Houston Calling

Interview: American Fangs

June 27th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Photo by Brandon Holley (brandonholley.com)

Photo by Brandon Holley (brandonholley.com)

Earlier this year, I received an EP from American Fangs, a local band I had never heard before. The pop-punk genre has been wearing thin on me for a while now, however, within just a few minutes of listening to the band’s energetic songs, I was sold. “Le Kick” [see video here] is among the best songs to come out of the Houston area in years, so how had I not heard of these guys before? As it turns out, the band–singer Gabriel “Gus” Cavazos, guitarists Shelby Hohl and Kenyon Puntenny, bassist Kyle Shimek, and drummer Micah Miller–practiced until its sound was honed enough where the members felt comfortable enough to take the show on the road.

And it worked. In 2009, American Fangs has managed to drum up support enough for its first release to play gigs in Austin during SXSW, score an article in a recent issue of Alternative Press, and also to play shows in Los Angeles, New York, Summerfest in Milwaukee, and points in between. Gus and Shelby recently answered some questions for Houston Calling.

Houston Calling: How did American Fangs get started as a band?

Gus: We’ve all known each other for quite sometime, in and out of bands, jails, shitty relationships, shitty jobs, etc.–the usual mess. As cool as it would have been to have had some genius formula for how to jump start our career in music it was fairly basic: we had no name, barely had any gear, we just wanted to have fun, and not care about how we were going to jump start anything but our own creative fires between each other. Don’t get me wrong, through trial and error we had an idea of what it might take to make something happen but it all began with songs that we enjoyed and a timeline that was non-existent.

HC: The band seemed to come out of nowhere with a really accomplished sound. I’m used to watching bands develop over time, yet you guys sound already ready for the “big time”. Have you guys been holing up in a garage somewhere or what? To what do you attribute your polished (for lack of a better word) sound?

Gus: You have to sink to swim. We’ve all drowned in our own ambitions at times but we tend to come up with a better way to execute what needs to make our songs punch, and sound professional with out compromising the integrity of the song or its energy. Also, for the two years or so we were on-and-off as a band we had been planning how we could go about getting some really killer recordings completed before we played out. I’m far from patient and a lot of us tend to be trigger happy so it was humbling to sit on songs, and once we had our track listing we hooked up with one of our great friends, Jerry Nettles (producer), and he came through and gave us an outsiders point of view on how to go about recording these tracks. Again he’s a great friend, producer, and perfect wallflower to what we’re doing. We tend to write some gross shit with a pop sensibility and he managed to capture that perfectly.

Shelby: Don’t really know how to answer that…these days, it seems, that having a terribly unpolished “shitty” sound is something that musicians are going for. That being said, I would believe that the actual notes and tones you’re writing with are second tier to your energy, enthusiasm, and overall passion for whatever the project. Our secret weapon is really only objective song-writing criteria for accessibility and loving each other and our community.

HC: “Le Kick” is this year’s summer anthem, as far as I’m concerned. It’s a song that has “hit” written all over it. Has the band been getting good feedback on the EP? What are you doing to capitalize on the momentum?

Gus: We recorded that song in our bass player’s house without vocals two years ago, had it online, and played it live a few times. The response was so-so. some people got it right off the back and some people thought we were crap. Once the song was recorded at City Hall Studios with Jerry Nettles it definitely came to life and after a year and a half of not having any tunes up, we bust out with an Ep that we felt was well crafted and prepared. The response has been great and since then we’ve had some excellent opportunities alongside Steve Hutton, our manager at UpperCut management, SXSW, the fellows at Afropunk, The Daily Chorus, our article in the may issue of AP magazine, and most importantly the people that attend our shows. We’re lighting a fire under them and they’re doing the same for us. The biggest way we’re capitalizing on all of this is by sticking to our guns and not giving ourselves limits just because people in the industry are watching.

HC: Similarly, how did the idea for the video come about? It’s extremely well-done.

Gus: Van Blumreich directed the video, him and his crew were great. We tossed around several ideas with a few directors but he was on the ball with it and really, the song is just a throwback to how much trouble we used to cause as friends and the kind of trouble we cause now so we were definitely going for a Beastie Boys, “Fight For Your Right To Party”-type of vibe but with a film type of quality.

HC: I saw American Fangs’ day show on 6th Street during SXSW–played to a packed house, it seemed to me. Were you guys happy with the response to your performance there?

Gus: Honestly, I think we all felt a little odd. the packed house was excellent, the peope that made an effort to catch us when I’m sure there were tons of bands to see was greatly appreciated. But it was our first show that week, our first SXSW show ever, and really…we felt it wasn’t our best. Such is life. So that Saturday we ended playing a night-time show at The Parish via Afropunk and it was killer–best time ever. Best way to end our SXSW experience.

HC: The EP was recorded locally, right? How was that experience?

Gus: Too much fun! Again, it was recorded with Jerry Nettles at City Hall Studios. You can actually view a lot of the recording sessions on Vimeo.com if you search our name. Jerry “Jeff” Nettles is just amazing.

HC: What do you consider to be your primary musical influences?

Gus: What don’t we consider our primary musical influences!! You’re dealing with cornucopia of fellas that listening to all types of music. If you caught us listening to the radio…if…we would either be listening to 93.7, 97.9, or Rice radio. or tejano. For laughs.

Shelby: Well, that’s an abstract question because typically, the music we listen to has very little chance of pervading the stuff that we write. I mean I could say collectively, we like everything from shit you know: Rage Against the Machine, Nirvana, Foo Fighters to shit you don’t: JR Ewing, Shyne, Telefon Tel Aviv. Lyrically though, Gabe and I write the lyrics, he more than I by far, but what we talk about almost always stems from a very volatile section of the human emotional spectrum. For instance, if one month we hear an overwhelming amount of our friends complain about healthcare issues and why none of them can afford it–we will probably end up writing a song that is a call out to the healthcare system and in turn say a bunch of shit that are friends may not feel like they can say?

HC: Are you pleased with the response you’ve received in the Houston area so far?

Gus: We are very pleased and it’s still an uphill battle. It always is in this town. Houston is packed full of extremely amazing talent far and wide–and it’s highly underrated. Sometimes it’s hard to see the goodness in our city as far as arts go because your vision and ears are blinded by gas prices, bad radio, and consumerism.

Shelby: Yeah I mean, Houston doesn’t really have a “thriving” arts and music scene, yet, so we take what we can get. Unfortunately, as a Houston band, unless people move into town from other cities or states, you end up playing to the same people you’ve been playing to for the last 5-10 years so it doesn’t really do much for exposure. Your audience becomes jaded with seeing you change bands every two years and everything just becomes “old hat” very quickly. However, with the dawn of the Westheimer Block Party and venues like Mango’s, The Mink, and Notsuoh, Houston is starting to break in its boxers and we should, hopefully in the next few years, start seeing some real opportunities for artists and musicians come out of Houston.

HC: What are some of the local bands you’re fans of?

Gus: Currently we’re enjoying Mechanical Boy, Side Show Tramps, Fat Tony, [and] The Last Star Fighter, to name a few.

Thanks to American Fangs for taking the time out to answer these questions. The band’s EP is currently streaming (and available for purchase for a mere $5) on MySpace.

American Fangs plays in Houston during the Free Press Summerfest (August 8-9, in Eleanor Tinsley Park). Get yours tickets at www.freepresssummerfest.com.

Tags: Interviews · Music · Show listings

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 FAT TONY // Mar 2, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Thanks for listening!

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