Near Southside

Have Yourself a Dreamy Life by Lyle Brooks

Amidst the mundane evil of our world, one must find solace where they can. And, I, for one, turn my attention to sounds that give me hope for the power of communities to heal. A music scene represents a current upon which folks unite, kept fresh by the consistent infusion of new perspectives – ultimately this becomes its truly defining characteristic. From its earliest, Dreamy Soundz, founded by whirling musical dervishes Robby and Jen Rux, was more of a foundry than a label: forging new sound out of folks and gear and the will to get things done.

As their scene gained ground, there came the idea to put out a collection showcasing the talent. Group Therapy, its fourth edition released in October, represents an ongoing musical conversation. “When we started, it was hard to get 16 tracks together; but this year it was hard to keep it under 30,” says Cameron Smith, founding member of Lo-Life Recordings, an outfit of inspired noisemakers which included his band War Party, who eventually joined forces with Dreamy Soundz to create Dreamy Life Records. Smith, who brought Britt Robisheaux on board to record the first iteration, notes the process’ refinement, especially with their own studio space, “Things go very smoothly at Cloudland. The Wherehouse days were a blast but it’s a wonder we ever got all the tracking done.”

Britt adds, “In a session with so many bands it's important to keep things moving so we stay on track. Luckily it's never been an issue.” Robisheaux oversees Cloudland’s remarkable recording capabilities, “It took 8 months to design the studio since we needed to keep acoustics in mind. Curtis Heath helped pick the proper angles and ceiling slope for the control room and an architect friend helped with blueprints and technical aspects of building. We made the live room big so we can fit a large band comfortably and get a huge sound. It was also just as important to make each room look inviting so I put up wood and bamboo on the walls to give a tiki feel.”

I found myself at Cloudland Studios back in the spring amidst the recording of the fourth installation of this snapshot of a musical moment as seen from this solid rock and roll cadre who have fomented a good-natured, enthusiastic scene. Tacos and Fried Chicken in Styrofoam containers strewn across the floor, BULLS made way for Savannah Loftin and Eric Eisenman of Loafers, who’s “Peter Pan,” carries beautiful tension between a heart of gravity and a tirelessly floating spirit soaring on waves of fuzzy chomp. Loftin describes the band’s process, “The majority of the writing is done between Eric and me. One of us will come up with a riff or concept and the other will help shape it.”

During a break, the soothing drone of an open amplifier channel lulls as if into infinity while the studio flares like an organism in transition.  A debate over Michelada propriety follows a line of smokers outside.  Robby Rux grabs a taco while the bands switch out, explaining his primary lesson before taking a bite, “You wanna play rock n’ roll, you’ve gotta practice two or three times a week to get it to sound right. This comp is an opportunity to bring folks in and see how they work.” This is especially true for young bands like Teenage Sexx, The Thyroids, Sub-Sahara, and Denton’s Vogue Machine. Group Therapy signifies a unity of these creative forces: Jen and Robby Rux, Cameron Smith and Britt Robisheaux, who came together with love for Rock and Roll, vintage gear, and great records.

The Ruxes perform on this edition’s opening track from The Fibs, “Simply Diving,” which is incandescent time machine fog, Preston Newbery sweats and shakes with uncommon grace. Cameron Smith recently released his Sur Duda tape, Paper Knife – lush pop tunes like “Lie In It (Sunshine)” recall Camper Van Beethoven and Talking Heads, Smith also has a new War Party album coming in the Spring. Their “Start Fighting” shares its casually buoyant genetics with all-time great “Making Plans for Nigel” by XTC. Andy Pickett is another extension of the War Party universe; the band has backed him in the past. Pickett’s work, as evidenced by Group Therapy’s “Crystal Bullets,” has been a revelation with well-written songs, nuanced performances and outstanding production.  

Mainstays like Doom Ghost are present, “A Song Dedicated to Nigel Peppercock” cuts like kick ass jangly Joy Division. Head Ghost, Vern Marigold’s atmosphere of warm sullenness embraces the listener. Word is Doom Ghost has a couple of records recorded, let’s hope 2018 brings more releases from them as well as the fantastic Toy Gun, who rip here with “Cheaper’s Always Better”. A Sci-Fi sludger from Mean Motor Scooter; rambunctious Replacements-like drunk rock from Math the Band; Jack Thunder and the Road Soda’s “Sunbeams” is raw and effervescent, cutting close enough to the bone to leave a mark; BULLS’ “Drew Tib” has the satisfying darkness of a blurry cinematic crime wave. Thyroids, the youngsters, repeatedly ask Robisheaux how to get louder for their ripper, “Floor Board,” which has the ferocious intensity of going downhill with your foot on the gas. Juma Spears drops a solid hip hop banger in the mix, definitely a Fort Worth MC to keep an eye out for. 

At Cloudland, my attention was eventually subsumed by Teenage Sexx, their “Honestly” is a batch of punch served with the finest quality snarls. Caleb Lewis explains, “It’s a weird one for me. It’s a lot less sad than everything else I’ve written and perfectly sums up the heavy, mid-tempo 90s sound we’re going for now.” Sitting with the boys, our exchange quickly turned lively. After being shushed from the control room, the band removed their clothes. Jackassery is to be expected and may very well be tolerated. We bounced our heads to Pearl Earl’s ebullient, “Armageddon Blues,” of which drummer Bailey Chapman notes, “It is actually one of the first songs we learned as a band and although it doesn’t fit on either of our albums, we were happy to record it, so it can live on.”

