Featured Music: Wednesday, January 14, 2009
The Great Tyrant are, from left to right, Tommy Atkins, Jon Teague, and Daron Beck.
Bends Sinister

Shadows lurk around every corner of The Great Tyrant’s sonicscapes.


When you make music that describes life as a bottomless void and other people as hell and have a song about a child wandering through a dark house with a gun, it’s important to have a sense of humor. Just ask Jon Teague, drummer for the operatic despair-rock trio The Great Tyrant. Onstage, the combination of Teague, lead singer-keyboardist — and American Idol “contestant” — Daron Beck, and bassist Tommy Atkins is a jaw-rattling barrage of bellowing, poltergeist-y vocals, plus amplified carnival-organ riffs, and seemingly random, eerie bumps and crashes of percussion. The total effect is surprisingly hypnotic rather than just the result of another cacophonous doom-rock workout. And Teague confides that the band recognizes the pretensions of its own morbid influences.
“A lot of the drama we create in our music is tongue-in-cheek,” the 33-year-old said. “We see the comical inside the maniacal and vice versa.” Declaring his reverence for the faux-sinister atmospherics of classic Hammer Studio horror films from England, Teague insists there’s not an ironic agenda to The Great Tyrant. “We love the scariness and the silliness at the same time. Life is too chaotic to have only one choice. Dualistic thinking makes everything pretty fucking boring.”
The Fort Worth-based trio formed about three years ago, after the demise of the lamented Yeti, in which Teague and the 34-year-old Atkins were both members. Teague had met former Pointy Shoe Factory frontman Beck, 33, at various parties and while on the same bills at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios in Denton. Once their previous musical associations ended, Teague and Beck began playing as a goth-inspired duo. The drummer sequenced their bass lines via computer, but having software as a bandmate just didn’t cut it. Teague’s former Yeti cohort Atkins came aboard in early 2006 and widened the possibilities of controlled musical chaos.
Indeed, all of the weird, disparate influences meshed soon after the three started playing together. One of Beck’s favorite vocalists is the scarily intense soul singer Nina Simone. In early rehearsals, the musicians found themselves jamming to her grim, urgent arrangement of Brecht-Weill’s “Pirate Jenny” from Nina Simone in Concert. They also discovered a common admiration for certain film composers’ work, including the lushly ominous orchestrations of Angelo Badalamenti, the pulse-racing mood-setters by Ennio Morricone, and splattercore master Dario Argento’s fave metalists The Goblins.
The Great Tyrant’s semi-hopeless worldview has another big, nonmusical inspiration: 20th-century Romanian-French philosopher Emil Cioran. This existentialist writer was sort of a cross between Sartre and Dorothy Parker; he was a thinker who declared that life was meaningless but, once you accepted this, was also entertaining as hell. His aphorisms include “It’s not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late” and “I never met one interesting mind that was not richly endowed with inadmissible deficiencies.” Both come from Cioran’s 1973 book The Trouble With Being Born, which also is the title of a Great Tyrant song dedicated to him. The sound of their music might be described as Cioran-style “discomfort,” but it’s surprisingly versatile.
“The pleasant side effect of not being an easy fit [musically],” Teague continued, “is that you get to play shows with a smattering of different bands. I don’t like to go to a show where the first three bands sound the same. We’ve played with electronic bands, jazz bands, punk bands, doom-noise bands,” and, of course, goth groups. But as with so many other apocalyptic artisans who eschew the black nail polish and death-pallor makeup associated with the genre, Teague said goth might be the uneasiest fit of all for The Great Tyrant.
“It’s hilarious to see someone dressed up as a brooding late-19th-century gentleman, but it’s not funny to see him taking it seriously,” said Teague. “We’ve all been influenced by that aesthetic, we all love it, but that’s what it is for us: an aesthetic.”
Two projects are currently on the front burner for Teague and company. One is recording some songs for a split 12-inch vinyl project with Human Anomaly, a chilled-out, prog-influenced Californian trio. (The Haltom City-based Rescued From Life record label will release the as-yet-unnamed project.) The other is the release of The Great Tyrant’s debut album, recorded at Echo Lab Studio in Argyle with producer Matt Barnhart (Tame … Tame and Quiet, The Baptist Generals, Red Animal War). Teague said recording is normally a tedious and stressful process for him and his bandmates but that Barnhart’s affable personality and skilled ear kept them engaged. The trio is shopping the songs around to national and local indie labels but might release them under their own banner. The album is called There’s a Man in the House, a title that warns of imminent danger and that was inspired by an image from Teague’s life.
“A friend of mine sells antiques and odds and ends,” he said. “He gave me this old postcard, a picture of a little girl walking down a dark staircase with a lantern in one hand and a revolver in the other. I don’t know where it came from, but it’s frightening.” He added with pleasure, “We wrote a song about it.”

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