The Power of 12

As Pantera would put it, both Arthur Yoria and Matt Maloney are far beyond driven. Maloney parlayed his relatively small size and average talent into a basketball career that took him from the Ivy League to six years in the NBA. Yoria is one of Houston's most perfectionist musicians, and while he hasn't yet made it to the music equivalent of NBA ball, he appears to have the talent, savvy and drive to do so.

Now with the launch of 12 Records (12 was Maloney's Rockets jersey number), these two overachievers are teaming up. Maloney and Yoria met through a mutual friend. "It was shortly after I moved back from Atlanta a couple of years ago," remembers Maloney. "I think we were going to meet Arthur for a drink and my friend put the CD in the car stereo and I said, 'Wow, that's impressive.' "

"We talked about it for more than a few months before we did it," adds Yoria. "It was an idea floating around. At first I was still talking to labels and doing showcases and stuff, but it didn't pan out."

Maloney, who's a big fan of Britpop, dabbles in music himself, and he and Yoria are collaborating on the creative end as well as the financial. They have yet to record any of this material -- for now, the focus is on getting Yoria's name out there. (The two have no plans to sign any other artists.) The campaign starts May 17 at the Engine Room, where Yoria will release his first full-length CD, I'll Be Here Awake.

Yoria is tired of the traditional schmooze-with-the-majors shtick and is ready to try a new approach. "After all the showcases and flirtations, I thought to myself, 'You know, it's really simple. I want to do a record right now. I don't want to wait for someone else to decide when it's time for me to make a record. I can make a good one -- let me make one and we'll sell 'em. No matter what level you're at, the key to success in music is to operate like a label. It's not your hobby. Matt and I were on the same page as far as what could happen."

Since the Press last looked in on Yoria (see "The Velvety One," by John Nova Lomax, October 3), the sophisticated modern popster has undergone major changes. Gone is the excellent band that once backed him: steel guitarist Matthew Rhodes, drummer Ilya Kolozs and bassist Dwayne Casey. Now Yoria is toying with the idea of playing guitar backed by only a sampler.

"My new attitude is that if I'm not having a good time, then something's wrong," he says. "That was my problem with the last band. When you're not having a good time and things are really tense, that's okay if you're the Eagles and you're making craploads of money. Go ahead and take different limousines, that's fine."

But he's not riding in any limos now, and not getting any younger, either. "If I was 21 I would say, yeah, go ahead and wait for a label," he says. "Have a few band fistfights while you're waiting. It can be fun. Grist for the old Behind the Music episode someday…But at this point I need to be having a good time and obviously writing the best songs that I can. If either of those things are being hindered, I think you should make an adjustment."

Yoria also says that his old band's sound, driven by the interplay between Rhodes's steel and Yoria's ethereal voice, had run out of steam. "It had been two years, and we'd done a record," he says, though he means two EPs. "That was why in the beginning I came out as a solo artist instead of a band. I knew that I would want to change. Call me fickle, but if I'm getting bored, I can think of other ways to be broke. I always thought that I would like to have a rotating cast. Next year we could have accordions or whatever."

Some of Yoria's old songs sound strikingly similar to the Norwegian popsmith Sondre Lerche (see "The Velvet Viking"). Turns out they're fans of many of the same artists, including Os Mutantes and Jeff Buckley.

Scandinavians "learn pop like a language," he says, contrasting Lerche and company with American hipsters. "They don't have any hang-ups. You can throw Tina Turner at them and they'll embrace it as long as it is quality songwriting. They get into craft before the aesthetics -- those come later. When they first start out, they don't worry about looking cool. Here, you get into the scene first, and after you've been in it awhile, then it becomes okay to start listening to Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick and stuff like that."

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax