Friday, April 23, 2010
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
NFL great Emmitt Smith tackles his family tree, retirement and the pro prospects of Tim Tebow
LaDainian Tomlinson is at a career crossroads. The 30-year-old running back can either ride off into the sunset álà Barry Sanders or he could postpone retirement a while and sign with Minnesota or some other franchise looking for a little help in the backfield.
So, what’s the former San Diego Charger to do?
For starters, he needs to get Emmitt Smith on the phone. The NFL’s all-time leader in touchdowns and rushing yards, Smith has been in the very spot LT currently finds himself. Smith, who excelled on the high school level and at the University of Florida, won two Super Bowls and was invited to eight Pro Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys before furthering his career with the Arizona Cardinals. Some thought the move showed guts. Many said it was just a stupid way to tarnish a legacy.
Eight years after making the decision to keep the cleats on, does Smith have any regrets? In INsite’s candid with the football legend who recently traced his genealogy on NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are, the 2010 Hall of Fame inductee answers that question, offers LaDainian some advise and shares a few thoughts on that Tim Tebow guy on the eve of the April 22 NFL Draft.
INsite: So, tell me what made you want to take this journey publicly in front of America to discover your family roots with Who Do You Think You Are.
Emmitt Smith: Well, number one it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a complete family reunion because of, obviously, football activities run throughout the summer and my commitment to my sport. So, when this opportunity presented itself I thought it would be a great way to connect back to my family heritage and take a journey that I thought would be very, very exciting and eye awakening for myself. That’s one reason why I chose to do it.
INsite: What do you think that your fans and viewers will get out of watching your episode and the whole season of the NBC show?
Emmitt Smith: I think they get a sense of truly some of the hurt and pain that I was able to feel, especially when you start thinking about loved ones who were mistreated during the darkest times of American history. And, I think, that in itself is moving because then I think the message for me was that opportunities that we do have as African American people here in this great country of the United States of America is for us to take full advantage of those opportunities and handle those open doors so to speak with a great deal of humility. And not only that, but take it to a whole other level because we do add value to this nation that we live in. Our ancestors also added value. Although some of that value has gone unnoticed or unrecognized by some people but times have changed. The legacy of Martin Luther King, where he envisioned a world of blacks and whites and Hispanics and all people coming together to work as one, is starting to happen and has happened. We just need to continue to move the ball forward to make this nation better.
INsite: Sports fans obviously can be so obsessive about their athletes. They think they know everything about you. So, what would these people be most surprising to them to find out?
Emmitt Smith: Probably how emotional I really am as a person. For some reason, most people probably have never seen an athlete that is supposed to be this gladiator-type athlete truly getting emotional. And they’re probably completely shocked at how connected I am to, not only my manhood, but also to the emotions of what the world brings and the emotions of other folk. I’m passionate and I’m sympathetic or empathetic to the feelings of others. And so those might be some things that people might see that they may not have known about me.
INsite: Your Dallas uniform No. 22 is legendary. Is there a story behind that and your famous number or was it just a case of when you were in college they gave you a number and it stuck?
Emmitt Smith: The story is pretty simple. There was an upperclassman [at Florida] who had Number 24 and I was a freshman, so they just put me into 22 just to go behind John L. Williams. Considering that I was built similar to him, that’s just how it ended up happening. So, [it was] nothing that I did on my own; just the fact that it just worked out that way.
INsite: And you were just like, “I’m cool. This number is as good as any,” right?
Emmitt Smith: Without a doubt. I mean, I couldn’t complain. I mean, I’m a freshman. I’m not going to stomp my feet and bump heads with the upperclassman and try to bogart my way. And not only that, but when you’re an upcoming freshman and you’ve been highly recruited from a national basis, it wouldn’t have been the wisest thing to do to go in with a bunch of arrogance.
INsite: When it comes to football these days, do you root for the Cardinals or still the Cowboys?
Emmitt Smith: I root for both of those teams. Now, the Cowboys are my only team that I really truly love. But I root for the Arizona Cardinals because I’ve got guys on that team that I played ball with when I was out there.
