College students have been a vital part of the live music audience since the days when Glenn Miller, Jimmie Lunceford and Benny Goodman beckoned couples to trip the light fantastic across ballroom dance floors. These days in Texas, a substantial college crowd has arisen to support a mini-movement of Lone Star acts with a decidedly Texan slant to their music.
Honeybrowne, a good-time rock band spiced with rootsy seasonings, is Southwest Texas State University's entry in the collegiate music sweepstakes. Like many Texas collegians who have recently graduated from textbooks and beer bashes to the stage, Fred Andrews, Honeybrowne's founder, "started strumming guitar in the middle of college, and found I really liked it." Soon Andrews and a couple of friends were toting their guitars along to every party they attended.
"We couldn't play other people's music that well. The easy stuff we could play. The harder stuff we really didn't know how to play, so we had to make up our own songs because I knew like four chords when I started," the Victoria-bred Andrews admits. "We'd always bring our guitars to any party, and we'd sit out there on the porch and play. We didn't care if there was one person or 20 people; we'd sit there and play. And drink a lot of beer. Lots of beer."
Firehouse Saloon, 5930 Southwest Freeway
Saturday, September 29; 713-977-1962
In time, they landed a gig at a San Marcos club -- Tuesday dollar-beer night. "Our first gig there were 50 people there. I think we got paid like 50 bucks maybe, and all the beer we could drink, so it was a pretty good deal on both ends." The music bug would soon bite Andrews more forcefully, and he started to put together a real band.
If the genesis of this band, which now regularly performs in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, sounds rather casual, well, it was. As Andrews tells it, he sort of stumbled upward into the music game.
Andrews is a charmingly self-effacing sort who explains that even though he grew up with parents and a sister who played instruments, he washed out of lessons on the piano ("I hated the teacher because she had coffee breath") and drums. He teethed on such family favorites as "lots of country, Simon and Garfunkel, Billy Joel, Kingston Trio, Townes Van Zandt and Kris Kristofferson." As for what inspired him to play, however, "I was kind of on the alternative edge, to be honest: Toad the Wet Sprocket, Nirvana, the Smiths, Jackopierce."
Andrews graduated college and started working as a special education teacher. Meanwhile, the band cut its first CD, Real, and things began looking that way. "I put a really good band together of pros, and got a good booking agent." Andrews invited Houston-bred songwriter and co-lead singer Clay Garcia to join up after Garcia opened for Honeybrowne at Gruene Hall. Two weeks later, the band's other founding songwriter left.
Finding Shade, Honeybrowne's second recording, came out last year. Andrews admits that it's the work of a band in progress. "Our live shows are a lot different than our last CD. It's kind of tame, the CD. Our producer never saw us live before we made the album." Shade starts out with a percolating cover of Stephen Stills's "Love the One You're With" and runs through the usual embryonic songwriter modes: tunes about girls like "Julie at the Bar," "Annie in the Moonlight" and "Texas Angel," and tentative forays into stuff with deeper meaning as indicated by such titles as "Deeper Shade of Blue," "Inside" and "Change." Unfortunately, one tune, "Tokyo Tan," verges slightly toward racial insensitivity and has a clumsily veiled reference to onanism. But it's an earnest effort, energetic and fun, even if it isn't any great artistic statement or revelatory work of youthful inspiration.
And that's okay with Andrews, who was able to quit his day job last year. "Man, what I want to do is ride this record for a month or two longer, and then get back in the studio and write and sing and play some really good songs, some songs that really challenge us musically."
Although Honeybrowne packs college bars, Andrews protests any attempt to lump his group into the collegiate country-rock movement that's co-opting the rubric "Texas music" by stringing together references to party life in the Lone Star State. "We don't want to be another Pat Green," stresses Andrews, who considers Green a friend even though he admits he doesn't like Green's music. "We don't want to be swallowed up in that huge deal where everybody is singing the same kind of music. It's gross. It's not even good music. Now you've got every motherfucker doing the same thing. Anybody that can play three chords and write a song about Copenhagen and beer and the Guadalupe River is putting a band together.
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"We want to be Texas artists, but we don't want to be lumped into that. They can call themselves that. That's fine. You can just call us Honeybrowne."
And what about that name, huh? "Our name Honeybrowne sucks. I hate it. I wish we never had it," Andrews says without hesitation. "But we got stuck with it. We got a gig opening for Jackopierce, and the promoter needed a name for us, and we didn't have one. We were just playing this club for beer. We were drunk at the bar one night, and there was this coaster there, and it said Honey Brown on it. And we said, 'Uh, Honeybrowne.' And now five years later we can't shake it." Perhaps they can become the band formerly known as Honeybrowne? "I'd love it. But it's just a name. Maybe someday a label will make us change it."
But for now, it's all okay. Sure, Andrews has ambitions, but they're realistic ones. "I don't want a Lexus," he says. "I just want to get better as a musician. If I thought I was good, maybe I wouldn't keep going. It's a challenge, because I started late, and I'm learning new things every day. I'm not an exceptional musician yet. I'm still a back-porch player, a campfire player. But I want to be good."
All in all, the fact that Honeybrowne has lucked into a decent regional career is a pleasant surprise for the group's founding force. "Yeah, and I want to keep it that way. And hopefully it will stay that way," concludes Andrews. "If we play in front of 40 people, fine. If we play in front of 400 people, fine. It doesn't matter. I just want to keep playing and playing."