Alphabet Soup

Confidence is a big part of the rock and roll game. If you're a young band and you don't have it, don't present it and don't believe in it, then you might as well pack it up, because there are dozens of hungrier groups out there. That's why it's so refreshing to hear that the guys in the Colour Clear aren't afraid to raise their hands because they're sure; they know exactly where their place is in the music industry.

"We'd go right after Color Me Badd," deadpans guitarist Gino Zevallos to the uproarious laughter of his bandmates. "I think we have lot in common with them."

Actually, the Houston hard/industrial rockers have about as much in common with the New Jack Swinging "I Wanna Sex You Up" boys as they do with Phil Collins, another artist whose work would reside nearby in the bins at your local mega-record store.

Not that you'd be able to find First Anthems I Learned, the band's debut CD, at a place like that anyway. The EP features six songs covering the familiar nü-metal territory of anxiety, pain, phobia, pettiness and feelings of distance. In other words, it's just the right soundtrack for a fist-pumping Generation Y tribal gathering.

"The constant comparison in trying to record the CD was keeping it on the level of our live shows; we have a very energetic live show," says guitarist Tyler Barber, the group's most direct, serious member, sitting in a cramped, cluttered back office at Fitzgerald's with the rest of his bandmates. "We had to capture the feeling of playing live while meeting the desire for perfection you need in a CD. But I didn't want it to sound like it was played entirely by a machine."

The record -- three quarters of which was laid down with producer/musician Doyle Odom at his Electric Tide home studio -- was also the band's first experience inside a recording facility, save for a short trip some members took back in high school. "We thought it was a big waste of time," Zevallos says of their old attitude. "It took the guy, like, three hours to turn on one microphone."

In addition to Zevallos and Barber, the Colour Clear includes vocalist Alex Peñafiel, drummer Matt Wheeler and Zevallos's identical twin, Danny, on bass.

"They're monozygotes -- that means they came from the same egg," the professorial Barber offers, before the quintet considers "Monozygote" as a potential new band name. (That moniker that would put them behind Eddie Money and the Monkees in the record store rack -- again, not a fit.)

The band's origins began in 1996 when the Zevallos brothers and Peñafiel met at Alief's Elsik High School, brought together by a shared interest in the music of Ministry and Front 242. "We began messing around a lot; it wasn't organized," Peñafiel remembers. "I couldn't play an instrument, so they gave me the mike."

Their trio's hard sound would seem to be an accident, considering that Peñafiel also names Jeff Buckley and the Sundays as influences, while the twins cite early Beatles, Marvin Gaye and their father and uncle, both of whom are Peruvian folk multi-instrumentalists. "I wanted to pick up the guitar and play like them," Danny offers. An older brother also turned them on to the sounds of New Order and Joy Division.

The informal band, then called Fail, started playing prime Saturday-night spots at places like Fitzgerald's and the Abyss. Barber (ex-Just Add Dirt) and Wheeler (ex-Fat Chance, Foul) came on board in 1999. Barber brought Faith No More and Björk influences into the mix, while Wheeler was all punk and hip-hop, which reflects in his explosive, kid-on-Ritalin personality even today.

As the five had grown both musically and stylistically, they felt a name change was in order. Taking a line from their song "Diversion" and inspired by writing it on a homemade Fail T-shirt of Danny's, they became the Colour Clear, complete with British spelling.

"It just really stood out to me, because we all add a little color to something," Peñafiel explains. "We start out as nothing, and it reflects how we are as people and how the music is. The color clear is something you see right through."

Similar obtuse pronouncements constitute the lyrics on Anthems, which require a little explanation and often read like existentialist poetry. The songs are credited to the entire band, though material often begins with riffs worked out by Barber and Gino Zevallos.

The catchy, modern-rock sound of concert favorite "Palatial Estates" is about anxiety and people who have phobias. "Static and the Distance" and "Farewell to the Waking World" eviscerates those who concentrate too much on life's petty problems, while "Cirrus" is about finger-pointing and not appreciating what you have. All are bathed in a swirling cacophony of sound, with Peñafiel alternately howling and harmonizing over the controlled clatter.

Use of chemical and liquid substances, of course, is behind some of rock's greatest achievements. Danny Zevallos hit the bottle heavily one night before penning the words to "Hard to Say," questioning both his life and the religion he was raised in.

"I was taking an assessment of my life and feeling as though I still didn't know what to do with it," he says. "In the haze of drunkenness, the anxieties of being raised Catholic and constantly being told that you are a sinner and you will burn in a lake of fire unless you pray a certain amount of times or unless you perform these sacraments or all these rules. [In the song] I'm just talking to God and having him ask me what I want in life. And my response is…that I really don't know."

What the Colour Clear does know is that it needs some help. Not on the musical side, but on the business side. Its local gigs are admittedly infrequent, and out-of-town jaunts are limited to single dates in places like Austin, Galveston, Lake Jackson and that industrial metal stronghold, Beaumont. They hope to find a manager and booking agent to get them in doors they believe you have to have contacts to enter. And when it comes time to winnow down some candidates, the band says they'll all have equal say. Well, mostly.

"We're very democratic; everyone counts as one vote," Barber explains. "Well, except the twins. They'll count as one."

The gaze of one the band members drifts toward a wall, on which is hanging a current promo photo of former New Kid on the Block Danny Wood (no doubt put there by some irony-loving Fitz employee). Wood now sports shades, tattoos and ill-advised "ghetto" clothing in an effort to project a more "hard" image.

"Is that the New Kid guy? Gee, I hope we don't end up like him," says somebody, with all the genuine pity of seeing someone in a hospital bed after a tragic accident. And you do have to feel bad for the former teen sensation. After all, if any record store carries his new disc, it will have to come after fellow '80s faces Kim Wilde and Steve Winwood in the alphabetical game. Somehow, being stocked next to Color Me Badd doesn't sound so bad after all.