I met up with The Escatones on a recent 75-cent drink night at Union Tavern in Clear Lake to talk about the release of their new self-titled album. Never afraid to have a good time, these guys are pretty hilarious and a bit crazy and their consumption of cheap drinks amplifies these traits. More importantly for Houston music fans who haven’t had the pleasure of hanging out with The Escatones, the band rocks and they have good songs; that is something that is too frequently lacking in the Houston music scene these days.
Connor Pursell provides vocals and guitar for the group and writes the songs; JT Popiel is on bass with Houston music scene veteran Ken Dannelley on drums. Dannelley’s other band is Cornish Game Hen and when I asked about other bands he has been in in the past, he struggled to name them all but with the help of his bandmates they mentioned Airport Noises, Art Institute, Stretford Five, Black Pharaohs, Reflex (Duran Duran cover band), Hamicks, Marshall Fucker Band(!), Shit City High and that’s probably not all of them.
"The reason I’m in bands is because people keep asking me,” explains Dannelley. “I would have retired 10 years ago but people keep asking me. I grew up in the '80s with college radio, post-punk, some metal. My triad is Husker Du, Devo, and Killing Joke. My question as an adolescent was Husker Du or Replacements; people would do Beatles or Stones mine was Husker Du or Replacements.”
You can listen to and download the new Escatones album for free here; the price can’t be beat, obviously, and two of my favorite tracks off the album are the mightily rocking “Another Interstate Truck Love Song” and “Look Away.” The whole album rocks mightily, truth be told.
“The album is like a little bit of everything we have to offer, a little buffet,” says Pursell. “It’s Celtic Jingle Pop.” “Constitution rock, freedom power pop,” adds Popiel to his bandmates approval. Of album opener “Wrasslin,” Pursell says, “It’s about this Catholic girl, so she’s dealing with the trials and tribulations of that and being a teenager and Catholic guilt and all that so she tries alternate ways of making love.”
“Look Away” features an Irish whistle on it making it a good addition to your St. Patrick’s Day playlist besides being a pretty kick-ass song for year-round listening. The track “Another Interstate Truck Love Song” is about “a rest stop Romeo,” according to Pursell, “in the style of Big Country, the band.”
“This album is pretty damn good,” states Popiel. “It’s not that good, shut up, don’t fucking build it up to being something it’s not,” jokes Pursell. “This guy, he’s a drunken idiot, but good god can this man write a song and he’s getting better,” responds Popiel. “From when I met him until now his songwriting ability has just gotten better and better.”
Another song on the new album called “Pandering” is about the Houston music scene and, “how you have to dress a certain style to play a certain style to make money at this certain style and I’m fucking over it,” explains Pursell. “The elephant in the room in Houston is that everybody’s got this little clique, so we have three or four bands in the denim jacket punk clique, three or four bands in the crusty punk thing, three or four indie rock bands, we have three or four stoner rock bands and they don’t go outside the genre,” says Dannelley. “It’s like inbreeding with predictable results.”
“I don’t know about other music scenes but I know what Houston’s like and it just seems like this fucking turd on repeat,” exclaims Popiel. “There seems to be a herd mentality where you’ve got the individual bands that are good but then they get caught up in this fucking herd mentality where like, the same bands play with each other all the time," adds Dannelley.
Popiel addresses the Houston Press article “Why Don't Houston Bands Support One Another?” by David Garrick. “I didn’t even fucking read it but I just saw that and I was like, it reminded me of everyone’s got a fucking trophy kind of thing, you’ve got to stay and support every band. What if you think the band sucks? Can people not say that bands suck anymore? Can you not watch them because you don’t like them?”
“They don’t automatically get a check because they’re in a band, they don’t automatically get a trophy, that is very millennial,” says Dannelley. “Your band could very well suck. I’ll give any band three songs and after that you’re going to have to have some songs. After three songs if they suck they're going to get heckled.”
The Escatones also don’t have much use for bands that are very ambitious. “I see these bands that have these master plans, like here’s our master plan were going to go to this person and that person. We’ll play with this band and that band then I go to their shows and they’re playing to 20 people, and we don’t give a flying fuck and we’re playing to 20 people,” explains Dannelley. “So I’m like no matter what approach you get the same things so just don’t give a fuck.”
“You either have songs or you don’t. I think we have songs so I’ll keep playing until I don’t hear songs. Then I’m done, it’s that simple,” continues Dannelley. “There seems to be all these bands that have all this ego, they’re going to be the next this, the next that, I’m going to befriend this person and I’m like who gives a shit man. Nothing will humble you quicker than seeing your band’s record cut out at Half-Price Books. There’s my blood, sweat and tears for 3 bucks right next to Sheena Easton. Pull your ego back and be very honest about this, you’re not going to fucking make it, Mr. Big is not going to pull up in a limousine to sign you I don’t care what your master plan is.”
“After Connor drinks himself to death Ken and I will get famous,” jokes Popiel. “We’ll live the dream.”
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Other topics discussed with The Escatones this night include the time they got kicked out of a motel in Euless, Texas because Dannelley backed up the band’s van instead of pulling in forward; shows the band has performed in drag and/or naked; professional wrestling; U.S. presidents who might have been gay; Libertarian politics; the time they went and saw '80s metal band Dokken at Proof Rooftop Lounge and Don Dokken refused to give Pursell an autograph for a friend; and Dannelley’s plans to appear on the Price Is Right game show. Other topics discussed have been redacted to protect the guilty.
A friendly older guy at the bar who only wished to be identified as "Herman Finklestein" came over to our table to say hello and told us a few jokes; Pursell had some fun trying to persuade Popiel and me that this stranger was actually Jimmy Pineapple, one of the Texas Outlaw Comics based in Houston in the mid-1980s along with Sam Kinison and Bill Hicks, and we kind of believed him for a bit until we caught on that it was a joke. We kind of wanted to believe him; the guy was funny.
The Escatones' future plans include a five-song E.P. of new music, a country album, and a rock opera.I asked the guys if they had any final thoughts. “Rock and roll ain’t dead,” Popiel exclaims. “Rock and Roll is rusted shut,” responds Dannelley. “Body Count’s in the motherfucking house,” says Pursell. “Weiner poop,” concludes Popiel. “Thank you for encouraging our behavior,” adds Dannelley.