When I met up with Connor Pursell and JT Popiel of The Escatones on a recent Wednesday night at Union Tavern, they were in good spirits; their fun mood and joking was probably further fueled throughout the evening by the fact that it was 75-cent drink night. Pursell handles vocals and guitar for the group, with Popiel on bass; unfortunately, drummer Ken Dannelley was practicing with Mod Fag, one of many local bands with which he also performs, and could not make it. “Ken’s the only drummer we’ve had that I consider a band member,” Pursell explained. “We’ve gone through at least almost ten drummers.”
“He’s awesome; that guy represents rock and roll, man,” Popiel added. “When I want to look up rock and roll or punk rock in a dictionary, I think it should be Ken’s picture next to the words.”
I personally discovered The Escatones back in February, when I dropped in on one of their live shows (also at Union Tavern) and was impressed with their energetic performance, which turned out to be their last live show before a hiatus that has just only recently ended. ”We had to go on a break because we needed to extensively study the U.S. Constitution,” Popiel jokes. “That’s straight from Ken Dannelley’s mouth,” he adds. Popiel actually called for the break because of life stuff. He got busy with work and school, and all of the band members live in different parts of the city, which made getting together to practice regularly difficult, especially with Houston traffic frustrations.
“The break seems to have worked out because people seem to be interested in us again,” Pursell adds with a laugh. “We practiced twice since the hiatus, and the first practice went really well, not a lot of fuck-ups at all. I thought it was going to be embarrassing after four months of not playing together, but it went swimmingly.”
The Escatones have been together since Halloween of 2010, with Dannelley joining in 2013. I had to go ahead and ask the guys how they would describe their music, not always the easiest question to answer. “I think most people that think of us think of us when we first formed, when we were kind of a straightforward garage surf-rock band; that’s the stigma we’ve been under, but we’ve done so much else since then,” reflects Pursell.
“If we were really to describe it, it would fall under these subcategories: 'Patriot Rock,' 'Celtic Jingle Pop' and 'Horseshoe Rock.' Horseshoe Rock because we’re all balding," jokes Popiel. “No, but really, though, if I had to describe our music, I would say College Rock.”
“When I wanted to form a band and how I liked to release music, Ween was a huge influence and the fact that they had eclecticism," adds Pursell. "That’s always what I kind of shoot for. I don’t want to play one style forever."
When I asked the guys what bands influenced them, their eyes lit up and they enthusiastically started naming artists they love: Butthole Surfers, Chainsaw Kittens, Bob Dylan, Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Donovan, the aforementioned Ween, singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt, The Replacements, The Who, John Frusciante, Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, Hüsker Dü, early Soul Asylum, Uncle Tupelo and Meat Puppets. They could have continued naming bands for hours, and we can’t forget that Dannelley was not present to throw in his favorite bands as well.
Speaking of The Butthole Surfers, their guitarist, Paul Leary, played a solo on the Escatones' “Out of Sight.” Popiel and Pursell were talking to Paul Chavez of Houston's Artificial Head Records, the Escatones' label, and Popiel joked that he thought his guitar solo for “Out of Sight” sucked and he wished they could get Paul Leary to do it. Chavez took the initiative to actually email Leary, who agreed to do the solo for the band. “It was a dream of mine — if nothing pans out, at least I got to play on a record with one of my fucking heroes,” Pursell says.
The Escatones never actually got to meet Leary even though he played on their record, but they did get to meet and jam with Greg Ginn, guitarist of seminal hardcore punk band Black Flag, when they played with his electronic solo band twice at Super Happy Fun Land. “Greg Ginn [is] a really nice guy — he like, chain-smoked joints all night in the parking lot and was telling me funny Black Flag stories,” Pursell says. “He did agree to play on one of our records, but he just never responded back after the initial emails.” Hey, Paul Chavez, maybe it’s not too late — can you make this happen as well?
In talking to these guys, I found that both have a great sense of humor and don’t take themselves too seriously, though they do take their band and their music seriously. They also like to party and have a good time, which is a throwback to the glory days of rock and roll and the way it should be, in my humble opinion. During our conversation, they shared some funny stories about touring, including the time they played poolside at a nudist colony in Navasota. “It was like a bunch of blue-collar rednecks just hanging out feeling free for the weekend,” explains Pursell. “It was an interesting experience.”
Now that The Escatones have gotten back together, I asked them what they see in the band’s future. "I would like to go out on another fucking tour!” exclaims Pursell. “My expectations of this band is one of us is going to die too soon and then maybe people will care about us after we die,” jokes Popiel. “Seriously, we put out a bunch of shit; our goal is to record as much as we can, because we have like 45 songs recorded, 45 good songs, and we have another 40 ready to go; we just have to do it, we’re going to keep trying.” Among the material the band plans on recording in the future is a rock opera called Checking Out and a country album called Payne County Death Trip; you can check out The Escatones' previously recorded albums here.
The Escatones perform at Rudyard's on Saturday, July 16 with special guests Darwin's Finches, Ziel Zuster and Empty Shells. Doors open at 8 p.m.