Three-Chord Garage

A strong undercurrent on the pop scene last year was the resurgence of garage rock. A nation reeling before the onslaught of pretty people playing sanitized-for-your-protection pop confections gratefully and thirstily drank in buzzed-about tours by the likes of Midwesterners such as the White Stripes and the Greenhornes, and also their more psychedelic cousins like California's Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Some would also lump the velveteen, Manhattan-cool Strokes in the garage rock genre as well, and 2001 was nothing if not the year of the Strokes.

In short, fuzz guitars bordering on white noise were in, and peach-fuzzed, harmonizing white boys were out.

Dune*TX has long been Houston's foremost garage pop band. Like many of the bands listed above, they've been around in some form (and quality) or another since the mid-'90s. But even a genre as apparently easy as garage rock takes plenty of hard work to master. It can't be sloppy; it just has to sound that way.

Dune's Chris Sacco sees the garage resurgence in quasi-messianic terms. "I think it will benefit everybody," he says. Sacco talks fast and talks often. We're sitting outside on a cool night at Cecil's on West Gray. To Sacco's right is laconic drummer Tim Herrmann, who looks a little like Mike Nesmith, the cool Monkee. To his left is bass player Rusty Guess, a Cy-Fair-bred country boy whom the other two jokingly call The Pride of Cypress.

"Who knows?" continues Sacco. "Maybe we'll see a resurgence of music with energy. It's always been kind of a pendulum effect, going back and forth from boy bands to something different. It'll be interesting to see which one of these bands it is going to be that makes it."

Maddeningly, Dune*TX spent most of last year away from the stage, at least in Houston. They gigged out of town a lot, where Sacco figures it's better to play to ten people who haven't heard you than the hundreds who have. The trio also spent much of the fall and winter working on Goldenarm, their soon-to-be-released follow-up to 1999's Machowagon.

"Yeah, Goldenarm," says Sacco. "It's gonna be a '70s-type Kung Fu Theater-type theme. Y'know, the Seven Deadly Venoms, '70s-type aesthetic. It's a recurring theme in everything we do, but I don't really know where it comes from. Part of it I guess comes from the fact that we're a three-piece, and that gives more room to kind of jam, more to kind of--"

"Fart around," interjects Herrmann.

Part of the '70s theme that permeates the band's sound is deliberate. According to Sacco and Herrmann, in the early days of Dune*TX, they strove to inject a little "psychedelical grooviness" into their tunes. Another part is more subtle. Perhaps it stems from their blue-collar '80s youths, which they spent driving around in cast-off cars from the Nixon, Ford and Carter eras. The Alief-bred Herrmann even gets razzed by his bandmates for a posh first ride: a '77 Cutlass.

"Ah, come on, man," says Sacco. "That's brand-new! That's CHIPS-era."

Dune*TX is the rare long-lived band that formed through a want ad. Sacco was attending a recording class at HCC and used the chance to make a demo. Sacco then took out an ad in the Public News and played the tape to the auditioners. "That tape sucked," says Herrmann. "It sounded like A Flock of Seagulls." Sacco says it was more of a bad Nine Inch Nails, but concedes that it sucked.

"More like Three-and-a-Half-Inch Nails," says Herrmann. Nevertheless, Herrmann, who was then in a band called Jolly Roger ("We used to play Long John Silver's," jokes Herrmann. "Yarrrr!"), signed on. Then the band went through two bass players before Guess cemented the position.

Despite Dune*TX's long-term survival, Sacco is unsure if the want-ad route is advisable. "It was crazy," says Sacco. "I wished I'd taped some of the guys that called. One guy said he was a drummer, but he didn't have a car or a drum set. He said his friend had some drums and asked me if I could pick him up and take him over there so we could jam."

Needless to say, that guy flunked, though Sacco credits him with being ballsy. Not that Herrmann is lacking in that department either, as the story of the Cajun feast attests.

"We were doing all these shows up and down in Louisiana," Sacco relates. "My girlfriend at the time was booking us, and Lake Charles was our last show. She had negotiated a couple of hundred bucks and a 'Cajun feast.' All through the tour, Thomas, our old bass player, kept saying, 'I can't wait for the Cajun feast, I can't wait for the Cajun feast.'

"Let's talk about your embarrassing moments," says Herrmann, returning from the bar with a fresh round of Bud Lights.

"This isn't embarrassing," says Sacco. "This is rock and roll, man."

Turns out Herrmann was allergic to shellfish. When the sound check rolled around, the shrimp-laden Cajun feast was taking its toll. Sacco paid little attention to his ailing drummer. "So then we did the sound check, and I went and drove around," Sacco says.

"And I went outside and threw up for a while," interrupts Herrmann.

"So I came back, and they're nowhere to be found," Sacco continues. "I asked the club guy where they were, and he said they left like two hours ago. We were supposed to play at ten. Then Thomas shows up and I asked him what's the deal. He said Tim wasn't feeling too good. He'd been throwing up for the past three or four hours. I was like, 'Go get him.' "

"Yeah, 'Doesn't matter,' " says Herrmann. " 'I don't care if he's dying.' "

"Yeah, that's rock and roll," states Sacco. "I didn't know how serious it was. We were in Lake Charles -- that's party town."

"Oh, yeah," Herrmann replies dryly. "Party town."

Sacco continues. "So I see him and he's all clammy and everything, and I ask him if he can do the show. And of course he's an Iron Maiden trooper, so he does the show. We had a garbage can by the drum set for him to puke in and a bucket of water for him to drink."

"And the punch line is I had to drive home," Herrmann remembers. Sacco had made the gig in a different car, and the bass player had enjoyed some of the liquid aspects of the Cajun feast a tad excessively.

"I couldn't keep my eyes open for more than a half-second at a time," Herrmann recalls. "It was like a strobe light all the way home."

"But we made it back," says Sacco. "And that was the Cajun feast."

Such lore can make or break bands, and though the bass player from those days is no longer around, the band lives on with a rare optimism. The band figures that since pop is in the doldrums, the future could belong to anybody -- hell, even them. "Honestly, I think it's a pretty exciting time to be in music again. Because there isn't a lot of exciting stuff going on," says Sacco.

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax