Featured Music: Wednesday, April 20, 2005
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Part funk, part garage rock, part R&B: This Damn Town
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
Moving Out

This Damn Town celebrates the release of a rocking new c.d. by ... relocating to Austin.

By JIMMY FOWLER

Fans of rhythm-and-punk outfit This Damn Town, take notice: The guitar-based quartet is no longer a North Texas band. They’ve departed — in spirit, at least, if not completely in body yet. Singer-songwriter-guitarist Alex Cuervo is now an Austinite, and he says that his bandmates, if all goes as planned, will join him by the end of summer.
“We still plan on commuting [to North Texas] to do shows,” the 34-year-old musician clarified. “We’ll do about two shows a month. One in Austin. The other, up there. We don’t want to burn out the people who come to see us. What’s that old show-biz saying? ‘Keep ’em wanting more.’ “
This Damn Town has just released a new c.d. to mark the geographic transition. The seven-song e.p., Happy Fucking New Year, is a cyclonic burst of life-battered lyrics, intricate and cathartically head-bobbing rhythms, and squalling guitars that after only a couple of listens reveal subtle and surprisingly varied influences — a little rockabilly here, a little surf there. It feels like the precocious debut of whippersnapper garage innovators, even though it is in fact a kind of atomic exhalation from veteran multi-band survivors.
The subject of North Texas as a musical scene is a tricky one for Cuervo, although he sounds less bitter than resigned to experience. “Cuervo” is a nickname he acquired long ago for the taste that slakes his thirst, natch. He’s been playing in garage/punk bands since he was 15 in El Paso, first as a singer and later as a drummer. He moved to Dallas in 1991 and not long after became co-owner/operator of one of the city’s first true (and few) hip spots of that decade: Forbidden Coffee, which evolved into the freaky-chic underground culture emporium Forbidden Books & Video.
He soon began performing with a number of different outfits, starting with Blacktop. That group, fond of dark, slow, bluesy grooves, toured the country and received international plaudits for the recordings released on overseas labels. Blacktop earned its notoriety before the internet became a populist tool, but it never quite equaled such acclaim in these parts. Ditto for Cuervo’s other bands, which have included The Now Time Delegation (which he describes as “punks doing straight-up ’60s Stax soul music”) and The Gospel Swingers. The current This Damn Town — which also includes Jeremy Diaz on guitar, Omar YeeFoon on bass, and Dillon Strange on drums — was formed from the ashes of the Swingers about two years ago, and the band name was chosen as an expression of frustration with Big D and environs.
Some of that, Cuervo admits, is merely the result of having played the venues of one scene for so long — he’s heard complaints from people who dallied too long in Portland, Austin, and other places that are widely regarded as “band heavens.” But he also thinks it’s partly a clash of sensibilities.
“I guess it’s true that you don’t become a hero in your hometown,” Cuervo said. “None of the music I’ve played ever fit comfortably with what was popular. There are a lot of talented people here, but sometimes it seems like musicians are more interested in nailing a style than writing good songs.”
Songwriting is not the primary musical discipline you’d expect Cuervo to cite, unless you play close attention to the structure of the cranked-up attacks with which This Damn Town is fast becoming associated. The kids who gather close to the stage at a TDT gig may initially go to get wrapped in the ominous thunder peals of Cuervo and Diaz’ guitar work, but it’s the sheer pop catchiness underneath tunes like “Ghost Train” and “Victim” that keeps the kids there through a whole set. (Cuervo takes a consciously egalitarian approach when asked about credit for the group’s songs, which are developed in rehearsal from basic ideas originated by him and Diaz: They’re all “written by This Damn Town,” an unintentionally ironic take on the source of the band name). The group manages to be both incredibly loud and singularly danceable, if you’re inclined to the allure of raw beats.
At the moment, the band’s bleak sheen has paid off, with several imminent 7-inch single releases on international indie labels, including New Zealand’s Perpetrator, Italy’s Solid Sexy Lovie Doll, and Tokyo’s Das Boot. The band members’ associations with past groups have made these intercontinental connections possible, Cuervo says, while the internet has made deals easier to propose and close. Still, he half-jokingly refers to This Damn Town as being “not very ambitious.” They don’t have a proper web site, and they never bothered to master the recordings on Happy Fucking New Year because, international indie labels aside, the band members are perfectly happy to let fans burn and swap copies of the original tunes. Cuervo says he doesn’t worry about making money off his musical efforts, save for breaking even on production and studio costs. That, he says, is the best place to be, musically and professionally.
“Speaking for myself and, I think, the band, we don’t need to get famous,” he said. “We have other jobs to support ourselves. We’re not out to meet women, because most of us have girlfriends. We do it because we’re obsessed with the music.”


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