DX: And as far as your stats, how protective are you of them? Do you look forward to Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson topping you or do you want to keep some of those as yours?
Emmitt Smith: I don’t even care. I don’t.
DX: LT, Thomas Jones, Brian Westbrook - they’re all at a career crossroads right now. Being someone who has flourished with one particular team and gone on to Arizona, what words of advice would you give those guys as they start new endeavors?
Emmitt Smith: Well, I would look at it this way: One door has closed, another door has opened for a number of reasons. One [opens] to afford you the opportunity to continue to play and to test whether or not your heart is truly in the game or it’s time for you to leave the game. I know every athlete thinks that they want to continue but what they’re going to really find out is how connected their heart truly was to the organization that they played for. And this is an opportunity for them to, obviously, extend their career. But if they do when they do it, they need to understand that the challenge is. They’re going to have to bring their emotions and sometimes, when you play with the organization for a long period of time and you’ve been in this game, it robs some of the essence of who you are as a football player from you. So, it’s kind of hard sometimes to go and sit in a stranger’s locker room or someone that you’ve normally competed against in their locker room and say, Wow, this is weird. Sometimes you have to deal with the aspect of the game itself [that it] is moving on and guys are getting younger and you’re getting older and a lot of guys that you started with are no longer playing. You have to get over all those things. It’s more mental fatigue than anything else.
DX: If you had a second chance, would you have played out your career like you did and moved on to Arizona?
Emmitt Smith: Oh yeah. I still would do it for two reasons: 1)I was able to get closure when I went to Arizona and I love the Bidwills (the Cardinals owners) because they took great care of me. I mean, I played 13 years with the Dallas Cowboys and those other two years when I left the Cowboys, I said to myself I can continue to do this and I can do it at a high level. I’m better than the guys that they’re trying to replace me with. So, when I went to Arizona, it gave me an opportunity to prove that. It gave me an opportunity to really check myself and really see how much I really love the game. And at that time, I realized that my love for the game was tied so much, so much, to the team that I was playing with which was the Dallas Cowboys. That’s where my destiny lies and I realize that to this day. I was able to say the door is closed. I’ve played as long as I needed to play. I’ve done all the things that I needed to do. There isn’t anymore for me to do. I don’t need the money. My love for the game is no longer there like it used to be so it’s time for me to go. I was able to get closure and I think that’s what every athlete truly wants.
DX: As a University of Florida alum, I’m sure you’re interested in the life of Tim Tebow. Obviously, there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding him and how he’s used his fame to endorse his political and religious views. What are your feelings on that and what’s your relationship with him?
Emmitt Smith: Well, the amazing thing is people say he uses his fame for political views etc., etc. We use our fame for everything else, why not to help change the way America is run and the way we think about our homeland? I mean, obviously you’ve got people with different views. So, you’re trying to tell him he shouldn’t use his platform to assist in change? To me, I think that’s absolutely wrong because we use every mechanism that we possibly can in order to win an election or even to make change or affect change. I think it’s kind of hypocritical of people who walk around with this double standard like he shouldn’t do this, he shouldn’t do that. This is a free country and we leverage every aspect of who we are as a country to get the best that we possibly can for this nation as well as for our own individual families. It’s a shame.
DX: And what do you think of Tebow’s chances in the NFL?
Emmitt Smith: I think Tebow has an opportunity. Now, obviously he has a lot of work to do. He has to prove that he can read defenses and make the throws that he needs to make at the next level. It’s not going to be easy, but, I mean, he’s a great leader. He’s probably a hard worker and given the opportunity, I’m sure he’s going to probably make the best of it.
DX: Where do you keep your Dancing With the Stars trophy?
Emmitt Smith: It’s in my family room. It’s still in good shape too, by the way.
A limited number of three-day passes for the Austin City Limits Music Festival will go on sale Wednesday, April 21 at 10am CST at the Regular price of $185, inclusive of all fees. Due to unprecedented demand for three-day passes, promoters expect tickets to sell quickly. VIP passes and Travel Packages will also be available at www.aclfestival.com.
