Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Interview: Record Hop

Denton’s Record Hop is one of the most ingenuous bands I have met, a people’s band in the most unobtrusive way. They appeared most in their element when I saw them playing at Space Studio, where there is no stage. Their vehemence and volume seem to hearken back to a day when bands were quite literally at audience level, an architectural declaration meant to convey honesty and candidness. And like most unspoiled bands of tremendous ability, they are as courteous as they are loud. This humility is no doubt influenced by six years of laboring almost strictly in the Denton and DFW area, cultivating their ferocious post-punk sound. Guitarist Scott Porter spent some of that time managing a venue – the now closed Secret Headquarters – and the Denton-based record label TXMF Records. The rest of the band, too, exerted energy in other Denton bands and local musical ventures. It is this body of evidence that attests to Record Hop’s affection for Denton and music for music’s sake.

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting with the band at a coffee house in Deep Ellum with all four in attendance: Scott Porter (guitar), Tony Wann (drums), Ashley Cromeens (vocals/guitar), and Cory Ward (bass). The Band talked a lot about Denton’s music scene and Porter of his desire to move beyond presiding over it. Record Hop also discussed their ambitious 2008 agenda. Having appeared twice in unofficial SXSW showcases, Record Hop is part of the official 2008 festival itinerary. This appearance coincides very nearly with the projected release of their as-yet untitled second album, produced by alternative rock godfather Steve Albini. All these things point to a favorable year for Record Hop where the band will likely reach ears beyond Texas. In the immediate future, Record Hop will be playing on Feb. 21 with Dallas’ Red Monroe at Lola’s before playing a Friday slot at the Amsterdam Bar in Exposition Park’s, three-day Melodica Festival running Feb. 22 thru 24.

DES: Are you all originally from the DFW area?

Scott: Fort Worth

Cory: I’m from Fort Worth, but I’ve been in Denton since ’95, so I’m pretty much from Denton

Ashley: I’m from Dallas, but I’ve lived in Denton for 10 years.

Tony: I’m from Bedford and Fort Worth

DES: and you (Scott) moved to Denton in…

Scott: in ’99.

Tony: Are we just bypassing all the God-worshipping stuff?

Scott: Oh yeah. Tony and I met fifteen years ago in Christian rock bands in the suburbs of Fort Worth.

Tony: Yeah. Represent.

Scott: This was in the early ‘90s. And then that all stopped.

DES: And when did that all stop?

Scott: Oh, mid ‘90s. We had a momentary lapse of reason. We were just out of high school and shit and, you know, kinda still going by the how you were raised kind of thinkin’.

Tony: That Baptist bullshit.

DES: But at this point, you’ve all been part of Denton for quite a few years.

Scott: Yeah, everybody except [Tony], he still lives here in Dallas. But, yeah, I’ve been there since ’99 and I was the last one to get there out of [Ashley, Cory, and myself].

DES: It struck me that you’re very tied to Denton and its music scene and kind of dedicated to it, having had the venue there and the record label.

Scott: That’s lapsing on my part, just because it’s gotten to the point now, where I’ve been so involved, that it’s too much now. It’s just too much bullshit.

DES: What do you mean by “bullshit?

Scott: Too much bullshit means it’s such a small town that, if you end up getting involved in some way with everybody, then suddenly everybody’s involved with you. Thursday night going down to get a beer with friends turns into talking about: “Yeah, I know, we could…save…Denton!” or some shit. I’m not trying to sound Cynical about it. It’s just that I’m at a point now where I’ve gotten old enough and [Record Hop] is doing well enough and we (Scott and Ashley) are getting married and I’ve got a good job. Now it’s more like, I’m going to focus on just the Scott thing instead of “God, we have to book a giant festival this year. Why? Because there are seventy bands here, so we have to.” It was kick-ass; it was a lot of fun. I made a lot of good friends. I’m just kind of ready for the vacation. We’re still booking shows for everybody and the record label is still doing what it’s doing on its own. And we love the fucking town, but I’m just sort of done with the boosting for a while.

DES: How do you feel about the health of the Denton scene?

Scott: It’s good. Everybody’s real anxious. In any church, school, group of people anywhere, there’s always a little snippiness bubbling somewhere, but for the most part everybody’s so used to everybody being in bands that it becomes regular life. So it’s healthy, the scene’s healthy just because everybody’s trying to play. I mean, there’ll be six shows tonight and they’re all within a couple of blocks of each other.

DES: It seemed to me you have a lot of Fugazi similarities, even apart from the music, having been involved a local venue and record label.

Scott: I wish we could have had all these things ten years ago. I just wish we’d done all this when we were twenty or twenty-one. Like those guys in Douche and at Paper Stain [Records]. They’re real super-motivated and they’re all just over twenty one, so they’re just starting to do basically the young-guy equivalent of what we’re doing and they seem a little more focused and they have a lot more energy. And they’re putting out quality shit. Shiny Around the Edges is associated with it and Douche, Drink to Victory, Notes from Underground… (Responding to his laughing band mates) They’re called Douche, I don’t know what you want me to do about it.

