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Home » Music

Sugar Shack

Submitted by RamonLP4 on November 1, 2008 – 2:01 amNo Comment
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Photography by Rosa Guerrero

Over three separate decades, Sugar Shack seemed to be a name you couldn’t escape. From its primordial beginnings in the seminal Texas-party-punk of the Party Owls, to its early long-hair-punk / Grunge years, and on through the garage Rock years, the band has been one of Houston’s best exports. While the list of drummers and bassist could likely fill this entire page, the 10th* and final line-up of the band (Andy Wright - guitar, Mark Lochridge - vocals, John Gibson - bass, Kyle G. Otis – guitar, and Stefanie Paige Friedman – drums) was no less impressive and passionate as any other. That final line-up is reuniting this month and their reasons for doing so are hardly the standard litany of money, recaptured glory, or other self-serving reasons you see so many times with aging Rock musicians but, instead, show a group of friends with a clear idea of what is truly important.

At Sugar Shack’s rehearsal space, Stephanie explains how the reunion came about, “Our son does surf contests in Galveston and we found out through a blog last summer that one of the kids (Johnny Romano) had Leukemia – a nine-year-old kid. His cancer had gone into remission but then relapsed and then he got an infection. As parents, we’d look at our son and immediately want to help. We can all relate to this. Johnny just had a baby. We all surf, skate, and have kids. I gave blood but what they needed was money. So we thought what can we do? We thought this would be a good reason to get back together and it just snowballed from there. Unfortunately, Johnny passed away on September 23rd. Then Ike hit Galveston and his family and friends’ homes were demolished. All these events just sunk these people into a depression and we said ‘Let’s do this to give a break to the misery around these people who are surrounded by grief and tragedy.’ And these people are excited to have something to celebrate. So we’re having a silent auction, surf artists from as far away as Hawaii, a surf car show…it’s a big weekend. Before this, we’d never met them but we just felt we’d better give back in one way or another.”

Kyle adds, “It’s better to get together for someone else; it’s cooler that way.”

Andy points out another reason why this isn’t that hard a decision, “See, Sugar Shack never officially broke-up.”

“Yeah,” says Kyle, “we were just taking a break. Our last show was January 2004 and that was a good show so we can’t muck-up this show.”

Johnny scratches his head and says, “I thought we had a bad show and that’s why we broke up.”

“No,” insists Kyle, “it was a good show! Remember that girl that kept picking up men and throwing them onto the stage?” and suddenly the band trails off in a string of amusing details about that show. After a while, Kyle returns to his point that “We actually did plan on having shows after but our schedules never worked out.”

Stephanie jokes, “Getting Andy to do this was like pulling teeth.”

“I still don’t want to do it!” laughs Andy. “Last week, Mark arrived late and Johnny had to leave early - basically NOTHING has changed.”

But this is a band that has been through a lot of changes in everything in personnel and music styles over its lifetime, so I ask them about everything from their forming on the ashes of the Party Owls to the early heavy sound to their stylistic shift to garage.

Andy takes the first question, “When Robbie [original Party Owls singer] left, we realized that Mark could actually sing, so we changed the name of the band and kept going.”

Kyle continues, “Early pre-grunge Sugar Shack was kind of “long-hair-punk” style music, like Tales of Terror. The guitars in Sugar Shack were tuned down because of the sax that the Party Owls had used which added to the perceived ‘heaviness’ of the band.”

“Then,” says Andy, “Grunge came about and we rode that wave but we still liked and played 60’s punk style music, having been inspired by Poison 13 and other similar bands of the time.

Kyle and Andy explain that “Ultimately, we felt it was more fun to play higher energy garage rock type material. Charmer [1992] has both heavy tunes and more garage Rock tunes on it. Shortly after that album, we dropped most of the heavy tunes.

Mark adds, “Grunge got so commercial and hair metalish we just wanted to distance ourselves.”

Stephanie makes it clear that this wasn’t strategic; “It definitely wasn’t a career move. It seemed to alienate most of our fans and it took quite awhile to build-up a new following. It was just what we were into at the time and had the most fun playing.”

Given that the band then went on to tour nationally and see a spate of releases with Estrus, I ask them about how they see their success and how that success measures up with what’s expected of bands these days.

Andy explains the big cultural shift in terms of how some people viewed a band’s success, “In our time Punk bands weren’t being signed to majors and now you’re gauged on having a major deal.”

“I always thought we were very successful.” says Stephanie.

“We were spoiled.” says Kyle. “We didn’t do anything to promote our shows and still people would show up.”

“Every tour was successful.” boasts Andy. “We’d play for 500 in Chicago on a Sunday. But we never made the big push and quit our jobs. We’d tour while on vacation and afterwards we’d head back to work. We were too old to care but we were old when we started.”

That’s not to say that major labels weren’t listening. Andy remembers one call Sugar Shack received from a major label, “I came home and there was this message from some guy from Geffen…on my machine! I didn’t call back…we came from a background where that wasn’t done. Any advance they could have offered was likely less than our combined salaries. I think we were realistic about how popular our kind of music could be and that we weren’t going to get on MTV.”

Stephanie, for one, wasn’t one to abide by the restrictions of a major label deal. “I was in King Sound Quartet and there was this list of restrictions [a major label] gave us like I couldn’t play in other bands but I was having too much fun so we didn’t do it.”

Andy shakes his head at all this discussion and adds, “All the talk about major labels…the thing is we were totally stoked with all the labels that did put out our records because those were the labels putting out the records of the bands we were into.”

Before I leave them to their rehearsal I ask them about playing music now compared to when they were young and Stephanie replies, “Honestly, I don’t have that anger – that young angst anymore. I don’t spit loogs anymore. But you see that all the time; older people putting on ‘a show’. We’ve all seen that. We’re not like that. We’re just good friends whose Rock came from a love of the music.”

You can see Sugar Shack at the Johnny Romano Tribute on November 9th with Tiesco Del Ray, The Neptones, Luxurious Panthers, and Uncle Charlie at the Continental Club**

*Gunnen Rocks: http://www.grunnenrocks.nl/bands/s/sugarshack.htm
** Space City Rock: http://www.grunnenrocks.nl/bands/s/sugarshack.htm

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