Rock Star 101

Panic in Detroit is a band that does a lot of things right, on and off stage, in the studio and out. It starts, of course, with the music -- big ol' guitar-driven power pop with hummable melodies, Cheeto-crunchy drums and Ginsu-sharp arrangements, or, as they put it, "Complicated and stripped down, heavy with finesse. Hooks for a jaded scene and choruses for the radio dolt."

The band was smart enough to debut with an EP, a self-titled little 17-minute gem (on Burning Airlines bassist Mike Harbin's Silverthree label) that is mercifully devoid of the filler that all too many bands foist off on us in the name of "value." They lined up a name producer -- J. Robbins of Burning Airlines and Jawbox fame and too many production credits to name -- and the record, in addition to the songs on it, sounds really good. Singer-guitarist Ryan Chavez belts his lyrics with an assured voice pitched somewhere on the high end of the baritone range, though he often slips into falsetto for brief stretches, and the band is most decidedly unafraid of unapologetically rocking out, sometimes employing the near-lost art of two guitars playing in unison. Then there's the Weezer/ Help!-era Beatles-ish "Young Attraction" -- one of the catchiest pop-rock songs to ever come out of Houston.

Chavez is a co-founder of the Hands Up Houston booking collective, and bassist Melissa Lonchambon is also involved, so they know a lot about that part of the game. They tour as much as possible -- they know better than to play a bunch of gigs at the corner bar and expect to get famous. They also score some serious style points -- the band name, taken from a cut off David Bowie's Aladdin Sane, is a killer, and the CD is well packaged.

In short, despite their youth, they're pros. But there's one thing they didn't know much about until recently: how to party like rock stars.

It took a long time, and it's still a work in progress, but they're getting there. They certainly didn't learn how to wreck hotel rooms or any other Zeppelin-esque tricks from former tourmates Hey Mercedes. "We kind of see them as our brother band," Chavez says. "They look at music the same way we do, and they act the same way we do -- they're not too much into partying. They play the show and they like to hang out, and that's about it. So we didn't feel too outcast on that tour, and starting that tour and ending that tour we were the same people."

But their next tour was a decadent Gulf Coast jaunt with Portland wildmen Minus the Bear. "All our crazy road tales would probably have to do with them," Chavez says. "The first night we met them they were out with the promoter until 4:30 or 5 in the morning, you know, drinking and engaging in debaucherous acts in Orlando, Florida. And the next day we ended up in Destin, Florida, where we had our first show with them. And Minus the Bear told us to meet them at Hooters, where they have all their band meetings. So it was sort of apparent that we needed to lighten up."

"Most bands have vices like drugs or alcohol," says Lonchambon, who was the only female on that tour. "Me and Ryan are like, 'Fooood.' Where do we eat before band practice?"

"And Minus the Bear was like, 'Hooters,' " Chavez adds. "And between the five guys with them and the five guys with us, we polished off 99 wings, which we were very proud of.

"But between there and getting to Houston two days later, they showed us how to have fun, how to enjoy yourself being on tour," he adds. "You're not home and you can let yourself go. When you're out, you're in Orlando for one night, and you might think Orlando's kinda lame at first, but make the best of it."

"You may be tired and want to go to bed, but you should have fun while you're there and hang out with people," agrees Lonchambon, who's sipping a gin and tonic. (Chavez is drinking a Coke.) "You might make some friends."

"You don't want to be just sitting there in Destin, and you know that the band you're touring with is out in the Gulf of Mexico with a 12-pack of High Life getting naked or whatever," Chavez says.

"That was our Mötley Crüe night," remembers Lonchambon.

"Without the chicks -- except Melissa."

"I don't really count."

"But that's it," Chavez finishes. "When you're out, have fun."

Music critics in other towns have had fun themselves out at Panic in Detroit shows. The St. Louis Riverfront Times predicted that a "major cult following" could be in the band's future, while the scribe from the 'zine Delusions of Adequacy gushed that "at least three choruses on this EP had me singing along loudly in the car without my even noticing it." (Which places him squarely in the "radio dolt" department.)

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax