Austin Chronicle Reviews ‘Hong Kong Cab’

Ingebrigt Håker Flaten’s Time Machine

Hong Kong Cab (Self Sabotage)

Texas Platters

Bass solos are all well and good, but why listen to an album’s worth of unaccompanied thrums without the band dynamics that make the grooves come alive? Happily, Hong Kong Cab, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten’s fourth solo bass album, is a different breed. Unconcerned with unadorned rhythm, the Norway-born/Austin-based jazz maverick uses his instruments as paintbrushes, expressing himself with slashing strokes and controlled splatter like Jackson Pollock. He bows his double bass like a butcher cutting meat on “Hotel Isabel,” plucks his Rickenbacker into echo oblivion on “Time Machine,” and disintegrates his gear on the title track. Even when he just plain grooves on “Guts” and “All or Nothing,” Flaten stretches the boundaries of what it means to be in the pocket.

***.5

Austin Chronicle Review of Crack Pipes’ Beauty School

The Crack Pipes

Beauty School (Sonic Surgery)

Texas Platters

When a band known for garage rock makes its Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the results usually don’t live up to either its ambitions or its prior achievements. That’s not the case for the Crack Pipes’ Beauty School. Originally released in 2005, the third LP from the Austin quartet revels in its music nerd membership raiding their substantial record collections for inspiration beyond Sixties garage psych sampler Nuggets or blues-punk archivists Fat Possum Records. Not satisfied to simply regurgitate the signature hard-rocking sound of the latter institution, the Crack Pipes instead showcase a wide but logical diversity, expanding on its foundation with successful excursions into soul, country, and psychedelia. Given the variety of approaches documented here, the band bolsters a sonic palette beyond its guitar/bass/drums/harmonica core. Horns, guest vocals, prominent keyboards, and even, on the instrumental reprise of the title track, strings and autoharp all throw in. Despite setting off in so many directions, the album doesn’t feel like a various artists compilation. The avant-garde electronics of “East Side Injections” contrast with the James Brown funk of “Make Out Party,” yet both tracks feel cut from the same Cracked cloth. The album’s heart resides in “Q&A,” a flowering mini-epic that begins with soulful spoken social commentary before erupting into a frenzied blaze of rock & roll. Revived as a double LP set with improved artwork and a careful remaster that makes the music really sing on vinyl, this definitive edition of Beauty School is the Crack Pipes’ masterpiece.

****

Austin Chronicle Premieres Q&A From The Crack Pipes

The Crack Pipes’ Beautiful Protest

Track premiere from the ATX blues punks’ vinyl reissue

Riding a uniquely punkified take on blues and soul, the Crack Pipes ruled Austin’s garage rock scene at the turn of the millennium. Given the nature of the music, vinyl seems like a natural medium, but none of the band’s four albums came out on wax. Sonic Surgery, the reissue arm of local imprint Super Secret, stepped up to do the honors for 2005’s Beauty School.

Ray Colgan leads the Crack Pipes

Beautifully packaged as a double album, complete with new and improved artwork, Beauty Schoolremains the locals’ most ambitious and varied LP.

“I think we all believe that bands slowly evolve – that it’s good to push and get out of your comfort zone,” says bandleader Ray Colgan about the Crack Pipes’ progression from raw garage rock to the album’s more expansive palette. “We wanted to do an eclectic record but have it flow, not just be all over the place. We didn’t want to do a bunch of garage rock songs.”

At the center of Beauty School sits “Q&A,” spotlighting a semi-political intro and ensuing rave-up blasting the whole tune into orbit. Colgan reveals its debt to the socially-conscious soul music of the Vietnam era.

“The ‘rap’ part is inspired by two different songs that I really like,” explains the singer and harmonica player. “‘Comment’ [1970] by Les McCann and ‘I Can’t Write Left Handed’ [1973] by Bill Withers. In late 2004, when we recorded Beauty School, it was the Bush administration, the Iraq war. At the time we were dropping bombs on Afghanistan, and I found it weird that we’re blowing up these innocent populations and somehow that’s gonna make them want American-style democracy. It’s an homage to those kind of R&B and social commentary songs.”

The second half turns to a louder, more aggressive source: Jimi Hendrix.

“Especially the Isle of Wight concert,” says Colgan. “He’s just going nuts. That’s what I asked of Billy Steve [Korpi, guitar]. I think there’s three guitar tracks.

“So the first part I consider the question: What do we think we’re accomplishing doing all this stuff? Rather than making sure people have enough food and clothing, we’re using violence to try to free them? The answer is the crazy blow-out part.

“What’s so scary is that here we are 12 years later, and it’s still completely relevant.”

