I call Ian from the tarmac. After a few rings he picks up. “Hey man, just a moment.” Thumping. Snatches of music. Then he’s back. “You landed? What gate are you at?” “Not sure. I can see 12 out the window so this must be 11. Or 13.” Ian says he’s on his way. I’m here in Austin to cover the music portion of the 2012 South By Southwest festival — a daunting task for a team of journalists armed with festival badges and a downright foolhardy one for a single writer. I have therefore taken it upon myself to present SXSW from a fresh perspective — that of one of the innumerable up-and-coming bands who flock to Austin every March to create fans, make connections, and play to the crowds that pack 6th Street and its surrounding real estate during the festival.
In this case the band in question is Burbank’s own Back Pocket Memory, in which my buddy, Ian Felchin, is lead guitarist. Upon exiting the plane, I encounter the two waiting airport staff, both bald, burly, and mustachioed. This is my first visit to Texas, but it’s comfortingly in line with what I was expecting. As I sit waiting for Ian outside the terminal, a large beetle crawls past my foot. Everything’s bigger, etc.
When we arrive at the hotel on the outskirts of Austin I am greeted by the rest of the band: Chris Pennington (vocals), Eddie Rosales (rhythm guitar), Rob Gallagher (bass), and Jason Montgomery (drums). The members of BPM and myself, along with the band’s producer, Erik Ron, and the other Jason Weiner, drummer in the band Intercept, are sharing a single hotel room, and unsurprisingly the phone rings with a noise complaint about 10 minutes after I arrive.
Erik answers in a none-too-convincing English accent, “Hello? Yes, we’ll be quiet. There’s just a lot of gay sex happening up here.” He is then promptly shushed by the band. As the one person present who is actually English I wonder for a moment if this will come back to haunt me. No time to worry about such things, however — there are beds and air mattresses to be divvied up and sleep to be caught before the business of SXSW begins in the morning. Well, later in the morning.
Erik enters the hotel room in running shoes. “I’m about to be that guy,” he announces before flinging the curtains wide open. The hot Texan sun floods the room as he flops down on a chair in the corner and begins perusing the day’s shows. Foxy Shazam’s show at Waterloo Records is determined to offer the optimal combination of business opportunity and concert-going glee. Plus Erik has worked with the band, so getting in should be easy. Result.
3/14 1:00pm – Foxy Shazam @ Waterloo Records
Not to toot my own horn, but Erik is not the only member of our posse to have worked with Foxy Shazam in the past. I myself produced a concert of theirs at UC Santa Barbara a couple of years ago, where the band’s exuberant live show was a perfect match for a crowd of party-hearty SoCal college kids. Their live show was exciting then, but it’s downright electric now.
Foxy hits the stage with an abundance of glam-rock pomp and posturing, with frontman Eric Sean Nally announcing, “Foxy Shazam is a very dark band. So dark that you may think your eyes are closed. But they’re not. They’re wide open.” The band maintains their manic level of energy throughout a set that culminates in Nally soliciting a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from the crowd, sticking five cigarettes in his mouth, lighting them, leaping onto guitarist Loren Daniel Turner’s shoulders and humping the back of his head whilst chewing up all five. Welcome to the church of rock & roll, indeed.
3/14 1:42pm – Dead Sara @ Opal Divine’s Pub & Grill
Whilst making our way down 6th Street from Waterloo’s offices, Eddie catches sight of some familiar faces setting up their gear on the stage outside Opal Divine’s. They belong to Dead Sara, a four-piece from Los Angeles who play a rootsy, old school fusion of various rock genres and are fronted by Emily Armstrong, who is a badass. Armstrong’s voice morphs seamlessly from a folkie purr to a raw-throated scream, and the band, anchored by guitarist Siouxsie Medley’s melodic yet pummeling riffage, keeps pace every step of the way. The show’s energy spills over the confines of the bar’s tiny stage, but the band has definitely made some new fans here, including yours truly.
3/14 3:38pm – Motion City Soundtrack @ Rusty’s
This is the beauty of SXSW — it’s just so easy to wander into a place like Rusty’s and see a band like Motion City Soundtrack. The bar — which sports not one, not two, but three stages — is currently also playing host to The Ferocious Few on their patio stage. The rockabilly two-piece — whose frontman, Francisco Fernandez, is sporting an Elvis-style pompadour — blast through a song that sounds more akin to an unplugged Motörhead while, unfortunately, Motion City’s show is delayed by monitor issues. As a former sound guy, I sympathize completely. That shit is never fun.
Once the show gets underway, however, the crowd is ecstatic. Motion City plays a career-spanning set that culminates in “Everything Is Alright,” the song most familiar to casual fans like myself. But frontman Justin Pierre’s earnest enthusiasm is infectious — as is the passion of the band’s die-hard fans — and it’s easy to get swept up in the energy of the show. After Motion City wraps up, I swing back by the Rusty’s patio to grab another drink and catch a few minutes of Lily and the Parlour Tricks, an old-timey, honky-tonk girl group. Perhaps this is the beauty of SXSW — that such disparate music is being played in such close proximity, and it’s all great.
We stop by Fuel, a bar a couple of doors down from Rusty’s, for — appropriately enough — Lone Star beers. When in Rome. The band wants to check out the venue, which they’ll be playing tomorrow, before wandering back to Rusty’s to catch the back half of Foxy Shazam’s second set of the day. The band is showing no discernible drop in energy, which is impressive, and Nally is even regaling the crowd with fresh pearls of wisdom: “People ask me why I jump around onstage like a monkey. It’s because I want attention. As much of it as I can get.”
Back Pocket Memory and myself are refreshed by this beacon of honesty cutting through the hall of mirrors that is the music industry. We resolve to spend the rest of the evening in pursuit of pizza and beer before returning to our hotel, I to spend some time with my notes and email — the glamourous life of a rock & roll writer — and they to prep flyers in advance of tomorrow’s show at Fuel. Plans are made to be downtown by noon tomorrow in order to hand them out.
More info on South By Southwest
More info on Back Pocket Memory
Black & White Photography by Khris Poage
Crappy Photography by Ben Gill via Instagram