The Rocks Off 100: The Illegal Wiretaps, Listening to You

Welcome to the Rocks Off 100, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See the entire Rocks Off 100 at this link.

Who? A long way from Edward Snowden's favorite band (though that could well be true), the Illegal Wiretaps are the sort of audiovisual anarchists that represent a direct hyperlink to Houston's more adventurous musical past -- anyone from the Red Krayola to Future Blondes. They first appeared on our radar a couple of years ago with a disc they mailed to Houston Press HQ, the aptly named Jesus, What Have You Done?, which didn't have a label and left us sleeping with the lights on for a couple of weeks.

That was amid a frenzied period of output that has left many listeners with their mouths agape and the Wiretaps themselves gasping for breath. We had nothing to do with their recent HPMA win for Best Instrumental/Experimental, we swear. The Wiretaps did that all on their own.

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Currently the partnership of seasoned musicians Stephan Wyatt and Anthony June, the Wiretaps describe themselves as "consummate shut-ins who managed to create an arranged marriage between obsessive voyeurism and disparate sounds that can only be made in claustrophobic settings. We exist to find and create discomforting noises with the primal hope of resolving them."

The Wiretaps decided on electronic instruments, they explain, because "as we age, machines will do the remainder of living for us. Yet, as long as we have highly-functioning colostomy bags and FL Studios 26 on an iPad, we'll manage, meagerly."

Be that as it may, the Wiretaps admit they're ready for a break at the moment.

"After completing 55 releases in two years, we want to push ourselves off of some mystical ledge, never to return," says Wyatt. "Our work ethic borders on psychotic; however, we manage to find time for our loved ones. Our live performances have included a collection of triumphant train wrecks and pant-splitting embarrassments.

"Together, our recordings fail to match our live persona, which is a good thing."

Home Base: "We frequent AvantGarden and would be content performing solely there," Wyatt says. "Performing as a two-piece/three-piece within the confines of that magical house permits us to entrance, frighten or bore people.

We'll literally perform anywhere: the back of my Santa Fe, a guerrilla street show on Alabama and Main, and unplugged in a rice silo," he adds. "For fewer complications, we also show up at Fitzgerald's and Notsuoh."

Good War Story: For this we take you back to September 2011 and fade in on Schotzi's, a frat bar across the street from the Texas A&M University campus. Poor Aggies.

"We were offered to perform 'electronic dance music' for every fraternity and sorority in the Bryan/College Station area," opens Wyatt. "The crowd literally filled every half-breathable space. Sperrys, khakis, and popped collars were the backdrop. Calls for Rob Thomas and Third Eye Blind were pushed through serrated bowels."

We played the first 30 seconds and slowly watched the entire crowd huddle together in a corner looking for some maternal figure. Two songs later, a crowd of 300 was replaced by single-celled organisms searching for light. The owner threatened us that unless we played Rob Thomas, our lives might be at stake.

By the looks of it, the situation was in reverse. "Do you know any Matchbox 20?", some 18-year-old bellowed in a confident voice. "Who's that?" Dylan, the keyboardist, asked. He was astonished.

Unconvinced, he continued his crusade, "You've never heard Matchbox 20?" Politely, Dylan responded, "Sorry, dude. We live in caves. We don't get out much." The newly drunken 20-year-old replied in disbelief: "Really? Y'all live in caves?"

Needless to say, we made $350 that night despite having the plug pulled on our show after six songs. Oh, College Station. So much to answer for.

More fun with the Wiretaps on the next page.

Why Do You Stay In Houston? "I have yet to perform on a bill that attempted to maintain one genre of music on it," Wyatt says. "At any given time, you can perform alongside Darwin's Finches, Ed Koch, Devil Killing Moth, and FLCON FCKER. At Super Happy Fun Land, we preceded a gospel act. The lack of a defined identity makes Houston unlike any other major metropolitan area."

Music Scene Pet Peeve: "Considering we play Austin regularly, the one thing I noticed is that there are plenty of built-in audiences at many of the venues," Wyatt says. "Because of Houston's lack of centralization, built-in audiences are primarily non-existent. Therefore, lay the blame at the feet of Houston's massive geography, not its people.

Five Desert Island Discs:

  • Kitchens of Distinction, Strange Free World
  • Archers of Loaf, Icky Mettle
  • Marvin Gaye, Let's Get It On
  • Aphex Twin, Selected Ambient Works, Volume II
  • (Tie) John Cage, Fontana Mix/The Cure, Disintegration

Best Concert You Ever Saw: "Fugazi's performance at that converted bowling alley off of Boone Road was met with holy-rolling zeal," reports Wyatt. "Also, seeing The Dirty Three in Austin forced me to rethink how I should compose music."

First Song You Fell In Love With: "A Boy Named Sue": "My father possessed a voice eerily as deep as Cash," Wyatt says. "He would play every song with the same stirring conviction. Incapable of holding back emotion, he could emanate that emotion -- the tongue-in-cheek wordplay and dramatic irony -- without giving away the ending.

"I was also shocked to find out that Shel Silverstein penned the lyrics," he continues. "Going from reading A Light in the Attic to 'A Boy Named Sue' was a small lurch into adulthood."

The Wiretaps' delightfully disquieting new EP, Welted Inscriptions, is now available on their Bandcamp page.

See who else has joined the Rocks Off 100 this year on the next page.


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