Scienter's Guide to the Houston Music Scene

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Stop me if you've heard this one -- a lawyer, a doctor, and a writer walk into a bar...

Yeah, I'm not exactly sure of the punchline, but that's exactly what happened when I met up with last Friday with the guys from Scienter, Houston's own self-described "melodic alt-rock" group.

Led by frontman (and attorney) Arfeo Yllana, with Gerardo Barrera on backup vocals and guitar, Mario Lence on guitar, Peter Smuda on drums, and Dr. Glen Alliger on bass, Scienter happens to be one very productive group of dudes with some serious day jobs. Doesn't mean they bust out a sound that's anything close to as stuffy as the ol' 9 to 5 can be, though.

With instrumental influences that stem from utterly random -- Gerardo's dad, who was a noted Tejano artist with a fuckin' rad 'stache -- to other more expected -- Pearl Jam and the Chili Peppers -- the strange musical influence amalgam has kept these guys from spilling into oh-so-dangerous elevator music territory (despite their penchant for such normal day jobs).

With a year on the Houston music scene and one album under their belt, Scienter sat down with Rocks Off over a few beers (at a table painted like Italy) to discuss what it's like to be Houston music newbies, what advice they'd give to the future of the music scene, and what the dirty version of "Elf on a Shelf" is. (Expect to either pee your pants laughing or be traumatized. Either or.)

So here ya go, newcomers. Scienter's got this shit mapped out for you below. Here's "Scienter's Guide to the Houston Music Scene for Dummies".

1. Always do your homework on the venues.

"We had no idea what we were doing when we first started out. We booked a show at Mango's and we were stoked; getting to play anywhere is awesome, but to be able to play at a place like Mango's -- well, hell. Anyway, we show up and Gerardo's just driven in from out of town.

He gets there and everything is in chaos -- the guys at the venue are like, 'Where's your sound guy?' We had no clue we needed a sound guy. So they solve that for us, and they're like, "Okay, where's your door person?". We wound up with the drummer's brother as our door guy that night, and I'm not sure where the hell the sound guy came from.

Yeah. We had no idea what we were doing. It ended up being fucking awesome though. We were hoping that we had to provide our own bartenders too. And now Mango's is one of our favorite places to play; it's like having a venue that's all your own."

2. It's okay to be metal, even if you're nowhere close to actually being metal.

"For some reason, we're always playing with metal bands. It can be a little strange; you've got these hardcore metal fans waiting to thrash around and shit, and then we walk on stage and sing shit that is, um, slightly different than what they were hoping for.

I mean, no one throws stuff at us, so I guess we're alright. It must be something about our name -- no matter how many times we try to explain what we sound like, we end up with metal bands.

We're not complaining, though. We really like metal bands. We're just not sure their fans appreciate us invading their shows quite as much."

3. Sometimes you have to take that restraining order as a "suggestion" instead.

"We haven't really figured out what's not stalking when promoting shows at this point. We're all maybe a little too polite when it comes to beating down doors to book shows with other local talent. We send one, maybe two polite emails and hope they'll respond. Maybe it's a little more socially acceptable to be stalkers in this industry, though.

Maybe we've been going about this wrong. We're going to start just spamming about shows instead. We hear that works better and isn't quite as arrestable an offense as showing up at an exes house at 2 am. Again."

4. Don't let your frontman pick the night's shots -- unless you want a moment of panic over where he'll remember the words.

"We've started a little bit of an alcoholic tradition as a band where we take turns picking the night's shots before our set. It seems awesome in theory, but when you let some fucker hand you a bunch of Jager bombs before you take the stage, it can get a little dicey.

There's been some moments where you could see on Arfeo's face that he might be close to forgetting the words, but he always pulls it off. It's impressive and pretty stupid."

5. And always, ALWAYS eavesdrop, even if it's a little creepy.

"So we were playing a show around Christmas time, and I overhear one of the venue employees telling another guy about how he's been putting the "Elf on the Shelf" -- you know that elf that people have started putting out, to make it look like they've got a creepy ass elf wandering around doing funny shit at night?

So the other guy turns and says, 'Oh, dude, is that where you whip it out and put it on her rack? And then you turn to the side and it looks like an elf? Like, on her shelf?'

I couldn't help it. I tried not to laugh, but I fucking lost it and busted out laughing like a jerk. Really, dude? That's what you thought "Elf on a Shelf" was? That was pretty specific for someone who was just taking a wild guess at it."

So you're welcome for that. Meet the dirty version of "Elf on a Shelf". Christmas traditions will never be the same in my house.

Oh, and meet Scienter, who plays tonight at BFE in...well, BFE. They're opening for Inner Image at their album release party. You should go; there'll be an illusionist. You know you're intrigued.

Scienter plays Friday, March 29, at BFE Rock Club, 11528 Jones Rd Houston, TX 77070

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