Remember the '90s? When it comes to Houston's rock scene, a lot of people don't. Sure, local bands were drawing large crowds to venues like the Axiom, the Vatican and the Unicorn, but much of the music of that era never made it outside the Beltway, and those clubs have been closed down for decades.
Unlike the underground hip-hop classics that were being pumped out in Houston at roughly the same time, the city's Clinton-era rock scene has largely receded from memory. For those of us who weren't there, it almost seems never to have existed at all.
That's unacceptable to J. Schneider and Brent Himes. The two of them played smogged-out shows together in the punk/funk/??? band Taste of Garlic in the early- to mid-'90s, and now they've co-directed a feature documentary about the wild, passionate scene that they remembered. The film is called "When We Ruled H-Town," and it premieres at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Rice University Theater.
If you're planning on checking out the movie premiere and you haven't got tickets yet, the time to start placing a few phone calls is right now. The event looks like a sellout, and if you can't make it, you'll be missing out.
The film is jam-packed with first-person accounts of sold-out shows, eclectic lineups and six-foot bongs. Schneider and Hines tracked down a slew of the scene's principals to sound off, and the doc crams in remembrances of nearly every major act, venue, triumph and calamity that coalesces into a scene too big and too cool to have been ignored the way it was outside of the city.
"Austin got all the respect, and we didn't," Schneider said. "But a lot of the bands from Austin, they couldn't play shows like that. And they couldn't make as much money in Austin as we were here, so they'd have to come here and do that. And they were way bigger here than they were in Austin!"
If that sounds impossible, just wait. Schneider and his cohorts have the footage to back those memories up. Rocks Off sat down with the guitarist this week to learn a little more about how "When We Ruled H-Town" came to be.
Rocks Off: Was the film your idea initially, or how did it develop?
J. Schneider: I play in a band called Taste of Garlic, and me and the guitar player, you know, we'd just be talking on the phone about our glory days. He's one of the other producers, Brent Himes. I actually work on documentaries -- I work for the PBS station in New Orleans.
I worked on the Fats Domino documentary and other things, and I said, "I can do this. I think our time was so special that it deserves it." And he was like, "Yeah, yeah! Let's do it!" And it kind of went from there.
It could have been a lot longer. I know it's long--two and a half hours--but trying to condense the entire '90s into an hour and a half was way hard.
RO: How long did it take to make from your initial inspiration?
JS: Almost three years. It's been tough trying to keep as much information in as possible for somebody, say, in Seattle who knows nothing about our scene, to watch and say "Wow." I sent it to people I know who were not a part of our scene, and they said, "This went on in Houston?" Hell yeah, it went on in Houston!
That whole time it was just so incredible--there was always something going on. You can't count how many sold-out shows that all of us bands played back then. When Robbie (Conley), one of our producers, was booking Fitzgerald's, he'd have these major-label bands come through on tour who weren't super huge yet. Robbie would say, "You should open for this local band here. They kind of fit your stuff."
Some people were like, "Open for a local band? What are you, crazy? I'm on Warner Bros.!" Robbie said, "OK, well, you can play to 150 people or you can play to a sold-out show. Take your pick." Sometimes, they'd go for it. One of the bands that ended up doing that was Jimmy Eat World. You really knew we had something here when that's going on.
A lot of us didn't really care about making it like they did in Austin. They were pretty and whatever, and we were just dirty. We knew it, and we just cared about having fun and playing to our friends.
RO: Who was the first person that you called when you decided to move forward with this idea?
JS: Besides Brent and Robbie, the first person I called, I think, was Allison from Manhole and Julie Kelly, who worked at Houston Press and the Public News. And Tod Waters from Spunk, too. Once it started getting bigger, it was, "You gotta have this band!" Well, I tried to get everyone!
RO: Was there anyone you wanted to get for the movie or the showcase that you couldn't?
JS: We interviewed Sprawl -- Nick Cooper and Matt Kelly -- and we wanted them to play. We were begging them. I don't know what happened, but they couldn't get everybody together. I mean, it's a big band, there were a lot of people!
I think half of them could commit and the other half couldn't. We wanted them. I tried to get Phil from Pantera to talk about deadhorse because they played together, but it never did happen.
RO: Who are you most looking forward to seeing at the shows this weekend?
JS: I'm looking forward to seeing all the fans, man. That's what drove the scene, was the fans. These kids came and bought, paid, and kept the whole thing going. They were the scene.
And of course I'm looking forward to all the bands. I love all those guys. It's just going to be fun! When we screened a 30-minute preview at Fitz, it was kind of cool to see these big, burly tough dudes sitting there with tears in their eyes. That was beautiful, seeing that. Because this was the first time they'd seen themselves on the big screen, you know?
RO: The Internet and modern communications seems to have been really essential to getting everybody back together for the film and shows. How do you think the '90s rock scene in Houston would have been different if today's high-speed Internet had been available?
JS: I don't think it would have been as big. Now, you don't have to leave. You can just YouTube Tread or whoever and watch them at home. I'm kind of glad we were all on 56k modems back then!
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It's a good thing and a bad thing. You can get your music out to so many more people now online. In '90s, since we didn't have that, it kind of forced you to come out and follow the word of mouth. "Hey man, I just saw this band at the Axiom on Friday, you've got to check 'em out next month at the Vatican!"
That's how we did it -- just the word of mouth and the constant fliering.