Fly girl... It's hardly a revelation that an unfortunately large number of Houston artists see leaving town as the only way for them to get anywhere in the music business. Robin Beacham understands that point of view, because Beacham is among those who have jumped ship. Still, credit where credit is due: The guitarist hung in there until every last local option was exhausted, carving out a respectable profile on the Houston scene from the mid-'80s to the early '90s before giving in to the lure of Los Angeles.
Beacham is best known around town for her work with the all-female heavy rock outfit Velvet Hammer, which, though still a presence around the region, saw its chance at wider fame come and go some years back. Not coincidentally, Beacham's hopping a plane to the West Coast in 1991 coincided with the slamming shut of Velvet Hammer's launch window.
Now happily ensconced near Universal Studios, Beacham has both a stable new life in L.A. and an impressive new band, Majenta Jets. She founded the Jets with Leslie Carol, a commanding frontwoman with a heavenly Siouxsie Sioux lilt (and jet-black bob to match) who was more than willing to ditch Houston to join her friend in Southern California. Beginning as little more than a coffeehouse curiosity, Majenta Jets have evolved over the last three years into a dark, exotic, lushly melodic electrified trio with the addition of drummer Robert Ward IV (yet another Houstonian). Cited by Music Connection magazine as one of the best unsigned acts of 1997, the Jets have opted against waiting around for a label to snatch them up, instead releasing a self-titled debut on their own Frozen Over Music imprint.
Tastefully produced and sonically titillating, Majenta Jets -- like the band that created it -- ought to make some major label a healthy acquisition. Its contents coyly flip-flop between flashy arena rock ("(Throwing Myself in the) Grand Canyon"), artily self-conscious '80s-style New Wave ("Venus Trap") and '90s-style, grunge-inspired chick rock. Before venturing into daunting prog-rock catacombs, the crushing chorus of "Quicksand" suggests a glammer, more refined Veruca Salt. "Love Thirst," meanwhile, weaves Beacham's Billy Corganesque guitar histrionics into a drop-dead glamorous, lipstick-smeared portrait of womanly lust that's strung seductively along by Carol's teasing, elastic delivery.
"The younger kids around town really seem to like the album," Beacham says of Majenta Jets. "It's the older people that hear it who seem to be scratching their heads."
Born and raised in East Texas, Beacham was 15 when she moved to the Houston area. Soon thereafter, she met Carol. Both were in the ninth grade at Spring High School, and a mutually intense interest in music brought them together. After some aborted attempts to fulfill their rock-band fantasies from the garage, the two founded XOX in 1986. With more brains than Vixen and more balls than Heart, XOX honed its sophisticated pop-metal sound at clubs throughout the city, developing a huge local following and earning endorsements from local radio station KLOL and various local publications, including the Press. XOX and Beacham signed on with Lone Wolf Productions, whose management responsibilities include ZZ Top and Clint Black, among others.
But by 1989, XOX had hit a dead end. Beacham moved on to fill the lead guitar slot in Velvet Hammer, while Carol went solo with a chilly Brit-soul sound and anti-diva image somewhat along the lines of Alison Moyet. A little more than a year after joining the Hammer, though, Beacham was again frustrated. No closer to real success than she was with XOX, she quit the group and headed to Los Angeles.
"I felt like I had done all I could," she says. "My ultimate goal was always to get a record deal, to try and make a full-time living as a musician."
Beacham still hasn't quite made it to that point. While the outlook seems positive for Majenta Jets, they haven't found a permanent bass player yet, and all the members continue to work days to make ends meet. Beacham, for one, has a job as a judicial aid. Regardless, life's much better now than it was when Beacham first moved to L.A.
"At first, I couldn't find people to play with," she says. "With all these musicians out here, you'd think that you could find somebody. It was really weird."
With Carol's arrival, Beacham found a savior. It was only when the two rekindled their old Texas chemistry that things began to fall into place.
"We started playing out as a duo in the coffeehouses," Beacham says. "And we began writing songs from an acoustic standpoint."
Being forced to adopt a stripped-down approach has induced a major restructuring of the Beacham/Carol songwriting partnership. Gone are the inextricable arrangements, fiddly solos and bloated concepts of their XOX and Velvet Hammer days, replaced by a streamlined, eminently more immediate sound. So far, that "less is more" credo has served Majenta Jets well.
"We definitely went with the times," Beacham admits. "Our music doesn't sound anything like it did in XOX, and I don't sound anything like I did in Velvet Hammer. For me, I'm drawing more from influences like the Beatles, stuff that I grew up listening to."
As yet, Majenta Jets have no plans to play any shows in Texas, but the band is hoping the CD's availability here might generate enough interest to warrant their return. In the meantime, Beacham continues to make annual holiday pilgrimages back to Houston, where her mother and brother still live.
"We'd like to come back," she says. "I still call it home."
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