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Sibling Revelry: Houston's Bands of Brothers and Sisters

It's not unusual for siblings to be in bands together. The Beach Boys, Jackson Five, Heart, Radiohead... the list goes on and on. Brothers and sisters have regularly joined forces to create incredible music. One kid finds a musical niche and his or her siblings voluntarily follow. Or, the group is one member shy of a band and some sibling gets dragged in (usually to play bass -- sorry bassists) and stays on for the ride.

Here's an ironic one: maybe the kids are driving you crazy. You send them to music lessons to get a single hour's peace once a week and they buy into it big time. They then create one or several bands, which end up loudly practicing at your house for the next ten years. That didn't work so well, did it?

Here in Houston, we're fortunate to have tons of emerging music acts, so it should be no surprise that some are built from bands of brothers and sisters. Here are a few families making your music scene better:

Josh and Micah Raught, The Dead Rabbits I've been an admirer of the songwriting talents of these Pasadena-born-and-raised brothers for awhile now. Their former band, HaHa 90!, was an infectiously melodic and wildly funny pop-punk band. Today, they are core members of Houston Press Music Award-winning band, The Dead Rabbits.

"There's me, Micah and we have two older sisters. Both of our sisters sing, and my oldest sister went to college for music for the longest time," says Josh. "When we get together at family gatherings all of our siblings sing together."

That might seem a bit Von Trappish, but the Raught men don't just sing. Josh plays guitar, drums, accordion, piano and mandolin, which is his primary instrument in The Dead Rabbits and has earned him the nickname "Mando' Commando." Micah plays guitar, bass, trumpet and banjo (his band pet name? "BanJovi").

They're self-taught on most of the instruments they play, Josh says. "Our parents had a strong appreciation for music growing up and I think it made us active listeners to the music we were hearing."

Their influences are broad -- everything from 1970s prog-rock to NOFX to Gogol Bordello and Green Day. All those sounds and a lot more of what the Raughts bring to The Dead Rabbits should be evident on the band's approaching first-ever album, Tiocfaidh Ar La.

Josh says the writing process starts with an idea that he, his brother and bandmates Seamuis Strain and Danny Aschenbach build on until a song is formed.

"When Micah and I write, it's definitely as a team," he explains. "Even if one of us frustrates the other at some point due to too much beer or just a clash of ideas, we always end up coming back to the same song later and finishing it up," said Josh.

"The best part of having a sibling in the band with you is they can't blow you off like a lot of people seem to," Josh says. "I mean they're family, they're stuck with you for life."

Good thing, Micah chimed in.

"I always get drunk and leave my stuff behind at shows, and he's always the one who grabs it for me. Win!" he says.

Micah, ("22, I like long walks on the beach and a lot of whiskey,") says having his brother alongside is comforting because they have the same sense of humor.

What they're doing now is serious business, though. Their debut album drops mid-September, and the Raughts and their adopted band of Rabbit brothers are excited for fans to hear it in its entirety.

"I'd say the creative process is definitely enhanced by being brothers," Josh says. "We had no choice but to grow up around each other, due to having the same parents. I believe that gives us similar ideas musically."

More sibling revelry on the next page.

 

Xuan-Nhan, Nellie and Thuy-Linh Cornett, Pretty Turtles I could tell you the story of the three remarkable sisters who collectively make up the blues-rock ukulele band Pretty Turtles; but, they are all eloquent and it's their story. So I'll step aside.

"My siblings and I originally were born in New Mexico and raised in a small scientific community in the mountains called Sunspot. I know it sound unreal but it's true," says Xuan-Nhan, who is known as "Swan" to her friends and fans. "Sunspot is the location of Sacramento Peak, a national solar observatory. My father worked as the technical librarian up there. It was a very strange and beautiful place to spend our childhood.

"We moved to Houston when my mother and father divorced. Most of us were already teenagers when that happened," she continues. "Our mother is a singer of traditional Vietnamese poetry and chose Houston because of the large Vietnamese population here."

