Houston Music

Exclusive Video: Handsomebeast's "Sweet James '76"

Handsomebeast want all their fans to have a funky summer.
Handsomebeast want all their fans to have a funky summer. Photo by Daniel Jackson/Courtesy of Handsomebeast
Early in our interview with Handsomebeast, we shared with singer Nick Serena that someone on social media recently tabbed the band as one of the most exciting local acts to follow in 2017. We can’t recall who wrote it, but we considered it high praise since the city is teeming with bands on the cusp.

“That was probably Pitchfork? Rolling Stone, perhaps? It’s hard to keep track these days. Well, whoever wrote that is clearly very attractive, insightful and kind, and we’re grateful for them,” Serena joked. “We gotta agree. Shows are getting bigger and better, music is getting hotter and we’re taking the show on the road. Big focus of 2017 is to hit the road more. We toured up through D.C., NYC and Boston in April and are doing it again in August. We’re also going to be hitting up Louisiana and other parts of Texas.”

If you haven’t heard Handsomebeast’s music before, you’re probably not from Houston. They’re a veteran act here with high-profile gigs and a solid following. And, if you haven’t heard Handsomebeast’s music before, then today is your lucky day, as the Houston Press is debuting the video for a track from the band's recent album, The Badass Future. The song is called “Sweet James ’76” and the video reveals why Handsomebeast has so much upside. The band delivers its funk-flavored rock with precision. You get a glimpse of the group’s humor, intelligence and good looks in the bit. But, what comes through more than anything – and the key to Handsomebeast’s growing success – is how hard these guys work.

“We shot the video in our home base and recording studio, King Benny’s House of Sound in Houston,” Serena says. “The video was shot by Butch Stephens from SoFly Video Productions and edited by us. Great man, Butch.

“We shot a live video because we wanted to see if we could bring some of the hot, hot heat of our practice sessions to the music lovers of the Internet,” Serena continues. “We practice, love and cry in that studio and are proud to show that off.”

With all the shows Handsomebeast performs and the studio work they do with area bands, the collective boasts some of Houston music’s more familiar faces. Peewee Ruiz plays guitar, Jacob Rodriguez is the band’s bassist/percussionist, Carlos Ortiz drums and Tony Ortiz is the “utility man,” Serena says, and lists his duties as “guitar, bass, drums, percussion, backing vocals, keg-tapper, etc.”

“Tony, Jacob and Peewee grew up together, playing in bands with each other since they were ten years old,” Serena shares. “Tony taught Jacob how to play drums and taught Peewee a lot about playing guitar and bass. Carlos is Tony’s older cousin, and taught him how to play drums. This is why we call Carlos ‘The Sensei.’ I met Tony, Peewee and Jacob while attending Loyola University New Orleans.“

Those early days, the band members traded notes on the music they enjoyed; everything from Cat Stevens to Foreigner to Talking Heads cropped up. “Sweet James ‘76” is a nod to James Taylor. With a learned musical palate and the chops to play what they wanted, they could have gone many different ways.

“It was definitely a conscious decision to make something where funkiness was a core principal," says Serena. "That’s not to say we wanted to be a funk band per se, but we wanted our music to have a bounce to it, that could get people moving in a live setting. We are now laser-focused on making nothing but hot, hot hits.”

The latest collection of Handsomebeast’s heat, The Badass Future, released in December 2016. It's available on all the major music platforms.

“It took over a year to make and benefited greatly from a lot of love and care from Paul Cox at 226 Recordings,” Serena notes. “The album is super-detailed. Quite lush, if you ask me. Parts of it are instantaneous, but overall, it’s definitely the type that gets better with each listen. It was written that way. The album provides a lot of things that the live show doesn’t do, and the live show provides a lot that the album doesn’t. ‘Sweet James ‘76’ is a great example of where the two meet in the middle.”

Handsomebeast has many fans throwing up their H’s (and B’s). Their following is loyal. It recently packed a room at White Oak Music Hall for the band’s Madness on Main set and will probably be in full force at the group’s 8 Track Sessions date at 8th Wonder Brewery on June 29. Serena says fans will definitely not want to miss a July 21 gig at Last Concert Café, when Handsomebeast supports some old friends, New Orleans’ Naughty Professor.

“They’re a mostly-instrumental, futuristic, jazz-funk, hip-hop dance fest,” Serena says. “They’re a nationally touring act and they’re touring to promote their new album Identity, which features songs with Jurassic 5, The Revivalists and more.”

“[Fan support] means everything,” Serena added. “We work intense schedules to pursue this band as a career and when people support us, it justifies all the sacrifices. I think people who dig the band have both an appreciation for good songs and good musicianship from the instrumentalists. Thanks to everyone and anyone who listens to the band.”
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.