Metathesiophobia is the fear of change. It’s a phobia members of Culture Wars apparently do not suffer. In fact, the Austin-based band’s surging success might give metathesiophobics everywhere some hope. At the very least, the band would give them some fresh, captivating electro-rock to dance away their anxieties.
The flourishing act returns to White Oak Music Hall this Friday, with fellow Austinites The Lagoons. We caught up with front man Alex Dugan, a former Houstonian, just before a show last week in Corpus Christi. He said that’s one of the diverse radio markets that has Culture Wars in rotation. The band’s single, “Lies,” is getting airplay in cities like Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio and Knoxville, Tennessee. But, really, anywhere you can find music, Culture Wars is capturing ground.
“It’s been great seeing the radio numbers and starting to chip away at the alternative chart with ‘Lies.’ In terms of Spotify, they were nice enough to add us to their New Noise playlist, so that’s helped us a lot lately and brings some street cred to it,” Dugan shared. “Apple was adding a different song of ours, ‘Money,’ to their ‘Breaking Rock’ and ‘Breaking Alternative’ playlists. Overall, it’s been a pretty great response. We’re just gonna keep working it and getting it out there and hoping everybody hears it.”
What you’d be hearing is dynamic guitar work and melodic vocals set to an electronic edge. The band’s eponymous 2017 EP is fun, infectious and a complete change from what Dugan and bandmate Mic Vredenburgh (guitar and electronics) were doing previously. Both were in a band called The Vanity, which also had some success and played Free Press Summer Fest a few years back. Houston Press’s Nathan Smith wrote the band had a “highly polished rock sound that called to mind Rick Springfield jamming with Sunny Day Real Estate.”
“It’s drastically different, which is why we split off to do it,” Dugan said of Culture Wars. “Me and the guitar player, Mic, were writing this stuff on the side as like a fun type of thing with the hopes that maybe we’d end up with something. Once we did, we thought – ‘Well, this is a totally different thing. So, maybe we make it a totally different thing.’ That’s just how it happened.”
Drummer David Grayson joined on and Culture Wars was on its way. We asked how a town known for rootsy singer-songwriter and indie music has responded and Dugan said he’s been taken aback by the support from Austin.
“Austin has actually responded the biggest to it, which we didn’t expect. We expected to have Houston or Dallas be our mainstays and actually Austin came out of nowhere,” said Dugan. “We did our first show on a Tuesday and there were like 30 people there. I was like, ‘Okay, cool, no one knows who we are. We put out a single like a month ago.’ This was like a year ago, when we first started. We played another show on a Friday and there were like 130 people in the room. It was like, ‘Where the hell did these people come from?’”
They may have been attracted by the caliber of songwriting and musicianship the band members already possessed. They molded those elements into something new, but the foundation was there and was something which helped attract big industry names to work on their EP. Alan Moulder, who’s worked with Nine Inch Nails, Arctic Monkeys and The Killers, produced the single “Money (Gimme Gimme)” with an assist from longtime collaborator Robert Sewell and mixing by Manny Marroquin, a Kanye West and Imagine Dragons favorite.
“It was just one of those things where we didn’t know if these guys were going to be interested in working on the project, so we just asked. We sat down and came up with a wish list and were like, ‘What’s it gonna hurt to just email somebody?’ It ended up working out,” Dugan said. “We heard back from the two people that we wanted to work on it right off the bat. We were definitely surprised, but fortunately I think the quality of the music is what helped us bag them. I’m just really happy we were able to do that, and big hats off to our producer for helping us be at that level and pushing us.”
The band is trying to play Houston every few months. It headlined its last appearance at WOMH, with Deep Cuts and Camera Cult supporting. Dugan said it’s part of a strategy to gradually build a fan base.
“Starting new and fresh is always challenging. So, it’s always nice to have random people show up and say, ‘Hey, I found you on YouTube and now I’m here’ or ‘I found you on Spotify and now I’m here.’ Okay, good!” he laughs. “We always shoot for incremental numbers each time, an extra 20, 30, 40 more people than there were last time and we’ve been doing that all the way through. Hopefully, we can keep doing that and have even more people.”
He said the act leans heavily on the live set to bring in new followers.
“We put a lot of work in the live show. We put a lot of practice hours in. Everything is very tight, very clean, ready to go. We don’t mess around,” he promises. “It’s a whole performance. It’s not anything that you’re gonna see anywhere else, especially in the size room that we’re playing. It’s absolutely – at least to me and the people that have come up after the show – completely unique and different than anything you’re gonna want to see.”
You may not want to see it if you’re vexed by phonophobia or jocophobia. The former is the fear of loud noises, the latter is the fear of having fun. Or, maybe just give in to your worries and let Culture Wars help you battle them back.
“If you’ve never seen it, it’s a big, loud, rock and roll show, but it’s got a nice, clean sophistication,” Dugan said. “We’re gonna put on a hell of a show. I 100-percent, unequivocally stand behind it.”
Culture Wars with The Lagoons, 7 p.m. Friday, May 11 at White Oak Music Hall, 2915 N. Main. All ages, $8-$10.
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.