"The home we finally settled in is in the southeast side of downtown near the warehouse district," All the people we know are eccentrics and artists," she says. "We basically just live in a swampy Bohemian Bubble. It's fantastic!"

"We have a brother, Nathan, and he is also a very talented artist and musician. "Xuan-Nhan says. "He plays the drums and bongos, but he also experiments with various forms of electronica."

"I remember the first time Nathan, Thuy and I were introduced to straight improvisational jamming, it was at MECA, the arts school in Houston," adds Nellie. "The teacher just sort of opened our eyes that whatever noise you make can be music and that big, open door really sparked a nerve."

"Before you knew it, we were all having lots of fun making strange noises with our voices and fists -- whatever we had laying around, layering sounds and harmonies and rhythms in the car, around the dinner table, whenever we would go to school," continues Nellie. "It was a favorite pastime. We started with voices and hands, but it organically evolved."

Meet our last sibling act -- with two brother/sister sets -- on the next page.

 

The Mejias and Martinezes, Come See My Dead Person Michael Mejia says there is one foolproof way to know whether his band, Come See My Dead Person, is doing the right thing.

"Having a sibling in it with me keeps things fresh," he says. "We always say we were lucky to have each other growing up because we had someone to tell us if what we were doing was stupid or not."

Mejia and his brother, Matthew, share guitar duties and vocals in this Galveston-based band, which is made up of not one but two sets of siblings.

"My earliest memories of music are my dad getting drunk and singing country and folk tunes around the house," says Roy Martinez, whose sister Jodi Lynn (vocals) and brother Sean (drums) are also in the band.

"My brother and sister and I share pretty much the same taste and sensibilities about music," continues Martinez. "We all want to do similar things, so we end up working really well together. I mean, we each have idiosyncratic tendencies that may be challenging to one another, but in general our relationship makes working together easier for us. We've been playing music together for so long it's pretty hard to imagine not doing it."

Matthew Mejia agrees.

"Telekinesis is the best part of being in a band with a sibling," he says. "The worst part is I can never phone it in. I always have to perform top-notch."

"Playing in the band with my brother and the Martinezes keeps me focused," Michael echoes. "There really is no telling what would have come of us if we weren't doing this. I can't imagine a life without it."

The Martinezes and Mejias grew up in different households, with one thing in common. Music. Lots of it, playing frequently, and always something different. They collectively list their influences as Frank Zappa, Slayer, Enigma, Cannibal Corpse, Jon Secada and lots of other stuff in between. That wildly diverse mix gives CSMDP a great blend of soulful, bluesy, rocking funkiness.

Roy says CSMDP's songwriting process for the band has been crafted to an art, of sorts. The Mejias -- to whom he lovingly refers as "our compatriots and unknowing arch-rivals" -- do the majority of the band's songwriting, but the creative process allows for all band members to be involved.

"The lyrics usually come from my brother or myself, but the task of putting music to it comes from the entire band," says Michael. "As a band we work with the same process as my brother and I... but, with the band, there are nine people there to tell you if what you are doing is working or not."

Roy might be the band's comic relief. He assuredly doesn't allow anyone to take it all too seriously.

"The best part is being able to look over and see my bro and sis having a blast and maybe making an inside joke on stage in the middle of a song. The worst part is realizing that we are sharing the stage with the Mejia brothers," he says, jokingly. " Every night that I play a show with my brother and sister it saves my ass. If not for them, I would have to perform with lesser quality musicians, which is a very dismal prospect. Also, my sis has gotten me laid a lot."

"I believe my brother and I understand what each other is trying to accomplish without too much explanation," Michael offers. "We know when is a time to push and when is a time to lay off of each other. I think a 30-year relationship with anyone would create these advantages when working on a project. We have disagreements like any siblings, but when the music starts all that goes away."

"I have tons of friends that hardly know their siblings or don't get along with them at all based on personality or interest differences," he continues. "I am very lucky to love what my brother loves and vise versa, so we can fight for it together with the same passion."

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