A Month of Mutt
Dyn@mutt don't give a shit. It's not that the members of the Houston band are all completely self-absorbed nihilist punk sorts -- they're not -- it's just that they're all in college, see, and there's not much time to practice with finals coming up, and some of them are going to be in town next year, and some of them may not be. Ask guitarist/singer Dave Deggeller about the band's prospects, and the best he can come up with is this: "If we could stay alive and had somewhere to sleep, probably people's floors, and had something to eat and could drive around in a van for a year, I would have no problem with that. That would be nice. Long term? Who cares about long term."
Well, fine, short term then. Dyn@mutt is one of three Rice U.-connected bands -- Lozenge and Buddha on the Moon are the others -- to absorb members from the remains of experimental noise band Gut Logic. To drive the point home, the local Farrago Records label issued a seven-inch sampler last year featuring all three bands under the banner title Alles ist Gut!. Dyn@mutt is, in addition to Deggeller, Chad Shaw on bass and vocals and Doug Dillaman on drums, with the recent addition this past month of fellow Ricer Ray Granlund. Ray studies voice at the Shepherd School and lugs around a big baritone sax.
The name Dyn@mutt, conceived by Dave on the steps of Rice's Valhalla pub, is indeed a mangled reference to the cartoon dog. "We sent cookies to Hanna-Barbera and asked them for permission to be "Dynomutt," and they never wrote us back," says Chad. Thus the lawsuit-thwarting @, "to get Hanna-Barbera off our backs, just in case they ever have any reason to get on our backs."
Dyn@mutt came together, in concept anyway, during the summer of '92. Dave, in Dallas for the summer, sent tapes to Doug in Michigan and Chad in Houston with the idea that "we were going to play fucked-up pop songs, messy pop songs." Dave thinks for a minute and then adds, "I guess, if that was our goal, we failed."
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Failed gloriously, by the evidence of Dyn@mutt's recently released CD debut, a handbook for young scientists. Like a lot of young bands that don't realize they're supposed to be trying -- that is to say, almost accidentally and without much forethought -- Dyn@mutt has come up with a 14-song blast of nervous inspiration that, while it can't reasonably be called pop, is packed with enough blenderized nuggets of melody to balance the brittle, off-kilter rush of what the band calls songs. Imagine if William Burroughs made edgy nerd rock by cutting and pasting Superchunk and Minutemen records, then subtract that sense of tortured artist-dom lent by Burroughs. It's one of the least tired (okay, freshest) sounds to bubble up in the Houston underground since the Keenlies rediscovered jangle, and it does tend to lead to questions like, so, are you guys going to keep doing this, or what...
At a stretch, Dyn@mutt will tag itself "scientist rock," but since fIREHOSE's Mike Watt already has rights to that, I ask them to
"Duck Butter called us 'that small band,' " offers Chad, "because of our equipment. Duck Butter had like ten pedals and huge speakers. That was our first big gig, at Backstage on their Alternative Wednesday nights. The booker didn't like us. The band didn't like us."
Dave didn't like the show. "It scared the hell out of us. There's this huge stage and we're grouped in this tiny little formation in the middle, and little Doug on the drum riser. We're all standing in this ten-square-foot range, so there's all this stage open. We must have looked like frightened rabbits."
That small band. It's a title the band doesn't much object to, and one nobody's likely to steal. "Houston bands -- volume is in," says Dave. "We started out kind of priding ourselves on the fact that we didn't turn our amps up real loud. If you can avoid using loud volume and tricks like that and still be a good band, I think that would be better than anything."
Before a handbook for young scientists, before being pegged as "that small band," Dyn@mutt hit the road, touring with now-defunct locals Seed during summer '93 on the strength of a demo tape called Like a Hamster Wheel, and busily building a "small" resume. The band played a pizza joint in Austin, a rec center in the military town of Copperas Cove, where the music-starved kids begged for autographs, and a friend's living room on an Indian reservation near Santa Fe -- to an audience of three -- at least until the reservation police dropped in to turn the noise down. Dyn@mutt tried to play Fort Worth, and Chad's parents even showed up to catch the performance, but the owner of the empty club told the band he could make more money by turning off the A/C and sent them home.
If it seems like a leap from competing with an air conditioner to the number five slot in Rolling Stone's April 21, 1994 alternative music charts, it's really not. All you have to do is release your CD to Sound Exchange the same week the RS charts editor decides to make a call and see what's selling down in Houston. "It didn't hurt," says Chad, "that a guy I used to be in a band with works at Sound Exchange."
That's what Dyn@mutt unwittingly did, and while the only result of the unexpected national plug thus far has been a rush on copies of Rolling Stone by proud, or more likely baffled, Dyn@mutt parents, the rumors are flying around town that a Billboard correspondent is on her way to town to profile the local scene.
"Somehow," says Chad, "I don't think they're going to find it."
"The Houston scene's really weird, if there is one," he continues. "There's a bunch of friends who happen to know each other 'cause they run into each other or they went to school together, and it just happens that they're all in bands. That's the feeling I get. Everybody puts out their friends." Including Larry Pirkle and Buddha on the Moon founder H.K. Kahng, both Rice alums, who started Farrago Records to get bands -- both their own and their friends' -- onto vinyl. Farrago, in a measure of rare generosity, paid for everything related to a handbook for young scientists, which was recorded at Deep Dot Studios with production by Kahng and KTRU local-music director Justin Crane.
And now that the album's out, in the stores and in Rolling Stone, Dyn@mutt is ready to try the tour route one more time. This time Dave has booked the band through the Midwest, down the East Coast, through Florida and Louisiana and home, ignoring Texas altogether. After that is an expected two-month hiatus while Doug goes home to Washington, D.C. After the tour-launching show this Friday night, there's likely to be a long local dry spell for Dyn@mutt, and for potential Dyn@mutt fans.
Which brings us back to the career question. Is Dyn@mutt even going to be a band after this kickoff show? Is longevity part of the plan?
"We'll see how this month goes," Chad hedges.
And when I suggest that there are a lot of bands on the road making careers out of less interesting music than you'll find on handbook, he responds -- and I don't know if this is encouraging -- "I think that may be the key."
Dyn@mutt opens for Woody's Jukebox, Lozenge and Pop Defect on Friday, May 6 at Harvey's Club Deluxe, 2524 McKinney. Call 223-4705 for more info.
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