As far as the Fugazi thing, I think that comes from being raised up on that after finding good music in the early ‘90s. There’s definitely an influence, but I’m still coming from the era where the biggest underground band in the world was Nirvana and ended up being the biggest band on the planet. So you still feel like a cool band can go all the way. But as you get older, you think, “Oh, wait. Nobody goes all the way anymore.” But that’s what’s good about the guys at Paper Stain. Being young, they never came up in an era where there’s still that hangover of thinking something huge could happen here. With some of the other drummers we had, there was always that thirty-year-old hangover of, like, “Man, we’ve got to mail this CD to this big fucking record label. I know a guy that knows a guy that knows a guy.” It’s like you’re speaking a different language.

DES: And the internet has changed a lot of that.

Scott: Exactly. You don’t have to be from anywhere anymore. That was the thing about the Denton-centric thing. You can be from the middle of nowhere and still get as big as anybody.

DES: I noticed you guys played well over 200 shows in your five and half years together. Do feel like you’ve been able to develop and polish your live show pretty well?

Ashley: Yeah. It’s taken a while. Things just get easier as you do it.

Scott: When we first started off, we were playing three or four gigs a week. Thursday night in Dallas, Friday night in Denton, and Saturday night on the other side of Denton, just because it’s fun to play. You don’t make any money off of it and you’re lucky to get the free beer. There’s just nothing more fun to do than just be loud.

DES: Do you feel like your live show is your strong suit, having played all these shows and developed your live performance, but having only released one record [Pareidolia]?

Scott: When we made the new record in June, that’s one of the reasons we made the decisions about where we did it and who we did it with. That first album we made is a good record, but it sort of doesn’t sound like us. We are a live band and it’s more of a loud, raw kind of thing. That didn’t translate on the first record, but I think this new one that’s coming out in March pretty much nails the live sound.

Tony: On this new album, we were trying to not create that artificial separation, so everything was tracked live. We were playing live and we just found the person we found that we wanted to record.

DES: In two days, I understand.

Tony: Yes.

Scott: Two solid days of recording and one day of mixing.

DES: That’s break-neck.

Scott: We were ready for it, because we practiced more in the two or three months preceding the recording than we had practiced in the past two years. Seriously. We’d go a month without practicing and knew we could nail the set down just being a decent band. When Tony joined up, that’s why we were able to do it in two days. We knew that shit forwards and backwards.

DES: Are any of the tracks on the new record a first take?

Scott: I think “American Weed” is. I imagine several of them.

DES: No producer probably lets you get away with just one take.

Scott: No, there are a couple where we only did one. And I don’t think any of them are more than three or four [takes]. Sometimes there would be a couple of false starts, but it was pretty clear when you’d get done, you’d just know. I think if we hadn’t taken the time to go upstairs and listen to them after every take, it would have taken us one day.

Tony: You were talking about no producer letting you get away with that. That was one of the things that Steve [Albini] was really good about. He doesn’t sweat the details. If you fuck up a little thing here and there, he’ll point it out, but he doesn’t care if you fix it or not. It was like he could assess how good we were and what we were capable of. He knew if we got a take and we weren’t capable of doing any better than that, he’d pretty clearly say, “That sounds good. Let’s stick with that.”

DES: Speaking of the record, John Congleton [of the Paper Chase] was involved with the post-production stuff, how did that come around?

Tony: We had two days to record and one to mix. As it turned out, that third mix day went too fast and nobody had the right ears at the time. Steve did everything he could and worked as fast as he could and we still ended up with two songs that weren’t mixed. So we knew were going to have to get some mixing done when we got back to Dallas. I pretty quickly called up John and he said he’d love to get in on it. At the same time, J.C. [Justin Collins] decided he wanted a second crack at it. So they concurrently worked on the mixes. Then it was great, because we had two different options.

Scott: Yeah, they approached it differently.

Tony: Which is really good, because that’s what we wanted, to hear the mixes of two people with really good ears, and we can just choose what sound we wanted to lean towards. So then we had to decide and that was a drag, but in the end, I think J.C. [Justin Collins] knew the sound of the band better.

Scott: It was his idea for us to even go to Chicago.

Tony: And we ended up favoring his mixes because they were a little more guitar heavy whereas Congleton has this insanely awesome drum and bass thing going. To me, that’s what sounds so great about his mixes is that the drums sound like cannons. So we ended up using one of John’s mixes on the album and another little piece, the end of another song. So we actually have three mixes of the album: the Albini mix, the Congleton mix, and the JC mix.

DES: Any hope of a triple release?

Scott: Well, one thing we talked about…the Paper Stain guys have a cassette release line, so when we start selling the record, as a little keepsake for the record release shows, we’re going to probably put some of the Albini mixes on cassette tape for the first fifty people or something.

DES: You’ve got SXSW coming up and you’ve played showcases in ’05 and ’06 – didn’t make ’07 – but this time you’re actually playing the festival?

Scott: Yeah, we’re actually in the conference this time. We just found out we’re playing Saturday at a place called Buffalo Billiards. I just want to find out who we’re playing with. I’m pretty sure we’re not playing with Dolly Parton.