Indian Jewelry is at once strange and familiar, soothing and upsetting, avant-garde and down to earth. Anchored by now-husband and wife Tex Kerschen and Erika Thrasher, Jewelry formed in 2002 as an offshoot of Houston noise-punk insurrectionists Swarm of Angels — itself a descendant of prior/concurrent Kerschen project NTX+Electric — and had solidified enough four years later to release debut LP Invasive Exotics. Some Web sites credit 2003's We Are the Wild Beast to Indian Jewelry, but the group's own site, www.swarmofangels.com, lists NTX+Electric.
Sometimes borrowing members from like-minded (if not like-sounding) local groups such as Future Blondes and Dead Roses, Indian Jewelry began touring regularly and winning a following far beyond Houston for live shows that blended ambient synth-pop, angry thrash-punk, dissonant electronic noise and heavy-lidded psych-rock into surreal, strobe-laden soundscapes. In other words, Indian Jewelry in concert is difficult to describe, but impossible to forget.
Brooklyn label/management firm We Are Free (Yeasayer, Beach House) caught on and released 2008's Free Gold, which added Afropop and acoustic guitar to the mix to arrive at a sound Pitchfork described as "like a cloud of mosquitos blotting out the sun." Follow-up Totaled, due next week, brings back L.A.-dwelling collaborator Rodney Rodriguez, and is Indian Jewelry's first with the now-regular rhythm section of Mary Sharp (drums) and Richard Durham (bass). Totaled has already attracted the attention of similar indie tastemakers.
"Their music evokes much discomfort, but we also can't get enough," Sam wrote about "Oceans," the album's first single, on hipster tip sheet The Fader's Web site last month. "But that's the beauty of Indian Jewelry — they make bad shit feel awesome."
The Houston Press sat down with Kerschen and Thrasher, who each alternate between vocals, guitar and keyboards, last week on the Mink's outdoor patio. Houston, says Kerschen (who occasionally writes for our music section), is "fun in small doses. It's really exciting and energizing, and in long-term doses it becomes kind of toxic."
Houston Press: With everything you've done, all the touring and being on a fairly well-respected label out of Brooklyn, you're probably one of the few groups in town that doesn't have to live here. Why do you stay?
Erika Thrasher (laughs): That's a very good question.
Tex Kerschen: It's a question we've asked ourselves on a number of occasions. But it's home. Home is home. Home is like a curse. It's a rope around your neck that yanks you back whenever it wants to.
ET: We're both from here. We grew up here, so it makes sense to be here. It's the easiest place to get our heads together.
HP: You did go out to L.A. for a while.
ET: Yeah. We moved out there for a couple of years, and then last year I lived there. We lived there last summer. [Houston] is kind of an easy place to go other places and be able to tour. We have family and stuff, so we can keep all of our things here and they can take care of our dog.
TK: The other thing is that it kind of toughens us up so we can tour. When you live in Houston, tour becomes a vacation rather than a grueling, arduous task. Living in California, you get really softened. There are certain things that are available for us, like healthy places to eat and people that like our music and invite us to dinner parties and nice things.
Here, nobody really gives a shit about any of it. It's hard when you're feeling low, but when you're feeling all right you feel like you've been tempered a little bit.
HP: Not many groups blur the line between performance art and music the way you do. Is that something you set out to do?
ET: Yeah — just putting on a show that hasn't been seen, more than just people standing up there with a guitar. The full experience. It's better.
TK: There are different reasons why people play music, and how they think about it. We've been doing it for so long, and in so many different variations, that we've really thought about things. It goes back to things like the Butthole Surfers or Throbbing Gristle, that leave these indelible impressions in your mind, versus a lot of things that are really great, but I just don't know if I'd want to truck my ass out to a club on a Tuesday night in the rain or something to see a band who's just going to play the record that I already own.
HP: How much of what you do, either onstage or in the studio, is completely off the cuff, and how much is rehearsed and planned?
TK: It varies, case to case.
HP: How much do the songs themselves change from night to night?
ET: Well, they completely vary in length, for sure. A lot of the songs, although some of the newer songs that we're doing have actual times.
TK: We change everything out from time to time. We've had experiences where we use a lot of electronic stuff, and a lot of that has just died. We'll be on tour and everything will die and you have to replace it. Then everything sounds different, which means you have to emphasize different things. It really varies.
Live, sometimes we'll play something and rehearse and rehearse it, and do a couple of songs we've just rehearsed. It's nice to have a polished little thing you can have, kind of like under your coat for the moment when everybody thinks you're nothing but a "turn out the lights and play loud shit" kind of band. We have a couple points where we know we have that shit down as tight as anybody else. We rehearse.
ET: Yeah. We're playing songs.
HP: How did Indian Jewelry evolve out of Swarm of Angels?
TK: It was kind of concurrent, initially.
ET: NTX was the backbone. We wanted to do more electronic stuff.
TK: We just took all the ideas we couldn't get past the entire band in practice. There are bands that have an identity, and bands that have more of an open-ended thing. It got to the point where that band had a very specific kind of music, so there was stuff we couldn't use there. We just started doing it on the side just to do whatever we wanted.
HP: Do you have to be careful about what kind of gear you take on the road? You use some things that seem like they could break pretty easily and be hard to replace.
TK: No, we can't bring anything like that.
ET: We bring the stuff you can buy at Guitar Center.
TK: We play bottom-of-the-barrel kind of equipment. There's always a couple of really technically obsessive people who come up to see what we play at the end of shows — they go to every band to see what the band's playing. These guys will run up to see what kind of guitar pedals the guitar player's using. More often than not, the guitar player's got a bunch of awesome pedals, and the synth player's got some beautiful vintage modular synths, down the line through everybody in the band.
But we play with whatever's on sale on the clearance rack at Guitar Center. We get it from Guitar Center not because we're any kind of fans of corporate America, but because we know it's going to break and we're going to have to go to the next city and replace it the next night.
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