As the title implies, Group Therapy’s songs cover a range of moods, like “Depress Me Softly” by Bitch Bricks, expanding their subversive lyrical depth with an X-Ray Spex sense of timelessness. Schuyler Stapleton explains the backstory, “I actually wrote the lyrics on a trip to Colorado three years ago. I was there to keep a prisoner from getting parole by testifying against his character. I go every year for that purpose. That year I discovered a friend of mine had committed suicide. I won’t pretend we were close, but her death had a profound effect on me. This song is about the way I felt about life then. The frailty of it and the strength it often takes to live.”

Evidence of a triumph over the mundane, the tunes embrace the wild tensions of existence and the otherness we can feel amidst so many other lonely souls. Same Brain’s “Kesh” is like a remnant from a late-70s Japanese psych band obsessed with Krautrock, delicious loops coated in reverb elicit a trance-like fury and thoroughly subvert the center. StarBass Labs fully embrace an inherent desire to reach out and connect, whether they are human or alien as has been reported, on “Replicants.” PG13 and Spacewolf manifest transmissions like Major Tom in his isolated flotsam missing the world he’s left behind. Sequencers hold the launch codes, which allow them as the only interstellar members of the Dreamy Life universe to constantly seek transmissions from other lifeforms. Check out all the great music available at Dreamy Life Records:

Honky Tonk Country Club Now Seeking Members by Prewitt Scott-Jackson

Art by Jackdaw folk art

Art by Jackdaw folk art

It does not require an ethnomusicologist to understand what is known as “Country Music” rarely resembles what it once was. There are populations who have turned away from a genre that seems to have fragmented into product placement and recycled hip-hop and arena rock techniques. Whether it be the high and lonesome sound of train songs, or the beautiful melancholy of a pedal steel crying with heartbreak, from Western Swing to the revolt of Outlaw Country, a long period of musical output ties us to a time before the omnipotent information age. When culture was still passed by hand and many of the best writers in America wrote songs in Nashville.

Back in March, singer L Denison, Andrew Skates and Austin Jenkins, of Niles City Sound were all discussing a potential group of great local players to bring those songs to life. When I caught them up at Lola’s recently, L explained, “Austin, Skates and I have been talking about putting something like this together for a while, we knew we wanted to get Summer involved but weren’t sure of other players.” Once Skates saw Summer Dean perform, something clicked for the skillful multi-instrumentalist. Something about her voice and presence was key for him to see what Honky Tonk Country Club could become. And from what I’ve seen, I’m inclined to agree, especially after hearing her take on Waylon Jennings’, “Waymore Blues,” accentuating the tune’s understated soul. Dean has a knack for finding a song’s bones.

Once the band started to fall into place, they found a good fit with Lola’s and the Country Club took to the metaphorical lonesome highway with regular Thursday nights. Adding Beau Brauer on drums, L explains how he brought a fresh perspective, “Beau didn’t really have honky-tonk experience, but he has jumped into it by doing a great deal of research. I mean down to every element of the sound, he even figured out which sticks work best.” Rounding out an unbelievable rhythm section they have local songmaster Jake Paleschic, who played bass in the brilliantly short-lived Longshots, and also adds the third lead vocal on the stage alongside L Denison and Summer Dean. If you’re lucky, he might sing you something by Roger Miller.

For L Denison, the group offered an opportunity to cut her teeth singing lead alongside a terribly experienced group of folks. She also figured it was as good a time as any to begin learning to play guitar, “I mean who’ll notice if I miss a chord, it feels safer with the group. But, I really feel lucky ‘cause they’ve all been doing it longer. If you want to get good at something, I’ve always thought you should do it with folks who are better than you.” Similarly, the band allows Andrew Skates to work on playing lead guitar because he plays bass on his adventures as an internationally touring musician with Leon Bridges. Skates, who has also performed with Quaker City Night Hawks is an incredibly tasteful player, who can sit back or straight up burn. He’s easy to talk to and the joy music brings him is obvious.

Whether Bob Wills, Faron Young, or Connie Smith, you can see the influences of each player by what songs they bring to the table as L explains, “When we have time to rehearse, we each bring a couple of songs in we’d like to try.” As most of the group are more accustomed to rock and roll, Outlaw Country or 80s and 90s tunes are more straightforward, but she adds, “Those Western Swing tunes require a more precise sense of time, it is a nice challenge to have, because the rhythm section is what makes people dance and that’s what we really want to see.”

Through Denton’s Raised Right Men, Summer Dean first met pedal steel player Chris Schlotzhauer on a lineup opening for The Derailers at The Live Oak. Elevating their sound even further, Chris has recently joined the Country Club. When I asked him about the group, he was quick to explain how important he thought it was,  “Too many of the older players stick to themselves and don’t get out and hear what’s going on in their own town. Honky Tonk Country Club looks forward to welcoming special guests to the stage as they have with glorious accordion player Abel Casillas from Squeezebox Bandits. Five years ago, I tried for a few months to get a Doug Sahm Hoot Night going somewhere in Fort Worth, but I was never able to get traction. As I was getting ready to leave the bar, Honky Tonk Country Club caught fire with the classic Freddy Fender tune, “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights,” which was eventually recorded alongside Doug Sahm for Sir Douglas Quintet. These are the sounds and songs that live inside us and there will always be a call for us to hear them played with care and energy.  

Come check them out this Sunday, November 12, from 3-7p, at Shipping & Receiving at 201 S. Calhoun as they join the festivities for the monthly Second Sundays event alongside Chicken Shit Bingo.