On his first day back in Texas, Paulie Think had a gnarly wipeout on his skateboard.
“Actually, I ate shit in the H-E-B parking lot. I was on my skateboard,” said the avid skater and musician. “I was going down the hill out the parking lot and I don’t know what I hit but I flew and I just slammed. All my groceries go flying out all over the parking lot. An old lady comes running over there and I was like, ‘No, no, I’m fine,’ and it’s funny because actually it was one of those slams where I enjoyed it because it didn’t hurt, and I was like ‘Yeah.’ Felt all chingón, you know? I was like, ‘Yeah, I got back up. No problem.’”
That story illustrates much of what you need to know about Think, the daring and resilient artist behind the hip-hop/folk punk act Paulie Think and vocalist for the Chicago-based hardcore punk band Shots Fired Shots Fired. Think moved back to Austin this week after four years away in the Windy City, though he’s bounced back and forth between the cities and a few other locales over a 30-year music career.
He’s so freshly a Texas resident again he hasn’t even made his long-awaited return to P. Terry’s Burger Stand yet – at least as of this writing he hadn’t – but he’s not waiting to advance his musical pursuits. He’s got a slew of show dates for both projects lined up including a Paulie Think show in Houston in March, a SXSW event with legendary rapper Keith Murray, several dates with Texas veterans Skatenigs and a week-long Texas tour with Shots Fired Shots Fired which includes a February 26 date at White Swan Live.
Think’s Texas following is large. Even when he’s lived elsewhere, he’s returned to do shows here, including annual stops at Houston’s own Folxmas music fest. But this is the first time SFSF will tour the state. The band includes co-founder Roberto “Cholo Rob” Velasquez on bass. Chicagoland music veteran Steve Sackett and Matt Anzelone, who plays with Beer City Records artists Fastplants, are on guitars. Drummer Hector Huizar rounds out the upstart group.
“I’ve done a bunch of Paulie Think shows around Texas so people that were familiar with my stuff or that followed me online saw stuff that I would post from Shots Fired Shots Fired. We formed right after Trump was elected so we’ve been together a little bit over three years. I literally had people begging me like, ‘Yo, please bring Shots Fired Shots Fired down here,’” he said. “You know, Shots Fired Shots Fired and Texas go hand in hand. We’re a Spanglish hardcore punk band. It’s a perfect match for Texas.”
“We’re pretty raw, a lot of folks that appreciate the rawness of ‘80s hardcore punk tell us, ‘Yo, I haven’t heard anything like that in a really long time,’" he said of the band. "I like to think we have a contemporary spin on it too, we’re not trying to imitate anything, we’re just following our spirit, but yeah, we mean it, we really mean what we’re doing, we’re not just going through the motions. We’re responding to what’s going on in the world right now and having fun with it, too. We talk about some serious issues but also like to not take ourselves too seriously and have fun.”
The obvious question is whether Think's move to Austin jeopardizes what he’s built with the band or in Chicago, other pursuits like “Da Dunny Show,” a radio program which focuses on DIY music which he co-hosts with DJ Julie Wu. Their last show chatted up the massive three-day festival Folk Shit Up, which hits Dripping Springs, Texas on March 20.
“One of the cool things about modern technology is you can operate from different spots. Shots Fired Shots Fired is not breaking up, definitely not, we’re pretty much just getting started. We released our first seven-inch vinyl a few months ago,” he said of the self-titled disc released jointly by Dead Nun and No Trend Records.
Think said SFSF will tour the Midwest in May and then heads for the West Coast in the fall.
“With Da Dunny Show, we have it so I can call in. DJ Wu, she’ll hold it down in the studio and I’ll be calling in from Austin or wherever I’m at on the road,” he said.
