Something Fierce guitarist/singer Steven Garcia and bassist Nikki Sevven sit, sans drummer Andrew Keith, at a table in Rudyard's. "Montrose's Living Room" is a favorite work and play spot for the band, who often ply their Buzzcocks-inspired garage-pop on the upstairs stage. Last month, they also rocked the Casbah as the Clash at the Mink's Hootenanny night, with a style similar to both those early punk rockers: unpretentious yet snotty, spontaneous yet simple. Most importantly, for a thousand inexplicable reasons, it's just damn good.
Nostalgic references such as "they remind me of when I was a kid" often crop up when others talk about Something Fierce. The members have no problem with the idea, but they can't help noticing something.
"We're not kids," laughs Garcia, almost 24, peering out of eyes squished by chubby cheeks and dark, dangling curly locks. And Sevven, whose button nose is shaped so perfectly she looks like a bratty cabbage patch kid, doesn't advance their grown-up cause much either.
But onstage, Something Fierce's youthful appearance fuels their poppy, adolescent angst, with Keith tossing his Afro (easily two feet in diameter) hither and yon as he whacks his drums. The trio may as well have stepped straight out of Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attic poem "Rock & Roll Band": "We'd play and we'd sing and we'd wear spangly things, if we were a rock & roll band."
This is a conundrum for Something Fierce. Their ability to let go and have fun attracts crowds, but it also spawns detractors who believe jumping around and being "goofy" (Garcia's word) repels 21-and-ups. A local club owner recently passed on booking them for that exact reason.
"'They're a kid band with kid fans,'" Garcia says, relaying the owner's comment. But Garcia and Sevven can't even remember the last time they played an all-ages show. In fact, at several recent gigs, the youngest people there were the band members and their significant others.
Something Fierce do want people to like them, but on their own terms, and so far — shortsighted club owners aside — it's working. Local bands like the Dimes (now Young Mammals) and Bring Back the Guns seem to be among the group's biggest supporters, often inviting them to share their bills, and Something Fierce is happy to return the favor.
All three members grew up in and around the Houston music scene. Sevven was playing guitar with her dad by age 14. Years later, Garcia saw the father-daughter duo playing in the Neck Breakers and recognized her from his apartment complex.
"She had a punk rock van with all the stickers, and it was all falling apart," he says. "I said, 'that looks like a cool kid.'" Months later, he contacted her through an Internet posting about her apartment asking if she wanted to jam.
The two instantly bonded, thanks to Sevven's exposure to Elvis, the Stooges and David Bowie and to Garcia's affection for Green Day and Offspring. Keith's ear for early punk and ska fit right in as well. After he gave up the French horn, that is.
"You wouldn't believe how many times he brings up he played the French horn," Garcia says.
"It's a good way to meet chicks," teases Sevven, as Garcia offers a sample pickup line: "'How you doing? I play the French horn, by the way.'"
High-school band experience aside, all three shamelessly admit to being fans of the '90s SoCal invasion embodied in the punk rock labels Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords. Today they consider albums by the Offspring, NOFX, AFI and Pennywise relics of their not-so-distant teenage years.
"You always keep them with you, but you feel like you have to move past it," Sevven says. "So that's why it becomes this dirty little secret that you don't talk about."
As they did with many fans, those bands led Something Fierce to less embarrassing influences like the Buzzcocks and Clash. "Except for, like, Nikki," says Garcia, pointing out that the bassist's parents had that sort of late-'70s/early-'80s punk in regular rotation.
The band is starting to attract attention outside Houston. Last month, they and fellow Houstonians the Monocles completed their first-ever out-of-state tour, a trek to Wisconsin and back that almost ground to a halt before it began. After the tour kickoff show at Walter's, with a gig scheduled for Atlanta the next night, "We didn't actually get to leave town till about four or five, because the bassist's girlfriend from the Monocles locked her keys in her car," Garcia says.
But Something Fierce made it back safe and sound and is now planning a West Coast tour for May or June. Before that, they'll be one of the many Houston non-rap bands and artists showcasing at this year's SXSW. Their "Have Your Kids and Eat Them Too" appears on a forthcoming compilation from New York label Blotto Records, whose owner was so impressed that he expressed interest in releasing the band's next album.
For now, their vinyl EP should be ready in the next month, according to Garcia. All this means Something Fierce is gradually steering toward more serious territory while trying their best to be discreet about it — especially in Houston.
"[There's] sort of a disdain for trying to look too serious," Garcia says. "Once [bands] start taking themselves too seriously, people start beating them up, which isn't fair."
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The odd thing, he adds, is that the bands themselves go out of their way to support each other: "It's competitive, but not at all in a way where they're going to knock another band."
Going back to the issue of the group's age, he mentions a recent comment by an older musician in Houston he recently read on the Hands Up Houston messageboard.
"[The comment thread] was talking about being inspired by kids, by bands like us and the Dimes," Garcia says. "The older people are being rejuvenated by the younger crowd."
So here's to youth — however you choose to define it.