Buxton may be the hottest band to germinate along the Houston Ship Channel — Deer Park and La Porte, specifically — since Michael Haaga's deadhorse bit the dust.
Recently signed to New West Records, these eager, fresh, still un-jaded youngsters suddenly find themselves submerged in the business side of the music business. But that's a pleasant problem to wrestle with for a young band set to release its second album and heading to South By Southwest for some high-profile showcases.
"For a band used to doing everything for ourselves, having a label like New West behind us is a dream," says Sergio Trevino, the band's singer and primary songwriter. "Nationwide distribution through RED, a publicist, a radio pusher, publishing and licensing possibilities, it's like a new world for us."
The band just finished recording its first New West album, Nothing Here Seems Strange, at SugarHill Studios with John Griffin. New West is having the album mixed in Los Angeles by veteran engineer Jim Scott, who's worked with Wilco, Son Volt, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Barenaked Ladies, Sting and other heavyweights.
"We mixed it here, but Gary Briggs at New West heard some things and thought we ought to take another shot at some of the tracks. And them getting Jim Scott to work on it is tremendous," says Trevino.
Asked to describe the album, Buxton's second overall after 2008's self-released and folkier A Family Light, label head George Fontaine demurs. "I hate to pigeonhole their music, but I'd call it a rootsy rock album," says Fontaine. "It's definitely more rocking than the last one."
According to Trevino, that comes from the band's maturing and also from a change of focus.
"I had a breakup when I was 18, right about the time I discovered Elliott Smith, and that was my intro to what is not pop music," says Trevino. "I listened to him nonstop for about three years, so that vibe was all over the last album. But I'm over that now. Now I'm hung up on this old psych-folk guy, Michael Hurley."
But the band has worked consciously to refocus its live shows.
"Over the last three years, we've had time to figure some things out about live performance. Mainly we've learned to play better and, translated, that mostly means playing simpler. We realize we don't have to make everything complex for it to be cool. The other thing is that we may wish for people to be quiet and grasp every word and every thought, but at the end of the day most people just want to be entertained. And that means rocking more."
Both Trevino and bassist Chris Wise agree that Buxton might not have been the wisest choice of band names.
"Buxton was the guy who stole Pee-wee Herman's bicycle in Pee-wee's Big Adventure," says Wise. "Now it's the name people know us by.
"But our other choice was Listen to Reason," Wise explains. "Up beside that one, Buxton sounds pretty cool."
The band will stick close to home until the album drops, tentatively set for September 6. According to Fontaine, the label sees the album as a college radio back-to-school hopeful. Afterward, the plan is to tour heavily through the end of the year.
Trevino and Wise both seem awed by being on New West.
"We have this potential with New West, but a lot of times I feel like we aren't worthy yet to be on a label with all these amazing artists [Buddy Miller, Steve Earle, Old 97's, Delbert McClinton] they have," says Trevino. "We feel extremely lucky to be where we are."
Amber Digby & Midnight Flyer: When she's not co-writing with A-listers like Vince Gill, Amber Digby and her crack Midnight Flyers draw Houston two-steppers to venues like Blanco's, where the honky-tonk tradition runs deep and the beer runs cold. Last year the band released an eponymous live album, its first, under the aegis of Texas traditionalist Justin Trevino. C.G.
American Fangs: This year at SXSW, American Fangs scored a trill Saturday-night spot at Emo's, opening for breaking band Neon Trees. Easily one of the city's best-kept modern-rock secrets, the band tours relentlessly across the map, but still saves time for their hometown. Craig Hlavaty
Future Blondes: Long-running Houston art-noise collective Future Blondes are no strangers to the SXSW game, playing the schmoozefest more than a few times over the past years. The Blondes get a jump on the action by playing Tuesday night at Elysium, with the legendary and like-minded Psychic TV. C.H.
Robert Ellis: You know Robert Ellis is a star because he has a personalized guitar strap. So far this year, he's opened for the massively adored Lucero and signed a major contract with New West Records. A new album from Ellis and his crew is due in July, and some of the songs are already getting fine-tuned during the band's weekly Whiskey Wednesday slot at Fitzgerald's. C.H.
