Tonight Rocks Off is hosting the first annual Texas High School Rock Off, with local bands from area schools fighting for a grand prize of $500 and bragging rights around town. This past week we have profiled the seven bands in the running: The Paperwaits, Useful Information, The Handshake, Living Vicariously, Backslash, Searching for Signal and Disfunkshun. Expect a good cross-section of swaggery hard rock, requisite nice-guy alt-rock bands, fourth-generation emo, and at least one band hell-bent on proving that Steely Dan's Donald Fagen is their illegitimate father. This kind of behavior starts out innocently enough. You might get an electric guitar for Christmas, or maybe your neighbor inherits a ratty drumkit from an older brother who is moving out, or your Dad hands you the bass he played in his own high-school cover band and teaches you a few lines. High school bands are begun out of boredom, sheer love of rock, or the inherent need to get mega-laid behind a shed after a gig at a friend's birthday party. After high school ends, most bands split up due to kids having college to contend with or military service ahead of them, while most others realize that playing Green Day covers won't pay the rent or the weed bills. That's when it gets interesting, when you end up having to pick up the pieces and make your own music. The Houston indie scene is awash in the wreckage of failed pop-punk and hardcore bands. Most everyone knows that they owe a debt to those years spent noodling with a guitar tab book.
The Chemical City and the adjoining La Porte has birthed tons of current local heavies. Before they both converged onto their own separate projects, Buxton guitarist Jason Willis and Michael "B L A C K I E" LaCour were in a punk band called Mike & The Whities. That's a pretty funny moniker considering what LaCour would go on to accomplish by himself with his industrial rap career. The boys in Cop Warmth started things out a little tamer with Mr. Electric, before moving onto noisier, grimier and more guerilla pastures. Pearland boasts its own prestigious alumni. Post-punk saviors Balaclavas boast three core members from Rocks Off's home 'burb, including Chas Patranella, Brian Harrison and Tyler Morris. In fact, Reverberation DJ collective founders Jason Puffer and Andrew Stavena both got rides to and from school from Rocks Off at least once a week for two years. Puffer and Morris were in a short-lived pop-punk called the Insecurities for a few years as well. There was also a short-lived loops and sample cassette-tape act called Taint Mansion that actually wasn't so bad, if Rocks Off can say so himself. Something about having six Sonics and four Wal-Marts have led to a few of us from the town not really repping our fruitish roots. Travis Kerschen of A Thousand Cranes sent us this groggy tale:
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"I was in a band in high school, Voodoo Grog. We covered 'Sanitarium' by Metallica and 'Thunderstruck' by AC/DC and 'We Care a Lot' by Faith No More, and did some original metal songs. I was the singer for a couple months until I got sent to the Juvenile Detention Center for three weeks. While I was in juvie Voodoo Grog found a new singer."
Woozyhelmet member and community organizer Jay Crossley has seemingly been in bands since he could crawl: Satanic Bananas, Drowning Waxmonkeys and Springhill Mine Disaster. College life led into Hidden Speaker and his current group. Wiggins front man Johnny Reeves held together a "GWAR-type" band in the early '90s out in Cleveland, which, he claims, included "blood and shit, beating up a lot of skinheads and good times." Niki Sevven from Something Fierce logged time with her father in the Neckbreakers, early on. Their most favorite experience was supporting New York Doll Syl Sylvain on one of his solo jaunts through town. Bill Fool of Hell City Kings and Born Liars reminded us that Cypress wasn't without a distinguished high-school band output, with The Molested, The Catalinas, The Dropouts, Suburban Assault and Teen Cool. Pure Rubbish also hailed from Cypress, and in their short history they would go on to tour with Motorhead, Nashville Pussy, and were even a part of Ozzfest for one summer. Members of that band would go on to back Kelly Osbourne and Syl Sylvain in later years. Before moving onto bigger and glammier things, Mike Hardin and Aaron Echegaray from Roky Moon & BOLT were in a band together in high school dubbed Where's Travis. Jacob Majors, who works at Mango's and The Mink, was the drummer in an anarcho-punk project called Skag. He explains their early demise: "We recorded an album called Bite the Hand that Feeds You Shit, but I had to quit the band to focus on getting accepted to college. They were kinda pissed at the time. We've since made up." Lance Higdon of Golden Cities and Tambersauro has lived a million lives in bands. He sent us this rocky tale Wednesday morning.
"Being a Punk Rock Puritan at the time, I didn't want to make any music that wasn't Christian for most of high school. I was aiming more for Zao and Roadside Monument than Jars Of Clay, if that's any excuse. But I finally relented to play in a band with my best friend as long as he didn't use any cuss words. "We named the band Sound Michael Furey as it pleased my high school James Joyce obsession to pun, Finnegan's Wake-style, on Faulkner's The Sound And The Fury and the protagonist of Joyce's short story 'The Dead.' Who would have guessed that a band singing about not having girlfriends would have such lofty literary allusions floating around? "We were at loggerheads about our musical direction, since he was the 'No. 1 Weezer fan of all time,' and my taste ran more towards the Take Hold and Solid State label screaming songs of faith and devotion. I had a soft spot for dork-rock however, so we started banging out three-chord tunes that were more or less about girls and the attendant problems therewith. Our lacrosse-playing marching-band buddy, Blake Walker, played the bass. We also had a few female keyboard players, who set up their instrument on my dad's sawhorses for shows. "Coincidentally, I asked out my senior homecoming date during our first show at a public park in The Woodlands, where we lived. I was wearing a wifebeater and a fake meat cleaver on my head so she obviously had dubious standards. "We played many a gig at The Cave, the church/Northside teenage venue and at least two at the old Java Jazz, where we were once opened for by a pre-violin Yellowcard. "We actually kept it going through our first year of college, but after two years it was done. We recorded an EP called You & Me & The Volvo Make Three with a deacon from Ray's church that had some serious rage issues during our recording. I don't believe there are any extra copies, though my sister did have hers to play at the reception for Ray's wedding four years ago."
Somewhere at this moment, there is a group of kids out in the suburbs home sick from school (or at least skipping) who are playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band and hatching plans to start their own real life band. They don't know anything about chords, but they know they want to feel the same rush that everyone else has felt who has banded together with a group of like-minded idiots on a stage in front of their friends. Cue "The Circle Of Life" from The Lion King. Now just sit back and wait for the flyers and Facebook invites. Do you have any high-school band memories you would like to share? Come on... someone was buying all those guitars and basses at those pawn shops with their allowance money, we know it.