Rules of the Road

Of the many lessons a struggling rock and roll band must learn, there's one that sticks out in the mind of Tim Guerinot, vocalist for the Latchkey Kids:

"You have got to reconfirm your dates with the clubs -- even when you're already on the road," Guerinot advises. "Otherwise, they get canceled. And that was a big smack in the face for us."

Still, for one of Houston's most talked about punk groups, every experience is a chance to learn something And it's adversity -- both in their professional and personal lives -- that has given them something to channel into their music, which is spit out in short, aggressive rushes of abrupt choruses and lightning staccato beats.

"For me, I always turned to music for comfort," offers lead guitarist Marc Manic. "Whenever I've had a problem, the music has always been there for me."

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Ample evidence of that can be found on the Latchkey Kids' Anytime, Anyplace, on Houston's Pinche Flojo label. Anytime, Anyplace also shows that the Kids are up on their punk past, though in general they have little use for hard-core history lessons. They bemoan the idea of fledgling punks mesmerized by repeated viewings of the infamous Sid Vicious biopic Sid and Nancy, and smirk at the thought of kids buying hair dye in the mall to look just like the guy from Green Day.

"I can see how that would happen," Manic says. "Everybody looks at icons and says, 'That's cool.' But, to be honest, the furthest I ever went trying to fit [the punk rock image] was wearing a chain wallet."

The Latchkey Kids came together in 1993 mainly due to the efforts of Guerinot, who was seeking an outlet for his drive to perform. That drive had been honed as a child in a church choir, then whetted further during an acting stint with Theatre Under the Stars. In the beginning, Guerinot was more into sports than music, but in the late '80s, punk acts such as Bad Religion and Pennywise changed his interest.

"I don't consider myself that great of a singer," Guerinot says, "but I like to perform."

One result of that was that early Kids shows had more than a bit of drama to them, even if much of it was unintended. As the band searched for its identity, different members came and went. The group eventually gelled long enough to land some shows outside of Houston, and to open for national acts such as Rancid and Face to Face. They released a demo tape, then a seven-inch single ("Time Out"), both on SKENE! Records. A second seven-inch on Houston's Dropout label is still in sparse circulation.

How the Kids came to record Anytime, Anyplace was even less thought out than the group's formation. While on their second road trip, in the summer of 1996, the act they were opening for imploded, leaving a string of canceled dates. The Kids scurried to the phones to book replacement gigs, and Jeff Spiegel of the Minneapolis-based SKENE! came up with the idea of recording a full-length CD to kill time during the lull. Soon, the Kids found themselves in Sputnik Recording Studios under the guidance of producer Dave Gardener.

"When we went on that first tour, it was like a walk in the park; everything was ready and there was a crowd at every show," Guerinot remembers. "We thought touring was just showing up at a gig and playing. That second tour taught us differently."

Touring also gave the band an opportunity to earn a degree in road economics, as money earned from shows and merchandise sales was carefully balanced in a band "bank" against expenditures such as gas and snacks. Not knowing where their next gig would come from, band members minored in sales, making phone calls to other bands and club promoters as they scrounged for work.

"Some people say handling that business side isn't right, that it should be 'all music or nothing,' " Guerinot scoffs. "[But] if you want to play out of the state, then you've got to take care of that business angle."

"For a while," Manic adds, "we were even under the illusion that we needed a manager."

But again, just as things seemed to be going well, the Kids hit a snag when Spiegel left for a job in San Francisco and SKENE! was unable to release their CD. However, Anytime, Anyplace found a home on Pinche Flojo, the Houston ska/punkabilly label handled by Los Skarnales alum John Garcia.

Released this summer, Anytime, Anyplace is a solid first effort, defined by lean, hard-hitting tracks such as "Falling Down," "Innocence Gone" and "Wrong Again." Still, it's no substitute for the Latchkey Kids live. A typical gig usually involves Guerinot stalking around the stage, while ornery audience members lunge for any available mike to sing along and bassist Dave Ng swings his instrument around and around his slight frame.

Though the Latchkey Kids are continuing to evolve, for now, Guerinot, Manic and Ng compose the band's core, with other slots being filled by rhythm guitarist Dillion Sexton and alternating drummers Jon Guerinot (Tim's brother) and a local teenager named Sam. ("I don't really know his last name," Tim Guerinot laughs.)

By the end of this month, the band hopes to have compiled a CD's worth of new material. In the meantime, life's lessons continue in earnest. And you can bet the Kids will still be keeping in touch with various venues on a regular basis, just to make sure their next gig is really a done deal.

"You can never be too sure about that," Guerinot admits. "You've gotta take that phone call.

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