Indian Jewelry: Urban tribalists Indian Jewelry come on like a fever dream with leathery, swaggering riffs and strobe lights, leaving you wet on the floor. Last year's Totaled LP was just another piece falling into place in the epic Indian Jewelry story. Recommended if you like confusion, paranoia and noise. C.H.
Something Fierce: Something Fierce's razory garage-punk helped put Houston back on the punk-rock map. Since 2005, the trio has been doing Houston right with expert riffs, the right amount of sass, and with help from Dirt Nap Records, have now breached an international audience. Expect a new album and tour by late spring and early summer. C.H.
Two Star Symphony: Whether you see them in their quartet or octet form (naturally, we prefer the latter), Two Star Symphony will take you from whatever venue you are seeing them in — be it dark, packed indie shed, small concert hall or downtown oasis Discovery Green — and set you down in your own personal happy place. Joyous or forlorn, the classical (in configuration only) ensemble will remind you that soul isn't always found in an electric guitar or sticky keyboard. C.H.
Note: Showcases after midnight are listed under the day they begin.
American Fangs: 9 p.m. Saturday, March 19, Emo's Main Room, 603 Red River.
B L A C K I E: 9 p.m. Wednesday, March 16, Barcelona, 209 E. 6th St.
Bun B: 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 16, Stubb's, 801 Red River.
Buxton: 9 p.m. Thursday, March 17, 18th Floor at Hilton Garden Inn, 500 N. I-35,
Amber Digby & Midnight Flyer: 9 p.m. Wednesday, March 16, Continental Club, 1315 S. Congress Ave.
DJ Premier: With Nick Javas & NYG'z, 1:15 a.m. Wednesday, March 16, Fuze, 505 Nueces.
Robert Ellis: 10 p.m. Saturday, March 19, Lustre Pearl, 97 Rainey St.
Fat Tony: 10:15 Saturday, March 19, Karma Lounge, 119 W. 8th St.
Future Blondes: 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 15, Elysium, 705 Red River.
Indian Jewelry: 1 a.m. Wednesday, March 16, Soho Lounge, 217 E. 6th St.
Killa Kyleon: 11 p.m. Thursday, March 17, Venue 222, 222 E. 6th St.
Lil Keke: 10:30 p.m. Thursday, March 17, Fuze, 505 Nueces.
Something Fierce: 8 p.m. Saturday, March 19, Easy Tiger, 709 E. 6th St.
Trae Tha Truth: 9:45 p.m. Thursday, March 17, Austin Music Hall, 208 Nueces.
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TroubleSum: 9:50 p.m. Saturday, March 19, Klub Krucial, 614 E. 6th St.
Two Star Symphony: 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 15, Central Presbyterian Church, 200 E. 8th St.
Michael "5000" Watts: 12 a.m. Thursday, March 17, Fuze, 505 Nueces.
Just like always, Houston is SXSW's Rap City, but things are different this year. Heavyweights like Bun B (joined live recently by Gang Starr founder DJ Premier, in a configuration we can only hope becomes semi-permanent), Swisha House Records don Michael "5000" Watts, Southside perennial Lil Keke and SXSW featured speaker Chamillionaire still loom over the scene like titanic downtown skyscrapers, but nipping at their heels is a crop of underground MCs that swap syrup for science. Besides The Niceguys (see "The Show"), the biggest blips on Houston's DIY rap radar right now are B L A C K I E, whose distorted lyrical bursts are as much Black Flag as they are Black Star, and Fat Tony, whose debut LP RABDARGAB won him the affection of Smiths-loving indie-rock kids (he's one himself) as well as his hip-hop elders. Then there's Trae Tha Truth, who took on corporate rap radio giant 97.9 The Box last year — making back in featured appearances and street cred what he lost in airplay — and whose commitment to the mean streets that raised him is as deep as his basso vocals. Rounding out H-Town's SXSW class of '11 are lyrical legend Killa Kyleon and TroubleSum, the shit-talking "Teflon Diva" out to prove that anyone who thinks the Space City rap game is a man's, man's, man's, man's world is sorely mistaken indeed. Chris Gray