SOTC Premiere: It Is Happening Again: A Texas Is The Reason Microfilm (Plus A Q&A With Norman Brannon)
Texas is the Reason were and, recently, are a band. They formed in 1994 and released one self-titled EP and one full-length, Do You Know Who You Are?, on which they exemplified a kind of emo that was both anxious and circlingsmall, contained universes of songs that somehow managed to seem open and unresolved. Some of this quality can be traced to the playing of guitarist Norman Brannon, drifting and changeable chords that also acquire pattern. It's a resonant effect, as hard to pin down properly as the band's accumulated popularity from its only two releases. Texas is the Reason disbanded in 1997, reunited briefly for two shows at Irving Plaza in 2006, and have this year reunited for Revelation Records' 20th-anniversary shows. They play Irving Plaza on October 11, and in It Is Happening Again: A Texas Is The Reason Microfilm, which premieres below, announce a show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on October 10. SOTC interviewed Brannon about the reunion, the nature of genre-based scenes, and the band's still-growing audience.It Is Happening Again: A Texas Is The Reason Microfilm
In the short, there's this section where everyone talks about how the songs still feel fresh. There's not this nostalgic distance, necessarily. The music does have a time and placelike mid- and late-'90s emo, right?but I don't know if it's necessarily a thing where people listen to it and say, "Oh, I remember that time."
Well, right. I think it just kind of depends on who's listening to it. It's got to have some sort of historical situation. But even from my perspective, to call it mid-'90s emo is a very nostalgically distant way of putting it, because we weren't called that at the time. On one level our band was associated a lot with friends of ours like The Promise Ring. In the beginning of our band we were more associated with other friends, like Quicksand. If you look at the aesthetic difference between Quicksand and The Promise Ring, and then you have us, I fail to understand how that becomes a single genre after 15 or 20 years even. I've always felt like the more historically accurate way of looking at it was what people did call us at the time, which was "post-hardcore." Which isn't really a thing. It's not really a musical description as much as it's more of a factual description. They were in hardcore bandsthis is what they did afterwards. In that sense I would say that description does apply to a band like Quicksand, to a band like The Promise Ring, to a band like us. When I first met Jason [Gnewikow] from The Promise Ring, he was in a hardcore band called None Left Standing, I was in a hardcore band called Shelter, and we played together in Wisconsin. So the connection is there, but it's difficult these days when people start making these musical connections that maybe aren't there, because they don't understand how interesting the '90s were at that time in terms of how scenes worked. Which was a lot more about how you operated as a band as opposed to what you sounded like.
I like that clear definition of "post-hardcore" because I feel I say that and I don't actually know what I mean. It's definitely "what came after," but it's not purely hardcore anymore, it's got all these other elements to it. I think in some way it describes a sound, at least in its early stages, because people were incorporating dub, as well as rhythms that weren't strictly hardcore.
It's difficult because... I remember one time back in 2006 when I was talking about the band, I asked this question that I think is relevant, where I said: Dave Grohl came out of a hardcore band and started the Foo Fighters, we came out of hardcore bands and started Texas is the Reason. Aesthetically, I don't think our bands sound terribly different. If you just gave both of our records to the average person, they'd be like, "Oh, that's kind of in the same wheelhouse." And yet, nobody would ever call the Foo Fighters emo.
I might. Just for the Sunny Day pedigree.
Let's just say nobody ever really has seriously, in terms of a critical perspective, even if you want to get into weird semantic games about it, like, "He has X members of Sunny Day Real Estate."
I like a more nuanced perspective on that stuff, because I come at it as somebody who got into this music when I was in college, which was well beyond when these scenes stopped. Or less stopped as much as... shifted perspective.
Well, I think it's hard to explain what happened in the '90s, especially branching out of the hardcore scene. I think that there was a definite sea change that went down almost immediately as the decade changed. In 1990, when you look at it, that was the year that Shelter came out, and Inside Out came out, and Quicksand came out, and Burn came out, and there were all these bands that all of sudden they all didn't sound like Negative Approach or The Abused, or whatever '80s hardcore band everybody kind of wanted to sound like in 1987. Everybody was doing something different, musically speaking. But everybody played shows together. I just posted a flyer for a show to our Facebook page, where the show was Snapcase, Chamberlain, and us. Nobody would bat an eyelash at that at the time, but I wonder how that same bill would go over today. I kind of feel like things got very unnecessarily segregated, whereas back then I think that there was a communal feeling just based on where you were from and how you operated in your band. Whether or not your band had any sort of ethics, whether or not you were doing things yourself, whether or not you were contributing to a scene that existed.
