As the members' ages stretch past their mid-twenties, Young Mammals still don't really seem like the kind of band that can be classified as veterans. That's what it amounts to, though.
It's been more than a decade since brothers Carlos and Jose Sanchez and their classmate Cley Miller started the band while students at Stratford High School. Calling themselves the Dimes, their energetic, indie-minded take on power-pop made them one of Houston's buzziest bands circa the mid-2000s; they won Best New Act at the 2007 Houston Press Music Awards and drew enthusiastic, equally youthful crowds to local venues like the Proletariat.
Hard to believe it's been almost ten years since those days. As the 2000s were winding down, the then-Dimes got caught in a copyright flap with a band in Portland, Ore., that had also laid claim to that name, so they re-christened themselves Young Mammals. In the summer of 2010, the band released their debut LP, Carrots.
Although many people who heard it liked it, even top tastemaker blog Brooklyn Vegan, in hindsight the Mammals think the album might have captured the "busy" mood of indie music at the time -- think Animal Collective -- a little too well. From the vantage point of followup Alto Seco's release late last month, lead guitarist Miller admits listening to Carrots today feels "uncomfortable."
"That record was just such a mess for us to record," he says. "This one, we had some big hits happen while we were making it, but that last one was just so all over the place because it was recorded over such a long period of time. It didn't feel consistent. Scattered."
"I think we were scattered too, personally," offers Carlos Sanchez as the Mammals minus drummer Justin Terrell lounge around a table at Montrose java dive Black Hole Coffee, where both Carlos and Miller are on the payroll. "I think after Carrots, we had no clue how to write again.
"We were kind of lost," he adds. "We were dealing with our own personal lives, and we had no clue what to do next."
But eventually, Carlos says, "One of us called each other and said, 'This time, it's serious.'"
Not helping matters at all, all of Miller's equipment (about $5K worth) was stolen out of his car shortly after the Mammals had finally began working on the new album. Friends stepped up to help him
"Most of this new record is recorded on borrowed gear," Miller says. "But it worked out in my favor, because it sounds a lot better than the gear that I had."
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The new album's title, Alto Seco, is Spanish for "high and dry," and the name of a town in Peru where South American revolutionary/folk hero Che Guevara stayed briefly. Carlos came across the name in his "Latin-American History Through Film" course, but says it also reflects the Mammals' mindset as they tried to get the band jump-started again.
"I thought, 'What a great name to call your city," he reflects. "Personally, I related to it, just thinking, 'I'm feeling high and dry at the moment.' You know, you're feeling kind of hopeless when you're in school or something, and everybody else was going through their personal turmoil."
What finally broke the band's musical gridlock, Carlos says, was ambient-pop guru Brian Eno's 1974 album Here Come the Warm Jets, and two songs in particular: the title track and "Needle In the Camel's Eye." Other touchstones, they say, are Pornography-era Cure and the late Lou Reed, although the band has been on the Velvet Underground bus since Carlos' high-school Spanish teacher loaned him the New York art-rock icons' 1995 box set Peel Slowly and See.
Once we got that box set, it was like," says Carlos, making the familiar "mind blown" gesture. "We all still listen to it."
Short, sweet, melancholy in a couple of spots and fuzzy in all the right places, Alto Seco sounds like a record about being a music fan more than anything else. Would the Mammals say that's accurate?
"I'd say that's pretty accurate," agrees Carlos. "We are music fans."
"We're not really trying to hide our influences," adds Miller. "We're really trying to celebrate what inspires us."
Young Mammals launch Alto Seco tomorrow night at Fitzgerald's (downstairs) with special guests the Wild Moccasins, Hooked Rugs and Toast. Doors open at 8 p.m.
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