Houston's D.R.I. released Crossover in 1987, signaling the alchemical wedding of hardcore punk and heavy metal. Mohawks became dreadlocks, flowing tresses became shiny pates and the fringe world of fast, heavy, angry music gained a foothold in the mainstream by uniting these formerly averse musical fronts.
Dozens of mutations and over 20 years later, a young band named A Dream Asleep rose from the ashes of the late PM Theory through the continued collaboration of Girth brothers Ryan (bass) and Erik Girth (guitar). Influenced by hardcore, metal, indie rock and jazz, the band is slowly making its mark on the Bayou City, one club and house party at a time, tying with Beau Beasley's Homopolice for Best Hardcore at this year's Houston Press Music Awards.
When PM Theory folded due to differences in direction in 2005, Ryan Girth moved to New Orleans to assist with the Katrina clean-up. When his tour of duty was over, he stayed "to wait tables and drink," he says.
"It was basically a year-long vacation."
But not a vacation from music — Erik, his younger brother and guitar player in PM Theory, visited frequently and the two began writing songs for the band that would become A Dream Asleep (but initially consisted of most of PM Theory).
As things evolved, however, old members left and new blood was recruited in the form of A Royal Tragedy guitarist Justin Smith and drummer Aaron Perez. While Ryan continued his Big Easy holiday, his brother and Smith began some songwriting on their own. The pair's harmonic riff-alongs and call-and-response-style guitar interplay eventually resolved into post-hardcore twin-guitar licks that channeled Television's Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd.
Another departure allowed current lead vocalist Mike Seals to step in. Previously, Seals was PM Theory's videographer and now does A Dream Asleep's live video mash-ups on YouTube, something he says "was just a hobby — I was just fucking around with video."
"We were auditioning new singers and I called Mike to come hang out. He said he wanted to try out," Erik says incredulously.
When Ryan was informed of this, he responded with trepidation: "I like Mike; let him down easy."
However, "He nailed it," grins Erik. "He had some work to do, but he got it."
Seals's high-energy screaming, jumping and knee-sliding style certainly earned him a spot in this band that seems to suffer from ants-in-the-pants syndrome while performing. When not providing backing screeches, Erik covers every inch of the stage on every song, and Smith's guitar is as much a blur as his fingers are on the frets.
Such manic behavior inevitably has its share of collisions, but the band takes it in stride. Seals piggybacks on every member of the band indiscriminately and often earns playful kicks to the ribs and head in return. But what's a little roughhousing among friends, especially when it adds to A Dream Asleep's live spectacle without overtly affecting the musicianship?
Besides, these overly hormonal rockers are genuine friends.
"When I feel like going out for a beer, the guys are the first ones I call," Erik says fondly.
This friendly nature adds to the songwriting process perfectly. When Perez came to try out for the drum spot, they threw some riffs at him and he ending up making what were hitherto unrelated parts into a song.
The Girth brothers and Smith work in tandem as well, and most songs are created from guitar parts or bass and guitar interaction.
"We write really fast; we can turn out three songs in less than a month," Erik almost brags. "But we don't force it; if we feel that way, we stop."
"Sometimes you just gotta step back,"agrees Ryan.
"We'll put stuff aside and sometimes two songs come out of it. Sometimes it's a struggle," Erik confesses.
Struggle or no, musicality is no stranger to the band. The Girths and Perez all have classical training, and Justin is "classically trained in awesome," so the band usually winds up with usable material. Ryan admits he's the band's "go-to guy for bridges and choruses."
A Dream Asleep accidentally collaborated for the song title "Horus vs. the Juggernauts." A band called the Juggernauts was practicing nearby one day, and the vibrations from their amplified exertions killed Horus, mistily described by Erik as a "beautiful, multichambered glass bong." Though the inadvertent battle produced a song title, it was a Pyrrhic victory.
So far, A Dream Asleep has done very little touring. In fact, some of their favorite venues are living rooms.
"It's just taking it back to now," Ryan says. "There's more energy in a living room than a lot of clubs."
Besides, A Dream Asleep is waiting for the release of its EP, which the band plans to shop around to local record stores and Austin's Waterloo Records as well as making it available through iTunes before taking the act on the road.
As a local act intent on at least making enough money to forego 9-to-5 jobs and "smoke pot on my couch," an ambitious Erik says, they have no intentions of ever leaving Houston.
Blue October aside, "Nobody is really looking for the next big thing in Houston," Perez says.
"No one gets snatched up," Ryan agrees. "People either play music here because they love it or they're trying desperately to sell out."
"I'll live in my apartment, I don't care,"Erik states.
Perez says he can picture himself buying a house in the 'burbs and hanging out downtown.
"Just because you come across some money doesn't mean you have to leave," he says; Seals simply states that he loves Houston.
"Don't pretend you're something when you're not," Ryan says, or to put it in layman's terms, as does Erik: "Drink the same shitty beer in the same shitty places."
It seems A Dream Asleep's love affair with H-Town is reciprocal. A Dream Asleep tied with Beau Beasley's Homopolice for Best Hardcore in this publication's 2009 poll.
"Winning wasn't really an ego boost," Perez says seriously. "But it was nice to know people like what they like and what they liked was us."
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