I always use the two poles of bands that we've played with as Ida and Madball. We've played with both of those bands. There is a thread that connects, whether anyone wants to see it or not.
I heard the New End Original record, Thriller, for the first time a few weeks ago by accident. I was listening to a lot of Chamberlain and just decided to google them to see what would happen. And I found that record because the drummer from Chamberlain, Charlie Walker, played on it, and I thought, "Okay, I'll listen to this." Then I discovered you played guitar on it. Which I guess sort of speaks to the intersectionality among people who were around, in the same place.
I still feel like we're all playing in bands together. That's just never died. There's always been this circle of people for the last 20 years, where that's the pool. We don't think to look outside of our own pool. These are our friends.
I have a general question about everybody reformingBraid touring Frame and Canvas, The Promise Ring, etc.and I'm trying to figure out what's the impulse now to revisit this music at this point. I interviewed Dan Didier from The Promise Ring and figured out that it's definitely not a money thing. They're just playing one or two shows periodically and having an awesome time.
I do think that there's a level of detachment that makes it possible to actually enjoy these bands that so many people enjoy in a way that you couldn't when you were in the thick of it. As Garrett [Klahn] says in the film, we were at each others' throats, constantly. That's no secret. When we were in the middle of it there was so much pressure and so many people talking in your ears and also so much isolationnever being at home, always being with these peoplethat it's difficult to enjoy. Some people can do it. Some people are geniuses at doing it, like the guys in Rancid. They're like the ideal bandthese people they just love each other so much, and they're family. They're family in the way that... every band that does an interview and says, "We're family," I say, "Bullshit, because you're not Rancid. There's no way." Those guys, I know them and I know the amount of care they have for each other and what they do is very deep and amazing. It took us maturity and time to develop and realize that we were those people for each other. We couldn't have done that in the middle of that shitstorm of 1997. Now, in 2012 when people kind of just start on major labels and it's not a big deal... like nothing is a big deal anymore. Like selling your song to a commercial is not a big deal. Signing to a major label, not a big deal. Going on MTV or SPIN or whatever, not a big deal. Back then all these things were like decisions. They were like serious decisions, oh my god, people are going to judge us. It made the actual day-to-day situation of being in a band insanely difficult and unnecessarily difficult unfortunately. So there is a thing I think now with us, with The Promise Ring for sure, with Braid, that we can now actually just enjoy the part of the band that we all love the most, which was the songs. The people who listen to the music, they don't need to know all the bullshit. They just love the songs anyway too. There is a sense of like, now this is pure enjoyment. This is pure fun. I think that that's where we're coming from. Even in 2006, it was beyond our expectations, playing these shows at Irving Plaza and selling them out and then actually executing the shows well and nobody talking shit about them when they were overwe were just completely like, "Wow, that was a success!" But even more so now, I feel like we can really, really enjoy it in a way that we just never ever could have when we were a band.
It's really neat to notice over time how people pick up on this group of... 12 songs?
Uh.. 14. There's two other songs floating on the internet. [laughs]
It's just neat that a catalogue that small can still catch new people.
That was another funny thing. Even when Revelation approached us to play the festival this year, my first response was kind of thinking like, "Well everybody already saw us in 2006." But then I realized that six years is kind of a life cycle in music a lot of times. I was telling somebody the other day how I was looking at some of the replies on Twitter and somebody wrote something to the effect of, "Sometimes I feel like I'm the only 19-year-old girl who listens to Texas is the Reason, but then I find somebody on Tumblr who really loves them and I'm like, 'Yay, good for you'." Or something like that. But I remember reading that and just being like, wow, you're 19. You were 13 years old when we did the reunion show. You were a child when we were a band. And that is, to me, brilliant. Here's this person who... forget about 1997, she didn't have a chance for that, but she barely had a chance in 2006 to see it. I'm also just incredibly grateful, we all are, that for some reason, this short amount of time, these songs that that amount of time spawned, somehow still have resonance with people, and with new people all the time. They still sell. Which is weird. It's weird that Texas is the Reason probably sells just as many records as some bands that are still together and touring. And that's great, that's amazing. So doing this is kind of in recognition of that and also in gratefulness to that. Saying like, "We hear you and we thank you."
