Houston Rockers Debate "Killing Your Own Scene"
"In the long scheme of things, somebody with no talent is not going to leave their stamp," says Houston scene veteran Bill Fool.
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.
"This is my opinion. It is totally my opinion. And, I might be wrong. But, I have a way of fixing it."
These are some of the first words Bill Greer tells us over cold beers out back of Walter's Downtown. His band, The Satanic Overlords of Rock N Roll, has just finished its set and he's agreed to visit with the Houston Press to discuss some troubles he's noticed with the local music scene. His band is brash, confident and unwavering, so we fully expect his takes to mirror those traits. Greer, who is also known as Bill Fool to those who have followed his long career in music here, does not disappoint.
Some context: a discussion first appeared on one of the Overlords' personal Facebook pages a couple of weeks ago. The central question posed was what might Houston rock bands do to keep from splitting what seems to be a shrinking audience for live, local music? One comment was especially salient — "You are killing your own scene Houston," it said.
Greer said the conversation arose when the band was booked to play a recent Houston Benefit Week show organized to benefit Christian Kidd of The Hates.
"We started to realize there were a lot of local shows that same night. And, they were bands that would usually go to see each other or hang out together or play together," Greer says. "The thing that happened that bothered me was there were four different local shows, of rock bands. In Houston, the rock scene is maybe 600 to a thousand people, and that's if you're lucky. The regulars that come out are probably 300 to 400.
These are people that come out once or twice a month," he adds. "The people that come out all the fucking time, that come out every week, are way less than a hundred. That's just the facts."
Greer said having so many shows of the same ilk might have affected the fundraiser's attendance. As many of the bands playing elsewhere that night are friends of Kidd's, Greer couldn't understand why they'd book shows the very night other rock acts were being spotlighted to fundraise for him.
"It really bothered me. It really pissed me off," he says. "It doesn't affect my band, I could give two shits about my band. My band could play to two people or two thousand, it doesn't fucking matter. But, it's stupid for people to step on each other's toes."
That issue split the group of Facebook commenters. Some advocated for a central Facebook page where local rock bands could communicate their show schedules. The idea is if a band booked a show, other bands with similar audiences could check the page to ensure it was not competing against a show that would split their shared audience. Before long, many were asking who would gate-keep such a page and wondered if established bands would have an edge over younger acts. Some suggested focusing on growing the fan base rather than limiting when acts could play. No one seemed to agree on any specific answer. The Press asked all the commenters in the thread to share any ideas they had for a piece, but in the end only Greer volunteered to discuss the matter.
Of course, he's well qualified to discuss Houston music. He's been involved in it for more than 20 years, since moving to the city from Chicago. The list of past and present acts he's been associated with includes Bickley, known for its legendary live shows, as well as Hell City Kings, Mahas, Modfag and Born Liars, among others. He's run record labels and booked shows here over all that time. Best of all, at least for this discussion, he's seen the market for live music in Houston change and believes he knows how to get it back to its glory days. Make no mistake, the scene has definitely changed, particularly over the last ten years, he says.
The Satanic Overlords of Rock N Roll at Walter's Downtown last week
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.
"It's 2000-fucking-17. The thing is in the '90s there was no fucking Myspace, there was no Facebook, no other bullshit like that," notes Greer. "The climate of music and the climate of spreading a show, the climate of doing things has changed."
Greer thinks two things are stifling the scene today — the instant gratification that bands get from social media and too many venues to feed into this grab at instant success.
"The other day someone goes, 'There's not enough venues to play.' Are you kidding me? Right now there's more venues to play in Houston than you can even fucking believe," he says. "You remember in the '90s, a local show would be completely fucking packed. The reason why is, first of all, there weren't that many venues to compete against each other."
Greer believes the abundance of available spaces means those rooms have to book whatever shows they can, whenever they can get them, to ensure their employees have work and they have means to pay the bills. He believes that setup leads to accommodating bands that are looking for instant gratification but haven't put the work in yet.
