Teen Bands

From Doo Doo Butter to The Dimes, kids leave cover songs and garages behind

 "And I know what you're thinking / You still think I am crap / But you'd better listen, man / Because the kids know where it's at"

— The Jam, "In the City"

It's almost midnight, and guitarist Cley Miller looks over at guitarist and bassist Carlos and Jose Sanchez as they start their set. They're at Emo's, a 6th Street bar in Austin packed tonight with fans of indie heavyweights Sound Team. For Miller and his three pals, who make up The Dimes, opening for Sound Team is vindication of their three-year battle to be taken seriously.

Local rockers The Dimes may chill out at practice...
Daniel Kramer
Local rockers The Dimes may chill out at practice...
..but during their raucous live sets they lose everything from drumsticks...
Photos by Daniel Kramer
..but during their raucous live sets they lose everything from drumsticks...

Their crime, the sticking point to The Dimes' dream of success? Their age. The poppy Houston-based rockers started out as teen-agers and some still are — Miller, Jose Sanchez and drummer Iram Guerrero are all 19; Carlos Sanchez just turned 20.

As often as teen bands make it big in the movies, it only rarely happens in real life. Teen musicians who want to get out of the basement or garage — even if they have talent — aren't favored by club owners who already have more than enough trouble with their regular "adult" bands.

And yet. Tonight at Emo's, the crowd is actually listening and even dancing. No one knows who The Dimes are, but they like their sound. For a young rock band, it doesn't get much better than this, at least not in Texas.

Determination and dumb luck in equal measure got them onstage tonight.

"How we got that show was basically following Sound Team around Texas," says Miller. He and the other members of The Dimes started talking to Sound Team and mentioned they played in a band. A few days later, Sound Team called and asked if they were interested in opening for Sound Team's CD release show at Emo's.

"Me and Carlos [his brother] freaked out, like, 'Oh my God, we're playing at Emo's? With Sound Team?'" says bassist Jose Sanchez.

The band had tried to play Emo's about a year and a half before and were met with little more than "Don't call us, we'll call you." They gave the booking guy a press kit, "but we think he just threw it in the trash," Guerrero says.

It was just as much the band's fault as it was the club's, Miller acknowledges. "It was a really naive thing to do; we were kind of, like, the dumb ones."

Even after the band played other shows and did well, the age factor still held them back. Guerrero says the booker at the Proletariat on Richmond loved their performance. "But she was like, 'No, you guys are way too young; I don't want to get in trouble,'" says Guerrero. "At that time we were all 16. We were all still really young."

Booking shows in Houston and Austin stayed tough. "People were like, 'Oh, young kids? No way,'" Guerrero says. Jose Sanchez agrees. "They would be like, you're in high school, you're too young."

Three years later, the band is still pretty young in relation to the Houston music scene, but nobody seems to mind. The band is nominated for four 2007 Houston Press Music Awards — Best New Act, Best Indie Rock, Local Musician of the Year and Song of the Year ("Delilah") — and they aren't the only youngsters that have recently pushed into the spotlight. And we're not talking about only those classified under punk/emo categories. Today's teen bands aren't just playing three-chord-backed, teen-angst-ridden diatribes; thanks to the Internet, young musicians are journeying outside the radio hits that confined earlier generations.

"Now you can know about so many more bands, especially through MySpace, things are becoming a lot more personal just because of the Internet," says Edwin Terrell, lead singer/guitarist of In Denmark, a post-punk-inspired rock band made up of students from Lamar High and the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. "No one is like a slave to the record companies anymore. It's like anybody can make music."

Computers have played a big role in the teen band influx. Every band interviewed for this article had at least one member who could easily record their entire album.

So, the problem isn't how to get their music out there, it's finding an audience — other than their classmates — who will listen.

"Come have some fun, we'll be jammin' / Bring some food, but don't bring beer"

— The Kids of Whidney High,

"Let's Get Busy"

Super Happy Fun Land in the Heights has a good crowd tonight. Kids are packed into theater seats and couches and sitting on the floor listening to Rise Over Ruin — an instrumental band of Bellaire and Lamar students.

At the end of the song everyone cheers, and bassist Kevin Kendrick thanks them all for coming and announces there are two more songs left. "All these songs are going to be on our album that should be out at the beginning of the new school year."

This type of phrase is commonplace at Super Happy — the place is like a day care for teenagers. They come to play music and listen to music, and the bands don't have to pay a club owner to get the chance to get onstage. Super Happy (as it is known for short) is getting by off ticket sales. Its owner, Brian Arthur, pays the rest of his bills through an Internet business that sells jewelry and incense.

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