I for one first heard the record a few months after the 2006 reunion. I think there's a lot of truth to that idea of listening cycles, where now there's this record that's kind of part of my life now, and now I can see it live.
I will say too that I don't think any of us would be interested in doing this if we didn't think that we could do it better than we did not just in '97 but in 2006. There's always that kind of... it's weird to say "pride about it," but I guess there is a little bit of pride and... more, I think, protection. Nobody can say that we've milked this. We've not milked this at all.
It's kind of just happened.
And I think that that's very conscious on our part. Even when we broke up the band, I think we knew that what we did was special to us. Whether it was special to anyone else, we didn't care. It was just like, "This is special to us and we're just going to preserve it as what it is." When we broke upand a lot of bands say this when they break up today and I'm always like, "No way, you're lying," but we can say this because we can look back with retrospect at the last 14 yearswe can say that when we broke up, it was absolutely a decision to save our relationships with each other. There was never a situation where any of us thought that we would break up and never see each other again. We were more interested in being friends. Which is weird, but here we are 14 years later and we're still friends, and we still talk to each other all the time, and I lived with Scott [Winegard] for like four years. We've played with each other in different combinations over the years. It's never been an issue of anything but: that situation was toxic to our friendship, and let's just get out of that toxic situation. Now that we've been able to get the biohazard suits off, we can enjoy it again.
What's the purpose of the short film?
The reasoning behind it, first, is that it's a much different climate right now than it was in '97 and even in 2006 in terms of social media and the internet, clearly. The pros to that is you have this direct connection to a group people who really like your band. The cons to that is they want to know everything now. On Twitter, one of our tweets actually said, "Real life moves slower than Twitter," and that's a fact. It would be impossible to answer every single question that's been asked of us since we announced doing the Revelation show. And now we're announcing this Music Hall of Williamsburg show, and I'm sure that will follow with, "But when are you going to play my town?" So that's fine.
I think the film short was more of a creative thing. At least for this one, for part onewe're going to do morewas more like: 1. A reintroduction to the band. 2. The band never really had a real visual presence. We existed at a time before bands like ours really did music videos, so we weren't on television. I don't know that anybody had ever really seen us talk. There was something exciting and fun and creative about being able to do something like that, while also giving other people who were familiar with the band a chance to frame us in a way where they had questions that they wanted answered. Steve Pedulla, who directed and filmed the shorthe was the guitar player in Thursday. He's also somebody that I met when I was in Texas is the Reason. He wrote me a letter once about something and we traded tapes a couple times. Then we lost contact and it wasn't until Thursday became a band that I found him backstage one night, and he was like, "Do you remember me?" And I was like, "Holy shit." So we've kept in touch since. A lot of this was his idea. He works in film, that's what he really loves, and so this became an exciting opportunity to do something different with the band. But also to answer some of the questions little by little. I think the way we've framed it so far is that each one of these shorts is going to explain a new thing. This one's kind of a reintroduction, and it will announce the second New York date at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. The next one will have another announcement of some sort, and so forth.
Of course a lot of the questions don't have answers yet.
Exactly. That's the big problem. It's really difficult to answer things that you don't know. So we're trying as hard as we can not to frustrate people with non-answers, but hopefully the film will give people a little bit of a closer idea of where our heads are at right now. Whether or not they use that information to speculate is up to them. But we will absolutely be disclosing more information soon.
There's an awesome transparency to the Twitter account, in terms of pure fan-band connection, that's a lot of fun to witness.
The last time we only had MySpace. Which, you know, is cool, whatever, but I'm pretty happy with the tools we have right now. We don't have a mechanism behind us. Revelation is a record label, but it's not a highly functioning record label at the moment. We don't have a publicist. We don't have a manager. So we don't really have a mechanism to get the word out other than just doing what we're doing. It's interesting because the attention is slow but steady. I'm just hoping more people get the memo, because we're not going to hire anybody to tell you about it.
Texas Is The Reason play Music Hall of Williamsburg on October 10 and Irving Plaza on October 11.
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