for your continued amusement, but neither of us is the comedic genius that Kaufman was, so sorry, folks, it's over.

Which is why I am able to sit with him over drinks at Under the Volcano and have a pleasant conversation about some unpleasant recent events, calamities that have contributed to the band's decision to jettison six or seven years of history and change their name from Groceries to Bring Back the Guns. Whether they were caused by the HPMA jinx is up to you.

Brownlie says the weirdness started when bassist Blake Powell -- burned out after ten years in the trenches -- left the group. Powell's replacement, who won't be named here, looked good at first. "We thought he was gonna be the perfect fit," Brownlie says. "He liked a lot of the same kind of music we did. I had played with him, and he was a natural musician." (Insert chilling horror music here.) "But three or four months after we put him in the band, we realized that--" Brownlie pauses a full five seconds -- "he was close to being fucking nuts. And he had two parents that were fucking nuts," he continues at last. "And even though the lad was 25 years old, they were bound and determined to monitor his every move, to the point of calling him 20 times a day, just to give him shit about being in a rock band. When we went on our first tour, he had to lie to them about what he was doing. It was abusive, but by the same token he wouldn't do anything about it. I mean, they would drive here all the way from DFW when he wasn't here and break into his apartment."

Whew. Some enterprising youngster out there ought to open a service that does background checks on indie rock musicians. "We all tried to have sympathy for this guy," Brownlie continues. "But he wouldn't do anything about it, and he got crazier and crazier, and it was emotionally sabotaging the band."

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