Texas Is the Reason Guitarist on Their Fans: ‘They Are Not All 40 and Trying to Relive Their Youth’
Texas is the Reason guitarist Norman Brannon wistfully invokes the title of his band's single benchmark LP. It's the Sunday before Christmas in Brooklyn the now near-40-year-old is still trying to come to terms with the legacy his mid-'90s post-hardcore band have left since calling it a day in 1997.
"At the time, that question was exactly what the whole experience of Texas is the Reason was all about," he recalls. "The answer for us was "'yes...but no.'"
Formed by former Shelter guitarist Brannon (ne Arenas) with drummer Chris Daly (ex-108), bassist Scott Winegard (ex-Fountainhead) and guitarist/vocalist Garrett Klahn (ex-Copper), Texas' impact on the on the last 16 years of hardcore and indie culture has been seismic. From the VFW Hall to the Warped Tour. Ask every single band over the age of 25 that have even remotely waved the emo flag if the New York quartet had an impact on their music and you'll undoubtedly get a resounding "yes."
Cut to 2012. Texas is the Reason reemerges from their history of unfinished business to not merely play two NYC area shows (one being part of Revelation Records' 25th Anniversary), but to reunite in the studio to record two new songs for a re-release of Do You Know Who You Are?, their 1996 debut album.
Now with a clutch of shows in the U.S. and Canada booked for early 2013, the band is readying for what could likely be their last waltz. Noisecreep spoke to Brannon about the state of Texas is the Reason in 2013: their turbulent history and finally coming to terms with the life of a band that ended far too soon.
Why Norm? Why? Why start this band up again?
[Laughs] It started partly because it wasn't our idea! That's probably the most crucial part of the story. We saw it as a window of opportunity that we didn't have, not just in 1997, but also in 2006, when we played two shows in New York just kind of on a lark. In 2006, the most important thing that we wanted to do - and did not do - was record the two songs we had written before we broke up that had never gotten recorded. Those songs have really been the reason in all of our minds why the band hasn't been able to rest. When Revelation called us in July and asked us to play Rev 25 in New York in the fall, before we even actually said yes, we said to each other that if we do it, we're recording the songs. We said yes to Revelation more as an excuse to record these songs and along with that came these opportunities to let the songs live.
Listen to 'Back and to the Left'
There's definitely a level of commitment you're making to each other. You're touring and recording again.
Right! It's really difficult to wrap my brain around it. In the years since we broke up, it's amazing to see how much a part of my life, almost incessantly, Texas is the Reason has become. For example, when I got my job teaching, one of the professor-mentors said to me: 'One day, we've got to talk about music.' And I thought to myself: 'Why?' and she said to me 'Oh, I know who you are. I saw you play in North Carolina.' Those types of experiences happen all the time. I'll be at a restaurant and all of a sudden I get comped, reason being 'You were in Texas is the Reason.' I can't explain it. There's just a general sense of goodwill for the band that has always existed. So I suppose that yes, we're doing these shows to support these songs and give them life. However, on another level, it is a way of returning this goodwill that I've experienced for the past fifteen years simply because we did this band once and we made a record that connected with people.
Why do you think Texas is the Reason connected with people on such a personal level?
We definitely came up at a certain time, this immediate post-Nirvana era where bands from the underground were staking a claim in the popular culture. I always think of Andy Greenwald in his Nothing Feels Good book. He described our band as a 'gateway drug' for a lot of pop or hardcore kids to explore parts of themselves that they couldn't explore with the kind of records they were listening to at the time. I thought that was an interesting hypothesis. I've actually had a number of people say to me: 'Yours is really the first record of its kind that I really attached myself to.' They see that as a certain sea change in their personal lives. I think that's really when people connect to a band or connect to a record. When it symbolically stands for something like that. In that sense, we're reaping the benefits of circumstance. Of being around at a certain time and being of a certain culture.
Watch Texas Is the Reason Mini-Documentary
You were a 'gateway band' sure. But there were also a ton of other bands around at that time: Jawbox, Boysetsfire, Seaweed, a lot of bands on Dischord, that weren't necessarily all that different musically from Texas, but didn't seem to resonate as much.
We drew most of our influence from the bands on Dischord and Touch & Go. The bands on those two labels were pretty much the bands we were listening to incessantly at the time. Bands like Jawbox, Lungfish or Seam but at the same time, I feel like those bands had already sidestepped hardcore by a generation or two on some level. For us, when we came out, we were freshly coming out of 108 or Shelter or Resurrection. Our first shows were all with Snapcase and Mouthpiece or Madball. I think that also the fact that we didn't segregate ourselves from the hardcore scene was an important part of that connection. We never came out and said: 'We're doing something different!' The music may have been different. It may have taken a different route but the ethic and the aesthetic behind it still had a lot of things in common with where we came from.
When Texas broke up in 1997, right before signing a fairly lucrative deal with Capitol, I recall very distinctly that you guys and Garrett did not get along. What's changed since then?
