The Sudden Resurrection of Teen Houston Punks Vast Majority
Photos and artwork courtesy of Scott Telles
February has been a pretty damn good month for fans of classic Houston punk. A couple weeks back, Jello Biafra's legendary Alternative Tentacles label reissued practically every note ever recorded by H-Town punk pioneers Really Red, giving record collectors the chance to add stuff like the group's latter-day Rest in Pain LP to their vinyl collections for the very first time. Now, a boutique European label is digging even deeper to re-release music by another local group from the earliest days of the Texas punk scene.
More than three decades since teenage Houston rabble-rousers Vast Majority split up for good, front man Scott Telles has revived the band to celebrate the reissue of the bulk of their recorded material. For plenty of old-timers and vinyl nerds around town, that's terrific news.
For other, younger members of the liberty-spiked set, the reaction might be slightly closer to, "Who?"
"We were a teenage punk rock band from Houston," Telles explains. "We formed in late '78; we broke up in 1980. While we were together, we put out one single. We played a bunch of shows with all the bands of the period -- Really Red, Legionnaire's Disease, the Huns, the MyDolls, the Hates. All of the Houston bands from that era."
And tonight, for one night only, Vast Majority will return to the 713--live on stage.
"We haven't played in 35 years," Telles adds. "The show in Houston will be the last one, and then we're going to crawl back into our holes for another 35 years. When I'm 87, maybe we'll play another one!"
There were no plans for any reunion, however brief, until Telles was contacted last year by the Italian label Rave Up Records, which has turned obscure, classic-era American punk into something of a specialty.
"This guy, Pierre Luigi, he does this label in Italy, he emailed me one day," Telles says. "I'm not exactly sure how he found me, but he's doing a series of LP releases called American Lost Punk Rock Nuggets. We're volume 75, and the Hates are volume 74! So, he's put out a whole slew of these records. It's an Italian label, and these Europeans just love that early American punk."
The label has released I Wanna Be a Number, an LP of primitive, jangling punk pumped out by a bunch of teens energized by the shocking emergence of a new musical movement. Telles put the tracks together and wrote the liner notes himself. It's not the first time in the last 30 years that Vast Majority music has been re-released, but this will be the definitive collection, he says.
"The material has gotten out there and stayed out there, but I really feel like this LP is something special, since I put it together, I curated it and I wrote the liner notes," Telles says. "It's kind of my version of what the band's legacy, so to speak, should be. I thought it was cool enough and special enough that we should play a few shows to promote it.
"We're all about shifting the units, man!", he adds, laughing.
So, Telles called up bassist Caroline Caustic from Vast Majority's final iteration as well as a couple of ringers from Austin, where he still plays with his groups ST 37 and My Education. After a couple of successful gigs in the capital, Vast Majority is coming home, playing at Walters tonight with the MyDolls as well as Pleasure 2 and Killer Hearts.
"The shows have gone over really, really well," Telles says. "A lot of people really liked us at Beerland and were asking us to do another show, but we have steadfastly refused so far! We're all busy with other musical projects. It's not something that's on the front burner, but I suppose if somebody offered and was determined and kept bothering me about it, we might do another show. But for now, this is it!"
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While it may not be enough for some, the new reissue is still far more than Telles and his crew ever imagined when they were banging on their instruments back at Bellaire High School.
"When the band started, all of us were 15-16 years old," he says. "The school was dominated by kickers and FFA-ers. If you're a Houstonian, you probably have some idea who those people are. They hated us! They were always calling us punk-rock faggots: 'Hey, you punk rock faggots!' They would always be making fun of us.
"Sometimes we would run up and kiss them and hug them, just to upset them," Telles adds, laughing at the memory. "They didn't like that very much. But at the same time, there was an underground group of kids that really liked us and really appreciated us. And I have to say, I had way more girlfriends after I started the band than I had before!"
Perhaps even more surprising than the continued interest in Vast Majority's music, though, is the continued relevance of the band's lyrical themes. After 35 years of protest anthems and political screeds, Houston punks and kickers alike are still living in Reagan's America.
"I do think it's very interesting that a lot of the stuff I wrote about when I was an angst-filled teenager have come back around again," Telles says. "For example, our police-brutality song! Huh, some things never change. Despite them being full of the piss and vinegar of a pissed-off 17 year old, a lot of these songs are just as relevant today as they were then."
Vast Majority will appear onstage for what is likely the final time tonight at Walters Downtown, 1120 Naylor, with special guests the MyDolls, Pleasure 2 and Killer Hearts.. $8. Doors open at 9 p.m.
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