Early Bird tickets, priced at $145, were released in October after last year’s Festival, and sold-out in record time. On Tuesday, April 20, an exclusive ACL Festival E-List Pre-Sale allowed the Festival’s loyal email subscribers the opportunity to purchase tickets before the general public. Email subscribers were given access to the pre-sale by simply updating their ACL E-list profile before the deadline. Developed to address the ever-increasing demand for ACL Festival tickets, this new ticket pre-sale process also rewards fan loyalty and helps weed out automated email accounts created by ticket re-sellers - and ensure that the majority of ACL Festival tickets will be sold directly to fans (not scalpers).
The 9th edition of ACL Festival happens October 8-10 in Zilker Park. Another 130-or-so acts will take the stage in Austin, but fans will have to wait until May 18 for the official announcement of artists. Single Day tickets for the Festival will be available on the same date.
For tickets and show information, visit www.aclfestival.com.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Thurs – Sun, April 15 – 18, 2010
Photos by Jay West
Videos by Sean Claes
Spring Art Fix
Where to go when you’re looking for Art
By Jo Anna Ordóñez
As nature is in full bloom in the Texas Hill Country, we are blessed with an abundance of magnificent Artists in this area and many places showcasing their works. Here are some suggestions for those days when you might want to get out and enjoy the Art Austin has to offer.
Austin Museum of Art
(AMOA, 823 Congress Avenue , www.amoa.org)
The Austin Museum of Art has two locations in Austin that offer a wide variety of galleries and exhibits showcasing a myriad of art. From contemporary art to educational programs, tours, performances and more, there is always something for every member of the family. They also feature a wonderful assortment of works by local artist in their Gift Shop. The Downtown location offers art for the broad general audience while AMOA-Laguna Gloria a historic look at the beginnings of the museum as well as classes. Visit them today for a great day of learning, exploration, discovery and fun.
Mexic Arte Museum
(419 Congress Avenue, www.mexic-artemuseuminfo.org)
Mexic-Arte Museum is a fine example of Austin’s finest coming together to offer the community a glimpse into Mexican American Fine Art through programs and education. It was founded in 1984 by artist Sylvia Orozco, Sam Coronado and Pio Pulido and today has grown to into a cornerstone of the arts and cultural community in Austin. They hold the high honor of being designated as the Official Mexican and Mexican American Fine Art Museum of Texas by the 78th Legislature of the State of Texas.
With its many programs, artists are showcased and inspired though participating in many outreach projects. Through the summer, there will be several exhibits including Imagining Mexico: Expressions in Popular Culture and Photographs of The Revolution by Agustin Victor Casasola.
La Peña Museum and Art Gallery
(3rd Street & Congress Avenue, www.lapena-austin.org)
Cynthia and Lydia Perez were inspired by the South American custom of community gatherings, known as Pena’s. Traditionally, Pena’s are festivals where local artisans gather to share art, music, poetry and performances. This concept led to their creation of the La Peña gallery in 1981 and along with it a desire to bring about the promotion of artistic expression in the community. La Peña's mission is to support artistic development, to provide exposure to emerging local visual artists, musicians, poets and other performing artists, and to offer Austin residents the full spectrum of traditional and contemporary Latino art.
This gallery has become a cornerstone of cultural life in central Texas.
There are many exhibits throughout the year that feature local artisans and school children, but it is the Toma Mi Corazón Exhibit that brings in several hundred pieces of art that are all auctioned in order to help fund the exhibits and community outreach programs. Visit the Women without Borders Exhibit through April and consider taking a Pastel Class too.
The Benini Foundation and Sculpture Ranch
(Shiloh Road, Johnson City, Texas, www.sculptureranch.com)
On this great weekend getaway just about an hours drive from Central Austin, you will be richly rewarded with a visit to the Benini Foundation and Sculpture Ranch. It’s located 1.2 miles West of Johnson City, just watch for the Steel and Chrome Longhorn Sculpture on the left and you’re almost there. Not only will you see natures bounty in full spectrum of color, you will also be pleasantly surprised by the Art and Sculptures to behold on this beautiful 140-acre display of imagination.