Here's the thing. The dynamics for the band started on a weird foot and just exacerbated themselves in different ways. The band was already conceived and then we started looking for a singer. Then, we found Garrett. Chris, Scott and myself had a history already and he popped in and felt a little 'outsidery.' What was kind of bizarre about that is that there were moments in the group where everyone felt like that person. I was certainly going through some personal issues at that time that were not allowing me to connect with people on some sort of deep level – certainly any kind of real level. I shut myself off and just took care of business. Or at least that's how it felt sometimes. As the band progressed, I would say if we had tensions at the beginning of any sort, they were exacerbated by the insane amount of outside pressure that happened immediately that was completely unexpected and on some level unwelcome.
You mean from major record companies trying to sign you guys from literally your very first show.
I'm not sure when we started the band we had those kind of mainstream aspirations, but as soon as those worms were put in our ears, it forced us into a conversation that we had never had and that we were unsure if we even wanted to have. It put different ideas into our heads in a way that wasn't healthy for a band that hadn't been together more than four or five months. I definitely think the nature of being the subject of a bidding war that early in our career had a huge role in creating that kind of tension. In retrospect, I would also say that some of that tension we might have invented ourselves in the sense of feeling like we were slipping into some rock 'n' roll mythological archetype of a band. I remember one particular industry guy who was whispering in my ear: 'You're an amazing songwriter and performer' and then he would say to Garrett: 'You write the words that make the whole world sing.' [Laughs] It was really making both of us feel like some sort of miniature Jagger/Richards thing and inadvertently creating some sort of extra tension that didn't need to be there.
I would say that as adults we probably look back at that time and think it's funny because we were naïve and young and didn't know what we were doing. Sometimes when you have a situation like that and you don't know what you're doing, you look at other people who have been through that situation and maybe subconsciously copy them. That was the end of the band right there. As many people who have been in our situation have done before: just simply said, 'fuck it' - which is exactly what we did.
The major label feeding frenzy was literally on from Texas' very first show at the Equal Vision Loft in NYC on May 12, 1995. After that, A&R reps were flying to shows all around the country, wining and dining the band throwing absurd deals at you guys. I wasn't surprised at all when you decided to split up.
Historically, people have tended to push us into the narrative of the proto-emo mid-'90s thing. At the time, there was no talk of that. It was really [Nirvana co-manager] 'Janet Billig is coming to your show, saying 'O my God, you remind me of Nirvana!' and then letting your head explode over that. It was really more about this mid-'90s alternative bidding war situation that I think a lot of bands and people have no concept of anymore.
It was funny: I was constantly grappling with trying to figure out what made our band worth seven figures. I was constantly trying to ask the powers that be: are you sure? That's what a lot of the waiting game was about with various labels and us. I remember having that conversation with Tom Whalley. I remember having that conversation with [then-Capitol Records president] Gary Gersh. We wanted to make sure that they knew what they were getting.
It must be nice just to be able to be a band and go out and play shows without the specter of the industry hanging over your head like it did the entire time Texas is the Reason was a band.
Definitely. To operate in the context of 2012 and 2013 without those trappings is kind of a blessing. It feels like this is how it should have felt when we were a band.
What are the four of you doing in your lives now aside from Texas is the Reason?
I am an English lecturer at a university here in New York. Scott is a chef. He travels around and opens different raw foods restaurants around the country for [raw food entrepreneur] Matthew Kenney. Chris is now a hairstylist at several high-end salons in New York. Garrett is the one who is the one who is the most plugged in as far as still performing. He's always had a job as a production manager at an event company in New York but he's got Atlantic/Pacific who he plays and tours with and a thing called Zena Rd. for a while which is him and a girl he met up in Woodstock. Garrett's the one who's stayed the course in terms of playing and wanting to play more,
The two new songs ['Every Little Girl's Dream' and 'When Rock 'N' Roll Was Just a Baby'] that appear on the discography CD that's coming out on Revelation in March are key to Texas is the Reason's current resurrection. What's so special about them?
Those were the first songs where it actually felt like we had a solid sense of what we were doing. The way we operated on a creative level was we would come up with titles for songs before they ever existed which is why our song titles never had anything to do with our lyrics. After the first round of touring for Do You Know Who You Are?, I think that Garrett came in and said: 'I have the name for our second album - it's was going be called 'It Is Happening Again,'' and we were like: 'We love it. Perfect.' 'It Is Happening Again' became a concept and it became the thing that we needed to create around. The first three songs that we wrote were 'Blueboy' - which the demo version came out on a split 7" with Promise Ring – the idea always being that we were going to rerecord it and make it sound big. The second song that we wrote was 'Every Little Girl's Dream' and the third and final song was 'When Rock 'N' Roll Was Just A Baby.' Behind those songs there were a couple things going on. We wanted to make sure that whatever 'It Is Happening Again' sounded like, it didn't sound like Do You Know Who You Are? For 'Every Little Girl's Dream,' that was kind of a move towards really staking some sort of claim to the identity of Texas is the Reason. I couldn't hear any other band playing that song. It really is very much our song, which is one of the reasons we're so proud of it.