The Crack Pipes play a release show for the vinyl reissue of Beauty School this Friday at the Grackle – free, 21-and-up.

Austin Chronicle Interviews Super Secret Records Founder Richard Lynn

Punk Rock Patron of Austin Music Richard Lynn

Super Secret founder and Sonic Transmissions Festival underwriter expands operations

Photo by John Anderson

Larry Lynn grew up so poor he had to mix hot water and ketchup together to make tomato soup when he went out with friends. By marrying Ann Blevins, he joined a wildcatter family with oil fields in Midland prosperous enough to establish a base wealth for future generations. Founding Lynn Drilling, Larry staked his own claims an hour east of Austin in Giddings during the Seventies, making significant contributions to the family through both oil money and two sons, one of them noted NYC DJ Will Automagic.

The elder sibling, Richard Lynn, sits in his East Austin home listening to a vinyl box set of Kinks albums from the Sixties. He’s dressed in his customarily nondescript T-shirt and shorts, an outfit conducive to spending four or five nights a week chasing live music locally as he has for nearly two decades. His modestly furnished two-story house includes a Mercedes-Benz SUV, but otherwise betrays no signs either way of resources.

More telling of his passion are the dozens of framed photos of rock icons on the walls, mostly of the Who and his hero, AC/DC’s Angus Young, as well as a Daniel Johnston piece of which he’s particularly proud. Lynn runs three homegrown record labels, a nascent book/film company, concert series Austin Jukebox and performance art program Austin Cultural Exchange, and now funds this week’s Sonic Transmissions Festival (see sidebar, at right). Music distribution and publishing companies may soon join the roster.

By the time you read this, Lynn might well have added a radio station or concert promotions business.

“That’s what happens in my life,” he says emphatically. “I’ll think I know the path I’m going down, but for one reason or another I’ll take a sharp turn, on a moment’s notice. I guess I like the chaos and the thrill of it. Where you just go blind into something, full speed, as fast as you can go.”

Spontaneous Records

Super Secret Records began spontaneously in 2001.

“I just did it without thinking,” Lynn says. “My favorite local band at the time was Manikin. I was just a fanatic. They were playing at a warehouse in Houston one weekend and after their set, which was great as always, I was like, ‘When’s your record coming out? I can’t wait to buy it!’

“Alfie [Rabago, guitarist], in his typical manner, said, ‘Eh, it seems like too much trouble.’ They were just not into it. I said, ‘If I start a record label, will you let me put it out?’ I don’t think they believed me. So I was driving back home thinking, ‘I don’t know how to start a record label.'”

Manikin’s self-titled debut christened SSR in 2002.

“I put out three or four records [a year] for like 13 years,” he says. “Just in my spare time, one at a time.”

At first, Super Secret’s catalog documented Austin’s punk and indie underground, bands that commanded the tiny stages of Blue Flamingo and Bates Motel in the Nineties, and Beerland and Trailer Space in the Aughts. Street punks the Eastside Suicides, Slum City, and the Put-Downs all released albums or singles on Super Secret in its initial three years of existence. By the early portion of this decade, the label was putting out three or four albums and numerous 7-inches annually, including the debut 45 by garage rock heavyweights the OBN IIIs. Alongside 12XU and Western Vinyl, Super Secret became a key cog in the wheel of Austin punk and indie rock.

The rate of production changed after Lynn retired from his day job in 2014.

“I started traveling around the world until I got sick of that,” he admits. “I was gonna shut down the label – maybe move to Hawaii, because that’s always been something I planned to do eventually. I pictured myself laying on the perfect beach, perfect weather, perfect water, got my huge house behind me, got my dogs – everything’s great. But I know what I would say: ‘All right! Any bands playing tonight?’ I’d be bored.”

Super Secret has dramatically expanded operations, with more LPs coming out in the last two years than in the first 10.

Since then, Super Secret has dramatically expanded operations, with more LPs coming out in the last two years than in the first 10. Lynn broadened the imprint’s musical POV as well, bringing on Evil Triplet’s psychedelic maelstrom, the modern folk of Adam Ostrar, and post-punk songcraft of Quin Galavis. Moving beyond Texas borders, he also sponsored an album by jazz-informed No Wave legend James Chance & the Contortions.

If that release schedule wasn’t already wall-to-wall, a Trailer Space performance by improv trio Knest inspired Lynn to start Self Sabotage, a label dedicated to experimental music. Meanwhile, inability to find music by Nineties indie rock Texans Transona Five compelled him to start Sonic Surgery, a reissue imprint.

