Houston to Austin and Back Again

Next Monday, Chris Gray will be occupying the assistant music editor’s chair previously occupied by Scott Faingold and Olivia Flores Alvarez. Gray comes to us from the Austin Chronicle, where he was a contributor for over ten years and that paper’s lead music columnist since January of 2003. (Read his farewell to the Capital City here.)

Before going to Austin, though, Gray came up in the mean streets of the southside of H-Town. Well, southeast Houston. Actually, Friendswood, where the streets are not that mean at all, but where if Amazon’s user profiles are to be believed, people do have a serious Trans-Siberian Orchestra jones. You try growing up in a place where T-S O’s blasting out of every cul-de-sac.

But Gray is an exception to the ‘wood’s appalling taste, as the following Q&A reveals:

What were some of the factors in your decision to come to Houston?

I just always had this weird, nagging sensation that I was supposed to work in Houston for some reason. Growing up there, there’s a lot of stuff you see there never gets explained to your satisfaction, so maybe living there as an adult I’ll be able to understand it more. But I just liked the idea of exploring all these little nooks and crannies of a huge city that are somehow under most peoples’ radar. Plus, all the music I’ve ever heard that’s been out of Houston, whether it’s ZZ Top or Z-Ro or Clifton Chenier has been fantastic. So I’m looking forward to investigating the roots and branches of all that.

Have you been studying much of what’s going on now from afar?

A little bit. Especially since I started doing it in Austin, I took a hometown interest in what was going on in my city’s scene, my hometown’s bands. And even before that I would pick up the Press and the Public News every week and see what Sprawl, de Schmog, dead horse and the Pain Teens were up to, and now I guess it’s like Spain Coloured Orange, Bring Back the Guns and Rusted Shut. I know I need to catch up on the new developments, a little more time to get completely up to speed.

There really does seem to be an underground in Houston, whereas in a lot of other comparably sized cities, there’s really not, certainly not in Austin. In Austin, if your neighbor starts a band, ten minutes later you’re on his email list and it hits the blogs and then everybody’s gonna know about it. I like the idea that there’s still some mystery left in Houston.

And you’re coming to destroy that?

I’m coming to stamp that out and shine the harsh light of truth on all that.

What are your five favorite albums right now? Are you on any kind of kick right now?

Not so much. I’ve managed to avoid the whole MP3/iPod revolution almost completely, but I’ve totally gotten sucked into satellite radio. I listen to that all the time, and I really like the ‘80s classic alternative channel. That’s probably the one that I play the most. I will tell you that the last two albums I actually bought are the new R. Kelly album and the new White Stripes, and I actually like them both quite a bit.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Depeche Mode lately. I just reviewed a couple of reissues, and that kinda got me back on that kick again, Black Celebration and Violator. I’m also into Achtung Baby and Doggy Style at the moment.

Were people in Austin in disbelief that someone in Austin would move back to Houston of their own free will?

Yeah, I’ve gotten a lot of blank stares, and crap like ‘Why on earth would you wanna move back to Houston?’ And it’s that Houston has a lot that Austin doesn’t anymore.

Meaning the underground or the big city thing?

Well both. Austin’s been strip-mined beyond belief, especially musically, and it’s starting to seem like every other way too.

Any shout-outs?

Tell Mattsoreal I said hey, and Bill and Cooper from the ‘wood a shout-out, my brother John up in the Heights and my folks, of course. My friend Rob, who’s holdin’ it down in some law firm downtown. And by the way if any Astros fans out there know what U2 song was playing before the at-bat when Craig Biggio got his 3000th hit I’d really like to know that.

We’ll get the readers to put that in the comments. Thanks for your time. -- John Nova Lomax

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