Originally a showcase for the paintings and sculpture of artist Benini, the Sculpture Ranch has evolved into a living work of art and facility that include a Studio Building, Fine Arts Library with Exhibits and Sculptures by Artist from Texas and around the world. A picnic is a must for this ride and there is so much to see. From metal to stone, glass and works of art by Mother Nature, the whole family can enjoy this beautiful site and it’s free!
JoAnna Ordóñez is a local glass artisan and owner of Vidriosa Glassworks. Her work can be found at her Discover Art Attack Studio (701 Goforth Road in Kyle) at The Lucky Lizard (412 East 6th Street), Things She Adores (2306 E. Cesar Chavez, Suite 101), The Oasis Gift Shop (Comanche Lane) The Old Mill Store (Wimberly Square) and Local Art Shows. Visit her online at www.4coolglass.com.
The Benini Foundation and Sculpture Ranch
Friday, April 16, 2010
It's time again for the Music Lab / Raw Deal Battle of the bands. Come out and watch INsite's Food Editor and music contributor Marsha Mann judge a new crop of Austin musicians.
Past Battle of the Bands participants include Bright Light Social Hour, Prey For Sleep, Language Room, Zlam Dunk and Brink of Disaster.
This is the 12th Battle. Who will make the cut and take the prize? Head out to the Red Eyed Fly tomorrow night (Saturday April 17, 2010) and find out.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
The Book of Harold: The Illegitimate Son of God
by Owen Egerton
Reviewed by Tess Anderson
Owen Egerton’s latest, The Book of Harold: The Illegitimate Son of God, thoughtfully, humorously, and compassionately calls life’s meaning into question. Reading it, I was reminded to consider the possibilities that every homeless man might be Christ or at least Christ-like, that the guy in the next cubicle could be mentally ill, and also that Judas may have gotten a bad rap. Besides being thought-provoking, it also summons virtually the full spectrum of human emotion. Reading some pages, I found myself laughing out loud, while others made me want to cry.
Told from the point of view of Haroldian Blake Waterson, The Book of Harold: The Illegitimate Son of God relates the philosophy of Harold Peeks, introduced as Blake’s coworker and “Second Assistant Sales Analyst” at Promit Computers. Blake documents in vivid detail the travels the two pursue after Harold takes the opportunity of a company banquet to announce that he is, in fact, “Christ, the Son of God.”
Blake, a middle aged computer salesman, resists Harold at first, but then soon willingly participates in the unraveling of his own picture perfect life. It’s that same kind of life which many a suburbanite will confess is never as perfect as it seems. The dinner party scene is uncannily realistic, and brilliantly walks a fine line of satire without verging on ridiculousness. It’s clever examination of a lifestyle but without cruel judgment. Egerton finds a way to describe things we all seem to be thinking and feeling, yet most of us don’t say, sometimes not even to ourselves. Egerton is so adept at describing the stagnation of Blake’s life that I couldn’t help but feel suffocated by Blake’s analogy that his home is filled with sand. Rather than buy the cliché sports car, have liposuction, or start selling drugs like a cable TV series protagonist, Blake decides to follow Harold on a walk from a Houston suburb to Austin. Blake transforms from computer peddler to disciple, and the journey is as much inward as it is across Texas. As Blake moves forward from Figwood to Austin, he experiences a personal evolution.
The story that unfolds is an old one, but from this insider’s view, it’s one you probably won’t recognize until you are completely personally invested in it. The structure of the novel evokes Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, flashing back and forth between time frames, but without being confusing. Like life, the story simultaneously unfolds on the surface and on a much deeper level. When you read it -because you should -you’ll understand the mystery of it much better. While you’re pondering the symbolism, and wondering who Jesus would have been without Judas, you’re concurrently empathizing with Blake as he and his family try to cope with his Haroldism. You will come to feel for the other disciples, such as Irma and Beddy, and enjoy the little detours into each character’s story, as well as into Blake’s past. Blake’s witty inner monologue through even the disturbing scenes and heartbreaking moments gives the novel a dark humor reminiscent of a Wes Anderson flick. Mostly, Blake seems real. I felt like he was someone I knew, and strangely, also someone who knew me.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
So Good It Makes You Happy!
