Houston Calling

Ten Questions for lemonenemy

December 1st, 2003 · No Comments

Texas alternative bands have seen their shares of ups and downs. Bands like The Hunger, Toadies, New Bohemians, Butthole Surfers, and countless others have tasted major label success, but mostly come back home with a sour taste in their mouths and their right eyes crusted shut.

Most of Houston’s rock bands today seem to be playing it a bit closer to home. No one’s pretending that getting signed to a major label is more important than putting on a good show for the fans or writing a good song. And that’s a great thing. The bands that pretend they are rock stars and only care about their “look” are exposed as being nothing of the sort and fade away pretty quickly.

One of the best alt-rock acts to come out of Houston in the past few years is lemonenemy. The band released their self-titled CD earlier this year and have played shows in the Houston area and around Texas. It’s an excellent album, with none of the problems I often find in albums put out independently by rock bands. I even put one of their songs (“In Your Shell”) on my latest CD compilation.

I recently caught up with lemonenemy‘s guitarist Brian Bell, who agreed to answer a few questions for Houston Calling.

Ten Questions for lemonenemy

HC: How did lemonenemy get started? Who came up with the name of the band?

BB: Frank, Lani & I have always liked a lot of the same music, and we?ve been friends for a long time and have played music together in various configurations. The three of us doing something together was kind of inevitable. It happened all by itself after we helped Frank set up a private space for banging around. We started getting together fairly regularly to play and record, and pretty soon it was obvious there was a band happening. We had to find a fourth person to be able to play live. That?s when Glen Squibb came along, and later Erick Doxey.

The name has no real significance. It came out of one of those “how?s this for a ridiculous band name” discussions everyone seems to have. We were making up those names where you juxtapose two unrelated but vaguely alliterative words, like “Prongdonkey” or something, and someone tossed out “Lemon Enema,” which in this crowd was considered high comedy. When we finally needed a name, Frank remembered it and realized that changing the “a” to a “y” would not only remove the distasteful rectal association, but would also produce something that annoyingly sticks in your head like one of Barry Manilow’s better radio jingles. We just sort of went with it.

Oddly, there actually was once a hardcore band in the UK called Lemon Enema, though none of us had heard of them at the time. We found the corpse of their website a few months ago.

HC: What do consider to be your musical influences?

The most obvious choices would probably be Shiner, Swervedriver, Ken Andrews (Failure in particular), maybe a little early Radiohead, a little Built to Spill. There’s all kinds of other stuff mixed in there though. It’s actually kind of hard to know for sure how the things you listen to impact how you play and write. All of us have pretty broad tastes. Further back, most any of your 70’s and 80’s Monsters of Rock probably had a big effect on all of us. With Erick, maybe more 80’s pop, and like Kool and the Gang or something?he?s a bit younger than the rest of us. And beer. And ribs. Big influence on our music.

HC: You guys have gotten some good press in Houston (article in the Houston Chronicle) and around the state. How is lemonenemy faring outside the Houston area? Dallas and Austin often seem harsh on bands from Houston (at least to me it seems that way).

Since we started right off with recording, and did the record entirely on our own with a lot of trial and error, we haven?t had time until now to do much except write, rehearse, record and mix, and scatter the local gigs in there. We did get to play a show up in Austin last fall, and the people seemed to dig it. We also got a rather nice review of an early 4-song demo EP up in Dallas. So far, Austin and Dallas have been pretty good to us I’d say. But yeah, the scenesters can be harsh everywhere. And the more of a scene there is, the more that seems to be true. The more music becomes a statement of personal identity or fashion, as opposed to just pure listening enjoyment, the more opinionated and closed people seem to get. But we’re trying to broaden our appeal. We’ve been talking about adding a Crumhorn section and writing the new songs exclusively in Esperanto so we can be more bizarre, and therefore cooler, and get more indie cred. Maybe add live meat-sculpting to our show. Our show needs more pork.

HC: Where do you get the inspiration for your songs? I think the Chronicle dubbed the lyrics “angst-ridden” or something to that effect.

Just people and their weirdness I guess. Lani could answer this question better since he writes the lyrics. None of us seem particularly compelled to celebrate the joyous bounty of life in song. We do that in our real lives. It’s the incomprehensible things that people do, or that we find ourselves doing that seem to demand a rock song. I think the Chronicle got it right with “dark humor,” but “angst-ridden”…not so much. Sure, these songs are not about rainbows and puffy kittens, but we?re not all brooding in dimly lit rooms smelling of codeine with razor blades poised over our wrists either. The hopeless alienation thing has been done expertly already by people way more depressed than we are. Sometimes you may have to dig a little to find the laugh or the ray of hope in these songs, but it’s in there. Or maybe we just like bitching.

HC: What’s your take on the state of the music industry?

There’s a lot of noise about some huge collapse, or vast revolution coming. Things are going to change, but I think reports of the industry’s death have been greatly exaggerated. At the moment, the industry has the outward appearance of a kicked ant hill, but it won’t die so easily. Tastes will change again, and the mechanics will certainly change, but I think people will ultimately be surprised at its durability. Despite what’s being said, the crappy music now isn’t any crappier or any more of a market presence than the crappy music was 20 years ago, though it seems that way sometimes. I think that’s just me getting older, dammit. New technology has happened before. The current situation is a bit more complex than when, say, cassette tapes were launched and everyone said the sky was falling, but I have no doubt that someone at mega-corp records will find the key to making boatloads of money again in whatever new paradigm emerges, and we’re back to square one. There will be casualties along the way, but I don’t see the industry as a whole utterly collapsing. The big labels, et al, will evolve rather than die. There’s still too much money to be made, though the way it’s made will likely change.

