Fightin' Words

Feazel (far right) says you can teach a monkey to shred, but not to write a song.

Craig Feazel, singer/guitarist/ pedal steel player of the local rock band Drifter likes a few things, among them Led Zeppelin, Jug O' Lightnin', Horseshoe, Rudyard's, the Tequila Cowboys and especially Jonathan Richman. He also likes Valhalla, the Rice grad-student pub where he's being interviewed for the Press. "I like this place," he says, waving a plastic cup of ZiegenBock around at the massive live oaks standing still on the pleasant April night. "I like it that you can get a beer for 75 cents and you won't run into Patrick fucking Bateman at the bar."

Just about everything else is another matter. For starters, he hates the jam scene. A speech in praise of Southern rockers Gov't Mule quickly twists into an anti-jam-band diatribe. "When I think of jam bands, I think of some stupid lyrics over some airy guitar that goes on for 30 minutes, and it's all real happy and you see all these hippies that you just want to smack in the face," he says. "And you have to celebrate weed and not have a job and do nothing and be as slovenly as you can and noodle around all night long and stink up the place so people who come to see the music can't even enjoy it and realize that they didn't even want to be there to begin with. And even if they did, they would have to come back some other time, because this time they couldn't fuckin' see the show because there was some moron standing up in front of them high on fuckin' mushrooms babbling about Jerry Garcia and how much this idiot on stage sounds just like Trey Anastasio." Whew!

Clearly, Feazel is unimpressed by the virtuosity of the jam-band musician. "You can take your average monkey," he snarls, "and give him a guitar and a metronome and let him sit there and fuckin' shred all day long, and he'll probably learn to play in time, in speed, going from quarter speed to full speed, diminish to full diminish, all sorts of Mixolydian scales, but that little asshole can't write a song. And that's what it all comes down to, man."



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In fact, Feazel believes all songs should be under eight minutes in length. "Unless you're fucking John Coltrane, you just can't do it," he says. "Miles Davis could do it. Allman Brothers, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Enrico Morricone, or whatever his name is. Those are the greats. They can do songs over eight minutes."

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The vitriol is somewhat surprising coming from Feazel, whose band's sound has a quality as warm and balmy as the night of our interview. I couldn't place the band that Drifter reminds me of until a recent show at the Continental Club, when Feazel and crew played the exact song I was trying to think of: Archie Bell & The Drells' "Tighten Up," the perfect Houston-in-April song. True, Drifter is a quartet and lacks a TSU Tornado or ten -- but the interplay of Feazel's down-and-dirty Telecaster and Paul Beebe's jazzy fretwork and the rumbling rhythm section of bass player Cullen Evans and drummer Derryck Noser calls to mind the Southern soul of the late '60s rather than the bands (ZZ Top, Allman Brothers and Zeppelin) Feazel claims as his primary influences.

Still Feazel doesn't reject the "Tighten Up" comparison, or that to spring weather. "If we ever saw a Jeep full of high school girls coming back from Galveston and listening to our music -- that's how our music should be listened to," he says. "And loud." Feazel calls their music "organic rock," but describing his sound soon winds him up, and he's off to the races again.

He hates Ryan Adams: "Just basic chords and some guy singing who thinks he's really important."

Mainstream radio is on his shit list, too: "As far as radio goes, I think music is in the worst shape it's ever been. It's just like the '80s again. But every movement has an antimovement, and when the next one comes, it's gonna be really cool. I just hope I'm still in my twenties when it happens, because more than likely I'll be married with eight kids and a mortgage by the time it comes around."

He wonders where the real rock has gone: "Not fucking heavy metal, not cheesy fucking white-trash Guess Who shit. I'm talking about Black Crowes, Zeppelin-influenced rock. Is it just dead forever? I'm not looking for super- virtuosos, I'm just looking for a band that can lay down a riff and keep it in time."

And hair metal doesn't stand a chance with him: "I can't understand these people who buy these 20-string guitars and drop-tune 'em so that they sound like someone with a megaphone screaming into a Marshall amp…That's one thing we try to do: as we put it, keep it simple the way fuckin' God intended it. When you play the drums, why do you need more than one tom? Why do you, unless you're some cheesy-ass fucking hair metal band, and if you are one of those, why don't you just fuckin' hang yourself?"

Many artists would rather tie a rope around their necks than play frat gigs. Not so Drifter. "The money's great," says Feazel. "And the people on that scene are very loyal. Yeah, you get some assholes at frat houses, but you get them at clubs, too."

"Loyal" is not a word Feazel would use to describe Houston audiences. "I know it's a cheesy thing to say, but I just want to play and have a good time," he says. "Sometimes Houston makes it hard to do that. Some of our best shows have been in Austin. They get into it there. People will go to shows because they haven't heard of you."

Feazel has more than enough cynicism for a guy in his mid-twenties. "The longer I've been in this, the more it seems it's all about networking, it's all about image," he says. "It has absolutely nothing to do with how well you play. That's not just true of music, it's true of life too. The other school of thought has it that there's nothing that can take the place of good old-fashioned hard work and talent, and that's true to an extent. Look at Mötley fuckin' Crüe: Every Friday night they were out drinking and handing out handbills to every fucking whore they saw on a street corner. I guess that's all it takes. All label A&R guys want to see are packed-out shows; they don't care how good the music is -- if they see a bunch of people at your show, then they know it's safe to sign you."

So if you're a vice cop and you see Feazel down on Telephone Road hollering at the ladies of the night, don't bother trying to bust him. It's just part of his grand plan to get a record deal.

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