Color Me Impressed
Spain Colored Orange's "Persistent Intermission" starts with some fast, warm electric piano chords. Then the rhythm section and the guitars come thundering in, followed quickly by a Moog synthesizer careening out of control. And over the top of it all, wild-ass Spanish-style trumpeting and a mournful and soulful voice singing melodies damn near impossible to stamp out of your head. Before you know it, the band that until recently was called 8Track Charade is off and running, sounding like Abbey Road-era Beatles at a Seville bullfight all liquored up on wineskinned sangria.
So in a sort of geographical way it makes sense that the band has changed its name back to its original moniker: Spain Colored Orange. The redubbing occurred just before the Houston band signed with fledgling Chicago indie label Lucid Records. A couple of days before the band inked the papers, the sextet was standing around outside their practice room at Francisco Studios when they suddenly and collectively realized that they all disliked the name 8Track Charade.
"One by one they all said they hated it," remembers singer-keyboardist Gilbert Alfaro. He's sitting next to his bassist Steven Burnett at a table at Warren's, where the regulars are sipping stiff cocktails as the sounds of the Doors, Elmore James and Patsy Cline waft out of the downtown bar's famous jukebox. "We were about to sign a deal -- we had to think of something."
The bearded, stocky Alfaro -- who looks a little like a Spanish grandee from a Goya painting -- was reluctant to bring up Spain Colored Orange, but once he did the band quickly agreed to re-adopt it. The SCO name, by the way, has an origin that is both cute and kinda cheesy. "When I was in the first grade we had this huge world map, and each one of us walked around and the teacher would say stop and whatever country we were on we had to color," Alfaro remembers. "So I got Spain and I worked at it for a couple of days -- and as a kid and still today orange was my favorite color. So later we got to keep the country we colored in, and the only person who wanted it was my grandmother. And she had it hanging on her wall for over a decade. And then one day I was doing some four-track stuff in my room and I couldn't think of a band name, and then I was talking to my grandmother and I told her, 'I can't believe you still have this Spain colored orange.' And that was it, it was like a revelation."
So was their 2004 self-titled EP. Not only does the band have that Spanish Beatles thing working, especially the bluesy Beatles of stuff like "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," but also you are put in mind of bands like Supertramp, ELO and occasionally Rush and various jazz artists. "The Beatles are definitely my favorite band in all the world, ever," Alfaro says. "And I grew up on '70s music, and that's kinda what I want to re-create, but make it modern enough for people to enjoy now."
Alfaro's devotion to the Beatles knows few bounds. "I've only met two people in my whole life who hate the Beatles. One is a friend of my wife's, and the other is this guy I met in El Paso. I'd known him for two years and one day we were talking and he said, 'You know a band I hate? The Beatles.' And I said, 'You are no longer my friend.' "
Alfaro got his start on the local hardcore scene in the early '90s in bands like Refuse to Fall and Blueprint. Toward the end of the Blueprint era, he was taking time off to write Spain Colored Orange material in his bedroom. After he started playing it in public, local musicians lined up hoping to join.
"Well, this is how it all evolved," says ebullient, take-charge bassist Burnett, who looks like a young version of the Doors' Ray Manzarek. "One of the early versions of Spain Colored Orange was Gilbert and Mikey Deleon and Square-ica [Erica Cruz]. And I was like, 'Damn, this band needs a bass player!' But no one would play with me because I had been in both Japanic and a ska band -- they were all like, 'Ewww, don't hire that guy!' Finally I cornered Gilbert after a show -- Gilbert and I have the market cornered on all the instruments in the city because we're big collectors -- and I was like, 'Let's dominate this city with vintage synthesizers and crazy crap.' "
The two started swapping CDs of bands they liked. Meanwhile, Ryan Chavez slipped in as the bassist for a time, but his commitments to both Hands Up Houston and his now-defunct band Panic in Detroit ate into his Spain Colored Orange time. One day Chavez failed to show up for practice, and Burnett became SCO's Lou Gehrig -- he stepped into the lineup and has yet to miss an at bat since. Lineup turmoil followed but has since gelled with Alfaro and Burnett, along with drummer James Diederich, guitarist Randy Platt, trumpeter (and young Ron Jeremy look-alike) Eric "Walls of Jericho" Jackson and synth/laptop/electronics guy Justin Peak.
Last year the band released the EP, and it's been onward and upward ever since. It certainly caught the attention of Lucid Records honcho and former Braid member Chris Broach, who played with the Houstonians in his new group the Firebird Band at the Proletariat last November. "It was a really good show, a good crowd and all that," remembers Alfaro. "After that we kept in touch, and then we sent him the EP, and that won him over." This month the band will spend some time at Austin's Portable Sound studio and hopes to have a new EP -- which will include some new material as well as reworkings of "Persistent Information" and a couple of other songs off the old one -- for release sometime in the early fall.
"Yeah, it's gonna drop in September," says Burnett. "And you'll notice I said 'drop.' That's because I'm in the biz." Ask the band who their dream tourmates would be, and Burnett doesn't miss a beat. "Chicago and Earth Wind & Fire," he says, and he's probably not kidding at all.
But for now, you can catch them next week at Mary Jane's, as their plan of H-town Domination with Vintage Synthesizers and Crazy Crap continues to unfold.
Outside of Houston, the accordion gets a bad rap. It's been the subject of numerous one-liners and even one of Gary Larson's most memorable Far Side cartoons. (The devil says to Charlie Parker, "Welcome to Hell. Here is your accordion.") But if you grew up here, you know that the accordion isn't just a cheesy squeezebox fit only for paunchy old Midwesterners; people like zydeco master Clifton Chenier put paid to that notion long ago. On any given Saturday night, you can hear his successors -- people like Step Rideau, Brian Jack and J. Paul Jr. -- rockin' the parish halls till the wee hours.
But zydeco and related creole tunes are just one strain of accordion music we have here, the one that comes from the East. The 16th annual Accordion Kings concert at Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park will bring the squeezebox magic from the West and Southwest as well. From San Antonio come the famed Jimenez brothers -- Flaco and Santiago Jr., who haven't been on the same bill publicly since, since Well, concert host (and accordion-playing dilettante) Joe Nick Patoski doesn't know when they last played together. "Knowing their sibling rivalry and how they rate each other's music and knowing how great their old man [Santiago Jimenez Sr. ] was, that alone is worth the price of admission. Which is free, by the way. I want to see if there's going to be any interaction on stage. I know I shouldn't expect it, but hey, they are siblings." Anyone with a passing interest in roots music over the past 30 years has probably heard of Flaco and, thanks to his innumerable guest spots, likely owns a copy of a Flaco solo or two somewhere on their iPod. Santiago is less famous, but no less talented. He's just the more introverted and musically conservative of the two.
"Santiago has probably done more for roots retention than anybody in the last ten years, and Flaco has taken the button accordion farther around the world than any other artist," says Patoski. "I'm not a big fan of him calling out, 'This is a song I did with Stephen Stills' -- I mean, c'mon, that kind of name-dropping doesn't say much to me -- but in his essence, he is still a master of the norteño sound and he has taken it to the world."
Also on the bill are the Vrazels' Polka Band -- a Czech-Texan group from Milam County with more than 50 years of experience -- and Edward Poullard, a creole disciple of legendary Louisiana musician Canray Fontenot. 'This is proof that the accordion is the national instrument of Texas," says Patoski of the bill's diversity. "As much as people like guitar, you're not gonna get this kind of quality of roots musics, which are all indigenous to Houston, on the same stage on one night in three different languages. And they will all come out sounding local. Where else can you do that? This is the roots music capital of America."
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