Murderers in the Dark
Timelines don't seem to have been much of a factor in the brief but productive music careers of DJ Cuba Gooding Jr.'s Brandon Duhon and Travis Rice. The 27-year-olds, both of whom started playing music only four years ago, have known each other for about eight years and played together since June of last year -- and they're already going to call it quits, at least temporarily. Their music is a warm variant of electro-pop, one without all of the kitschy bells and whistles one would associate with Soviet or other comparatively more eclectic groups. The whispery, almost spoken vocals never overwhelm the songs; the synths are broad and opaque; and the beats prop up all of the songs without taking over the steering wheel.
With the Cure's Seventeen Seconds serving as our soundtrack and a drink the boys referred to only as a Lickety Split providing conversational support, they sat down to tell their story, which is mildly sordid.
Having grown up all over Texas and Louisiana, they both ended up in Lake Charles around 1996, where they enrolled as art students at McNeese State University. They were also getting into abundant amounts of trouble; in fact, they first met while neck-deep in hot water. Rice was 19 at the time and was taking full advantage of Louisiana's slack drinking laws, on numerous occasions and in copious amounts. He was out one night in publicly intoxicated form when a police officer took issue with his condition.
"I had kinda been going to bars a lot since I was about 16, because the drinking age in Louisiana was less and they really didn't care. So at 19 years of age I had some drinking issues," he explains. "I got drunk, I got in a fight with a cop, which obviously he won, because I ended up in jail. And that's where I met him," he adds, pointing to Duhon. Duhon's crime that evening was of a sillier sort. Perhaps because of the lack of quality entertainment options offered in the greater Lake Charles area, he and a couple of guys from school elected, in their infinite wisdom, to take to the streets streaking.
"There were a bunch of us running around naked, but it was only me that got caught," Duhon remembers ruefully. "It started at school and we were just going to see how many public places we could go into. We hit an Albertsons -- you know, where they have the two entrances? Well, we just kinda ran through one door and out the other so we could let all the people checking out know. Then we went to a friend's house -- a girl -- to convince her to join us Then we went to a TCBY "
"Yogurt is such a gross word," Rice interrupts. "Especially in that context."
"Then we went to the park," Duhon continues, laughing. "And that's where all the trouble happened. I think the cops kind of prowl around the park because they expect to catch minors streaking there or something."
A scene ensued that was reminiscent of one that occurred in an Athens, Ohio, jail cell in 1986, when youngsters Greg Dulli and Rick McCollum met up one rowdy Halloween night. A year later they formed the Afghan Whigs, and the rest is Sub Pop history. The evolvement of DJ Cuba Gooding Jr. would take much longer, but the seeds were at least planted in a befitting manner. After all, rock and roll is about everything that places us within odd circumstances and what we make of it. The boys, whether they knew it or not, were going to form a band.
After another silly brush with the law, this one involving the card/role-playing game Murderer in the Dark, Duhon left Lake Charles and washed up on the great concrete shores of Houston. Rice followed a few years later, and the two collaborated on art projects in town before breaking into music a couple of years ago.
Duhon began playing first, starting off as a percussionist in jazz bands, and after learning a lot from local keyboardist Marcus Cone, he started writing neo-classical pieces on the keyboard. Rice started toying with music a couple of years later, first creating soundscapes on his computer and then moving on to the keyboard. The two began working together in June 2003.
Somewhat unusually, all of their writing and playing is keyboard-based. "Some people I talk to -- it seems like their minds are just arranged for playing guitar, or for percussion or whatever," Duhon surmises. "For me that's strange, because a keyboard just seems so much more natural because it's linear."
"I could never remember a guitar chord for anything," Rice adds.
The pair has done just fine without learning any guitar chords. On their newest, weirdly named release, 2A-70, the vocals emerge in their characteristic whisper, the melodies never get lost in the mix, the synths fill up all the empty space they need to and the drum tracks are more intricate than before. There are also more transitions, more dropouts and buildups, more movement.
"The first one is a little mellower," says Duhon. "On this one we just want people to get up and dance. It's more direct rhythmically."
The difference is likely due to Rice's increased input. When the band formed, Duhon came to Rice with a batch of songs already written and structured. But with the newer material, they've been able to develop as a group. The songwriting is still shouldered by Duhon, but nothing is locked in when they put the tracks together, and Rice's input and suggestions have driven the newer material in directions it likely wouldn't have gone.
"It's as if there is a language the two of us speak, like I talk to him about songs as if they were colors and shapes and in that he knows how to make it happen, how to make it work based on the suggestions," Rice says.
The fidelity hasn't changed on the new material, something that can be attributed to the fact that the duo once again recorded themselves.
"Same equipment," Rice says. "It's a keyboard and a drum machine -- a cheap drum machine I got in a pawn shop, set up in our [neighboring] apartments and recorded right there."
Although the future may appear bright, it is short-lived. Duhon will soon resume his art studies in New York, and though Rice may eventually follow, as of now they're scheduled for just one more performance. This Saturday, Houstonians have one last chance to see the pair in action at Fat Cat's. Attendance is recommended. After all, they might come full circle and end up in jail again.
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