Bayou City

Astragal Hopes To Keep It Short and Sweet at In Bloom

Astragal is ready to take In Bloom by storm.
Astragal is ready to take In Bloom by storm. Photo by Margaret Webbe
Festivals are now just a part of the music landscape, whether you accept that or not. Now that FPSF, formerly Free Press Summer Fest, has been re-branded, renamed, and rescheduled to In Bloom, it's time to start looking at those who make up the local side of the festival. In this case, Houston's Astragal are easily one of the best bands to be added to the lineup. Forget the fact that these guys are in their early twenties, or that their live sets are a mix of energetic frenzy and soft hues, and focus on the fact that they already have two solid E.P.'s, they've toured, and they're starting work on a full length this year. Their second E.P. Split, with Houston's Donna Hayward, is a real game changer and shows how far the trio has come since starting. The Houston Press sat down with lead singer and guitarist Jimmy Bent and bassist David Sosa to talk about how the band came to be, the new music the band is working on, and what people should expect to see from them at the festival.

When bands get together, there's usually some story about how the members met in math class, or that they worked together. For Astragal, it wasn't even close to that. " We have Craigslist to thank for how David and Sam met, but I met Sam at a Beach House show after I complimented him on his Animal Collective shirt. I was in a weird place for a while after my band Wilding Estates broke up; I went from playing shows and practicing all of the time to barely touching an instrument, so I was really itching to play with someone. Playing alone isn't enough for me as a musician, so after running into Sam at a DIIV show, someone suggested that we get together to jam and the rest is history," says the singer.

The band with a name that's hard to forget feels like something from another time and place, something that Bent confirms. "Astragal came from a book by the same name from the French writer Albertine Sarrazin, the pink and cream cover caught my eyes at a bookstore while strolling through Greenwhich Village with my girlfriend. It's such an exciting and wonderful story on the trappings of free will, youth, and the pains of falling in and out of love," remarks Bent.

The band has a sound that's very dreamy, almost like if The Cure and Ride had more energy, mixing it all to craft an intriguing shoegaze sound that's hard not to love. When asked who he was inspired by, Bent replied, "lately I've been into Hand Habits, Cortex, Pat Metheny, Corridor, and the song 'Keep On Calling,' by Nulifer Yanya. My usual rotation for the past couple of years has been The Clientele, Joy Division, Joao Gilberto, and Reverie Sound Revue."

As for Sosa, "through and though, we all love shoegaze like Slowdive and post-punk like Ceremony and Joy Division, with indie alternative acts like Deerhunter and Preoccupations. I personally am inspired by a ton of jazz and Interpol bass lines. My god of inspiration is Jaco Pastorious, and Thundercat is another influence, his intense groove and precision on the quarter notes. I think the three of us carry different interests in music, and it blends well together."

Beginning the band when none of the members were 21, the trio plays like musicians twice their age. When asked if he thought their ages ever held them back when they began, the guitarist replied, "I hope that no one has judged us based on our age, that's something I have never really thought of. There has been the issue of playing 21 & up venues in the past and not all of our friends could attend. Now with Walter's closed, that issue may arise again for many of us younger bands. I guess it's time for more house shows."

click to enlarge Astragal is easily one of the best new bands to come out of Houston. - PHOTO BY MADELINE WEBBE
Astragal is easily one of the best new bands to come out of Houston.
Photo by Madeline Webbe
Looking at the band's past, dropping two E.P.'s instead of a full length to start has become the norm for newer acts starting out. "I think starting with two E.P.'s was a way for us to get to know each other better both musically and on a personal level. Neither of the three of us knew each other whatsoever which made for an interesting songwriting process. Our first songs were so frantic, chaotic, and blended so many genres together, we never really spent time getting to know one another because we were all so perplexed and fascinated by the sound we were creating. Now that we have grown with one another, I couldn't be happier with the type of music we are creating, it's the type of music I have always dreamed of making," remarks Bent.

When it comes to the live show, Astragal has come a long way from their early days to where they are today. When I first caught them they were great, but still had some elements to add, where now their live sets feel loose and in the pocket. Sosa says of the live show, "I think when we're performing live we want our sound to be as full as it can without any spaces to fill. Most of all I want Jimmy to tackle Sam at the end of every set."

When asked about what people should expect from them at the festival, Bent replies "from Astragal's humble beginnings, there were several things I wanted in our set, being that it be short, sweet, and to the point. Most of all I wanted us to be having fun, and if one of us wasn't feeling a certain song, then in my opinion, there isn't a need for that song in the set. Eye contact and cracking smiles are the most important factors for me when I play live. It's still a simple formula really. David's bass playing makes me dance and Sam's drumming makes me want to fall on the floor laughing (in a good way). Without them, I am nothing. For the festival, you can expect a whole lot of fun and a whole lot of laughs. Maybe I'll even tackle Sam."

You can stream Astragal's music in all of the usual places, you can purchase their music at record shops throughout Houston, as well as directly from their Bandcamp page or through Miss Champagne Records. You can catch Astragal at In Bloom Festival on Sunday, March 25. The all-ages two day festival runs March 24 and 25 and boasts sets from Beck, Martin Garrix, Lil Uzi Vert, Twin Shadow, and many more. Gates at 11 a.m.; tickets $79 to $299.
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David Garrick is a former contributor to the Houston Press. His articles focus primarily on Houston music and Houston music events.