Lynn also runs Austin Jukebox, a quarterly concert convergence that recently flew in Cleveland art-punk pioneers Pere Ubu for the first time in 20 years, then followed it up with the local debut of beloved Australian psych-pop act the Moles. Monthly gathering Austin Cultural Exchange includes everything from music to poetry and painting, and burgeoning film division Sound & Sight Repository is headed by Goodnight Brooklyn director Matt Conboy.

No notion goes unconsidered and anything can be on the table, as in the case of Lynn underwriting the third annual Sonic Transmissions Festival – the locally based/internationally sourced jazz and experimental musical cluster curated by Norwegian-born bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten – after having his mind boggled by the 2016 edition. That tendency can vex his employees, who now number up to 14, including consultants.

“They start shaking their heads sometimes, like, ‘Why are we doing that?'” laughs Lynn. “My answer’s usually, ‘Because we’re not already.'”

We Can, So We Do

“Richard will sign acts he knows aren’t going to quote-unquote make it,” notes Ray Colgan.

Stationed at the Super Secret office in the Museum of Human Achievement, the veteran bandleader chuckles. Hired to troubleshoot, the Crack Pipes vocalist now handles Sonic Surgery.

“That’s one of the things I love about working here,” continues Colgan. “I don’t have to think constantly about money, commercial appeal, and the commodification of music. I can go back to ‘What can I do to make this a better experience for these people? What can I do to help them?'”

“In some ways, we’re interpreters of what Richard says,” explains Ismael Archbold, another longtime local musician who came aboard two years ago to assist Lynn and now shepherds Self Sabotage, Sound & Sight Repository, and Austin Cultural Exchange. “Sometimes he’ll say something, and it’ll be a collapsed version of a long conversation. That’s part of the job description – keeping up with the boss.”

“He’s a chaos communicator,” says Knife in the Water’s Aaron Blount, who Lynn credits as his adviser. “He throws so much stuff at you, but you can’t say, ‘That isn’t realistic,’ because that will drive him nuts and he won’t let it go. He wants unrealistic things to happen, and they do.”

“He does mull things over,” says Archbold about Lynn’s decision-making. “In fact, if people press him for an answer, especially if it’s a yes or no, he’ll just say no. ‘You want an answer now, so I have to say no, because you’re not giving me time to think about it. But if you really want me to think about it, let me think about it.’

“He also does things off the cuff. It’s part of the fun of all this: We can, so we do.”

“They tell me, ‘Please don’t start any more labels today,'” grins Lynn. “‘Please don’t sign any more bands right now. We’re very full.’ I mostly don’t, but I sometimes do, because the thrill of it for me really is that initial idea. When you have that idea it’s really exciting to talk about. Then I usually turn around and say, ‘Can y’all do that while I go and have more ideas?'”

Crawling From the Wreckage

Lynn grew up in Midland, after which his family relocated to Austin in 1978 when he was 12. After Westlake High School, he received a bachelor’s degree in finance from Texas State University in 1989. Despite the family wealth, his music enthusiast mother insisted he get a job, so Lynn went to work for the federal government as a banking regulator.

Originally based in Midland, he worked his way back to Austin through Dallas and San Antonio. At night, he hit the clubs. Initially, the guitar scene at Steamboat on Sixth Street and capital city groups like Sister 7 caught his ear. That changed when he found himself at punk dive the Blue Flamingo in the mid-Nineties.

“There was no stage, a microphone in the middle of the room, and it was crowded. Everyone’s in leather jackets,” he recalls. “I was forced right up against the mic. So I’m standing there, and there’s a band I later found out was the Chumps, who turned out to be maybe my favorite band of all time. Sean MacGowan, the lead singer, comes out, grabs the mic, grabs me by the back of my head, pulls me up to his face, and screams the opening lyrics to ‘Goddamn American Eagle.’

“Afterward, the Motards came on. I made it about halfway through their set. It was so crowded, I had to get down on my hands and knees, crawl under people, and just dive out the door. I ran to my car as fast as I could, telling myself, ‘Oh God, I’m never going back there again. I got out alive!’

“A couple of nights later, I found myself back at the Blue Flamingo.”

The “love affair” with music and the people who make it that began that night drives the way Lynn does business. He doesn’t sign contracts with his artists, and the label pays for not only recording, mastering, and manufacturing, but also for merchandise and tour support – all without requiring the artists to reimburse. Lynn also doesn’t set budgets for individual albums, believing that the specter of hitting a financial target inhibits a band’s ability to produce great work.

“In essence, I say, ‘Record where you want, how you want, when you want, and when the record is done, we’ll put it out,'” states Lynn. “I have a business background, and musicians don’t like business, so I try to take that all off of them. We’re working to create an atmosphere that will allow great art to be made, not an atmosphere where a lot of money will be made.

