Coaxing Celindine's Trey Pool out of his protective shell takes patience. But if you don't have the time to get to know him, he recommends nicotine and alcohol to help loosen the tension. Still, even after a few beers and half an ashtray's worth of cigarettes, the 28-year-old singer/guitarist has trouble looking a new acquaintance in the eye. Parked on a sofa at Celindine bassist Shane Ray's Montrose apartment, the reluctant leader of one of Houston's most cerebral new bands keeps most of his attention focused on his lap.
"I'm not used to this interview stuff," he confesses, breaking a long, nervous silence, much to the relief of the rest of the group, who seemed to be sucking up all the oxygen in the room waiting for him to speak. Unfortunately for Pool (and for me), the others have less to say than he does. They're all younger, and somewhat less articulate. Blond and equally soft-spoken, Ray looks like a surf rat minus the tan; inconspicuous under a longish mop of dark brown hair, guitarist Jason Gilmore chimes in on occasion, but his comments seem more an appendage to Pool's than something of his own; baby-faced drummer Jeremy Hayden just grins a lot.
Music-wise, Celindine is bent on a formula that takes everything and nothing for granted. It's a sound that toys with opposites: dissonance dirties melody, bleak lyrics shade bright hooks, blind rage mingles with light humor, emotional honesty counters smart-guy ambiguity. Nationally, the more successful embodiments of such skewed, clatter-pop behavior -- Pavement, Sebadoh, Austin's Spoon, etc. -- are often lumped rather vaguely under the "lo-fi" heading.
"The lo-fi thing gets so dissed now, but I think it's cool," says Gilmore. "We have the ability to record our own stuff without having to come up with $2,000. It makes it more populist, you know? It's accessible to people who don't necessarily have a lot of money."
Even so, remarks Pool, any lo-fi and/or amateurish traits Celindine is guilty of are there purely by accident. "It took forever for us to save up $600 to record the first time, and it sounded like shit," he says. "I've always thought that anything that I've been a part of has sounded best in the practice room."
Pool is the brooding shadow behind Celindine's sparse, nonsensical, occasionally disturbing lyrical content. It often appears as if the true definition of happiness for this four-eyed antihero is getting through the day without his head exploding. His anguish is documented quite convincingly on a new four-song sampler cassette now available at the group's shows. Early Celindine performances were known to be so introverted as to encourage members of the audience to sit on the floor and obsess right along with the band. Since then, the group has quickened its pace and pepped up somewhat on-stage, but still, Celindine is more about mulling life over than moshing it senseless.
In his lyrics, Pool mulls himself into a thousand corners. On "Backwards Mariachi," he waxes desperate ("I'll scream as loud as I can until I bore holes into your ear"), and on "Action Speaks Louder than Design," makes the chilling confession, "If I had an open window to jump from, I'm thinking I just might." But Pool isn't always so morbid. Move past the extremes, and occasionally you'll find a sentimental fool looking for reasons to love life. "If I had help getting over the hump, I'm thinking I just might / 'Cause there's still some good," he laments in "Action Speaks," his delivery, as always, not so much sung as it is moaned.
"The words are kind of an afterthought," Pool says, trying to de-emphasize any of their profundity. "For three-fourths of those songs, I was driving to Austin by myself, had a tape of the music and just wrote them down on a note pad."
Most of the time, Pool's unedited strategy works, largely thanks to the appealing way in which Celindine frames it. The lyrics' no-fuss/high-bummer factor is countered effectively by the upbeat implications of the music, which is dictated by catchy inside-out hooks and the near-psychic guitar interplay between Pool and Gilmore. Celindine makes pop music -- miserable, loud and atonal, at times -- but pop music, nonetheless.
"The thing that bugs me are the people who say we're trying to sound like Pavement or whatever. We don't sit down and try to sound like someone else," Ray says. "We just play what we feel, and that's how it comes out."
But if the big-name comparisons make people curious enough to come and see Celindine, adds Pool, "then so be it."
Pool first picked up the guitar when he was 20 on the encouragement of a girlfriend. At the time, he had ditched his hometown of Houston and was living in Orlando, moving there with said lady friend after a brief stay in Savannah, Georgia. Not long after Pool began playing, he founded the band Two Story People with a new friend, the Tampa-bred Gilmore.
"We learned how to play together," Pool says. "It was an accomplishment just to get through a whole song at first."
Two Story People sputtered along for "four fruitless years," says Pool, releasing a few seven-inch singles and playing wherever it could in a city overstocked with lame sound-alike grunge bands. The group broke up in 1993, and Gilmore promptly left to live with friends in Austin, while Pool languished, bored and frustrated, for a while in Florida before returning home to Houston.
At first, Pool took up with former Blueprint guitarist Damon Allen in February 1995, and the two began writing songs together. For the original version of Celindine, Allen and Pool recruited Ray, who had played with Allen in Blueprint, and Hayden. The band knocked out its first Houston gig that October opening for Austin's Sincola. A year later, Gilmore joined Celindine -- and reunited with his old friend Pool -- after college commitments prompted Allen's departure.
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But it was Allen -- not Gilmore -- who came along to Austin, where Celindine recorded in ex-Reiver John Croslin's home studio earlier this year. While four of the songs from those sessions are on the band's new cassette, enough music was put to tape for a whole CD. As it is now, though, Celindine is holding off on a full-length release while it jockeys for possible major-label backing.
In the meantime, Pool is busy charting Celindine's future as one of the best reasons to reconsider the grim prognosis for indie-rock in Houston. Other encouraging signs include fellow locals Schrasj, Clouded (formerly Clover) and the Linoleum Experiment (which once included members of Celindine). The four bands share a local label, the tiny independent 76.2% Records, as well as the enthusiastic support of its owner, Mark Caperton.
"They're atypical Houston bands," says Caperton. "They don't have a hard-core punk sound like a lot of the groups do around here. I like substance, and they've got a lot of it."
Celindine performs with Schrasj and Clouded for the 76.2% Records showcase at 10:30 p.m. Friday, December 13, at Emo's Alternative Lounge, 2700 Albany. All ages show. Tickets are $5, under 21; free, 21 and older. For info, call 523-8503.