Tailless and Grotesque
Two years ago last March, on the boulevard of broken dreams that is every Austin thoroughfare during the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference, Austin's own Sincola rose above the hoopla -- on the strength of a distinctive talent and an enthusiastic hometown press -- to grab the brass ring so often promised (and so rarely offered) by the conference's claustrophobic cluster-fuck of industry types: they got signed. Nearly a year later, and just one month before the following year's conference, indie powerhouse Caroline Records released What the Nothinghead Said, the two man/three woman band's first full-length CD. Sincola returned to SXSW '95 as belles of the ball, snatching a coveted spot on-stage at the conference-launching Austin Music Awards. It was as fine a launching pad as a young, heavily hyped rock band could ask for, and Sincola responded by going on an extended hiatus while drummer Terri Lord underwent, and then recuperated from, back surgery.
It's a hell of a way to celebrate a national debut, but Sincola is a resourceful band, and the time off didn't go to waste. According to Lord, who's sharing interview duty with guitarist Greg "Wendel" Stivers, "We've already got ten new songs. Since I've been laid up here, we've been having a lot of our 'quiet' practices. We work on the songwriting, Kris [Patterson] and Greg play the acoustic guitars, and I play the magazines with my drumsticks in my lap. So a whole bunch of songs have come to fruition at the same time. It can be a good thing to do. I think maybe next time I won't even have the back surgery, and we'll just have a lot of songwriting sessions."
Since, as Stivers says, "the whole thrill of getting signed and recording the record has given way to the anxiety of 'what are we going to put on the next one?'" you'd think Sincola and its ten new songs would be sitting pretty. Add to that the more or less perfect band/label match between Sincola and Caroline ("The bands they'd had the most success with had moved on," says Stivers. "They were in a position where they needed a new crop of bands, and we're a new band....") and a windfall of press from the obvious (Raygun) to the unexpected (the normally musically staid Texas Monthly), and you've got the next in a long line of Austin's next big rock things -- a line that stretches from Sincola back to Glass Eye and the True Believers before that.
To their credit, Lord and Stivers at least (Patterson, bassist Chepo Pena and singer Rebecca Cannon were out of the house when I called) seem to have a pretty solid grip on the situation. Lord, for instance, counts Sincola as her 30th band. "I have a personal rule, which is to never believe our own hype," she says. "We've all lived here a long time, we've watched a lot of bands rise and fall. So even though it's nice to get all that attention, we haven't been deceiving ourselves with it. We just keep working, you know?"
The work, as evidenced on What the Nothinghead Said, is a minor maelstrom of twin-guitar rock that echoes the shifting instrumental dynamics of forebears such as Frank Black and Kim Deal (Pixies and post-Pixies), complete with the angular guitar jags and sung/spoken lyrics of a Veruca Salt and the powerhouse drive of Dallas' Toadies. Live, Sincola gets comparisons to the Pixies, along with parallels to Mecca Normal. On CD, they've been compared with bands all over the map, including R.E.M. and the B-52s, neither of which group's music bears even a passing resemblance to the music on Nothinghead. According to Stivers, "The guy from the Dallas Morning News thinks we sound like Rush, and he thinks he's complimenting us. He said we could be an arena rock band. If we just get rid of our gross sexuality."
"Yeah," Lord pipes in. "We're too sexually grotesque."
It's a predictable charge when your band boasts a frontwoman as powerfully charismatic as Cannon singing lyrics to songs such as "Bitch," but unless you're the sort who finds offhand honesty grotesque, it's also a baseless charge. When Cannon sings, in "Sedate Me," "Sedate me, and rape me, I'll be your wish, your kewpie doll bitch / Sedate me, and rape me, I'll be your wish, your suicide kiss," she makes it sound somehow seductive instead of grotesque. (Okay, so maybe it's a little bit grotesque).
Try to delve much further into just what messages the band may be trying to get at with its current batch of songs, though, and Lord and Stivers balk, partly because the other members of Sincola aren't around to argue the point (a favorite band activity, I'm told), and partly because, as Lord says, "I think you run a risk, if you try to talk too much about your music, then the person experiencing it doesn't get a chance to make up their own mind."
She will, however, tell me that the title What the Nothinghead Said is a nonsense inversion of a phrase from the Kurt Vonnegut short story "Welcome to the Monkey House." She's also willing to reveal that "Sincola," which Lord says is "degenerated" from the Spanish for "without a tail," won the band-naming contest, fortunately, over first runner-up Anal Monsoon.
But keep pushing Lord for self-classification, and she resorts to the sort of pop-culture mangling that identifies Sincola as its own distinctive entity. "I'll just tell you what Tonya Harding said on Hard Copy when they were interviewing her about her newfound singing career," says Lord. "She said, 'Well, some people might think I'm pop and some people might think I'm country, but I'll let the critics decide.'"
Sincola plays Monday, July 3 at the Urban Art Bar, 112 Milam at Franklin. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 and $6. For info, call 225-0500.
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