Every act is the next big thing. Right? Right?
AUSTIN, Texas -- As an esteemed member of the music press I get several thousand emails each day in the weeks preceding SXSW. These emails are from labels or publicists letting me know when and where the artists they represent will be playing, and what a huge and crippling failure it would be for me to miss them. They are, all of them, according to these emails, destined to be the biggest story/act to come out of SXSW this year.
One of these emails is from a label, Custard, owned by Linda Perry, the lead lesbian in 4 Non Blondes, the late ’80s/early ’90s band that haunted radio waves with the hit song “What’s Up,” featuring a chorus more offensive than some war crimes. Perry and the three other Non Blondes, you’ll recall, were summarily dismissed from music for about a decade for committing “What’s Up” against humanity, until Pink, legend has it, stalked Perry and coaxed her into writing songs with her (it wasn’t hard). Those songs became hits, and Perry has since become a go-to songwriter and collaborator for, according to her Wiki, artists including “Jewel, Courtney Love, Gwen Stefani, Blaque, Sugababes, Lillix, Robbie Williams, Melissa Etheridge, Sierra Swan, Solange Knowles, Gavin Rossdale, Lisa Marie Presley, Fischerspooner, Unwritten Law, L.P., Kelly Osbourne, Vanessa Carlton, James Blunt, Cheap Trick, Ben Jelen, Enrique Iglesias and Giusy Ferreri.”
Wonders never cease.
Normally this is the type of party you’d be wise to avoid—a heaping spoonful of schmoozing industry d-bags—but I know someone here. His name is Jason Morris, and he’s the drummer of a band called Crash Kings. Morris lived in Manayunk awhile back, but I got to know him when we were both living in Houston, where he was a drummer of some note. “The Human Metronome,” they called him back then, and his talents were too vast to keep him in Houston too long. He found himself in LA working as the drummer for Juliette and the Licks. That band, you may know (but then again, why would you?), was fronted by actress Juliette Lewis, and Morris toured the world with her and recorded an album, Your Speaking My Language, before realizing that Lewis’ raging egotism wasn’t just a phase. He quit. Or was fired. The story varies. Point is, through his association with the Licks Morris met Perry, who worked with Juliette on some song writing pointers (of which she needed many.) (True story: When Morris left the Licks he was replaced by Dave Grohl.)
But back on point: Now Morris is in Crash Kings, and Crash Kings are on Custard. They’ve also just recently signed to Universal Motown, and their album, out in May, will be some Custard Universal Motown collabo. MTV’s Buzzworthy blog describes their sound as,“Ben Folds and Jack White joined Weezer in a Queen tribute band.”
So I’m here for Morris (though the open bar doesn’t hurt), who is a great guy and a good friend. Besides him several of his label mates are at the party, of course. There’s a scrawny girl with a big voice and bright orange hair named Reni Lane (sounds like Tori Amos and Avril joined Heart in a Jewel tribute band), a band named Bigelf (Bryan Adams and Willie Nelson joined AC/DC in an AC/DC tribute band) who hopes like hell you’ve never seen Turbonegro seeing as how they ripped off their look whole-scale, and Nico Vega (a shrieking hyena and a dying moose joined 4 Non Blondes in a tribute to the Third Reich) who I will have the extreme displeasure of catching a couple songs from later in the night. She will no doubt be huge.
The party takes place on a rooftop deck at the type of bar that’s legion in Austin, a very sleek looking place that caters to college kids who want to be on The Hills and have the fake tans to prove it. In addition to the wide open bar, a catering company called Pink Avocado (which I’m almost positive is a euphemism for something very dirty sexually) passes around vegan hors d’oeuvres—vegan samosas, vegan risotto cakes, vegan grilled aspargus. They also pass around lots of vegan custard in tiny cups. Loads of it. (I hear a man turn it down on account of his lactose intolerance.)
There were lots of connections being made. Lots of texts being sent. Many rumors being confirmed. (”No, no. Metallica is definitely playing tomorrow night.”) Tons of iPhones getting no reception (a common complaint at many of these gatherings, so tied up are the circuits). All the while huge images of the bands on Custard where projected on a wall while music from each played. Early in the night, the man who edited the photos to go with the music introduced himself. He does freelance video work, if you’re ever interested. As the party went on he was interviewed by a camera crew from HDRealTVFilms, a company that is “like Entertainment Tonight, but for the internet,” I later overhear one of their camera men explaining to someone else in the bathroom.
The rest of the conversation went like this: “Oh. Like TMZ?”
Later in the night a reporter for Austin American Statesmen, Austin’s daily, asked me if Bigelf, all clad in leather, long haired and bearded, were Metallica. I resisted the urge to tell him, yes, they were, had a few more vegan risotto cakes and headed for the door where I was given a Custard fanny pack. Inside it was a Custard sampler CD, a Custard candle and a box of promotional Custard matches.
PW music editor Brian McManus is in Austin for the South by Southwest music festival. You can find more of his coverage -- and videos of Philly bands -- at Make Major Moves, PW's music blog.
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PW's Music Issue 2014