Big Bucket Club
By Christopher Hess
MARCH 6, 2000: From the suffocating cloud of drummer Davis Comeau's gut-wrenching fart, apparently dealt around the table at Stubb's Barbecue by way of introduction, it eventually surfaces that these four locals called Fivehead are a bunch of swell guys. As you might expect from an indie rock band of 29-year-olds, they talk about parties from their college days, their day jobs, the CDs they own and bands they like, and they talk about Fivehead -- all of it part of the larger life-centered-around-music lifestyle. They joke a lot, polite to each other with that seasoned easiness of people who hang out a lot and are comfortable with each other's bodily functions. "Jeff and I live together, we work together, and we're in a band together -- but that's all!" says guitarist F. Beaty Wilson of his Siamese twin, bassist Jeff Jones. "We both have girlfriends!"
The two played in bands together at Georgetown's Southwestern University, migrating to Austin separately and eventually hooking up in Fivehead. Singer/guitarist John Hunt and Comeau came a little farther. Both grew up in Massachusetts, attending college in Fitchburg and starting Fivehead there with another bass player. Fitchburg was a "pretty dangerous city," according to Hunt, a fact that spurred their creative output.
"To get in a gang in Fitchburg you had to beat up a college student," explains Hunt with a wary laugh. "That was the initiation into most gangs."
"No shit," says Comeau. "You'd leave a party and there'd be a bunch of gang members there and they'd just start shit, send drunk college students running. There'd always be one poor bastard left and he'd just get slashed. So we didn't go to parties that much. We would play like five days a week, practicing for four hours at a time. When we started, we had 17 songs in a month, practicing every day."
Since migrating to Austin in '94, Fivehead has undergone a number of personnel changes, but Hunt and Comeau held on until they hooked up with Wilson and Jones in 1997, and the lineup hasn't changed since. In the meantime, the foursome has played tons of local gigs, slogged through three tours in a van, released an album and a couple of singles, and otherwise done all the things that a rock band does when it's doing it all on its own. Judging by the obvious sense of contentment and purpose from everyone at the table, they're doing just fine at it.
If indie rock can be defined, or at least described, as somewhat raw and fragmented rock music built of urbane, near-spoken vocals, sudden shifts in time and tone, and always the clever guitar riff, then Fivehead is indeed indie rock. There's also the bit about "indie" standing for "independent," meaning the music is self-made (often at home), recorded, and sold. Fivehead does that, too. Their 1999 full-length, It's Not All Good and It's Not Right On, came out on Big Bucket Club Records, a label of their own devising.
"It's a community record label," explains Wilson. "It's basically an open invitation for anyone who wants to put out a record by themselves and just glom on to our Web site and to a name that might be out there already."
"It's a community record label that has no money," clarifies Hunt.
"We have a studio," adds Jones. "It's our house. It's a living room and recording space. But we have some good equipment."
So far, the only releases to carry the Big Bucket Club imprint are Fivehead's first disc and another local CD released last year by Charlie Horse, of which Jones is a member.
"At one time or another, we've all been in Charlie Horse," points out Hunt
Right. Another characteristic of many indie-rock bands is that the personnel are always splitting off and playing with other like-minded musicians, often in a number of bands at any given time. Jones does this in Charlie Horse, while Comeau also appears occasionally with a project called Crooked I, which he describes as an "improv-rock noise band."
"It's that type of thing where people will be there for the second band and they'll stick around till we start, and we'll look up 20 minutes later and everyone will be gone, and we're like, 'All right. Just as good as packing the place, I guess.'"
Hunt also has another project -- playing bass for local quartet Silver Scooter, a band that has commanded its fair share of attention both at home and in clubs around the country. After seeing him wield his Rickenbacker bass for Silver Scooter, its rich tone and driving cadences the foundation of that band's sound, it's surprising that he likes the guitar better.
"I started off playing bass, and I love it, but I don't know if I love it as much as playing the guitar," he says. "I can't write songs and I cannot sing when I'm playing bass."
For Hunt, singing lies somewhere between melodic speech and a shout, and onstage his vocals blend into the music so that tone matters more than message. On It's Not All Good -- , the vocal tracks are clearer and more restrained, a sound that's pleasing but an experience that was anything but.
"I did the vocals with food poisoning," he explains. "I went to a [burger joint] on Lamar and I got a mushroom-swiss burger that turned into a wet bag of nails that I tried to digest over a seven-day period. It was horrible."
"That turned out well," Jones chimes in. "We should eat there the next time we record."
This year, Fivehead plans to put out a couple of vinyl singles on local indie label Peek-a-Boo and San Francisco's Devil in the Woods, as well as landing a song on an upcoming Peek-a-Boo compilation. They also hope to have a new album out by the end of the year.
While the demon of financial limitations keeps them from recording that next album, they have more than enough new material, and seem more than happy to plug away at their many musical outlets, day jobs that are the now-standard split of waiters, bartenders, and dotcommers. Wilson runs an Internet radio station called Swamp Tiger (accessible from the band's Web site: http://www.fivehead.com), and Davis has just picked up a late-night slot on the small-ranging 97.1, Free Radio Austin. Sorting through all this over barbecue and beer, the members of Fivehead don't complain about much, until the subject turns to the local scene at large.
"The Electric Lounge was a hub of a lot of bands," fumes Hunt. "Every goddamn night there was a different lineup, somewhat cheap beers, it wasn't on or near Sixth Street, people could go smoke weed in the parking lot without getting in trouble. It was very relaxed, they had great, great touring shows. We don't have anything like that now."
"We paid our dues there for a long time and worked our way to getting some good opening slots," recounts Jones. "We took it on the chin with the Monday night 1am shows for quite a while, and it finally paid off when we opened for Polvo. That was our Electric Lounge highlight."
"The closing of that club hurt Austin big time," continues Hunt. "The bands are still there, it's just that there isn't the focal point for it all that there was. A lot of the musicians who played there also worked there, which makes a difference I think."
"I think the whole scene here is in a state of flux," says Wilson. "It's in a big transition right now. I don't know what's waiting to happen, but it seems like something is about to."
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