In the parlance of law enforcement circles, a repeat offender keeps doing the same thing over and over again—albeit often not reaching the ending they’d hoped for. But for what they may lack in skills to avoid detection, they’ve got in abundance when it comes to commitment, drive and experience.
So, the Repeat Offenders is a perfect name for a new local quartet who, among themselves, have played thousands of gigs with bands led by Mike Stinson, Jesse Dayton, Hayes Carll, Nick Gaitan, Lisa Morales, and others, as well as groups like Leon III, Blaggards, and the Allen Oldies Band.
The band makes it clear that the plant-the-flag genre they’ve sworn sonic fealty to is Roots ROCK (the all caps their emphasis). The majority of their set list are covers, but by acts whose material is rarely covered: Nick Lowe, Marty Stuart, Freedy Johnston, the Smithereens, Social Distortion, Shawn Mullins and the Beat Farmers. Even their “Tom Petty” cover is from his pre-Heartbreakers band, Mudcrutch.
“Before we start, I’d like to let the record show that I’ve had a few drinks already,” Hughes—holding another adult beverage—says on video via Zoom. In solidarity, Smith holds up his own glass filled with an amber-colored liquid. Much inter-band ribbing continues throughout the call, clearly among longtime friends more than new bandmates still trying to sort each other out.
“I just wanted to play music that I really liked. I’ve played in so many bands, but it’s not always what I wanted to put out there,” Smith says. “I’ve known Eric forever and we’ve ridden in cars from Houston to Boston and Austin to everywhere.”
A recent change in Smith’s marital status and a physical residential move from Montgomery to Houston spurred the pair to start a new project together. “We met in the Mike Stinson Band way back in 2009 and played together for a number of years. Playing with Lance was a lot of fun,” Hughes says. “We drummers tend to gravitate more toward the bassist, but for some reason I clicked more with him. We’d room together on the road and had the same sense of humor: very dark and twisted. So, I said, ‘Let’s fucking do something together!’ It made so much sense.”
The pair collaborated on an initial “dream list” of around 60 songs, 20 of which they’ve learned so far. The debut show will also include some Smith originals—both previously and newly written—including the satirically-edged Georgia Satellites-like stomper “Women Just Wanna Dance,” the tempo-building relationship chaos of “Red Handed,” and “She’s Working” about the lies freely flowing between strippers and their customers.
Finding the right chemistry, on and off stage, was very high on the priority list for the Repeat Offenders. “I’m old enough to care more about the hang than anything else. If you can hang, then you’ll be fine,” Hughes says. Smith adds “Mark has this phrase, ‘It’s mostly about RGTs—really good times.’”
Still, given their resumes, Smith and Hughes surely have a list of what they want (and what they don’t want), to do in this new band based on experiences from their previous groups. For Smith, it’s actually the same thing.
“I’d get where I was tired of it and I wouldn’t be cool, I’d ruin it. So now, I’m like ‘Let’s just let this be fun, have a good time,’” he says. “That counts as both sides, right?”
For Hughes, enlightenment arrived with some band friends from Ohio who came to visit him. As the drummer was regaling his guest with tales of his previous units, one of their vocalists asked him flat out just how many bands he had been in.
“For some people, that kind of takes them aback. Because you do kind of float from band to band to band. And I get really bored really quickly if the vibe isn’t right. It’s kind of been that way with every band I’ve ever been in. Once the vibe goes south, I don’t want to be there anymore because it’s not fun for me,” he says.
“And Lance and I have fun all the fucking time. Much to our detriment—or at least our livers’ detriment! We enjoy each other’s company and have a blast all the time. That’s why we wanted to start this band. Play the music that we love and spend time with the people we enjoy spending time with.”
Hughes cites bands with negative vibes like the Ramones and Aerosmith who “kept going” even as interpersonal relationships between members deteriorated, often to outright hatred. In the former group, singer Joey and guitarist Johnny Ramone did not speak directly to each other for decades, using intermediaries only to express anything to the other. It’s something drummer Marky Ramone reiterated to the Houston Press back in 2015.
The pair admit that the age and demographic of their likely audience, as well as the general decrease in number of local clubs that would host a band like the Repeat Offenders, could pose be challenge in getting people to gigs. And it’s part of changing tastes.
“I remember I used look in the Houston Press at the club ads and there was just so much going on and I’d say ‘I think I’ll go check that out!’ But I don’t’ think people do that anymore,” Smith says. Hughes says since their own show starts at 8 p.m. and will be wrapped up by 10 p.m. it’s not “too late” for those who are getting up for work the next day.
“All four of us have had some history in this town, and I hope that draws people out. Not just our old fans, but younger people as well. There’s not a lot of [bands] in Houston right now doing what we’re doing. And even if you don’t know the songs we’re [playing], they’ll sound familiar enough.”
Finally, the pair try to explain (or at least sharpen) their own definition of what “Roots ROCK” is, a line that’s not so clear-cut given it can encompass buffet-like aspects of rockabilly, country, blues, R&B and Americana.
“It has a rock influence—and I know it’s stupid to say that because it’s in the title—but it might harken back to the structure of [early] rock and roll. The blues and the hillbilly influence with a little bit of a twang. And a lot of Texas,” Hughes says.
“It’s just a mixture of everything! Even punk rock. As long as it’s fun!” Smith says. But despite his long experience, he admits there’s some “butterflies” about fronting the Repeat Offenders at their debut gig.
“The butterflies are super serious. I’ve only fronted a band a couple of times. That keeps me awake. I wake up in the middle of the night trying to remember song lyrics so I don’t screw them up!” he says. “I’m trying to over prepare for it. But once we get the first one under our belt, I’m sure I’ll cool out!”
The Repeat Offenders play 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 29 at Under the Volcano, 2349 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-526-5282 or visit UndertheVolcanoHouston.com. $10