Your favorite bands all started somewhere. They shook suburbia’s two-car garages, rented storage units or overtook abandoned warehouses to explore their sounds. Branagan is the only band we personally know which began its music journey in a roastery. From that unique setting, the Houston group has fittingly slow-roasted an intoxicating blend of queer punk music to a satisfying perfection. Last month, more than 10 years since it first rocked the roastery, Branagan presented its avid, patient fans a first serving of studio recorded songs on its self-titled debut album.
Debs Branagan is the band’s vocalist, bassist and namesake. She recently spoke with the Houston Press about the band’s past and exciting future, how it used the pandemic downtime to produce the five-track EP and its place as a self-described “queer, punkish rock ‘n’ roll” band in a growing music scene which embraces diversity. She said the band’s earliest days were around 2010.
“We slowly started forming around that time. Dan (Herrera), the drummer, and I initially started out together, practicing in my brother-in-law’s roastery ‘cause he was nice enough to let us in there at night,” Debs said. “We were in such a financial state we couldn’t figure out how we could ever have practice space. We could try to play in our houses, in apartments, and the neighbors hated us. I basically cried a river to my brother-in-law one day when we had a couple of beers in us and he goes, ‘Hey, I’ve got an extra room. It’s full of dirt and crap and old coffee machines, but if you wanna move all that stuff out, maybe y’all could make something work out of it.'”
They did, but the going was slow because around that time Debs suffered a significant hand injury, one which required several surgeries to repair the damage. But, she and Herrera never lost sight of their vision. Around 2015, they added guitarists Annette Magurean and Nikki Fraietta, “and we’ve been kind of going heavy and steady ever since,” Debs said.
“I’m really grateful to my band for being who they are as people, being so patient, because honestly it’s been my hand injury that’s prolonged all of this stuff,” she shared. “Once I was good to go, the band has been like, let’s hit it. So, we’re just like music video, EP, let’s get back on the stage. We’re just trying to get back out there and catch up a little bit.”
They were making good progress, booking lots of shows and developing a fan base, when COVID forced a bit of a halt last spring. Like many bands, Branagan found a way to make the hiatus work in their favor.
“I feel like we were doing pretty well there after I had gone through physical therapy. The band was ready and I was ready, and then the pandemic kind of hit. But, we had all that free time then, finally our schedules as musicians were actually matching up for once.
“We met up as much as we safely could for every Saturday,” Debs said. “It took a while at the beginning, but I feel like ever since we’ve been a lot more driven and focused because of this time, we’ve been lucky enough to just take advantage of it.”
They focused and wrote, rehearsed and ultimately recorded music. They DIY'd a video for the first single from the EP, “Here Comes Your Wife.” Debs said she feels they have another album’s worth of material ready, a second serving slow-dripping on the backburner, as it were. But she wants listeners and fans to savor the recently released tracks first.
“Nikki decided to invest some money into sound equipment, she’s had experience in the past doing some sound engineering. Basically, we were like if we have this time we might as well start recording ourselves while we’re practicing and why not try to actually make an EP happen? We took advantage of our time, masked up, stood away from each other and did our thing. I’m really proud of what we’ve done together and what Nikki was able to do out of such a stressful time.
“It’s just been great honestly, the experience of recording was amazing. To get to do it with no interruptions, on our own time and our dime, was fantastic.”
Because Branagan was a known group, we wondered whether they felt any pressure of expectations about the debut album? Debs said she only felt a self-imposed pressure to make the most of the time the hiatus had given them.
“Then I decided I don’t like that thought process,” she said. “We’re doing this because, why not? Why not have fun? I get to meet up once a week with my best friends and spend two to four hours just rehearsing our songs and improvising and trying to come up with new material and giving each other a hard time and just being who we are as a group. I felt that pressure at the beginning and then I was like, no. There’s no pressure in this band.”
One might expect some inherent pressure in identifying as a queer rock band. Debs said it takes its role in the music scene seriously but also in stride. That’s easier to do thanks to positive developments she’s seen in Houston’s music community.
“Honestly, I feel like I am seeing it more, especially with the younger crowd. I was at White Swan recently and I’m seeing more queer-friendly shows happening, open to all walks of the world and it’s fantastic. I didn’t grow up seeing that and I want to always represent that I am a queer woman, I am proud to be a woman. I identify as a woman, I’m comfortable with that. We all identify as what we identify as.
“I never want anybody that come to our show and feel uncomfortable. If you wanna come in a dress, come in a dress. If you want to come in a suit, come in a suit. It’s not about that – it’s about you. It’s about you being you,” she said. “It’s the fact that everybody should be coming together as a whole and as a community and we, as band, stand behind what we say. We don’t stand for bullies, we don’t stand for people coming to shows giving people who may be wearing make-up for the first time in public and trying to identify as queer a hard time. I think that’s the most punk rock thing in the world – being who you are.”
“I just think we’re getting out there playing rock and roll, and we’re a bunch of queers doing it,” she said in summation. She noted it helps to have venues which are allies.
“Really, when it comes down to it, pro-actively, as a community, that’s all you really want, right? Change. The past matters but we can only go forwards. If this is where we’re at now, I’m really excited. Places like Dan Electro’s, White Swan, House of J, for me personally, have been so welcoming and accepting of every community that comes through their doors,” she noted. “They have given us such great opportunities, all of those venues, and have never for a second questioned what we have to say politically. And, what we stand by is what they stand by. I just think Houston has this really great scene that is about to start blowing up again.”
Branagan will be doing its part by performing as much as possible. It’s slated to play a show at EZ7 Skate Park with The Real McCoys and others July 3. In August, the band will share a bill at Dan Electro’s with FEA. In September, they’ll travel to the Rio Grande Valley to perform and they’ll be back at Dan Electro’s on Halloween night for an open to the public wedding. Circle that one on your calendars, seekers of one-of-a-kind nights in Houston.
“The FEA show we’re very, very excited for – we’re excited for all shows,” Debs said. “It could be 100 people or one. But the FEA show we’re so pumped for because we get to play with Quinn the Brain also and they’re one of our favorite local bands to play with.”
As she considered a busy future, Debs took a moment to glance back to where and how it all began. She recalled thanking her brother-in-law for the use of the roastery room and telling him they'd practice there maybe once a week.
“I swear to God, I think we went up there three or four times the first week. From there, me and Dan have been doing nothing but trying to make Branagan happen. And that place just ripped the Band-Aid off of me being too scared to play because of the pain," she said. "I just started playing through it and we started structuring the songs as best we could without having the remainder of the band. That place just really motivated us to get on the stage. We were so lucky to have that space honestly.”
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