Surreally ordinary... It's tough being subversively normal. The Surrealtors suffer from that dilemma -- average guys with average lives trying to market what sounds like relatively average pop music. As a result, they don't really fit in anywhere in Houston.
"We don't sound like anything around here," says George Kovacik, the older of the two brothers who head the quartet. "That kind of hurts us in a way."
Such atypical typicalness makes the Kovacik brothers proud, but also a bit frustrated. While the Surrealtors' sharp, hummable ditties and emphasis on restraint make clear their singer/songwriter credibility, their hipness quotient has been in danger of falling into the proverbial dung heap since the group began playing assorted Richmond Strip meat markets. In a music scene as image sensitive as Houston's, it's confusing for many fans to see a group with solid original material waxing serious at Rudyard's one night and then strumming away on acoustic guitars while being ignored by soused revelers at Woodrow's the next. The band may just want to perform, but some in their audience dock them points for their choice of creative outlets.
Money is part of the issue. While both George Kovacik and his younger brother Jim have good jobs at local radio stations, they're also married and have families to worry about. Surrealtors bassist Jeff Balke is also married and has a solid day job. Drummer Mondo Perez is the only single member. But though you can dog their average lives all you like, the Surrealtors, it seems, always have a witty way of putting things into perspective and another ten songs in the oven.
Nothing if not prolific, the Kovacik brothers have been writing together since they were kids. Their first collaboration involved attaching lyrics to the S.W.A.T. theme and instrumental versions of songs from A Hard Day's Night. From there, they moved on to the high school talent circuit and, later, area nightclubs. While Jim's musical preference moved from classic rock bands to the Pixies and XTC as he grew older, George stuck, for the most part, to high school standbys such as Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen. That collision of tastes shows in their music, but usually not in their behavior.
Over the years, the Surrealtors have added and subtracted members, played as a group and as a duo. On their debut CD, last year's No More Milk, the Kovaciks played most of the instruments, and the fruit of their efforts, while a little on the sterile side, was laudable. The 15-song release made up for what it lacked in bite, band chemistry and a distinct vocal personality with strong melodies and clever lyrics -- as if someone took the self-absorbed pop-craft of the Rembrandts and leavened it with the mild quirkiness of, say, Squeeze. On the down side, the jokes on No More Milk got more than a little corny.
But apparently, that occasional self-indulgence didn't bother the national Revolution label, which, the Kovaciks' say, liked No More Milk and has asked to hear more. While the Surrealtors prepare a demo, they'll continue performing at an alarming variety of venues, including the Magnolia Grill on Saturday and Rudyard's on May 18.
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Blues news... This year's Houston nominees for the Blues Foundation's W.C. Handy Awards include Lavelle White, for soul/blues female of the year, and Katie Webster, for best traditional blues female. Also, a "Keeping the Blues Alive" award is going to the Houston Blues Society for blues organization of the year. Honors will be doled out Friday at the foundation banquet in Memphis. Sunday, Webster will head to New Orleans for an afternoon performance at the Jazz and Heritage Festival with the Vasti Jackson Group.
"Texas" Johnny Brown and the Quality Blues Band's performance at South by Southwest caught the attention of booking agents from the Chesterfield Cafe in Paris, who invited the group to play a five-night stint at the club. Naturally, the guys accepted; they'll be overseas struggling with their French from May 7 to 11.
It seems some musicians will do just about anything to stare at Jay Leno's chin. Buddy Guy has changed the show time for his Thursday concert at Rockefeller's from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. to accommodate the taping of an appearance on the Tonight Show in Chicago late that afternoon. Hope Guy has a quick Lear jet.
Etc.... Global Village celebrated the release of its new self-titled CD with a listening party and concert at the Hard Rock Cafe April 26. Thursday, the young Houston R&B vocal trio Eterniti will ring in the release of its new CD with a performance at Club Ambiance. Dune, TX is also delivering a new CD, and the band will take the stage Saturday at Emo's with Hot Wheels Jr. and Personality Crisis in honor of its release. More national attention for Houston talent: Big Holiday joins fellow locals Pull My Finger as semifinalists in the 1996 Musician Magazine Best Unsigned Band Competition. Mayfest Jazz '96 at Ovations welcomes Sweden's Hasslsbrasset Thursday and Houston's Paul English and PICO Friday. On the local music calendar this week: Friday, Last Concert Cafe whips up a little female fun with Girlapalooza '96, featuring Marble Jar, Sinister Sirens, Glisten and Lise Liddell, and Banana Blender Surprise headlines the Satellite Lounge; Saturday, Aftershock plays Deep Phat; and Sunday, Sarah Hickman, Trish Murphy, Clandestine, Sisters Morales and others assemble for a afternoon and evening of music to raise money for Houston's Rehab Mission. Also, you may want to save some late-weekend energy for haunting jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson, a critic's darling who deserves the raves, who visits Rockefeller's Sunday. -- Hobart Rowland