Blue Notes

Catching Up With Ian Varley Before Drop Trio's Last Show

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RO: What was your favorite Houston venue to play? Is it safe to assume Cezanne, since you did the live album there?

IV: Cezanne is a great place, for sure, but it's definitely on the more traditional end of the spectrum. That worked great for an album, but I don't think it would have worked super well for us in an ongoing way. We used to do Last Concert Cafe a lot, but our music took a bit of a weirder, more avant-garde, less jammy turn, so that didn't end up being exactly right either.

Our latest favorite spot is AvantGarden (used to be Helios, used to be the Mausoleum, etc.), where we're doing the last show. We always just get really great audiences there, and our creativity and energy seems to flow well.

RO: Any chance for an Ian Varley solo "keytar" album? Seriously though, you're not stopping making music - right?

IV: No, not stopping at all. My latest endeavor is learning Pedal Steel Guitar, which is a hell of a difficult instrument to learn. But it's also really fun -it's like playing three-dimensional chess in musical form. I played a few shows during SXSW this year, and by accounts I was not completely horrible. I'm also doing some solo composition work, though I don't know if any of that will ever see the light of day.

RO: Will you be playing any more shows with Black Joe Lewis? I know he has a Houston date coming up soon...

IV: No, I'm not actively touring with Joe anymore. It was an amicable parting, I just couldn't keep up with the tour schedule and they got tired of jetting me around to just play in the big shows. It was a really cool experience and they're an amazing band, I know they'll continue to burn it up. They're opening for Dave Matthews in Houston soon.

RO: What's your take on playing live music in Austin compared with Houston?

IV: Well, I'd say there are probably more dedicated music listeners per capita in Austin, which in turn supports there being a lot of live music all the time. But with a few exceptions, I haven't found the Austin scene to be as friendly as Houston; people are a little more competitive, I guess because they have to be. A lot of players I know think of themselves much more as individuals than as "band members," especially among the set that play really actively in town.

There's a little of that in Houston, but not much; people tend to be more loyal to a single band. Maybe it's the chimera of commercial success that looms over people in Austin--they think, "I've got to make it", and they are really serious about it. Sometimes that translates to good stuff, but there is definitely such a thing as taking yourself too seriously in this business. Fortunately, though, most of those types live in L.A.

Rocks Off: Finally, any words of advice for musicians just getting started playing live or trying to get gigs in Houston?

Varley: Exactly one: Practice. Don't give a shit about the music business until people are banging down your door because of how awesome you are. Your playing, your band, your voice, your songs, your stage show--make them better than anybody else's. Gigging out is part of that, of course, so don't just stay in your bedroom or rehearsal space, you've got to get out and get reactions from people.

But pay attention to those reactions and always strive to make what you do so amazing that no club booker in their right mind would turn you down. Make yourself so awesome that when people hear it, they're hooked instantly. If you keep yourself focused on that, the good gigs will come naturally, in time.

Drop Trio plays its last show in Houston this Friday, August 13th, at AvantGarden. Visit the band at

David A. Cobb is the proprietor of Houston Calling.

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David A. Cobb
Contact: David A. Cobb