Story and photos by Marsha Mann
For Sylvia Heisey, owner of Beets Living Foods Café, food = happiness. “I want people to be happy when they eat my food.” And happy they are. Ask anyone who’s eaten at Beets Café (even meat-eating types who previously referred to raw veggies as ‘rabbit food’) and they’ll describe in mouth-watering detail their favorite item or dish on the menu.
For some, it might be a cool & creamy Do You Love Pina Colada or Choco-a-la-na-na smoothie ($5.50). For others, it’s the crunchy, avocado-luscious Cha-lu-pas ($11.95), or the sweet & spicy Asian Noodle Salad ($7.25), made with a rainbow of marinated vegetables and delicate kelp noodles. And then there are those who drop in strictly for the desserts – Chocolate and Lemon Cheesecakes made without dairy or tofu ($6.75) with a texture and flavor nothing short of amazing! As Sylvia likes to say, “It’s not grass, sticks, and seeds anymore. I want to change the ‘60’s image of raw food as something only hippies eat.”
In keeping with this updated vision and an eye toward broadening her clientele, Beets Café has a modern, open feel that’s curvy, colorful and fun. Everything on the menu tastes delicious, looks beautiful, and comes in a generous portion, often large enough to share...decidedly gourmet without the preciousness of haute cuisine. Local farmers provide all of the top-notch organic produce necessary to create ‘living food’ dishes that burst with flavor and actually deliver a natural energy high - one of the reasons Sylvia became a convert in the first place.
Originally from Houston, she moved to Austin in 1969, when it was pretty much The Campus, The Capital, and a small but thriving sub-culture. She eventually went to work for JMJ & Associates, conducting training workshops in Leadership Development and Safety in the Workplace, but after 16 years of being on the road, she was burned out - both mentally and physically. In 2003, a friend encouraged her to try a raw food diet and almost immediately, the aches & pains disappeared and were replaced by more energy than she’d had in years.
A ‘foodie’ by nature as well as an accomplished cook, she began playing with the idea of opening a living foods restaurant, but as Sylvia points out, “Preparing this kind of food is labor intensive and I didn’t want to be doing it by myself.” After conquering some initial fear and doubt, she began negotiating in January of 2008 on the yet-to-be-built space at 1611 W. 5th Street that Beets Café now occupies.
Once the building was underway, she flew to California for professional training at the Ft. Bragg Culinary Arts Institute, followed by a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico for the annual Raw Food Festival, where she met Alicia Ojeda. Sylvia recalls, “We really hit it off at the festival, so when she called a few months later and said she was moving to Austin (she’d fallen in love with an Austinite), I realized I’d found my second chef!” When Alicia arrived in January of 2009, the two went to work developing recipes, determined to make ‘flavor’ their highest priority. The final piece fell into place when Ellie Grivas, a friend of Sylvia’s daughter, joined the team as Administrative Manager. Last August, Beets Café finally opened its doors and has since been making both customers and food critics very happy indeed.
What makes Sylvia and Alicia’s approach refreshing is the variety of ingredients employed – they don’t let any one vegetable (like the carrot, for instance) dominate the plate, and even more importantly, each dish has a distinct flavor all its own. They also avoid the overuse of nuts, which occasionally show up as a garnish but are primarily reserved as the base ingredient for their rich and satisfying desserts. They’ve eliminated soy products altogether, with the exception of a stellar miso dressing, and manage to downplay the role of acid-forming beans as well – even the Hummus appetizer ($7.25) is made from pureed zucchini instead of garbanzo beans, yet still tastes amazing.
Sylvia reiterates, “Everything in life revolves around food…it brings people together and acts as a glue for society. If your food makes you happy, society as a whole becomes happier.” When asked if everyone should be eating raw food at every meal, her response is quite reasonable - “Even a few meals a week will start to make a difference in your energy level and overall health. Gradually, you just start making different food choices because you feel so much better. It’s not about becoming a fanatic.”
Another popular item on the menu is the E.L.T. Sandwich ($11.95) -eggplant, lettuce & tomato w/avocado. Using thin strips of crispy, dehydrated eggplant instead of bacon, and a signature flat bread ingeniously made from almond pulp, sunflower, and chia seeds, it’s remarkably good, as are the zesty veggie chips that come with it – probably the BEST veggie chips ever.
