Featured Music: Wednesday, June 20, 2002
Full-Moon Fever

Things are heating up for Denton’s Faceless Werewolves.


Now that some have tired of rap, techno, and teen-pop, a return to basic garage punk and rock seems once again in vogue. Remember that old-fashioned notion of musicians singing and writing their own songs and playing real instruments instead of synths and samples? Of course, given our need-a-new-sensation-every-day, media-drenched society, this fabled roots movement may be passé by the time this issue hits the stands.

Calling Denton’s Faceless Werewolves garage or punk is not incorrect so much as it’s not fully accurate. Live, the trio delivers raw, distorted sheets of White Light/White Heat sonic fuzz one moment and tight riffs the next. Guitarist Baldomero Valdez can wring freaky psychedelia from his guitar, running his hand down the neck of his instrument, reproducing that cool, descending rhythm line Keith Richards made famous in the Rolling Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown” (though Valdez credits Austin band Carbomb — not the Stones — for the idea).

Powered by Valdez’s sublime fretwork, Erica Barton’s incessant pummeling of the drums, and Kelsey Wickliffe’s crunchy rhythm-guitar sting, the music prowls and careens. Without losing intensity, hard rock downshifts into power-pop, big hooks color everything accessible. All three sing. “Money (You Ain’t Got Enough)” invokes Stax soul on speed, what with its dance-happy bass line. “My Weakness” alternates between the singer’s punkish screams of either rage or glee and the sensual “oohs” and “ahhs” of a woman ready to come. Surely one of the stickiest, sexiest songs since the Jane Birkin-Serge Gainsbourg duet of “Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus.”

Such befits the Werewolves. When asked to describe their sound in a recent interview, Barton responded: “Sex, rock, and being poor.”

Said Wickliffe: “Sure, we’re influenced by garage rock. That’s part of it, but I really don’t know what we are.”

Valdez: “It’s OK to be associated with garage, I guess, ‘cause it’s an ADD [attention deficit disorder] world, and people seem to need disclaimers for labels for music, which is sad.”

That pesky garage label persists because of its obvious presence in the group’s music. Like the White Stripes, the Werewolves often play sans bass, although Valdez handles a baritone on a few numbers. The bass-free Werewolves actually opened for the bass-free Stripes last September in Dallas.

The Werewolves are best labeled, if they need to be labeled at all, as rock ’n’ roll. Punk, hard rock, British beat, psychedelia, and girl-group sweetness all figure in. Those who love genuine, high-energy rock and roll, as opposed to, say, the Eagles or U2, need to hear this band ASAP. Unfortunately, that’s a bit tricky: The best way to do that is to catch them live or get your hands on a limited-release local c.d.

Two Werewolves tracks appear on the Already Gone Records’ new compilation of Texas bands, Already Gone, which was put together by Valdez’s buddy Adrian Henry of Single Frame Ashtray (www.alreadygonerecords.com). And before it ran out, the band used to sell a three-song c.d. of rough demos, songs from which still pop up on KTCU at times. A c.d. proper is in the works — but more on that later.

Raised in College Station, Valdez said he listened to Teenage Fan Club and other bands and figured he could “do that.” With Henry, he formed a band in which both wore masks (which led to the phrase, “faceless werewolves”). About three years ago, Valdez moved to Denton to search out a larger music scene.

Barton, meanwhile, went to University of North Texas and still runs Slinky Whistle, a vintage clothing store close to the university. She said the Flaming Lips and, of course, Keith Moon both influenced her drumming. She hooked up with Wickliffe (who attended Texas Woman’s University) and formed Huggy Bear, a “politically minded girl band.” Enter Valdez a few months later, and the Werewolves were born.

“The name deals with the idea that ugliness can be beautiful,” Valdez said.

Barton said she hated it at first, “but it caught on.”

Describing themselves as just another band from Denton, which Wickliffe calls a “cool, creative, slow-paced town,” they built a following playing house parties and clubs throughout the Metroplex.

“We’re not trying to revolutionize things, just having a good time and seeing what happens,” Valdez said. “But I would love to tour Europe and other countries some day.”

“Yeah,” Wickliffe said, “it’s my dream to shit in Japan.”

If not exactly revolution, the band seems interested in something beyond just a little fun. Barton said she believes that radio sucks and that she feels like a new sound is about to explode.

“Bands like the White Stripes and the Hives give me hope that maybe people are ready for a change,” Barton said.

Picturing the Werewolves as positive contributors to such a much-needed explosion is a pleasant thought. And why not? Things are working out for the band. They just got a new van, which means a chance to play more outside of Fort Worth-Dallas. And they were nominated for best new act in the Weekly’s music awards (“That was a shock” — Valdez). The group gave a blistering set at the Ridglea Theater, where the music awards showcase was held this year, then headed home to Denton to play a 2 a.m. house party.

Better still, the Werewolves’ debut c.d. should finally be out this fall.

“We’ve got around 14 songs, including the ones from the demo, only better recorded,” Valdez said. “We wanted it out this summer, but it’s been a case of recording when we get the time and opportunity, which is tough sometimes.”

Although they’ve had some label interest, Valdez said the Werewolves would probably release the record on their own, though they are still looking at label possibilities.

Hard rockin’ though they be, Wickliffe described the band as “wholesome — like Hanson.”

“Except we run around naked,” said Barton.

“And Erica and Kelsey are dating,” said Valdez.

Which brings up the women-in-rock issue.

“It shouldn’t be an issue,” said Barton. “We just want to be a good rock band with no genitalia.”

When pressed, however, Barton and Wickliffe recalled common occurrences of bias, such as when music-store employees assumed that the women were buying equipment for their boyfriends or when people told them that “they played pretty good — for girls.”

Barton and Wickliffe and the Werewolves are good enough to stand on their music alone. Friendly, eager to please, even slightly naïve, they come off more as awestruck children than jaded, bored musicians. And bless ’em for it.

They look poised to take off, at least locally. Whether or not a Denton band on an indie label can create waves outside of Texas is anyone’s guess. These players deserve it, though. Either way, if it’s the real thing you crave, see this outfit live and buy the c.d. when it finally comes out. Remember, kiddies, music needn’t be played on the radio to be great. A lot of the best music never is.

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