Trish and Darin don't get much respect.
They have their fans, certainly, and a good number of them. They play in town four or five times a month, drawing crowds in the low hundreds, and out of town more than once a week, to sporadic but promising response. Their debut CD, Yes, We're Open, has moved in the neighborhood of 4,000 units since its release. Press readers voted the pair top honors in the Pop/Rock category of the 1993 Houston Music Awards. And Trish and Darin Murphy make their living doing music, which is no mean trick in this town.
But the hipsters, scenemakers and self-appointed taste arbiters who fancy themselves the guardians of the musical torch (as distinct from those who pursue the simpler and more pedestrian entertainment values) have almost unanimously gagged. Public News's Public Noise column once sniped about a Trish and Darin sighting at a show the columnist deemed inappropriately punk for their pop presences. I once derided the group's Orange Show appearance in a column that was given the caption "Trish and Darin Must Die." Last year, when Darin dropped by an anything-goes Bloodfart gig at Catal Huyuk and was invited to sit in on drums, which he plays with competence, murmurings of discontent were heard.
"This is a punk-rock club," whispered the scenesters. "That guy plays at the Pig."
"We've pretty much given up on trying to re-sell ourselves," says Darin. "What we're trying to do is to beef up our image out of town, play to audiences in other cities who haven't seen us before and have
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o preconceived notions of us and see us as we are now."
After going through all the proper motions, why do Trish and Darin still come to the conclusion that they've got to leave town to get a fair listen? Because, in Houston -- a fragmented music scene that makes aggressive virtue of its diversity -- the popular Trish and Darin might simply be the most unfashionable band.
It's not so discouraging as all that, though. A new CD, Tongue and Groove, sounds more professional than anything the band has produced so far. Darin has developed into a proficient guitarist, the rhythm section is solid and the vocal harmonies are dead-on. If the songwriting sounds overly familiar, at least it's well done, which raises the question of why Justice Records went all the way to New York to grab the pleasant but doomed Thrillbilly while Trish and Darin were right here in town. The disk's release has also solved an awkward problem for the band: "When the first album came out, we pretty much knew that we were gonna have to do something different," says Darin, "because we couldn't represent the album on stage anymore with just two acoustic guitars. By the time the band got together and started getting tight, the album no longer represented the band." In another first, Tongue and Groove is getting radio play in Dallas, Austin, Waco, San Marcos, College Station and Houston. The band has opened in Dallas for Dada, Ocean Blue and the Juliana Hatfield Three.
There are, on the other hand, legitimate reasons for Trish and Darin's prolonged bout with unfashionability. The duo began their stint in the public eye with a week-night gig at the Gingerman heavy with obnoxiously cutesy covers and David Bowie/Elton John medleys. They generally looked so sickeningly at ease -- pretty blond brother, pretty blond sister, strumming acoustic guitars on the patio in the sun -- that it was impossible to take them seriously. But then again, perhaps the beautiful, happy, talented duo's problems with respect are, in part, just plain resentment: most of pop music's audience, after all, is not beautiful, happy and talented, and hardly anyone likes to have his nose rubbed in someone else's satisfaction.
"There are a whole slew of people who still think of us as an acoustic duo," says Darin, "or still think we're a comedy team, or whatever it was that we used to be."
Trish and Darin, at this point, are neither acoustic duo nor comedy team. There's a heftier chunk of original material in the present-day set, and the duo has transformed itself into a four-piece band featuring Wes Bedell on bass and Scott Washburn (who recently replaced John Gremillion) on drums. Trish and Darin are still standing up front, though, and they're still pretty, they're still blond, and although they no longer play on patios in the sun, they still radiate a yellow-colored vibe of ease and goodwill that, on a bad night, is easily confused with vapidity.
It doesn't help that people continue to see them first and foremost as a brother-and-sister act. "Please," begs Trish, "can we not talk about that? I'm just so fucking sick of that."
"When you have a brother and sister fronting a band," Darin suspects, "that brings up every brother-sister group that's ever been, and most of them were pretty fucking cheesy."
It also doesn't help that the requisite dose of post-teen angst expected of any contemporary rock act is wholly absent from the Trish and Darin camp. Both siblings claim that they were never abused, they have married, supportive parents, they're engaged in healthy and satisfying intimate personal relationships, and they love what they do. The art-is-born-of-pain mode of songwriting is woefully over-embraced on the alternative circuit these days, but Trish and Darin could still use just a pinch. It's difficult to listen to the pair sing "Crimes of a Misspent Youth" without snickering: what the hell do they know about misspent youth? When Trish takes her gentle poke at organized religion in "Jesus Loves Alice," there's no real anger, no real disaffection to be heard.
Darin will tell you that Elvis Costello and Andy Partridge are his prime inspirations for lyrics and music, respectively. He'll tell you that bootlegs of early live Police provided the spark that drove him to want to play, and that R.E.M. is a big fave. But you could just as well tell him the same thing, so obvious are the derivations. Not that T&D lift wholesale from their influences, but they so easily assimilate them that all of the group's songs come out sounding like what's left on the cutting-room floor after an XTC recording session. There is, also, still a scent of mimicry in their vocals. It's probably just a holdover from the cover-tune days, but when Darin delivers a Michael Stipe dead ringer or Trish adopts a faux Brit lilt, it's tempting to hit Stop and go digging through the LP collection for the genuine article. You could call it the Lenny Kravitz syndrome: too dependent on their influences to stand alone.
On the other hand, it's that ability to pen tunes that blend in with the company of classic-rock favorites that has allowed Trish and Darin to make the rare transition from cheesoid cover band to performers of original music. It's a direction showing pop promise in the rest of Texas, even if Houston has already made up its mind.
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