Bauble Boys

Summers in Dallas are always hot. But to Todd Lewis, the summer of 2001 was downright hellish. He had reluctantly broken up his band, cult faves the Toadies, after a dozen years of lineup woes, record company stifling and personal difficulties (see "Farewell, Fair Toadies," by Zac Crain and Robert Wilonsky, September 27, 2001). Bummed out and burned out after a hastily assembled farewell tour, the last thing on his mind then was starting up a new band.

Cut to the summer of 2002. Lewis is now part of a work-in-progress and marketing experiment called the Burden Brothers, along with longtime friend, drummer Taz Bentley (ex-Reverend Horton Heat and Tenderloin). He and Bentley "had known each other for years, and we started getting together to play for fun just before the Toadies broke up," Lewis says.

"It was just a hobby when we started," Bentley adds. "Just kind of running around like horses with blinders on."

Then the pair conceived the Burden Brothers. Lewis and Bentley would be the core, while a revolving cast of musician friends would keep things from going stale. And though they claim that the band won't be beholden to any one style of music, their first two EPs are good old-fashioned straight-ahead rock and roll, undiluted by any subgenre. The tracks sound fresh, raw and free of pretension or even ambition. On their four-month-old EP no. 1, "Beautiful Night" and "Buried in Your Black Heart" create a wall of sonic fury; "Your Fault" slows down the tempo but not the impact.

The Burdens felt they were onto something, but neither musician wanted to even begin negotiations with a record company. Lewis was particularly wary since Interscope had waited six years to release the follow-up to the Toadies' platinum debut, Rubberneck, thus helping to kill any momentum the band created.

Enter Dallas-based indie label Last Beat Records, to whom Lewis and Bentley proposed an unusual marketing plan: They would release an EP every four to six months, and sell them -- with special giveaway "packages" of band memorabilia -- exclusively through their Web site (www.burdenbrothersmusic.com) and at gigs. Then, perhaps once a year, they'd harvest the best tracks for a single disc to be sold in traditional locales.

If you're already intrigued enough to seek out an EP, be careful when surfing: Those who just go to www.burdenbrothers.com will find the Internet home of a 55-year-old Dallas mechanical contracting firm that belongs to two real Burden brothers. (A freak coincidence, claims Lewis.)

Lewis and Bentley are sick of the record game's snail's pace. "Both of us have had experience just waiting and waiting for stuff to be released, and we don't have to do that now," Lewis says. "We can write a song, record it, put it on disc and have it in people's hands in a matter of days. It's like you're getting copies of demos, except they sound a lot better."

And then there's the stuff. The first Burden Brothers "package," which they will have for sale at their Houston gig, includes EP no. 2, a T-shirt, a sticker, bar coasters and a shot glass all emblazoned with the Burden Brothers name. The pair wanted to expose the band's name, give a little lagniappe to fans and, hopefully, create a mini-market for BB collectibles.

"My thoughts are that as soon as you put out a CD, somebody's going to make copies of it and download it for free anyway," Lewis muses. "So I thought, screw it. Why don't we give people something else they'll want to get?"

But what if the band takes off? Will they run out of goodies? Lewis laughs. "There's endless numbers of things you can print on." In five years, your Burden Brothers mint-freshened breath might enable you to score at their gigs. Who knows? You might even get to unfurl a Burden Brothers condom.

But the Brothers don't need gewgaws; they could easily rest on their music alone. EP no. 2 includes a chaotic cover of Lucinda Williams's "Can't Let Go," the melodic "Do for Me" and the near-metal crunchy thundering of "Dirty Sanchez," named for an aberrant sexual practice. (Sorry, kids, you'll have to Google it if you don't know.)



Already, with its dark and angry breakup songs, it's a thematic departure from EP no. 1. Such lyrics as the self-explanatory "I wanna make you hurt / Like I hurt," the screamed and repeated "Why do I fall for you!?!" and the resigned "I don't wanna fuck / And I don't wanna fight" lead one to believe that at least one of the Brothers has had some recent relationship problems. Anyone wanna fess up?

"Yes, there was a breakup…and all that crap inevitably got in there," Lewis says haltingly. "I just don't really want to touch on that." Both men, though, seem genuinely revitalized by the new band, which for the Houston stop will also include Mike Rudnicki (Baboon) and Josh Daugherty (Pinkston) on guitars and Casey Orr (GWAR) on bass.

These days the Burden Brothers plan to gig on weekends, perhaps do a video for "Beautiful Night," then record a new EP sometime in September -- and come up with new goodies.

"Either this is a great idea, or a really bad one," Bentley laughs, leaving no room for moderate success or failure. Still, one hopes the experiment lasts awhile -- at least long enough for them to make Burden Brothers action figures.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero