Rocks Off has wanted to ask our esteemed little group of Houston musicians this question from the first time we birthed this still-new blog series. Maybe it only gets asked in the smoking section in front of some venue after a couple of drinks and smokes, but it's still a valid pressure point.
We're not saying Houston sucks, because it doesn't. The music scene here, local and touring bands alike, keeps Rocks Off busy almost seven days a week. If we didn't need our beauty sleep or "special gentleman time," we could live in venues non-stop seeing bands.
But if you ask anyone involved in Houston music - bloggers, musicians, bartenders, club owners, promoters, even the guitarist's girlfriend - he or she will no doubt have a beef with something, be it personalities, cliques or something less subjective.
Some of them will say nothing at all is wrong, and paradise exists in your own universe. You make your own reality. If you think the scene is bad, it will be bad. Like Billy Bob Thornton said in U-Turn, "You think bad, and bad's what you'll get."
So what grinds your gears, Houston?
April Patrick, Girls Rock Houston: I used to waste my time trying to impress people that were boring me to tears. But I finally realized that they were the ones with the shitty scene and I didn't have to participate in it.
So I started caring about having fun with my friends. We play music almost every night, we book our own shows, have our own parties, and work on our own non-band projects. If someone wants us, they know where to find us, and they do.
It doesn't matter that we don't get asked to play with bands, that we don't really like anyway, at clubs we hate going to. We can just book the bands we want to see at venues we like. Does it sound like there's anything wrong with that?
The sooner the "scene" can let go of the criticism of itself and just focus on having fun the sooner it'll be boys, beers and burgers for everyone.
Joe Ortiz, Clockpole: My only complaint is watching people stand still instead of dancing, jumping, screaming or acting like fools. About the only guy I see consistently going nuts is Jose Pineda from Gnome Chomsky. I love that guy.
John Sears was another guy you could see jumping around but alas, he has moved away from our wonderful city. I'll look around at shows and see people looking like they want to get loose but don't.
It always helps when the bands open up and allow interaction. The best examples of this are Somosuno (people on stage at the album release), Muhammadali (playing in the middle of the audience and letting the fans sing along into the mics), B L A C K I E (plowing through the audience and making you pay attention), Sideshow Tramps, Cop Warmth and, not to yank my own chain, Clockpole.
We literally hand instruments to the audience, force people on stage [and] force musicians off stage.
Mario Rodriguez, Tax The Wolf: There's not enough reliable resources to help promote or expose the actual scene or movement that is occurring. The interconnection between this huge city is very difficult to comprehend, since news doesn't spread out very smoothly. The online social and media networks that seem to appear helpful can only do so to a certain degree in this town. It's such a broken bandwagon.
Why isn't this brilliant Houston scene not as large as this city? At this rate, we may have to pay the people to come out and support the scene. As an artist, I may have somewhat of a biased opinion, but I've spoken to different sources around town and they also feel the motivation or support as being very slim.
We need a longer list of resources from the higher ranks, mass local media, skillful promoters and open-based events to expand the Houston scene onto the country and not just outside our belt. We need the city of Houston to begin investing in this movement.
Cory Sinclair, vocals, The Manichean: As simply a person in their mid-twenties who lives in Houston and who loves music and art and live performance, I am more than satisfied with what this city has to offer. I have something to do and witness and change me every single night in this goddamn city, and what's great is that nobody else in Texas, America, or the world realizes it. Yet.
This city will change and the arts community with which we pride ourselves upon will act as an arbiter for such change, and we as Houstonians will garner more attention and recognition but also more responsibility; a responsibility to continue creating innovative and original work, to push onward with vigor and foresight, and to maintain our unique identity.
We're not Austin and we don't want to be. Fuck Austin.
Bill Fool, guitarist, Born Liars, Hell City Kings: The eternal question. The main problem stems from the past. Houston had a very large period in which the clubs, bookers, and bands were either shady or just plain crap. Bands coming to town or actually from here had to put up with being ripped off, or deal with people who just didn't put an effort into properly promoting the shows.
This went on for a long time, ensuring Houston a bad rap that might never go away. There have been people involved that tried to make bands feel welcome but just couldn't handle the egos of the scene.
As of late, that seems to have changed exponentially. First being the bookers. Never has Houston had so many people involved who truly love and live music. At any venue, you can finally work with someone who knows how to handle most of the egos involved in every band. Sure, this sounds like most musicians are assholes, but they are a delicate bunch, to say the least.
Next would be the bands. I've been a part of the scene for 15-plus years now, and it's never been better as far as the bands go. I get goosebumps on a regular basis. But this might be the main problem right there. Before you had a hard time finding a good solid bill to watch, but now so many bills put together are so great and prevalent that they seem to be stepping on each others' toes.
At one venue it's Roky Moon, and at another it's The Energy all on the same night. I don't know how to fix this, as it still pertains to the ego problem.
The venue problem seems to never go away. Every single one has had so many assholes involved it's hard to clean the shit away. One minute a place like Fitz is treating bands fine, the next it's nightmare central. If a place starts becoming successful, the egos of the owner turn it into a fight to get paid.
I know the place needs to make money, but at the same time these assholes forget that strings, picks, drumsticks, amp repairs and gas money don't just appear out of thin air for most musicians. This is a problem in most cities, but Houston takes the cake for this treatment. Again, this has started to change as of late, but for how long we will never know.
Bottom line is the Houston scene, music-wise, is better than most cities, if not the front-runner [for] unnoticed great bands. But [it] will never seem to break away from a past that has a tendency of coming back every so often. It's going in the right direction, but it's up to every element involved to keep it up. I myself have hope.
Jeoaf Johnson, drummer, Roky Moon & BOLT: I love the Houston scene. I think it'd be really tough to argue against the fact that things are better now than they've been in years. I could fill volumes with what's great about bands like the Energy, Weird Party, Black Congress, Ghost Town Electric, Wild Moccasins, Buxton, Golden Axe. I could go on and on.
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SHOW ME HOW
In ten years, a kid in high school discovering the scene right now is really gonna have a strong case for making all of those "It was better back in my day" comments. But if I had to address one problem with the scene, I think that I would go after the whole "Is it or is it not okay to try to make it in the music biz?" thing. The punk-rock guilt issue.
I think that a lot of people are quick to tear down and write off a band who is trying to make a go for bigger, mainstream success, strictly based on the fact that it's "douchey." I think that if a band is good, works their asses off and can put themselves in a position where lots of people take note of them, then so long as they haven't compromised what they're all about and maintained their integrity, then there is absolutely no reason for anyone to talk shit on that decision.
If a person just doesn't like that band's music, then go ahead and shit-talk it up, but one's opinion of a band and their music should never be based on how many other people like it or what radio station they get played on or what type of people wear their T-shirt. There is a certain element of bands that conduct themselves in a "douchey" manner, and yeah, they should probably be written off, but only because they're behaving like shitheads, not because they have shitty goals.
It's all a high-school mentality. Quit worrying so much about what your friends think, like what you like, be good at what you do and try to be nice. But honestly, I've been seeing this as less and less of an issue lately, so it's not really that big a deal. Forget all of my negativity and bitching, quit thinking about what's wrong with the scene, enjoy how good things are right now and hope that it lasts a good long while.