Pick any great martial-arts discipline, and each one will have its devoted students: Karate. Kung Fu. Jiu-Jitsu. Tae Kwan Do. And don't forget that last one’s much more difficult cousin, Rex Kwan Do (which you must practice wearing American Flag pants. And who wants a roundhouse kick from those Bad Boys?).
But for the teenagers who make up garage/punk trio Thrill — Jake Smith, 16, (vocals/guitar); Evan Escalante, 17, (drums/vocals); and Eric Vuong, 15, (bass), there’s a new addition to the canon: Jat-Fu. It’s also the title of easily the catchiest track on the band’s brand-new debut CD, Drinking From the Primordial Soup.
“That’s a weird one, but that one seems to be everyone’s favorite,” Smith says, though its true meaning is more about social commentary than speed kicking.
“It’s kind of…not really social isolation," he adds. "But my generation is so dependent on everything. Like, they wouldn’t know how to survive on our own if they were dropped into another city. But you should know how to at least take a bus somewhere! It’s kind of complicated.”
The clever lyrical acronym stands for "Just Another Teenage Fuck Up.” (As in “I wanna learn Jat-Fu/ I am just another teenage fuck up/ You wanna be fucked up too?/ Everybody needs Jat-Fu!”)
Drinking From the Primordial Soup features seven Smith originals, two co-writes and a cover of the Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer.” The whole thing clocks in at a brisk 21 minutes.
In the record's lead-off track, “Information Overload,” Smith takes his inspiration from literature, albeit of the kind near the frozen-food section rather than the rare book room.
“That song is basically written about every magazine you see at Kroger, like the National Enquirer feeding you some total crap. Headlines like ‘Aliens Exist!’” Smith says. “But someone believes it!”
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Influences on both the songs and their creators are from the cream (or, to more delicate ears, the curdle) of punk’s crop: Ramones, Clash, Sex Pistols and the Dead Kennedys.
“I’ve met [DKs singer] Jello Biafra a couple of times. He’s a cool dude,” Smith offers. Though in his personal life, Smith says, he also listens to a wider variety of sounds including Louis Jordan, AC/DC, jazz, funk and – lately – heavy Beatles.
Smith started playing drums at age three, but became enchanted with the guitar about six years later, when an uncle gave him the instrument. Moving from Chicago to Houston the next year, he met Escalante and began showing him the ropes on drums. Escalante’s younger brother knew Vuong, and introduced him to the group. Since their formation in the summer of 2013, Smith estimates that Thrill has played about 50 gigs, often at the Continental Club.
That’s not surprising since Smith’s father, John “Goodtime” Smith, is the venue’s sartorially splendid GM. And Escalante’s pop, Tomas, owns and manages nearby record store Sig’s Lagoon, as well as being a charter member of the Continental Club Mafia. The shadowy organization consists of made members who seem to play in about a dozen different bands at once (in Escalante's case, that includes Clouseaux, the Suspects, and Polish Pete & the Polka! I Hardly Know Her Band) and even cross-pollinate.
Jake Smith says that an obvious advantage to their parentage is that they are exposed to a lot more cool live and recorded music on a consistent basis than likely any of their peers – though that means that Thrill’s evolution seems to him “a little less organic…less DIY.”
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Currently, Smith is a sophomore at The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Escalante a junior at Carnegie Vanguard and Vuong a freshman at DeBakey High School for Health Professions.
The skull-and-soup bowl-themed cover of Drinking From the Primordial Soup is by noted local poster and graphic artist Carlos Hernandez of Burning Bones Press. The album was produced and recorded by Paul Beebe at his Beebe Gunn Studios. Another capo of the CC Mafia, Smith says that Beebe (a member of Thunderado, Beetle, Disco Expressions, the Light Rock Express and more) brought his skills as a player to the other side of the glass.
“As a musician, he has an ear for things like harmonies and lead guitar solos. He would notice if something was a little off,” Smith says. “He’s just a cool guy. And it was fun to hang out in his garage!”
Thrill plays their release party for Primordial Soup at 9 p.m. this Friday at the Continental Club, 3700 Main, with special guests the Velostacks and Alien Knife Fight. The band will also play an in-store performance Saturday, March 26 at Cactus Music, 2110 Portsmouth. For more on Thrill, see facebook.com/thethrillofmusic.