Pop Life

Web Extra: The Rebirth of Underground Rock

I remember the first big boom in underground rock, because I was definitely not part of it. Instead, I was one of those kids for whom Nirvana's Nevermind (and their January 1992 Saturday Night Live appearance, in my case) kicked open the door to a much cooler musical world than the one I had been living in. Not long after, when I went to school at UT-Austin, I was spending as much time at club shows and record stores than in the classroom. And now here I am today.

A little more than 20 years later, underground rock is as big as it's ever been, as Voice Media Group sister paper Phoenix New Times writer Chris Parker explains in this week's Web extra feature story, "Dust Off Your Flannel."

The music business' notorious lust after a quick buck almost killed underground rock, but once the spotlight faded from all the second- and third-generation grunge clones, things settled down and musicians found a lot to like about the brave new world they found themselves in.

Coupled with a sharp increase in DIY recording technology, the rise of the Internet not only meant musicians suddenly had a worldwide audience for their music, but logistical things like booking tours and mailing lists got infinitely easier. Band after band got back on the road and/or into the studio: Pixies, Mission of Burma, Afghan Whigs, Dinosaur Jr. (at Fitz next Friday), the list goes on.

And the music business itself became more permeable, to the point that a label like North Carolina's Merge Records -- founded and still run by members of beloved indie-rockers Superchunk -- could win the 2011 Album of the Year Grammy for Arcade Fire's The Suburbs.

Some of the people you'll hear from include Lollapalooza founder Perry Ferrell, whose "no pop allowed" festival is now a weekend affair right by the lake in Chicago and one of the nation's biggest music festivals. Here also are some of the underground's biggest rock heroes, like the Meat Puppets' Cris Kirkwood and Mike Watt of the Minutemen and fIREHOSE, who are doing much the same now as they were back then -- getting in the van, playing shows night after night and loving it.

Also, Members of younger bands Lightning Bolt and He's My Brother, She's My Sister discuss their own experiences. (One byproduct, Parker explains, is that rock has also become a hell of a lot more creative.)

A couple more folks, like the Supersuckers' Eddie Spaghetti, are even playing shows in Houston this week. Read Parker's story closely and you can follow the same track some of Houston's more promising younger bands like Buxton, the Tontons, Grandfather Child and thelastplaceyoulook are following at this very moment.

It's a fascinating read, especially if you like stories about dogged musicians whom the music business had all but written off, but found a way to keep doing what they love doing and even make it profitable in the face of some pretty long odds. See the entirety of "Dust Off Your Flannel" at this link.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray