Featured Music: Wednesday,May 29, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Not Over Now

Newbies the Snowdonnas have the scene abuzz — their moody, melodic rock is why.

By KEN SHIMAMOTO

When the Snowdonnas’ press pack came across my desk, an assortment of impressions took place. First: Their press clips all came on expensive stationery, as if daring the jaded rock journo to shitcan ’em and take the disc to Wherehouse Music for beer and cigarette money. Second: Everything was in different shades of blue, from the cover letter to the press clips to the cover of the band’s just-released debut c.d., Over Now, which was an icy blue with lots of artsy out-of-focus photographic effects. I slid the disc into the player, and within 30 seconds, it started making sense. The music had a wintry, desolate vibe, the sonic equivalent of a weekend in Antarctica.

Over Now is the most fully realized debut by a local band that I’ve heard in eons. It sounds like it could be the work of bereaved Brits with their back pockets filled with cash, rather than a relatively new crew of Foat Wuth boys. These Snowdonnas inhabit the same spacey, textured-guitar-with-melody territory as My Bloody Valentine and Ride, with echoes of other underground faves like the Catherine Wheel and ’80s worthies like the Cure and Joy Division.

Overlaid with sheets of atmospheric synthesizer sounds, the Snowdonnas’ songs come across like soundtracks to dreams. Yet the most striking thing about the band is how tight and focused it sounds. Part of what makes Over Now work is that, while the music is atmospheric and textured, it’s not just about atmosphere and texture — there’s drive as well, courtesy of a locked-in rhythm section, and the kind of haunting melodies that stick in your head hours after the disc is over.

Those first impressions were confirmed the night the Snowdonnas played the Wreck Room on a bill with Spune Productions stablemates, the Audiophiles, who concluded a particularly inspired set by going Trail of Dead and trashing their equipment. In the 10 p.m. warm-up slot, the Snowdonnas sounded both expansive and seamless — surprising for a band that’s only been in existence in its current form for about a year and a half.

Or maybe not so surprising, when you consider the fact that Snowdonnas Tim, Bysshe, Otto, and Niki (they’re not on a last-name basis with their fans — kinda like John, Paul, George, and Whatsisname) are all veterans of more than a decade in the band wars. Make it 16 years for keyboardist Bysshe (a handle that’s surely not a sign of a poetic bent, per se), who must have started jamming when he was in diapers.

As for the band’s current level of professionalism, it wasn’t always so. Drummer Niki recalls a gig they played when they were still known as the Transmitters, a melodic power-pop act that morphed into the Snowdonnas shortly after bassist Otto joined late in 2001. “This guy came up to the stage after the first couple of songs, really concerned,” said Niki. “He asked us, ‘Can you guys hear yourselves up there?’”

Not wanting to come across like the brickheads in school who used to ask me if I was Chinese or Japanese, I still feel compelled to ask Niki, “Uh, yore not from around here, are yew?” He’s one of two Asian dudes I’ve encountered on the local music scene (the other being rapper Chino History). “I was conceived in Cambodia and born in Houston,” he said with a laugh. His parents narrowly escaped the killing fields in their native land, leaving the country just before its fall to Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge in 1975.

Niki points out that the Snowdonnas are one of the few bands you’ll find whose lineup includes four guys who can all play guitar. He was already playing guitar when his father, also a musician, drafted him to play drums in a band. When he and singer-guitarist Tim started playing together, they’d take turns playing guitar and drums. Today, Tim provides the original ideas for Snowdonnas songs, which the band members then arrange collectively.

Bysshe is the band’s gear obsessive; he admits to owning 17 guitars, and his bandmates kid him about their Summit Avenue rehearsal space “overflowing with his crap.” UNT alumnus Otto, who spent a couple of years playing in his bedroom before connecting with like-minded musos, handles graphics and promotion — he’s the one with the blue fixation. There’s also the inevitable side project: a Cure tribute band called Destination Venus, in which Otto plays guitar, Bysshe plays bass, and Niki drums.

Over Now was recorded in Austin over a period of several weeks last summer with producer Rory Phillips (former guitarist with Austin’s late, lamented Impossibles). “We went down there with a head full of everything we’ve ever been influenced by,” said Tim. “Rory really helped to focus and direct us.” Although tracking sessions took just 10 days, he recalls it as “an impossibly slow process.” And Bysshe added: “And Rory wasn’t very patient with us.” Another two weeks were spent mixing and mastering.

“We did things backwards,” said Niki. “First we signed a deal with [Austin label] Ballyhoo Withdrawal, then we made a record, then we went out and started playing shows.”

The band has been playing three or four shows a month at various Denton, Dallas, and Fort Worth venues (the Wreck Room and Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studio are among the faves). They’ve also been well received on a couple of forays down to Austin. But having spent time in both the Houston and Austin music scenes, Niki finds the level of creativity in Fort Worth and Dallas to be superior, citing the Metroplex scene’s diversity.

The Snowdonnas realize that what they’re doing isn’t mainstream, and they’re fine with that. “We’ve played to rooms with two people in them,” said Niki, “but at least we’re playing the music we want to play. Then again, we might all buy suits. We could be the next Duran Duran!”


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