Monday, September 13, 2010

Building a Scene One Stage Dive at a Time

I have been working for over a month on launching a print version of Big Western Flavor. It's my style to tell it like it is about bands good and bad, but I thought it'd be a little extreme to actually start a business geared around reprinting my insults for profit. So we tried to put together stories for the magazine in a different way. Each band I spoke to -- and I will be running interviews here on this page every day this week -- was one I felt that anyone trying to play original music in Austin could learn a few things from, regardless of age, style, or genre.

The kids literally climb the walls when For Hours and Ours play an all-ages show. High-energy, anthemic, and inclusive, the five-piece follows in the tradition of Cap’n Jazz, Fugazi, Rites of Spring -- those more focused post-hardcore bands that channeled the unstoppable force of early-80’s HC into more musically sophisticated and less lyrically nihilistic paths. There’s no separation between band and audience -- the stage is full of the guys’ closest friends and sweaty band members keep somehow finding their way out into the crowd.

“It helps to have good material,” says trumpet player Brendan, speaking to the hysteria. “But it also helps being really nice.” The precocious, approachable nature of Brendan and his bandmates has won them more than just a squadron of devoted followers with black X’s on their hands. Friend Mike King at Gound Records pressed their first 12” vinyl, On a Weekend. Their talent as musicians is clear enough from the record. But what really sets them apart is their commitment to ideals larger than the band itself.

“Without naming names,” Brendan says, “certain bands expect everything to be handed to them. So many bands are only concerned with their own success.... We’re trying to get a scene going, to build a community.” The band’s name elegantly encodes their ideology: they put a lot of time into their music, only one way they demonstrate how much every listener means to them. At a July show at the 21st Street Co-Op, the For Hours boys danced, hollered, and headbanged along to all of the opening bands. Their guests from New Jersey, introspective screamers Prawn, seemed to have become their best friends in the whole world over the course of three shows in Texas. They finished each other’s lyrics like married couples finish each other’s sentences.

Although they book partly through MySpace like most DIY touring bands, “there’s no substitute for hanging out in person.” The story of how they became BFF’s with Prawn reflects their institutional kindness. FHAO bassist/singer Henry filled in for Austin’s Pompeii on an East Coast tour, charmed Prawn in the Garden State, and made certain to take care of his new pals when they came on a reciprocal trip through Texas. “Bands can become self-absorbed,” says Brendan, “but we’re all in it together!”

To plan and promote a successful tour without the help of a booking agency is almost impossible without many bands working together. “We send fliers to the local Chronicle-type places, but the onus is on the [local] band that throws the show. We’ll do what we can if you’ll do what you can.” Sometimes it only takes a little push to get the ball rolling on a great out-of-town gig. “Kids hear about a show and there’s nothing else to do, so....” Thanks to a good attitude and good music, FHAO has had pretty good luck on its road trips so far. Except for West Virginia. They won’t be returning to coal country any time soon.

Back in Austin, it’s an uphill battle. As a band whose members just reached legal drinking age themselves, a lot of For Hours and Ours’ fans can’t get into the vast majority of smaller music venues in town. Brendan rolls his eyes. “The all-ages scene in Austin is atrocious. It’s the hardest thing to do [setting up shows for our fans] and their not having to pay exorbitant amounts.” He cites Emo’s, Red 7, and Trailer Space as bright spots. “It takes paying of dues. We’re just now getting to the point where we can book all-ages on Friday and Saturday night.”

There’s always the co-op, which isn’t the ideal place to play sound- or security-wise -- much of their July 17th show featured no guitars or bass, since the uncontrollable crowd kept trampling on their pedals -- but does suit their vibe perfectly, all boundless energy and youthful utopianism. After bringing the house down, Henry wanders out into the courtyard wearing nothing but boxer briefs, his glasses, and a glowing coat of shiny rock sweat.

@forhoursandours (3:58 AM Jul 18th) best show ever. period.

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