“Me being back down in Texas, I feel like I can expand, just the same way like when I went back to Chicago for four years. I mean, if I wouldn’t have went back to Chicago for four years, there would be no Dunny Show, there’d be no Shots Fired Shots Fired. Also, helped my brother start No Trend Records. I’m definitely grateful for the experience that I had and I’m also grateful to be back here. It’s wild, you know, I just got back here yesterday and it’s almost like I never left. I feel at home in Chicago, I feel at home in Texas.”
Think’s comfortable in his own skin, which allows him to feel comfortable in the world. He’s a recovered addict who has spoken openly about his past substance abuse issues and has worked with substance abuse programs. He once was homeless in Chicago, so he organizes Austin’s annual Hip-Hop for the Homeless show. He understood the plight of victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and here in Houston following Hurricane Harvey and was boots on the ground in both those instances.
He truly fell in love with the spirit of Puerto Rico during his hurricane relief work there and has made an annual trek to the island since, donating clothes to shelters, assisting pet shelters and bringing nearly 200 pounds of skateboard gear to young skaters in orphanages in La Perla barrio in San Juan last year. He recorded the recent Paulie Think EP, Dunny En La Isla, there last year. The album was recorded by José Ibáñez (Juventud Crasa, Orquesta el Macabeo, Discos de Hoy) and released on Ceschi Ramos’ label, Fake Four. (Side note, Ceschi performs at Notsuoh Sunday, February 23, with Canadian basement pop artist Gregory Pepper).
“I just fell in love with the place. It’s so beautiful and it’s real as fuck,” he said of Puerto Rico. “The people that I met were amazing and it’s a beautiful spot. There’s an interesting mix of like slum and tropical, like abandoned buildings with graffiti all over them and posters next to this oceanic view. I started learning more about the island, it’s a U.S. 'quote-unquote' territory and I’m like, man, this is bogus. These cats don’t get full representation. The empire tells them what to do but they don’t get a say in it.
“The punk rock down there is real as fuck, too,” he noted.
Think’s qualified to gauge any punk scene. He was just a teenager when his first band, Not-Us, formed in the late 1980s and opened for acts like U.K. Subs and GWAR. He’s been part of the D.I.Y. Bandits record collective known for introducing folk punk acts like Pat the Bunny and Ramshackle Glory to listeners. His latest iteration of the punk ethos is a hardcore band, but he also performs folk punk music as Paulie Think and it’s interesting to watch him live, bouncing back and forth between hip-hop beats and acoustic guitar. Those seemingly disparate genres made his music the subject of a 2017 Huffington Post article which dubbed Think an “outside-of-the-genre thinker.”
“I grew up on hip-hop and hardcore and punk. To me, it made sense that they always went hand in hand. The first time I heard Public Enemy it was at a punk club,” he said. “Really, when it comes down to it, it’s all like street music. It’s expanded, obviously, with pop punk and stuff that’s more suburban, but it’s revolutionary music and celebratory music too, at times.”
“I feel like folk punk really is holding it down for the punk spirit,” he continued. “It’s carrying that torch and bringing a newness to it. Some of punk as gotten safe and folk punk is like, ‘Naw, fuck the police,’ know what I’m saying? I appreciate that spirit of folk punk.”
Think is geared to build on the projects. Back in Austin, he plans to stay busy, keep his momentum going and navigate around those wipeout-inducing obstacles.
“For me, it’s kind of like self-determination, carving out a space for myself in the world, like I deserve to be here and I deserve to do my shit,” he said. “What you mentioned before, I think you were referring to addiction struggles and like the health condition of substance use disorder. You know, definitely if I’m struggling with that that’s an automatic turn on of ‘I’m not okay,’ and ‘I don’t deserve to be here,’ and stuff like that, so I think when I’m conquering that then I’m really carving out my space and getting busy and making my voice heard.”
Paulie Think leads Shots Fired Shots Fired into action Wednesday, February 26 at White Swan Live, 4419 Navigation. The Live and Loud Productions show includes Pigeye, The Stuff and Reagan Era Rejects. Doors at 8 p.m.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.