The Kale, Sprouted Lentil, and Cabbage Kraut side salads ($6.25) are all outstanding as well, and the ambrosia-like flavor and texture of the Curried Carrot Soup ($3.75/$5.50) is truly a revelation – why does a pureed soup ever need to be cooked? But top prize goes to the Creamy Spirulina Salad Dressing that’s an option for the Mock Tuna Salad ($7.25). It not only has a brilliant flavor but also packs an energy rush I felt the entire day!
On a final note, since Beets Café is a ‘green’ restaurant, any wasted food is composted, and all non-food materials are biodegradable or can be recycled…which will no doubt make the whole planet happier. 1611 W. 5th St. (free parking in the side lot). Open all day, Mon-Sat. Call 477.2338 for hours.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
23 Years of Good ‘ol Bluegrass Music
By Sean Claes
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Bluegrass Music from attending the Old Settler’s Music Festival, it’s the older you get, the better the show is.
And, I’m not talking about the attendees, I’m talking about the performers. Some of the highlights from my time on the grass next to the stage include Ralph Stanley (83), Slim Richey (72), and Del McCoury (71).
I should also say that that thanks to Old Settler’s I’ve had the privledge to watch young performers cut their musical teeth as well. I’ll always remember seeing Sarah Jarosz a little girl barely in double digits who blew everyone away with her fiddle skills and singing in 2002. That year her band “Spurs of the Moment” won the Youth Talent Competition. I’ve seen her many times over the years… most recently I saw the 19 year-old Grammy nominated artist at the Austin Music Awards last month where she won for best female vocalist.
Who knows what the youth competition will bring this year, but the 2010 that line-up does include 16 year-old Ruby James who has gotten great compliments paid to her by by CBS’ Bob Schieffer and legend Willie Nelson.
This year’s line-up includes some old standards and some great new projects. The Festival is four-days long (with Thursday and Sunday being held at the campgrounds). Headliners include Alejandro Escovedo, Mindy Smith and Joe Ely on Friday and Patty Griffin with Buddy Miller, Band of Heathens, and 7 Walkers on Saturday.
There’s a plethora of great music to be heard, which makes the $170 price tag for the entire 4-day (with camping) worthwhile. If you’re not camping, a 3-day pass is $115, or individual day passes run $50 for Friday or Saturday and $25 for Sunday. So feel free to pick a day or come out to all three. It’s awesome and the food by The Salt Lick is nothing to sneeze at either.
Here are a few bands not to miss at this year’s Old Settlers.
This is a HUGE win for Old Settler’s. This band features Bill Kreutzmann, the original drummer and co-founder of The Grateful Dead, and one of my local favorite mainstays, Papa Mali. 7 Walkers recently cut a new album in Austin and the Saturday April 17 (9:15p) date is the only posted concert in Texas for the group.
The Lee Boys
At every Old Settler’s there’s always a little church-driven rock and soul that finds its way into the line-up. This year that is provided in a big way with Miami’s The Lee Boys. They are known as the finest “sacred steel” band around. For those who don’t know what sacred steel is, I’ll let Wikipedia explain “Sacred steel is a musical style and African-American gospel tradition that developed in House of God churches in the 1930s” where pedal steel guitar was introduced as an alternative to the traditional organ. You are sure to leave “churched” if you make it to their set at 4:15p on Saturday.
I don’t remember seeing a line-up in the last 10 years at Old Settler’s that didn’t include a member of the McCoury family. These are the sons of Del and their form of “one microphone, many instruments” bluegrass brings the roots back to the genre. They play twice on 4/17 (4:45 and 10:45)
There are few performers that slay me each time I see them live. Ruthie Foster is one. Her style is a hybrid of blues, gospel, roots and folk. When she performs, she captivates the audience. Her 2007 release The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster is one of my top 10 albums of the decade. Come see why on Friday at 6:45.
