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Wild Moccasins

Submitted by RamonLP4 on December 1, 2008 – 3:01 amNo Comment
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Photography Molly Rodriguez

Pop. It’s not something that people regularly associate with Houston. Fair or not it’s a city more famous for sprawl, heat, mosquitoes, crooked businessmen, and masses of trucks, cars and neighboring chemical plants belching pollution into the sky than for being a home for bright melodies, sharp hooks, and youthful energy. Yet, over the last few years, there has been rising tide of great Houston pop bands that have redefined this city’s sound. Many come to mind but none this year has captured the restless and vigorous spirit of what is exploding out of Houston more than Wild Moccasins.

If you don’t believe that the H-Pop scene isn’t one of our youngest and most vibrant scenes, just walk into any Wild Moccasins show. Out in the audience you’ll see it: a floor shaking, hands rising in the air, voices singing along, and the joyous sweat of people dancing! Yes, people dancing! In Houston! To a live band! Bassist Nick Cody and drummer Andrew Ortiz are the kind of sprightly and agile rhythm section that demands a henie-shaking tithe from all who dare stand before them. Guitarist Andrew Lee’s clean reverbed sound may not be the distorted long-haired crushing sound of some bands but, much like David proved with a slingshot, there’s more to kicking ass that just being big and heavy. Front and center is Zahira Gutierrez (pronounced Zaira – the H is silent) whose stand-out vocals and (by comparison underappreciated) keyboards are the perfect compliment to principal songwriter Cody Swann’s guitar and vocals. It’s a band where each member throws in little flourishes in which their voice rises above the chorus but never dominates.

Surprisingly, this is Cody Swann’s first band and the songs on the EP are the first he’s ever written. Cody and Zahira worked on songs together but soon Andrew Ortiz came in and gave the folky music a much needed kick. Nick Cody came into the picture when he heard them rehearsing at their friend Mary’s house with just drums and acoustic guitars and felt, not only that they needed a bass to fill out the sound but, that he’d be the right person for the job. Then, at a Dimes/Hearts of Animals show at Sound Exchange, they hit it off with a lead guitarist by the name of Andrew Lee from local ska band Dumbarton, brought him home, and recorded some tracks.

“I love those tracks,” says Andrew Ortiz, “because you can hear Zahira playing Mario Kart and cursing in the background.”

“Yeah,” says a red-faced Zahira laughing, “I kind-of really get into it.”

Andrew Lee says of his first impression, “I thought it was going to be a country folk thing but, once you put everyone together, that wasn’t the case.”

“The evolution from folk to pop was natural.” explains Cody, “It was a lot easier to play alone with an acoustic rather than an electric for me. ‘Shiny Strings’ was just a two and a half minute folk/pop song without drums. As we all practiced it, it became this poppy song - we added changes and it gained that minute and a half ending. That’s typical. I’ll write lyrics and chords, bring in a ‘skeleton,’ and [the song] changes. I tried with a new song to keep it set in stone and after a few practices realized it wasn’t working for us. Now we’re very much what happens happens.”

That anything goes attitude was on full display at the last block party where the band seemed to shake the stage to near collapse. Andrew Ortiz loves energetic live shows, “I’ve been going to shows since I was 13 and there are bands that go, do shows, and just do their thing but then there are those bands that are into it - visually into it - and yet don’t sacrifice their sound.”

“It’s about being spontaneous.” says Andrew Lee, “When you see us live, it’s not like we sit there and say ‘OK, when I do this, you do this.’”

“For me,” says Andrew Ortiz, “it’s not about focusing on what I’m doing [as a performer], it’s about putting everything into what I’m doing but it takes a toll; I get tired.”

Mickey Mouse Club is a label that popped-up on Hands Up Houston and Nick responds to it with a laugh, “We’ve been called a pre-teen band.”

Zahira interjects, “I think it’s because we aren’t aggressive - people are wary of upbeat and happy music even when the lyrics may not be happy and upbeat.”

“Nobody called The Who a teen band and they were young.” says Nick Cody.

Andrew Ortiz seems equally perplexed and amused by this, “Criticizing our youth is cool. Not that I’m on a high horse but there’s this new community of kids and we’re all young and supportive. In Houston, all we have is each other; that’s cool!”

That camaraderie was on display in a recent regional tour with Young Mammals, Woozyhelmet, and The Mathletes What was simply a chance to play with some of their favorite Houston bands turned into a little goodwill tour where the Moccasins found themselves performing to rowdy crowds, having a blast, and redefining this city to outsiders. Yet, that gritty Houston stereotype is still a tough one to crack as Nick found out in Austin when someone, hearing they were from Houston, said, “Oh, sorry I’m not from Houston; I’m not into metal.” Clearly their work as H-Pop ambassadors has just begun.

The new Wild Moccasins EP, Microscopic Metronomes, is scheduled for release in January of 2009. In the meantime, you can see them December 9th W/ Peter & The Wolf & listenlisten @ Arstorm/Caroline Collective ($5 ; 7-10pm) and also on December 19th at the Mink Backroom Toy Drive W/ Buxton, News On The March, Elaine Greer, Giant Princess, and B-L-A-C-K-I-E.

Links:

Wild Moccasins on Myspace (Link)
Molly Rodtriguez Photogrpahy Link)

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