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At one time the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, was a place for bands to perform in showcases in an effort to get record deals. Clearly that has changed — each of the bands with Arkansas connections at the festival, which runs through March 19, already have deals or have created their own labels. Bands like American Princes, Lucero and Rwake go to SXSW to meet their peers, their competition, to revel in music.
I met with American Princes, the local band with the biggest buzz for some time now, at Vino’s Brewpub for drinks and an interview about their SXSW appearance. Drummer Matt Quin is a manager at Vino’s. The band has received an enormous amount of local press coverage during the last year as they made the jump from local label Max Recordings to a much larger label, the North Carolina-based Yep Roc Records.
When they play at local venues, they pack the house. Quin, guitarists David Slade and Collins Kilgore, and bassist Luke Hunsicker, all attractive 20-something men, are known around town and well liked.
This is American Princes’ first trip as performers to SXSW and they are excited — band practice every day, pumped about their new record, “Less and Less,” which is due out March 30, and looking forward to hearing all the other bands in Austin.
Compared to the impossibly popular “Little Spaces,” the new record is a bit more mellow, more controlled and much more mature, both cerebrally and emotionally. Which is not to say it doesn’t rock. Played live, this album will be every bit as moving as its predecessors.
Slade — decked out in nerd-rock-high-fashion gear, including a Casio calculator watch, Versace glasses, Wal-Mart clothes and a Lucero trucker hat that is not quite old enough to be vintage and not quite new enough to be ironic — and Quin left New Haven, Conn., for Little Rock nearly three years ago, and soon added Little Rock’s Kilgore to the band. Hunsicker joined last year.
“The band is increasingly collaborative,” guitarist Kilgore says. “No one was ever in charge, but as we grow, we increasingly work together on all the parts.”
American Princes have it all. They are confident, talented, smart and excited like children, despite their cool cover, for their March 15 performance at Nuno’s Upstairs on Austin’s fabled Sixth Street. Saturday, they follow Billy Bragg in the Yep Roc Party at Yard Dog Folk Art Gallery. The Princes will be playing a CD release party for “Less and Less” at Juanita’s Cantina Ballroom March 30. Their first video, which will be animated, is being created for the first track on the new album, “Stole Blues,” perhaps the best song on the album.
Slade’s Lucero hat is not insignificant, even if it is confusing. Lucero, a Memphis-based alt-country-blues-rock band led by Benjamin Nichols, originally of Little Rock and a Hendrix College graduate, was instrumental in getting American Princes to Yep Roc. Lucero was between labels, shopping around, when the head of Yep Roc, Glenn Dicker, heard the band. After the show they sat in the Lucero van and Nichols played American Princes’ “Little Spaces” while they talked. Dicker left with no deal with Lucero, which has its own label now, but with a plan to recruit American Princes, which was ultimately successful. Yep Roc’s signing of the Princes also helped open up nationwide distributing for its original label, Max Recordings, owned by Burt Taggart.
“We love Yep Roc for the reason we loved Max Recording,” Slade said. “They’re like family. We can reach them anytime, they support us no matter what, and the entire team is on our side. There’s no doubt we found the right home.” Quin chimes in, “I have Burt Taggart’s name tattooed on my arm because of all he’s done for us.”
This is Lucero’s fourth year at SXSW and, according to the festival website, it is a SXSW Showcasing Artist, though it’s unclear what that means. The band has toured with big-name bands around the world and become a critical favorite after a faltering start playing parties in the Memphis area. In late 2005 a DVD documentary about the band was released. It premiered at the CMJ Music Festival in New York and the trailer is available on luceromusic.com.
When I asked Nichols if he considers Lucero an Arkansas band or Memphis band, he had to say Memphis — that’s home. And anyone who watches the trailer, much less the DVD from Lucero, will hear Nichols’ speaking voice slipping in and out of Elvis-like depth and humor.
But Nichols has the Arkansas state flag tattooed on his arm, though the word “Arkansas” is replaced by the word “Heartbreak.” Lucero’s most recent album, “Nobody’s Darlings,” is a raucous good time and its best work to date. Nichols stands out as the star of the band, but there is no doubt he would be lost without the contributions, friendship and watchful eyes of his band mates: Brian Venable, Roy Berry and John Stubblefield.
Uncomfortable with labeling their music, they simply say they were inspired by a lot of classic rock and the producing work of Jim Dickinson, particularly by the Replacements’ “Pleased To Meet Me.” No doubt they will pack the house when they play on Friday, March 17, in Austin.
After playing a March 25 show in Little Rock, Lucero will be heading to Sound of Music Studios in Richmond, Va., owned by Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker founder David Lowery, to record its next album, which is where the Princes recorded “Less and Less.”
Rwake (pronounced “wake”) will represent the Arkansas metal scene in Austin. The band members, who go by single names, are Gravy on guitar, Jeff on drums, C.T. on vocals, Reid on bass, Kiffin on guitar and B. all over the place. They have the same deep roots with Arkansas bands as American Princes and Lucero; the Princes’ Hunsicker played his first show, in the band Saturnine, with Rwake many years ago. Signed to Relapse Records, Rwake will be playing Saturday, March 18, at Room 710. (Check out the band’s page on the Relapse Records site — one that proudly sports a UA sweatshirt.)
Each band’s information can be found on the South by Southwest website (2006.sxsw.com/) and each has a download available, as well as a link to home web pages. This year Arkansas is well and loudly represented in Austin. If you can get to Austin for the celebration, go for it — there is nothing else like it. Just don’t forget your hometown bands.
Blogging from Austin
Arts and Entertainment assistant editor Amy Brawner will be blogging from Austin, Texas, and the South by Southwest Music Conference Thursday through Saturday. Go to www.arktimes.com and check out the Little Rocking entertainment blog for Amy’s SXSW reports.
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