This is a fantastic band that kind of just happened. The four members include Jamie Wilson (The Gougers), Liz Foster (Liz & Lincoln), Kelley Mickwee (Jed & Kelley), and Savannah Welch (daughter of Kevin Welch). They actually just assembled to play a tribute show to Kevin Welch at the 2009 Steamboat, but apparently it clicked and here we are. They are as beautiful as the music they play and you will kick yourself if you’re not in front of the Bluebonnet Stage at 5:45 on Friday night (4/16) to see them.
Here’s another one of those names that I learned about at Old Settler’s. Fred Eaglesmith has a pretty big following of folks who call themselves “Fredheads.” His songs are great and his stage banter is superb. For three decades this Canadian singer-songwriter has been recording and playing live. He performs at 1:15 Saturday and 2:25 on Sunday.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
The Banner Year Gets It
By Sean Claes w/ photos by Jay West
INsite’s Sean Claes had a chat with The Banner Year’s lead vocalist Jason Small and they discussed the new album, what being DIY is like, and the final season of LOST.
Sean Claes: Tell us about the new album, which is dropping on April 10 at an INsite Night at Red Eyed Fly.
Jason Small: It’s called “What You Won’t Get” and it’s a pretty relentless rock record. A lot of these songs are the heaviest and most intense we’ve ever written and a couple of them are very soft and fragile at times without ever dipping into ballad territory. We didn’t limit ourselves in the songwriting process and ended up pushing the boundaries of what constitutes the ‘Banner Year’ sound in every direction.
Claes: Do you have a favorite track?
Small: As a group we were blown away by how “The Barrier” turned out in the studio. It was one of the last few songs we wrote for the album and have only played it live a few times, so we weren’t sure what to expect. It’s a fast, bouncy, moderately depressing song about putting up walls and isolating yourself from the people that care about you. You know, sing-a-long material. It would probably be the first single if we were a band that released singles.
Claes: Are you “leaking” any tracks early to your MySpace page (myspace.com/thebanneryear)?
Small: Leaking? Yes. Early? No. Honestly, we’re working on the record down to the wire and don’t want to put any unfinished material out on the web. We’ll post a couple tracks for free download and a couple for streaming on our MySpace as soon as we’re done but it might not be until a few days before the release.
Claes: One of the things that draws me to a band is lyrics. The Banner Year has some very well crafted messages to the songs. Where do the words come from?
Small: Our last album (2007’s …And Straight On ‘Till Breakfast) was written when we were all in college and I had lots of big ideas about how the world should be and stories to tell with the songs. This time around I was on a wavelength more akin to our first album (2004’s “thebanneryear") and had enough going on in my own life to worry and write about without looking for outside inspiration.
What You Won’t Get isn’t a concept album or a song-cycle but it does deal almost exclusively with the themes of loss, desperation, confusion, and frustration. It essentially tells the story of the personal sacrifices and mistakes we’ve made over the past few years while working dead-end jobs, living in crappy apartments, leaving our lives behind to tour the country and trying to turn what we love to do into a sustainable career.
Claes: Who writes thse music and how does that process go?
Small: It really varied with these songs. There were a number that were written by Mike (Murray) or Mike and me at home and then brought to the rest of the band in the practice room, but we also collaborated as a group on about half the songs, which we hadn’t really done before.
Often we’d hit a wall when trying to work on a song that one of us brought to the band to be fleshed out, so someone would just start playing something random and we’d all work off it. ‘Hellbent’ grew out of a drumbeat, ‘At a Loss’ started with the bass part, and a few of the others came from Mike or Charlie (Fisher) just striking a chord or playing an improvised melodic line that inspired someone else.
“Misfire” was a combination of guitar parts that the two of them had written independently that happened to fit perfectly together. That was the first song we ever collaborated on the lyrics as well as the music, which was an entirely new experience for us.
Claes: How did it end up being 3 years between releases?
Small: Well, you can’t really follow the major-label pattern of record, release, tour, rest, repeat every two years when you’re taking every step on your own. We decided while we were making the last record that before we even tried to affiliate ourselves with a label or management we wanted to prove that we could survive the road (and each other) without help from anyone.
