A couple weeks ago, the music editor for the Houston Press, Chris Gray, asked me to answer some questions for an article about the State of the Houston Music Scene. Several other heroes of the local community were included resulting in a panel of incredible talent: Quinn Bishop of Cactus Music; Ramon “LP4″ Medina of Linus Pauling Quartet and writer for blog NonAlignment Pact, Free Press Houston and 29-95.com; Jagi Katial of Houston booking agency Pegstar (picking up Super Unison’s slack);  “Eggs” of Houston music blog Breakfast on Tour and finally a personal hero of mine, Dan Workman, co-owner of Sugarhill Studios and board member for the Grammy‘s.

It was an honor to be included as someone who could comment on the state of the Houston music community alongside these tastemakers and leaders of the music community. The article was published in three parts, two on the Rocks Off Blog and one in the print version for Chris’ weekly editorial piece. You can read the posts in the below links.

Article 1: Inquiring Minds: “Eggs” of Houston Music Blog Breakfast on Tour

Article 2: Noise: Progress Report

Article 3: Inquiring Minds: Is Houston the new Austin?

Below are my unedited answers to the questions Chris asked of the panel, from an insider’s perspective of the Houston Music Community:
1. Do you think the local music scene is better or worse than last year? Why?
2. What aspects of the scene (promotion, touring, production, media, venues) are most improved?
3. What aspects could still use improvement?

Viewed as a contributing member of the Houston music community, the local scene is much stronger and much more productive than last year. Seems like everyone listened to Ryan Chavez of Super Unison when, at the first Bandcamp, he said “just start recording and releasing as many records as you can.” This is the “Year of the Album” in Houston with most of the heavy hitters dropping either an album or an EP. Two big scene championing comps came out this year, the first by Artstorm Records and the second culled from KTRU’s Live Sessions recorded by Ian Wells on the Local Show or the Revelry Report. There were also some surprises as well, including Ghost Mountain’s first album that seemingly came out of nowhere. Ghost Mountain later released a VHS album at the News on the March EP release last week, firmly cementing the Houston music community as the leaders for “dead tech” releases. No other music community I know of has released so many cassettes in one year.

This past year saw many more players getting onto the field. Mango’s was renovated and reopened as a viable location for droves of young kids to see their favorite bands continue to overplay their audience. Super Happy Fun Land is back in a new location, one much closer to a higher concentration of concert goers. Houston has two music festivals being held in 2009, the first being Texas Heat Festival and the second being the Free Press Houston’s Summer Fest. It’s not clear whether the heat contributed to the Texas Heat Festival’s lackluster attendance but Summer Fest should prove that Houston is a great market to hold a festival of that magnitude.

There are a couple more bands on the scene that are demonstrating the positive effects of leaving Houston for a bit. Wild Mocassins are a perfect example of getting it right from the start: put out an album, release it with a tour kickoff and go on a three week tour. Repeat. Something Fierce was signed while on a show in the Northwest by a rep who was told by Something Fierce fans that he needed to attend the show. B L A C K I E is talking to Vice Records because he went up to NYC and played a show.

As our girlfriends and wives begin to understand the importance of music for ambience, they’re asking for incorporation of more Houston music into the events they’re promoting or throwing. As a result more local acts are being featured in previously unheard (har har) locations. Due in part to Mark Austin, Little Bigs and Block7 Wine Co have expressed strong support for the Houston music community, holding listening parties and including local artists on their jukebox or house music.

4. In your eyes what makes our scene unique?

What continues to make our community unique is our bands almost complete disregard of national music trends. For better or for worse this allows us to innovate completely outside of the bounds of what’s hot, what’s not. It also makes Houston a great staging ground to incubate a band. Look at the dead tech releases this year or guerrilla shows, these things just aren’t going down with such regularity in most places. Here, it’s the standard.

5. Is Houston any closer to losing the Dallas/Austin chip on its shoulder?

As for the Dallas/Austin chip on the shoulder? Well, as a fertile ground for innovative bands trying out new sounds, release media and genres I think we only need like three more HTx bands to start touring regularly before people start asking “Woah. Where the fuck did Houston come from?” But as a city for concert goers we still have a long way to go before nationally touring bands begin playing here to larger crowds. There’s no short term fix for this unfortunately but some headway could be made by promoting outside the Montrose area, even promoting to cities outside of Houston and high schools.

What do you think? It’d be great to turn this into a running dialogue. Please comment below.

Check back tomorrow when I provide the Outsider’s Perspective to the Houston Music Community.

2 Comments

  1. I think another thing we’re in dire need for in Houston is more synergy between local bands. We’ve seen vast improvements in this but there’s so much more we need to do. I think the Bandcamp sessions are pinnacle in this because we’re finally coming together and talking face to face instead of just over the noise at a show. I don’t think this point can be said enough. Every time a city makes it’s mark in music it’s usually because bands are working together and the fans pick up on it and then get behind them. If we put down our “us against them” mentality and started to actually help each other, everyone wins! This concept has already proved to work in technology, science, the visual arts, etc.. We need to bring it into Houston music now!

    Posted July 31, 2009 at 8:39 am | Permalink

  2. matthew

    You’re right that increased success can come from people working together. In the Houston music community booking collectives would be one way to address the lack of shows that bands are playing outside of the home market. Another idea would be a lobbying group of bands that worked with the local government. There are several people working on putting this together as we speak, mainly Ross Wells of Zen Film and Dan Workman of Sugarhill Studios.

    Posted July 31, 2009 at 9:12 am | Permalink

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