Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Death, Life and Domestic Beer

Being in a "successful" band can mean a lot of things. If your goal is to write songs, play shows, and make records (and drink beer) with your friends, and you do those things, you've succeeded. A lot of acts with promise can't stay together and end up stalling after a couple of gigs because no one has agreed upon what they expect out of the band and how they are willing to work for it. The guys from The Gary have been in bands of varying degrees of professionalism their whole lives. Despite having no expectations for gaining local notoriety, getting press attention, and touring, all those things have taken care of themselves... because the band put making music that they were happy with first.

Let's go ahead and start with the Beauty Bar Incident, because that's when things seemed to really take off for The Gary. They booked a show at the notoriously band-unfriendly 7th Street venue that was a fiasco. The group that played before them was unprepared and took their sweet time setting up and breaking down. The men of The Gary, who have a bare minimum of equipment and well over 50 combined years experience playing in bands, readied to play quickly. While the soundman was still setting up, the bar's manager came scrambling over, concerned about making sure to get the live music over with promptly in time for the more profitable DJ. "You need to be playing right now."

They played for twenty minutes and change, then got to drinking. As they do. Guitarist Trey Pool waited the whole night to give the Beauty a piece of his mind. In the mad rush of tab closings at the evening's end, he missed his chance to do so in person. So he left a few choice words scrawled on a napkin. No one remembers exactly what it said, but it got them banned from the Beauty Bar for life. It also secured their legend. Singer/bassist Dave Norwood: "A story about the Incident ran in the Chronicle and lots of bands e-mailed and said, 'We hate the Beauty Bar too. Let's play together.'" There's even another Austin band named after this seminal moment in scene history -- Paper Threat.

It goes to show there's more than one way to secure notoriety in the "Live Music Capital," and that the best-laid plans of aggressively self-marketing musicians are sometimes no match for pure weird luck. Trey: "None of us moved here for music. We figured we wouldn't do much more than get together and practice." "I played with both Trey and Dave [separately] and never thought the two of them would go together," says drummer Paul Warner. "When we started playing we'd have five-hour practices and do three songs." "We do it for our amusement," says Dave. "The less I care, the more shit happens."

It's not that the band doesn't care about making good music. In fact, the more I talk to them the more I realize that's pretty much the only thing that motivates them. They write songs and make records as quickly as they possibly can. Their first EP Chub was done a bare three months after they formed in 2008, the full-length Logan followed hot on its heels, and there's another EP in the can (recorded at Electrical Audio in Chicago with Steve Albini). Like a lot of veteran musicians, they have long experience of working for months and years in bands and having little to show for it. "I spent so much of my twenties not doing the stuff I set out to do," Dave says. Older and wiser, thoughts of mortality and legacy inspire his lyrics and The Gary's working methods. They deliberately try and keep a fast pace -- "An LP and an EP a year, always something to be working on," according to Trey. Paul: "We book a studio date in advance and we're not always sure if we'll have enough songs."

"We learn to play the songs by recording them," says Trey. "When we get done and we hear it, then we know how to play the song. We didn't know what we sounded like until we did Chub."

Working with Albini suited their direct, set-up-and-play approach. The Gary stayed at the great man's place, where he has little bedrooms built for visiting bands, and befriended his cats. They shared his living room and kitchen. Apparently Albini drives a PT Cruiser! The engineer refused to offer any opinions of their music, viewing such as a conflict of interest, but they did get a nice compliment from Bob Weston, who saw them play at their show with Bottomless Pit. They're daydreaming about bringing Albini down to Texas to record a full-length at Willie Nelson's studios. "In three or four days we could do a full record," says Dave. "Maybe like two overdubs.... Forward, forward, forward!"

It's still a challenge being a working band in Austin. "Dealing with going downtown is hard," says Trey. "You're not going to be able to get within 6 blocks." Some of their best local shows have been at the Moose Lodge, which isn't booking weekends any more. They'd like to play more house parties, but as guys with jobs and families their exposure to other local bands is limited to those with whom they play shows. Some favorites are Hope 12, My Education, Many Birthdays, Baby Robots, Black Cock, Woodgrain. The Gary aren't close-minded, exactly, but they are more comfortable around bands with members who are roughly the same age. More important is that they be laid-back. "We can't be around bands that seem opportunistic," says Trey. Paul: "We're burned out on band agendas." Dave says, "I played in a band in '01 that was 'going for it.' It got gross and we completely lost track of what making music is about. I want music to be a cause, not an effect."

After I run out of questions The Gary stick around and hang out, because there's still a few beers left and they like my LP collection. Music fans for life, there's dozens of bands one or more of them got to see that I missed out on being slightly younger. We listen to records by Hot Snakes, GbV, Archers of Loaf. I play them Zorch and Dave digs them. I know that there are people all over the world who have this sort of lifelong close relationship with music, but in Austin it seems more a rule than an exception. "You absorb things all the time," Trey says. "I'm in my 40's and I'm still being influenced." Dave: "I avoided living here a long time. I wish I had moved here earlier."

The Gary play at Trailer Space on Saturday. For free!


  1. As much crap as Beauty Bar gets it seems like the above incident was the fault of the opening band not the venue.

    Also, the napkin said "You were a total prick to us. Fuck this place we are never coming here again, and if I see you on the street I will pound your face into the mud."

    Link: http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/column?oid=oid:810780

  2. That's one of our best comments ever! Awesome.

  3. Great pice about a band with which, it seems, The Obits ought to be drinking.

  4. The opening band was a Fleetwood Mac tribute band (and I must say their Christy McVie left much to be desired) and these kooky cats broke down all their equipment on stage, piece by piece, and loaded it off from there, instead of moving it off first and breaking it down out of the way. Which is neither here nor there, as it were, but the offending Beauty Bar eyeshole shook his finger at poor Gary in a most macho fashion no less than thrice in his effort to puff himself up in front of the 2 would-be strippers he was parading under each arm. Later, he added further insult to injury by telling our dear Garys that they should take a lesson from the first band, as they were a model of professionalism and showmanship. The statement confused poor Gary, as most things do. Thus, the ape did appear, and take pen in hand in a drunken attempt to clarify. I saw the whole thing unfold while I was poking holes in the condoms before I loaded them into the machine in the men's room. Love, Trompuss

  5. I heard the napkin said "...I will stomp a mudhole in your ass," not ..."I will pound your face into the mud." The Chronicle got it wrong.

    Where is that napkin, anyway? Maybe it can be inducted into the Texas Music Museum.

  6. The napkin is biodegrading in a landfill. I wish we would've kept it. If I would've known it was going to be such a big deal, we would've kept it and used it as cover art on a 7" or something.

    Pretty sure the mudhole thing is correct.

  7. As the first comment pointed out, it was "fault of the opening band,not the venue". This is partially correct. I believe the venue management and the sound guy have a responsible to make sure everything runs on schedule and let the bands know what is expected of them. I personally can't stand when I have a show and the first band is expected to play at a certain time and they just end up going on when ever they feel like it because not enough people are there to watch them.Its not my job or any of the other bands' job to make sure everything runs smoothly. Its the venues. I have not experienced this with Beauty Bar as of yet. There stage does certainly blow. Its great when your trying to play through a song and the stage just starts separately underneath your feet because nothing is holding it together. After reading this, I have gotten the sudden urge to try to get banned from a venue.