So no matter what happens we can always look back and know that we did more than most independent bands get to do, and we did it our own way. Plus, three years is a lot of time to make a lot of very bad personal decisions, so that tends to help with the songwriting.
Claes:...And Straight On 'Till Breakfast was tapped as one of INsite’s top 10 albums of 2007. The tracks I’ve heard from the new album are on-par lyrically and tighter musically than your debut. How do you feel you’ve progressed as a band?
Small: We learned a lot from working with our producer Paul Soroski on the last album and re-arranging songs in the studio to work better and since then we’ve written our songs with a new perspective and a better understanding of what makes a good song and how to differentiate between parts that are essential and parts that will benefit the song as a whole to let go of. We feel we’ve written a batch of songs that hit hard and don’t get bogged down or lose steam before the end, but that are still catchy, heartfelt and musically interesting.
Claes: Are you on a mission to be a DIY band, or are you looking for a label at this point?
Small: We’re on a mission to rock and if we happen to cross paths with a label that shares the same values and can take us to the next level of what we do, we’d definitely consider it. We’d love to do this as long as we can and reach a larger audience with our music.
Claes: Last year you did a three-month stint out on the road, being a band with no financial backing did you do a lot of couch sleeping?
Small: Couches are a luxury! No, we’re lucky enough to have great friends and family all over the country so about half the time we were well-fed and had couches or beds or at least carpets to sleep on, though we did spend our fair share of nights camping, sleeping in the car, or just driving through the night after a show to the next city that we had friends in.
After one attempt at the five of us sleeping in a Ford Expedition in a parking lot in June we can pretty much get comfortable anywhere else. Oh, and if you check in to the Econolodge after 4AM you don’t have to leave until noon the next day. That’s like two for the price of one if you don’t go to bed until five every night!
Claes: Charlie Fisher is the “mohawk” of the band.. but last time I saw him he had a full head of hair. Is 2010 the time for a new mohawkless Banner Year?
Small: Haha, we miss the Mohawk. He wears a hat ninety percent of the time because he apparently is incapable of getting a good haircut.
Claes: You’ve gone out and toured the country a couple of times on DIY terms, meaning you book all your own shows and make all arrangements. How has that worked out?
Small: Way better than the few times we’ve relied on promoters to arrange a show. We book almost all of our appearances directly with clubs and often line up all the supporting bands. It’s a lot less stressful and easier to promote and organize when the loop consists of just us and the venue and we don’t have to work out details through other parties or middlemen.
We’ve managed to put ourselves in front of some great crowds, big and small, just by being professional and respectful to everyone we meet and work with. When club owners see you give it your all for five off-the-clock employees and the bartender they are a lot more likely to throw you a bone and put you in front of a big crowd the next time you come through town.
We would definitely like to keep growing though and wouldn’t want to keep working 100% independently at this point.
Claes: Who are some of the bands around the US you’ve played with which we may not have heard of yet that deserve a listen?
Small: We’ve played about fifteen shows around Texas with Say When from Boston that just disbanded. Some of the guys have a new group that just started up called The Death of Paris that should be going places quickly.
We’ve played many times here and on the east coast with the Spines, a great indie rock band from New York. And we were at a house show with O’Brother in Louisiana that got busted by the cops before we could play but they were really good guys. They are on tour with Thrice and Manchester Orchestra right now I believe.
Claes: Who are the bands you’ll play with for the CD release on 4/10 at Red Eyed Fly?
Small: Antidote for Irony, who are also on our San Marcos and San Angelo CD release shows, Floorbound, who are headlining our CD release in their hometown of Houston, The Fight of Our Lives and Post Society.
Claes: Let’s say The Banner Year fan who’s reading this wants to buy the band a round at the CD release show. What’s everyone drinking?
Four totally off-the-wall questions:
Claes: How do you think the final season of LOST will end?
Small: The same way it began, with none of us watching it.
Claes: What color should I paint my living room?
Small: White with fake painted-on doors and cabinets, just to really screw up your kids.
Claes: Why do dogs have black lips?
Small: That’s racist.
Claes: Who is your favorite cartoon character and why?
Small: Does Wall-E count? He’s CGI but damn, does he tug on your heartstrings.