“Money won’t make you happy, but great art can.”

Ever heard such a proclamation from Sony or the Universal Music Group?

Patron of Punk

Patronage enjoys centuries of tradition, from feudal Japan through Renaissance Europe, from the Medici of Florence sponsoring Galileo Galilei to the Roman Catholic Church commissioning Michelangelo to paint the walls of the Sistine Chapel. Leonardo da Vinci, Ludwig van Beethoven, and William Shakespeare all benefited from patronage. Where would PBS be without the Ford Foundation or Sesame Street without Michael and Susan Dell?

Patronage enjoys centuries of tradition, from feudal Japan through Renaissance Europe.

Without prompting, roots rocker Will Courtney, trance psychsters Suspirians, and jazz master Ingebrigt Håker Flaten all apply the phrase “patron of the arts” to Lynn.

“He’s given us a chance to express ourselves,” says Suspirians’ Marisa Pool. “It feels good to have someone having your back.”

Courtney, whose 2016 local release turned so many heads Lynn is promoting his upcoming disc to other labels, agrees.

“He’s been really open to anything and seeing where we can take this,” he says.

Flaten expresses surprise as well as gratitude.

“I’m lucky to be in a position that I can go in a studio to record a solo bass album and see it released without complications,” remarks the bassist. “Anywhere in the world that’s kind of a unique situation.”

“We’re in the middle of this crazy growth,” Lynn marvels. “I’ve told my employees recently, ‘There’s no option for status quo.’ We’re working with Fields magazine to help them with some fundraising. We’re gonna work with SIMS on some stuff, because I think it’s a great organization.

“One of the things I feel like we haven’t done a lot of yet that I’d like to do more of is impact the community in a positive way. We’re always looking for ways we can give back.”


Sonic Transmissions Festival III showcases a weekend of punk, cumbia, and jazz Sept. 14-16: www.sonictransmissions.com.

Austin Chronicle Feature on Avoiding the Sophomore Slump Includes Suspirians

Suspirians

Quantum progression post-punk and cosmic psychedelia

Photo by Shelley Hiam

Few bands boast a vision as clear as that demonstrated by Suspirians on their debut. Released in 2014, the Austin trio’s vibrant blend of post-punk onslaught and cosmic psychedelia sounded fully formed. Which makes the quantum progression of sophomore LP Ti Bon Ange all the more noteworthy.

“We didn’t have time to think about it too much,” says singer/guitarist Marisa Pool. “We had the opportunity to go into the studio via Super Secret, and we felt an urgency to do it quickly. Looking back, I don’t know why. [Maybe] because it had already been over a year since we put out the first record.

“So we took the material and worked it. We were really open to experimenting and seeing what we could do with what we had. We didn’t overthink it. We spent a lot of time shaping it, but we also just had fun with it – like a piece of art.”

Bassist/keyboardist Stephanie Demopulos pinpoints another reason for the exponential growth.

“We were already writing songs in a different direction, but we did replace a band member, which changed a lot of stuff.”

She’s referring to the exit of original drummer Anna Lamphear, off to study law, and the addition of veteran Austin drummer Lisa Cameron, who brought a new edge to the threepiece.

“One thing I’ve noticed is that we’ve gone more into improv, experimental tinges,” says Cameron, whose powerhouse résumé includes membership in roots blowout Brave Combo, indie rock first-wavers Glass Eye, and Lone Star legends Roky Erickson & the Aliens – not to mention a long-running stint with homegrown psych pioneers ST 37. “I think I’m encouraging them somehow even though they were already there. That attracted me to the band. They would get these trance-y, drone-y, garage-y kind of throwdowns, which I really enjoy.”

Cameron also credits the band’s ability to absorb and reflect its influences for Ti Bon Ange’s wider appeal.

“We have somehow developed this uncanny sense of being able to evoke different sounds without having to actually play like that person,” she continues. “Like just a little tinge of this or that is enough to remind people of the Butthole Surfers or Neil Young or Siouxsie Sioux. There’s an influence of surf. I even hear girl groups, the Ronettes or the Shangri-Las, in there. We’re not trying to sound like those people. It’s just part of our natural diet.”

Unsurprisingly, for a band that gives interviews en masse, Suspirians credit their sophomore triumph to tight chemistry.

“Stephanie and I have been playing together for years,” says Pool. “Once we started playing with Lisa, that just expanded the vision and it went on its natural path. It just keeps changing to something better, hopefully.”