Watch 'When Rock 'N' Roll Was Just a Baby' Live Performance
The idea behind 'When Rock 'N' Roll Was Just a Baby' was writing a song that sounds as much like a song that could potentially be a single but not deliver that kind of satisfying chorus even once. In retrospect, those two songs had that reactionary vibe about them. At the same time, that's who our band was. There was nothing about them that was contrived or purposely being contrarian. Those are the things about music that actually turned our band on. The band Lungfish, for instance, was a huge influence on 'Blueboy.' If you listen to the way that song swings, that swing is completely Talking Songs for Walking. Surely, they had no choruses on their records. We were really responding to what we liked.
What was it like when you first stepped into the rehearsal room again in 2012?
This time around it actually felt completely natural. People didn't really believe it when we said it back in the day but when we broke up, we said that there was no way that any of us could remain friends and be in this band. We decided it was more important to save our friendships. At the end of the day, we've all been in regular contact or lived together or played in bands together or simply been good friends since we broke up. The other thing we realized fairly recently, which may have taken some time to realize, is that this combination of people just works. It's a combination of people that's not belabored at all. We walk into the room and start playing and it works. We've all played in other bands since Texas is the Reason and I don't think any of us can say our other bands were like that.
What is the status of Texas is the Reason as a recording and touring band beyond the shows you currently have booked?
Texas is the Reason is temporarily reunited. The status of our band is we feel that we have a commitment to these songs first. We have the quote-unquote new record coming out and now we want to nurture that. We want to acknowledge that people who are still buying Texas is the Reason records are younger too. They are not all 40 and trying to relive their youth. The fact is that we've been selling a lot of records to people who are 20. That's brilliant. That's amazing. That is one of the greatest things that I can think of. The fact that we can make this alive for this new generation of people is a privilege and that's one of the main reasons that we want to take this out on the road for a short amount of time. That said, we know that there is going to be an expiration date on it, not because we don't want to do it but because the reality of our lives is such that we can only do so much. And I think that we're all in places in our lives with career and family where we don't want to shake that too much because it's taken all of us a long time to get here.
Would you record another record?
On a purely hypothetical 'would you want to record another record?' level, I always would want to make music with these guys and I think any them would say the exact same thing. Unfortunately, there's this aspect of Texas is the Reason where there's a lot that's attached to it and I think it would be really difficult to add to that weight. I was actually just hanging out with Mike Kinsella (Joan of Arc, Cap'n Jazz) and we were talking about Cap'n Jazz who had just toured last summer. Now he has this other group, which is essentially Cap'n Jazz. They're called Owls and they make records. It's pretty much the same lineup and pretty much just acknowledges that they like making music together but they do it in a way that's really interesting. And I said to Mike that might be actually a model that might be interesting for me to do. To play with these people without the kind of baggage or history. Whether or not that would happen, who knows but it is an interesting brain exercise anyway.
Watch Texas Is the Reason 2013 Tour Announcement
Reunions are a tricky thing anyway. They can be half-hearted like At the Drive-In reunion shows or amazing like Refused who completely stepped up their game in terms of sound, production and performance.
Refused were twelve years better than the last time I saw them twelve years ago and that's definitely the way to do it.
Still, Refused should never make a new record. On the other hand, Quicksand recently pretty much picked up right where they left off.
I could see Quicksand putting out the demos of the record they never put out. They were perfectly good songs. Honestly, with Texas is the Reason, this kind of music is still my 'go-to.' When I sit down with a guitar, that's the style that's still in me. It's strange how experience kinda of collides with desire. As much as I would love to do something like that, it almost feels like the experiences that we've had as a band, which will bind us forever are also the experiences that will keep it from happening. We want to remain in the good place that we're in and one of the great things about recording these songs and booking these shows with an expiration date is that we can perceive this purely as a celebration and a thank you. I feel like as soon as you put ambition into the mix, things change drastically.
As an elderstatesman of emo [chuckles], do you ever find the urge to shake your cane and scowl at the countless emo and post-hardcore bands that followed Texas? Especially given that a lot of them [here's lookin' at you Plain White T's] don't have an iota of hardcore or punk in their sound?
Never! Maybe this is the benefit of being an older person that never got out of music and still likes listening to records made by 20-year-old kids. I believe that no matter what you're doing, that when you're 'in it;' you believe that it's the most important thing in the whole world. When you're into something you believe it's the best thing in the world. Sure, there's a lot of bands that I don't really care for that have come up and blown up but the amount of respect I have for those bands is pretty much the same I would have for anyone else. I know that for them it's real and amazing. I'm not that jaded enough to want to take that away from anybody.
The deluxe reissue of Do You Know Who You Are? will hit stores on Feb. 12 via Revelation Records.
2/15 Washington, DC - Black Cat
2/16 Philadelphia, PA - Union Transfer
2/17 Boston, MA - Paradise
3/8 Toronto, ON -Lee's Palace
3/9 Atlanta, GA - Masquerade
3/29 San Francisco - Bimbo's 365
3/30 Los Angeles - The Music Box at Henry Ford Theatre