Even in the music industry's bold new world, where major labels mean less and less to success, the odds for widespread renown remain against bands. They grow longer with changes that alter the face or sound of the act.
Losing half the group, for instance, might be a difficult challenge to overcome. Unless you're Ash Kay, lead singer, co-founder and resident badass of Houston glam-punks, The Freakouts.
This spring, Kay penned a Facebook fan update announcing band departures, which doubled as a heartfelt goodbye to longtime Freakouts, bassist Meg Cambern and guitarist Steven Jones. Months later, the band is ready to properly unveil its new lineup this Sunday at Rudyard's.
"Meg and Steven felt strongly that we were going in a direction that wasn't really what they are looking for right now," said Kay. "They have their own ideas, musically, that they want to pursue and we wish them well in their endeavors! Meg and I are still, and always will be, very close friends."
That left Kay and guitarist Porter Smith, who co-founded the band in April 2011. Maybe because the changes were amicable and probably because of the ties they'd established, moving forward didn't feel like starting over to Kay and Smith.
"Porter and I are still doing exactly what we started doing and I feel things are moving along quite well with the whole band. We're tighter, faster, louder and stronger than ever. If you saw us a while back but haven't seen us since, you're in for a surprise."
I first saw The Freakouts in November 2011 at Fuzzy Fest, a benefit promoter Mike Schoolcraft put together at a now-defunct show house called The Ghetto Blaster. After they tore through their set, in what had to be one of their earliest shows anywhere, they stopped by for a hot dog and some nachos my wife and I were serving bands and fans to offset the mass quantities of Cobra consumed that day.
As they gained traction, I always felt a little personal pride that I saw the Freakouts way back when. Today, it's easy to see why Kay and Smith decided to continue on. For one, they didn't have to look much further than their circle of friends to find their newest members, drummer Eddie Travis, who assumed the role Allen Robles once filled; bassist Jerrica Aldridge; and a second guitarist Kay names as "Greg."
Need to know more? Come out to the show, Kay says.
"We've always liked playing Rudz," she offers. "it's another home base kind of venue for us. We enjoy going to shows and also playing there, so it just seems kind of fitting and comfortable.
"We thought about doing an audition process with potential new members, but like they do, things just sort of fell into place before even starting on that," Kay reports. "We had one girl from Montana, Courtney, who came in and helped us out through practices and things for a little over a month, before she left to go back home.
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"Ironically, on a random beach trip with the rest of the band and a few friends, we found out that Jerrica plays bass!", laughs Kay. "We kind of all looked at each other like, 'Whaaa?' and asked if she was interested in learning some stuff and practicing with us.
"Turns out she was a perfect fit," she continues. "We've known her for years [and] weren't super close, but she has settled in very well with all of us. She's a perfect addition. I'm super excited she is into it. She's been killing it, too."
Having someone she considered a friend before a bandmate next to her is helping Kay with the transition of not having Cambern by her side at every show.
"Well, it was disappointing to be honest, but we all understand that things change and people sometimes need to move on to other projects. That's just how it goes," she says. "It was difficult for me, personally, because Meg was such a huge part of the Freakouts, since the beginning.
"It's still hard not seeing her all the time and working on music together," adds Kay. So, it was a bit of a setback for the band, but we're moving on as strong as ever. We have a solid group of people behind us, with Eddie on the drums and Jerrica on bass."
The new band members are coming in at a time when the Freakouts are enjoying some acclaim for their work on the Artificial Head compilation, Knights In Satan's Service. The collection is a KISS tribute with a dozen Houston acts covering the band. The band chose "Strutter," the first song from the first KISS album. Kay doesn't simply nail the vocal - she sledgehammers the son of a bitch into submission.
"Meg was contacted by Walter (Carlos) from Funeral Horse back in January to see if the Freakouts wanted to jump on the compilation," says Kay. "It was her idea to cover 'Strutter.' We had very little time to get in to record it and I was very sick during recording, so, glad to hear people are digging it. They fed me whiskey and pizza so I didn't sound like total shit.
"I was very nervous about it, actually," she continues. "I knew the band would sound amazing on it, but I wasn't super-confident that I'd be able to live up to Paul Stanley. We went through a few practices on it before jumping right into the studio, and I started having a lot of fun with it. I wasn't too nervous about it otherwise.
"I do know that Gene is a total nut about people covering KISS, which was a bit intimidating. But, I can only hope our version ever crosses his desk."
The band is recording a new EP and doing some promotional work before it begins booking gigs regularly again. Things are back at square one, with she and Smith handling the songwriting duties, but they're not starting over. The Freakouts have some brand credibility from years of hard work and a sound and look that's not likely to change with the changes.
"As for going glam with it, we've never actually tried to 'come up' with any specific look or anything," says Kay. "We've all looked the way we do for as long as I can remember. Even before the band started. I've personally always had a pretty wild sense of style, if you want to call it that. I just like what I like."
The Freakouts and the Businessmen rock "Mistletoe Madness" Sunday evening at Rudyard's, 2010 Waugh. Doors open at 8 p.m.
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