The Conversation: How Do Newcomers To The Region View The Music Scene in North Texas?
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It's also safe to assume that a good portion of our readers have been going to shows since they were barely old enough to have an X drawn on each hand. And, chances are, you've got it all down pat by now. You've figured out which venues you like, which bands you like and which scenes you like.
But what happens when you're a music fan and an advocate of local music, but you've just moved here from far away?
We found ourselves asking that question when a few music-loving writers moved from other cities to join the Observer staff recently, among them our new food critic Scott Reitz, who moved here from Washington D.C., and one of our new staff writers (and a former record store clerk) Anna Merlan, who comes to us from New York by way of New Mexico.
Anna: I haven't had time to think about it, honestly, except to notice that a few bands I like -- Old 97's, St. Vincent, Polyphonic Spree -- have roots in this area. Also, Lucero seems to play here an awful lot, which is totally thrilling. That Much Further West is in my top five favorite albums, but they don't come to the coasts as often as I'd like. So I'm pleasantly surprised and excited that there seems to be a lot here for me to uncover.
Scott: I've had time to think, but none to plan. So far I've been in a hunt-and-peck mode. A Saturday or so ago I walked around Deep Ellum, looking for a decent show. A doorman named "Beard" wearing a Ravens NFL jersey called me a yank, so I knew I had a friend. He presided over a heavy metal teeny-bopper band. The kids were 16 tops, but they could already scream. It was intense. Next I moved to a horrible show at the Curtain Club. I'm not naming names, but the hyper-produced Michael-Jackson-moves-meets-punk-riffs didn't resonate with me. I ended the night at Trees with Ghoultown. My ears rang for two days... but it was a fun show. New cities are hard, though. You're trying to learn a bunch of new bands, and at the same time you're trying to figure out which venues work for you and which don't. I could certainly use a Sherpa.
Nick: Before I moved back, the most frequent reference to Dallas on music blogs came through St. Vincent. In my head, I imagined St. Vincent roaming the paper-strewn streets of Deep Ellum at dawn wearing a long black veil. Is that weird? Anyway, that never happened. Anna, I definitely agree that it's arduous trying to jump into an already-moving music scene when you move to a new city. Sort of by chance in 2009, after I'd been back for a month, I went to Parade of Flesh show at a loft in Expo Park. A Brooklyn band called Grooms played, people brought their own beer, and it was fucking LOUD. That was a good night. For a while there, I just stuck with whatever Parade of Flesh's John Iskander booked, and I wasn't led astray. I feel like that's a good way to do it in a new city. Find a booker that brings in cool bands, and follow their blog/Twitter Feed. Or just run around screaming at people on the streets, "HELP ME FIND MUSIC!?!?!?!" or something.
Daniel: Luckily, Nick, there are much better ways to find good music than to run around on the streets yelling and hoping to run into St. Vincent at dawn. Scott mentioned that the first step to finding good music is to find which venues are the best ones to suit your music taste. And, as Anna mentioned, there is a lot to uncover. But Nick, you made a good point: Perhaps more important than finding the right venue is finding the right promoter. Spune Productions, Parade Of Flesh, and Tactics Productions are some of the first to come to mind. As Nick mentioned, Parade Of Flesh does a lot of house shows and secret shows featuring a mix of punk, metal, and indie buzz bands. The guy behind it, John Iskander, has his ear to the ground in terms of up-and-coming national bands. Same goes with Tactics, which is run by Kris Youmans. He tends to bring in bigger indie acts. And then there's Spune, run by Lance Yocum. He acts as a label, booking agency and promoter, bringing in national acts and signing some of the top local indie rock bands. Some of those bands made their way onto the mixtape Pete and I made for you guys. After giving it a spin, what did you think of our city's musical fare? Anything on there that sticks out?
Anna: I'm in the middle of the mix right now, and I'll say that so far I absolutely fucking love the True Widow track ("Duelist") and The Burning Hotels one ("Allison"). I haven't heard anything I don't like so far, really -- lots of dreamy, electro-tinged stuff that somehow doesn't sound overproduced. Nice. Oh, and on the (obviously) folkier end of things, Spooky Folk's "Bible Belt." For some reason it made me think of Vetiver.
Scott: Centro-Matic, Telegraph Canyon, and The O's were stand-outs for me. What was most surprising was the number of tracks Pete compiled. 19 great bands would be hard to find in D.C., though it's likely I wasn't looking hard enough. Maybe I'm really bad at culling music on my own, but this tape makes me excited to hear more of what Dallas has to offer.
Daniel: There's plenty more where the mixtape came from. Just about every band on there represents another handful of bands just like it. Centro-Matic is basically the quintessential Denton band and The O's are beloved in Dallas. Anna, the Spooky Folk/Vetiver comparison you made is an interesting one. I've never thought about it before, but they do have some similarities. In fact, Spooky Folk often performs with several bands in town with a similar sound. When they get together in a large group, they call themselves the Dallas Family Band and they go out busking -- at least they used to. I don't think they've done it in a while. Other groups in that set are The Beaten Sea, Dry Creek, and The Fox & Bird. Meanwhile, Scott, you're right; there are a lot of tracks on the mixtape, which only just scratched the surface of the North Texas music scene. You mentioned that it would be hard to find 19 great bands in D.C., where you lived previously. How did you go about finding new music there? And Anna, you're previously from New York, by way of New Mexico. How did you get into the local music scene in those cities?
Anna: I spent my teen years in northern New Mexico's small-but-actually-totally-mighty punk scene. I also had a father who listened to a lot of old country and blues, so I was naturally drawn to local music from a bunch of different genres. Then I did some time in Santa Cruz, California, where I worked at a record store. It was easy to find music through my work, obviously. I got really spoiled there. New York was a lot harder in some ways because there was so much. So I kept an eye on venues that I liked, like Terminal 5 and the Knitting Factory, plus websites like Oh My Rockness, and coverage by the Village Voice and New York.
Nick: The last year or so that I was in Los Angeles, I started up a music blog after meeting two kick-ass writers Jeff Weiss (Passion of the Weiss) and Kevin Bronson (BuzzBands). Just to keep up, I went to as many shows as possible. Like six a week. The community was so genuine and excitable. It definitely exposed me to a lot of touring, great indie acts. When I got to Dallas, I was concerned I'd lost that community -- I was actually planning on moving to New York at the time. Then I started going to Parade of Flesh's shows, and the community was so tight-knit, so fanatical about good local music that I decided to stay in Dallas.
Scott: Maybe I'm lazy. I had two or three people who knew music better than me I kept in my back pocket. It only took a simple email. "What's good this week?" And the recommendations would pour in. But, now that I think about it, most of the acts I saw were small bands with some national play on their way to becoming big. They'd stop by the 9:30 Club for a show or two before heading for larger venues, and then I'd hit my friends up again to find out what was next. Those same acts don't seem to play Dallas quite as much. Maybe that's why the local scene seems stronger here. The locals are stepping up to the plate, and filling the vacuum. Sounds like they're doing it well.