For many, emo is still a dirty word, one that brings up connotations of Warped Tour acts or even an aggressive space that is not always inclusive of the audience it attracts. Over the past few years, while some may wince at the term “revival,” there has been a concerted effort to bring the genre back to its mid-'90s roots, with slow builds to impassioned choruses, working to bridge the gap between emo and indie-rock that didn’t quite exist when bands like Sunny Day Real Estate, The Promise Ring, or Mineral were getting their start.
One of those bands is Houston’s Middlechild, a young four-piece that just released their self-titled debut album this summer on Bandcamp, as well as tapes they designed and pressed themselves. Formed by Ricardo (Ricky) Ramirez and Matt Farris in the fall of 2013, the band came out of the ashes of the duo’s former, more progressive-sounding group Shoeshine. After a trip to a Pasadena Wings N' Things one night led to a bonding session listening to a Pedro The Lion album, the guys decided to create a new band that catered more to their own interests.
“Ricky said can we just write music like this and I was like, ‘high school dream come true,” Matt says.
The duo started playing with a drummer who, while good, couldn’t play at a quick pace and led to the original songs taking on a much slower nature. Ricky met Albert Casarubias through a friend, and together the three formed Middlechild, naming themselves after a revelation that all three were middle children. They spent 2014 playing a few shows and writing material for a record, as well as recording a live demo, Hope’s House, but things didn’t really kick in until November when they started recording the album and playing shows regularly.
The three took their time recording the album, working with friend Andrew Schmidt of Wit to mix and master it. While Ricky ultimately wrote the songs on the album, much of the process came through prolonged jams, where the three would ride a part out for 30 minutes before deciding what fill or bass line they liked for a song.
“How do you want to portray this verse or this build,” Matt says. “The emotion of a listener can be changed by a hi-hat. We spent a lot of time on the album with that stuff, deciding what to go for.”
The album came together nicely, an impressive collection of powerful, emotionally resonant songs, introspective and filled with a quiet desperation. Less autobiographical than what is typically associated with emo, Ricky explained the songs were written about people in his life, from relationships and drinking to Tinder. “I got the inspiration from the people around me,” Ricky says. “We had a lot of songs about my friends, and the experiences they go through.”
Along the way, the band picked up a fourth member in guitarist Josh Cano, who used to play with Ricky and Matt's old band, but left went he went away from school. Once he came back, he started to catch their shows and then jam with them, which led them to make him a permanent member. “He just looked so sad in the crowd,” Ricky said. Now a four-piece, the band now had an opportunity to open their sound up onstage, adding guitar lines that were on the recording which they couldn’t do live before. While the group indicates they were initially interested in the aesthetic as a three-piece, it’s clear that having four members improves their sound.
Between the band finishing the record and releasing it in July, they started playing more and more shows around Houston, including dates opening for bands like Pujol, Mitski and Elvis Depressedly. While the band is definitely hustling and playing plenty of more locally focused shows, they still geek out a bit when talking about the bands they get to open for.
“I don’t know how we get asked to play shows,” Ricky says. “We have random touring bands come through and ask us to play a show, and it’s always cool to know that someone recommended you to open up for a touring band.”
While they're stoked on getting to play the bigger shows, all four members emphasize the importance of playing local shows and strengthening the Houston musical community. “The Houston scene is tough right now,” Matt offers. “I think it was bigger probably a year ago. I feel like it’s hard to be a band in Houston right now.’
For Ricky, he acknowledges that it’s hard to get people to come in town for weeknight shows for people who may live outside Loop, but stresses the importance of not only working on getting people to come out to their shows, but returning the favor. “You have to go to your friends’ shows,” Ricky says. “You have to support the local scene because if we’re just going to our shows, we’re not contributing back.”
Like any new band, Middlechild has stories of playing show where only five people show up, but for their part, they work tirelessly to promote the shows they do play, whether via Internet or Matt's texting a hundred of his friends multiple times a day from a flip phone. The strategy seems to work, and at their show opening for Elvis Depressedly they drew a larger crowd to Walters than two of the touring bands playing after them. The problem, the band agrees, is when people come to watch their band, or any one band in particular, then leave afterward.
“I think it’s disrespectful,” Matt says.
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“You can’t force people to come out to shows, but we do the best we can,” Ricky said. “We have to support each other. If we don’t, these big realtors are just going to buy the buildings, tear it down, and build town homes. Mango’s is gone now and Walter’s was almost gone. I think the press needs to be more supportive of local bands and do more locally.”
As the band works on writing their next record, their first with Josh as a full-time member, they are grateful for the opportunity they do have and the people who support them now. Whether it’s friends coming out to shows or people just checking them out because they heard of them, the members of Middlechild are excited to get the chance to build and grow within the Houston scene.
“It is what it is,” Albert says. “You have to enjoy it while you’re there. You have to be positive about it. It’s not always going to be a ton of people or a full house, and that’s okay.”
Middlechild play The Summit Sunday night with special guests Rose Ette, Get A Life and Camp Life. Doors open at 8 p.m.; $5.