The new piece has been the explosion of good home-brew records. New technology has made really good but off-the-radar music easier to find, at least for me, and it’s certainly made it easier for those musicians to make good records very cheaply. But I can?t see that ever kicking the legs out from under the industry at large; it’s too practiced at identifying and exploiting the profit potential of the new, and so proficient at telling people what they want, though it’s often kind of slow on the uptake.

The technology has let more fish jump into the pond, and most of the ponds are merging into one giant robot e-Pond from the future. But how people doing their thing out in the weeds get their stuff heard is probably more of a moving target right now than ever. More opportunities, but more competition too. Look at us. This record looks and sounds pretty freakin’ great for a bunch of guys working out of someone’s house with a simple computer rig, no budget, no big label support, and limited production experience. And now we’re trying to home in on the best methods of the moment to wave it around in the air and scream “Pick me! Pick me! Check this out! There?s rock in here!” So far, nearly everyone we’ve been able to get to listen to it has had good things to say. We?ll see what happens.

HC: What do you think of the Houston music scene?

There are some very cool clubs, some decent press, and a lot of really good bands in this town. Houston seems to have a reputation for not being a live music kind of city, and for the scene being very cliquish and cutthroat. I don’t know that it’s entirely deserved…there’s definitely a lot of music going on. With minor exceptions, all of the bands and clubs we have worked with have been very cool, laid-back and supportive. The scene would probably be livelier if even more Houstonians were into checking out different kinds of local bands, but it’s less a part of the culture here and people tend to find their niche and get comfy. So I think the scene is a bit smaller and less intense than in some other places. But the party-line answer that “it sucks fully!” is just bilge. It is a challenge to get on the map, but isn’t that true everywhere?

HC: If you could have any band cover one of your songs, what song would it be and what band?

I would slap my granny to hear Motorhead play “Windmills of Your Mind,” but we didn’t write that one. As an alternative, I would like to hear Verbena do ?The Crippler.” It was the first song we ever recorded, and it ended up not making the record. It’s 2 minutes of fast, rude crash-and-bash. That special Verbena blend of nicotine-soaked leather, middle finger, and loose coolness would do nice things. Not to mention that we’d be incredibly gassed if Verbena played one of our songs.

HC: Are you for or against the MP3 “revolution”? How are you using the internet as a tool to market yourself?

We use the internet in the usual ways…to find where people who might dig us are listening to, and talking about music, and to try to get what we’re doing in front of them. We’re working on web-based distributing, promotion and airplay, getting reviews of the CD, communicating with labels and radio, doing interviews like this, that kind of thing. And of course, selling our CD ourselves.

Filesharing can be a great way to get stuff out there for people to hear. We’ve made demos and various mixes of most everything we’ve recorded available on the web. We chose to offer that, and why not? Lots of people still seem willing to pay a reasonable price for a good CD and support the band. But we don’t have much to lose either.

It’s hard to be for or against it when you don’t know exactly what the “revolution” is going to turn out to be. She’s a’comin’ though, so “for” or “against” don?t matter that much I guess. It?s more a matter of “buckle-up.” If it’s everyone getting nothing but free music all the time and never paying a cent for any of it, that’s just ridiculous. That’s not going to happen because it’s not going to work. The software industry has survived quite nicely, and keeps churning out good products despite piracy. I’m confident that musicians and labels will find a way to keep their hearts beating, for better or worse. Not every single one, but the beast as a whole. Consumers are going to use new technology, and others will try to control how they use it, and an equilibrium will be reached eventually, but I can’t say what it’s going to look like. Lots of sales will continue to be lost to piracy, certainly, but I don’t see the purchase of recorded music disappearing completely. These huge industrial and economic systems are very organic, very biological in many respects. Some Darwinian process will give birth to a new m.o., but there will still be big money players, big labels or their equivalent, pulling lots of the strings.

This new utopian vision a lot of people have of a massive revolution followed by a great musical renaissance seems na?ve to me. The titans may go kicking and screaming through the necessary process of re-inventing themselves, but at least some of them will do it in the end rather than close up shop. But what the hell do I know? I’m not trying to be all gloom and doom–there are lots of exciting changes happening, and things will be different–but it’s just silly to think that all of the unpalatable aspects of the big corporate monster are going to magically evaporate. I could be completely wrong about all of this though. From here, there’s no way to know exactly where the path will turn out to have been, so you just keep banging on your guitar, do what seems to makes sense, and try to have a good time. It’s always been a crapshoot for anyone who’s ever done this.

hc: What is the one description that you hate to hear about your music?

The observations that some people come up with are so strange, but none of it upsets me particularly. I find it interesting when someone listens to something I’m intimately familiar with, and has a response that seems completely off the wall to me. I suppose if someone with opinions I really valued said, “It makes me want to cut my own head off with a hacksaw,” I’d probably hate that. But that hasn’t happened yet.

HC: What is in your CD player right now?

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Dropsonic, Year of the Rabbit, The Delusions. Miles Davis is in rotation at all times.

Thanks to Brian for taking the time to answer a few questions.

lemonenemy’s CD and T-shirts can be purchased at their website: www.lemonenemy.com.

Another note: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists are playing at Mary Jane’s on Thursday night. This will be the show of the week, I’m sure.

Now Playing: Bob Dylan — Slow Train Coming

Tags: Music