One week ago today, Wild Moccasins played an in-store that packed Cactus Music to the gills, performing a brief set from their brand-new sophomore full-length LP 88 92. Afterward, what looked like a cross section of Houston's hipper secondary schools queued up to get the five Moccasins' autographs. It was a somewhat odd place for the band to find themselves in -- not because of the size of the crowd, but because most other days you can find two of them behind a Cactus counter.
It won't be signing autographs, though. They work there.
"I think signing stuff is still a surreal thing," muses singer/guitarist Cody Swann directly after the in-store, sitting around a picnic table with his bandmates in Cactus' load-in area. "In the grand scheme of everything we're still a very small band, so it's not the kind of thing we're used to, in the way that people coming back to our shows in cities that aren't Houston is [still] surreal."
"Two of us work here, so we're dumbass cashiers half the time and now people want our autograph," chuckles drummer John Baldwin, the other band member on the Cactus payroll besides Swann. "It's funny."
The other thing that gave the Moccasins pause last Friday was the ages of their fans. None of the band members are exactly ready for Medicaid yet, but they all can buy beer and rent a car -- two age-restricted activities that would have posed serious difficulties for the Cactus crowd.
"It's been five years and I remember the first time we played an in-store like this, and the kids were so young," offers guitarist Andrew Lee, who doesn't say much the rest of the interview because he's fighting off a serious cold he picked up on some recent California dates. "Now the kids are still young after all these years -- I would have thought that they'd be older, but they're fucking young."
"Most of my twenties have been spent here," muses bassist Nick Cody, meaning the band rather than the store. "It's hard to believe."
The Moccasins are all polite, easygoing, amiable people, but they're more seasoned than their youthful appearances appear, the product of several U.S. tours and one trip to Europe since their previous album, 2011's Skin Collison Past. Since forming in 2007 and debuting on record with 2009's six-song Microscopic Metronomes EP, they've steadily become one of Houston's most popular indie bands, with a charismatic sound fashioned from post-punk, New Wave, '60s pop and contemporary college radio.
The band's music accurately reflects their upbeat personalities, which is why it's a little surprising to hear them explain how 88 92 -- which adds a heavy electronic element recalling both Brian Eno's solo projets and the albums he produced for Talking Heads, such as Fear of Music and Remain In Light -- is, like those records, rooted in tension and anxiety.
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"For this record I was having a lot of social anxiety and toxic friendships and things like that," says Zahira Gutierrez, the Moccasins' singer, keyboardist and tambourine-shaker. "It's a lot of me reacting to the people who were surrounding me at the time I was writing those songs."
Who those people are she won't say, but Swann says he used a similar strategy for his songs on the new album. He describes Skin Collison Past, which the Moccasins self-released in 2010 and was re-released by New West the next year, as much more introverted. (Gutierrez and Swann have been a couple since before starting the band.)
"I think it had more to do with the age I was at, Swann reckons. "I'm a very anxious person inherently, and that kind of showed through in the lyrics. I think with time, like everybody, I grew to see more than myself.
"In those couple of years when we got to this record, I started looking outside myself at how what other people do can affect me and vice versa," he adds. "Naturally it came out on the lyrics on this one."
For her part, Guttierrez says she's not sure how exactly she channels her anxiety into songwriting, but definitely finds performing can alleviate some of that tension.
"It's helped me a lot," she says. "I just started doing it. Cody told me one day I was having so much anxiety that I would have to leave a place because I couldn't breathe. He was like, 'You should try writing it down.' It just became very natural and therapeutic for me."
For nervous-type people, being in a band isn't the worst job in the world. Any number of day-to-day activities involved with being a performer can help work through anxiety.
"I think it helps, because you're put out there in a situation where you're talking to more people, you're playing in front of people, so every night you do that you microscopically get over certain things," offers Nick Cody. "I think being in a band has definitely helped me with it.
"I don't think being in the band makes anxiety happen," he adds. "I think it cures it, for me personally."
The other part of the Moccasins' anxiety cure lies in the songs, which are as infectious and, they say, as much fun to play as they are to listen to. That goes double for their more groove-oriented, disco-driven newer material.
"We're still a rock band at the heart of the band, but it's fun to make music that makes people dance and still be a band," offers drummer Baldwin. "You don't see a laptop onstage at one of our shows."
88 92 is now available on New West Records. Wild Moccasins' CD release party -- a free show -- is Saturday at Numbers, 300 Westheimer, with special guests Young Mammals, Young Girls and DJ Bagheera.
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