Out of the Cold With the Wild Moccasins
It's cold in Cody Swann's house, and there aren't many lightbulbs.
"I don't like changing lightbulbs," says Swann casually, as he walks through rooms where Christmas lights and lamps substitute for ceiling fixtures. Apparently, Swann just hates changing out-of-reach bulbs.
Just off Broadway, close to Hobby Airport, is Swann's childhood home, which his parents — who moved out a few years ago — are currently lending him. The house doubles as the practice space for Swann's band, local popsters the Wild Moccasins. It's decorated with his folks' old furniture, couches, shelves, entertainment center and a ton of wicker baskets of various shapes and sizes.
Pretty nice digs — except for the near-freezing temperature.
"It's usually colder in here than it is outside," Swann says.
Bassist Nick Cody, who answered the door, is wearing a zip-up hoodie and jeans. Drummer Andrew Ortiz (who also lives here) and singer/keyboardist Zahira Gutierrez (Swann's girlfriend) emerge from different bedrooms dressed in long sleeves, long pants and leggings, hugging themselves to keep warm.
"Anyone want an omelet?" says Ortiz, crossing and rubbing his arms. Swann, Ortiz, Gutierrez and Cody all regroup in the kitchen as Ortiz exercises his culinary talents. "It's the only reason I'm still in the band," he jokes as he tosses eggs, onions and potatoes into skillets.
Guitarist Andrew Lee shows up just after noon, sleepy-eyed and braving the cold in a pair of shorts and a sweatshirt. Brunch is finished and the band files into Ortiz's room, where a space heater helps ensure chattering teeth won't hinder the interview process.
All five members pile onto Ortiz's bed, making this more like a slumber-party bedtime story than an interview. They nudge each other often, tossing and turning as we discuss the Moccasins' quick climb to the top of Houston's indie scene.
For a local band, the Wild Moccasins were an overnight success. After a show at Boondocks with friend and fellow musician Elaine Greer, they were the talk of Houston's small indie scene. And they didn't lie low. The band booked show after show and attended just as many — you'll see some members just as frequently at the foot of the stage as on it.
"We've just become such good friends with local bands that not only do we like their music, but we want to support them," says Gutierrez.
"I think on the whole, it's supporting something bigger than just your friends' bands," says Ortiz. "There is something about Houston now that, even though I'm not that old, I haven't seen before."
This is another ingredient of the Moccasins' relatively rapid success. The members' contacts with a cross-section of local bands allowed them to play to different fans, at different places, at nearly every show.
That's how they disproved the popular local belief that overbooking leads to empty rooms. The Moccasins have shared the stage with almost every local indie band, from Greer to the Monocles, and were even invited to open for Omaha's Tilly and the Wall at the Engine Room.
And to think it all started in a room in this freezing home, where Swann wrote songs and Gutierrez would add her signature Deborah Harry-esque vocals.
"I'd never really written a song or anything," Swann says. "I just played other people's songs."
This wasn't the Moccasins' only newfound talent. Gutierrez and drummer Ortiz were friends long before she found out he had a knack for the skins.
"I didn't even know he was a drummer and then he told me, 'Yeah, I've been playing drums for like seven years,'" she says. "And I was like, 'You should play with us.'"
Ortiz agreed and brought along bassist Cody, whom he knew from playing with Greer. Andrew Lee was brought in to replace the original guitarist.
"Before Andrew Lee joined the band, none of it made any sense to me," says Cody. "It didn't come together. Zahira and Cody are obviously harmonious together, and so were Andrew [Ortiz] and I — as far as playing bass and drums together. But then whenever it was just the four of us... the other guitar player wasn't really a keystone, but Andrew Lee was."
"A cornerstone," says Ortiz.
"I would form the songs to where they were listenable," Lee says dryly as the other members laugh and fake offense.
"Generally the songs are all brought in by Cody, but they're very skeletal and then we flesh it out," says Nick Cody.
Swann agrees. The band, he says, quickly adapted to a process where criticisms, concerns and suggestions are dished out without hesitation or fear of stepping on toes.
"One of the new songs, I had it pretty much all the way done in my head, and I showed it to Andrew Lee and he's like, 'I hate it,'" he says. "I [asked], 'Well, what do you hate about it?' And he was like, 'I don't know, I just hate it,' and I was like, 'Well, I'm going to find a way for you to fucking like it,'" he says.
Writing has become the Moccasins' new priority. The group releases its official debut, the Microscopic Metronomes EP, Saturday, but those songs are already more representative of the old Moccasins. Swann says the band plans to play four new tunes, two which have never been heard before, at the show.
"[The new songs] are not as jangly or as dancey-sounding," says Cody. "They're a little bit more serious — nothing has really come into play like, 'Oh, [fans] expect us to be a shiny..."
"Muppet teen band," finishes Lee.
The room goes quiet.
"Stay in your corner," says Gutierrez and laughs.
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