Houston Rock Scene Woes, Continued

A tri-ologue with three scene vets about selling out, not being true to yourself and rocking too hard

Both Moore and Castillo grant that some of their animus toward the all-rock, all-the-time music of so many local bands comes from the fact that they are getting older. But both also take pains to say that there is a place for all-out aural assault. (Moore wants it to be known that he came up on Hsker D and still digs Slayer. "I am not a folkie!" he laughs.) They just believe that more bands here should mix things up. Unless you are a master of hard rock -- a band like AC/DC or Motörhead -- you should dab some more colors of paint on your palette. "I don't want to hear a Motörhead ballad, but I don't want to hear Motörhead six nights a week, either," says Moore. (Or should that be Moöre?) Haaga says that you can and should rock the face off your audience a few times every show, but if and only if you build up to it.

Think of it as like baseball: Very few pitchers can thrive by uncorking one fastball after another. For every Curt Schilling type -- a let's-see-if-you-can-catch-up-with-this fireballer -- there are dozens of flamethrowing guys who never get out of Triple-A ball. Most successful major league pitchers have at least two and as many as four good pitches, and they can change speeds with all of them. They have dynamics on the mound. And to return to the painting analogy, Picasso could get away with a monochromatic phase like his Blue Period because and only because he was Pablo Freakin' Picasso, and anyway he eventually got over it and invented and/or popularized cubism.

The same goes for successful bands. "Look at Led Zeppelin," Moore says. "Fuckin' 20 percent of their records were acoustic-ish, no-drums kind of things." And the same could be said for Guns N' Roses, and even the mighty Black Sabbath had their elves-gamboling-in-a-glade moments.

The thing is, chances are all those local screamo bands on MySpace and the opening slots of four-band local shows know all this. They probably just can't do much about it yet. Castillo believes that, besides simple immaturity and ignorance, one of the reasons bands rock too hard all night long is that they use it as a veil. "For me, what I was doing was just covering for not having real songs," he admits. "Even AC/DC, yeah, they're rockin', but those guys have songs. When I had Tody and the Royals, I was always like, 'Come on, let's raawwwwk,' but then I just got so tired of it, 'cause that's not what I was listening to. But it's scary to get up there as a songwriter and just be like, 'Dude, I'm just gonna stand up here and just play something real nice.'"

There was a time when it was both novel and took courage to play loud. It was brave when Dylan went electric, when Blue Cheer and the 13th Floor Elevators mapped hitherto unfathomed decibels (and levels of lysergic intoxication), when the Sex Pistols took their newfangled, snarling punk to honky-tonks in the Valley and Memphis. Those days are gone. Today the brave thing to do is to work hard enough on music that can be played quietly enough to be appreciated on its own merits.

"It's harder and it takes a lot more guts, because it exposes your songs," says Castillo. "It's like that thing where you see if you can play your song solo on an acoustic guitar and will it make sense?"

Haaga's view is darker. He thinks that many in the music community don't care if you try to step up your songcraft. To do so means you are "selling out," he says. "Man, I don't even understand that whole concept anymore," he says. "I think it's way overused and really out of date, and really just immature to say that. There is no selling out -- there is a certain amount of give-and-take in your art...There's a fine line between success and selling out, and I think that's what's confused in Houston."

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