"We all know social media creates narcissists. You don't even have to be a musician to become a narcissist now — imagine if you're a musician with an ego already? Yeah, you turn into a fucking idiot," he notes.
"Let's take a step back and let's say one of the worst things that a fucking guy booking shows can say — not every band is that fucking good, okay?" Greer adds. "Every band can play and make themselves better and they need those opportunities, but at the same time, if they're stepping on each other's toes to get that opportunity, they're going in the wrong direction.
"Now, me saying such a harsh thing is really just a fact that every single guy I know from the old days had to fucking beg to get on shows," he continues. "We had to fucking do that and our bands sucked. We were terrible! But, we had to beg to get on those shows. I'm not saying we have to go back to those days where these younger bands have to do that, but, at the same time, they don't deserve to be put on these big, giant shows instantaneously."
Greer broke down his model for fixing what's broken into five components. Some bands need to play fewer shows; some bands need to improve; all bands should communicate better; shows should be more diverse; and Houston should integrate matinees into its live-music formula.
"If you're an established band, do you really need to play multiple times a month? Isn't one time a month or every other month good enough? You don't get paid enough [from shows] to live off of. You need to be a band that's on the road all the time if you want to make money," Greer says. "If they're just fucking playing to play, they're hurting themselves, they're hurting the scene, everybody involved is being fucked up by it."
"It sounds like a prick, but bands just aren't good enough. They need to get better," Greer notes. "If they want big crowds, get fucking better, all right? I'm being a fucking prick by asking you to learn your instrument and not instantaneously think you're going to have admiring fucking people in front of you? It's just not that easy.
"These bands can have their instantaneous fame, but in the long scheme of things somebody with no talent is not going to leave their stamp," he adds. "They're not going to leave their mark."
Fool (left) has also been involved in Bickley, Hell City Kings, the Mahas, Modfag and Born Liars, among others.
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.
Greer says he'd like to see a Facebook page that brings bands together to trade notes without a gatekeeper, but knows that could be a pipe dream. He does believe it's within everyone's power to simply talk with each other. Doing that could help broaden the scope of shows and make them more diverse.
"I think that the bands now are apprehensive of each other," he says. "I think that the old guard is apprehensive and scared of checking out new bands. Not me. I know I'm not like everyone else. But I think the old guard is scared of what's new and talks shit about what's new. And, I think we've seen just recently there's definitely some ageist bullshit going on, too. I think that younger bands don't want to give appreciation to the old and the old doesn't want to give appreciation to the new."
"Rock and roll is not on life support. It's never really going to die, but it's not thriving. It's not something that's really big," Greer admits. "Country doesn't play very big inside the Loop, it plays bigger outside the Loop. But when there's like a younger, outlawish country band that plays in Houston, the rock and roll guys love it. Why can't we incorporate some of those motherfuckers into the scene? I love it when a show is all over the fucking place."
"The other thing is we need to have matinee shows," he adds. "Houston needs a matinee show. On a Sunday, a show should not start at 9 o'clock. A show should start at 5 or 6 o'clock on a Sunday because people have lives. If you want people to get back into the music scene, Sunday needs to start between 5 and 6 and needs to end by 10 o'clock."
Greer said Rudyard's has occasionally done matinees to good success, and notes the Continental Club is especially good at this. He's seen matinee crowds come for the early set and stay for the late one. They're commonplace in Chicago, but he realizes adopting something like this on a broad scale in Houston would take a big philosophical shift. But, you can't change something if you're unwilling to discuss it.
Greer realizes his role in Houston music may afford him the chance to be more open about these matters than others. He says he's happy to speak freely because he believes his ideas could benefit the music scene he cherishes.
"I'm in a lucky situation," he says. "I'm established. I moved here, I didn't know anybody. I worked my fucking ass off to make it. And, I still do things for the scene, you know, People might get pissed off at me but I still book shows, I still put out records. I don't make any money doing this, but I'd like to see shows where the bands feel appreciated."
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