– Michael Toland

PLAX Coalesces, Premieres New Track “What a Waste”

Plax Coalesces

ATX punks premiere new track “What a Waste”

Exactly one year after their arrival on the scene, Plax, an Austin quartet spewing a revolutionary mixture of post-punk, basement hardcore, and outsider rock, unleashes debut full-length Clean Feeling on Aug. 11 through local imprint Super Secret Records.

Plax portait: (l-r) Marley Jones, Victor Ziolkowski, Samantha Wendel, and Michael Goodwin (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Supergroup. That overused term undermines the reality that most new local acts enter the scene already carrying a substantial pedigree. Plax’s Venn diagram touches important homegrown bands: OBN IIIsSpray PaintSkeleton, and Crooked Bangs to name several.

Frontman Victor Ziolkowski, 25, proved mellow and polite on the phone in contrast to his unhinged stage presence.

Austin Chronicle: How did Plax come together?

Victor ZiolkowskiChris [Stephenson] from Spray Paint and Michael [Goodwin] and Marley [Jones] from OBN IIIs had been getting together. They had an idea for a sound and about six songs already formed when they asked me to try some vocals. It’s funny because Michael described the band to me by listing some of their influences and I wasn’t familiar with any of them.

So it was me hearing what they’d already formed and doing what I do on top of it. I appreciate all the guys for having the vision, putting all the work in, then giving me an opportunity to try something new. They’ve made a sound that’s unique and not easy to pinpoint. That’s what I always set out to do.

Drums have been my primary instrument. I front the band Skeleton, but this has been a different approach because I didn’t write the music. Michael gave me some pages out of his journals, stream of consciousness writing, and said, “If you want some ideas, you can just sing these lines.” I used them as random lyric ideas, then found themes or a story and went from there.

This band’s opened doors to how I write and has been very welcoming in letting me do whatever I want to with the vocals.

AC: On Clean Feeling, I hear elements of all the members’ other work: nervy sounds from Spray Paint, tough rock & roll of OBN IIIs, and the DIY hardcore you’ve created in Skeleton.

VZ: Originally, a lot of Euro post-punk references were being tossed around by the band. Then it formed into something really their own. Bringing me in without much of an idea of what they were going for probably gave it a different spin. I often question if my part of the band is what everybody envisioned, but they’ve been very open and into letting it become its own thing.

AC: You’re a young guy, but you have a long history and lineage in Austin music beginning with your father.

VZ: Well my dad [bassist Vic Gerard] has been a longtime member of the Austin music scene for sure. He got me my first drum kit, a miniature set, when I was 2 and my parents put sticks in my hands. I would go to all my dad’s shows in bands like Two Hoots & a Holler, the DerailersChaparral. He’s brought me up as a working musician in town. You can see him playing almost every night of the week with someone. That was my introduction, growing up in this roots rock, country Austin music scene.

I had my first band at 8 with Misspent Youth and Margaret Moser and the Chronicle played a huge part in keeping that band going. I’d really like to recognize her for supporting the path of me and my little brother [David Ziolkowski]. He and I, growing up, would play any instrument together around the house. Later, we did that in bands. There’s been at least one band where we each played every instrument. I think all the time how fortunate I was to grow up in Austin and what a special town it is for music.

AC: What does your dad think of you in the role of growling punk rock frontman?

VZ: [laughs] I think maybe it took him a little bit to come around. I don’t know it’s the path he necessarily envisioned, but he’s always encouraged me to write my own music, so I think he’s happy I’m doing my own thing – carving my own path out.

Something that’s funny is how I have two sides to what I’m often doing. I have my bands that are more in this punk vein, then the next night I’ll get hired to play rockabilly drums with Rosie Flores or someone like that. I feel like I get thrown back and forth between different worlds.

AC: Many musicians here can’t see past their own scene. Most people who play at Hotel Vegas have no appreciation for what’s going on at the Continental Club and vice versa, but they’re both equally important.

VZ: In Austin there’s so much going on that every night of the week you can see something awesome if you’re open to it. Some people like to stay closed in the world that they know. That’s something I’m looking to explore more, branching out into different styles, genres, and scenes, and working to bring them together.

AC: I look forward to the DJ Victor EDM set.

VZ: That may be sooner than you think!

AC: What’s coming up for Plax?

VZ: We have a three-week European tour coming up and a release/tour kickoff August 18 at BarracudaSamantha Wendel from Crooked Bangs is playing guitar for us now [since Stephenson moved to Australia]. I can’t stress how thankful we are to Richard Lynn and Super Secret Records for putting out our record. They’re a very supportive label that’s made things possible for us and a lot of bands in town. We’re stoked to be on a local label as well.

Stream “What a Waste” by Plax: