Houston Calling

Free Press Summer Fest preview: The Watermarks

August 5th, 2009 · No Comments

The Watermarks are are anomaly among Houston bands. The group currently gets airplay across the US and Canada, and even has a number one song in Valhalla, New York, and a song in the Top 30 in several other cities around the country. The Watermarks–Cesar Inserny, Jason Petzold, and Nick Dudek–celebrated the release of its new CD, Thoughts Like Bombs, earlier this summer and have been working to increase the band’s presence ever since. Interestingly enough, the group’s noted influences read like my high school tape collection: The Jesus and Mary Chain, R.E.M., U2, New Order, Erasure, The Clash, The Ramones, The Cure, and Echo & The Bunnymen, to name a few.

In advance of this weekend’s Free Press Summer Fest in downtown Houston (August 8-9, in Eleanor Tinsley Park), Petzold and Inserny recently answered some questions for Houston Calling.

Houston Calling: I came across your EP at Soundwaves a few years back and bought it. With Thoughts Like Bombs, you guys offer it for free online–what led you to give it away this time around?

Jason: We have made a few copies of Thoughts Like Bombs available on the “Vintage CD” format, but we decided to focus on giving away MP3s this time around. We decided to make it more readily available digitally because it seems more and more people are preferring that format. We made it free because we simply want as many people as possible to listen to our music, and we felt more people would give it a chance if it was free. We figured there would be more people willing to download seven songs for free than people who would throw down some money on something they had never heard.

Cesar: It just seemed the natural thing to do. With the compressed audio formats becoming more and more the preferred one, CD replication/duplication cost is not an issue anymore. I think it’s really rare that a local band makes any substantial money out of CD sales, at least in Houston. We’ve always thought of it as a way to cover costs, not to make money. At this stage what you want is to get your music out there, the more people that listens to it the better. Even when we used to sell CD’s, if someone approached me and told me they liked our music but didn’t have money to buy our EP I would just give it away. I’ve sent CD’s to New Zealand and Europe for free, for that matter. If you wanna get greedy and sell your CD for $15, you might make a grand, but you won’t get much farther than that, I think.

HC: Unlike many local bands (unfortunately), you guys have teamed up with a national PR firm to help promote your music. What led you to do this? Are you pleased with the results so far? I think it’s a great idea and a good way to get your album to people around the country.

Jason: Team Clermont contacted us after SXSW this past March. We were pretty flattered the largest music PR firm in America took notice of us!  We are certainly pleased with the results. As of this week we have songs in the top 30 on several stations in the US and Canada, and many more stations are playing the tunes as well. It is a great way to help get the word out…as I said we just want as many people to hear our music as possible.

Cesar: They actually contacted us and expressed their interest in working with us. At that point we hadn’t even thought about doing something like that. At first we just thought this was another company trying to get money from indie bands with false promises, but then we checked them out and talked to some people in the industry and they happened to be a selective, legit and well-known company. They were very helpful and understanding and helped us out in many ways, so we decided to do it. As far as results, well, that’s hard to tell, besides the fact that our music is being played all over America and Canada and we have even charted on CMJ, which is pretty cool. The point of working with a PR company is to gain exposure and so far they have met and surpassed our expectations.

HC: One of my favorite reviews of your music is from the Houston Press: “a group that does big, lush, layered pop, but without the usual perkiness that often accompanies big, lush, layered pop.” Do you agree with that assessment?

Jason: That is one of our favorite reviews too, we totally agree with it.

Cesar: I agree completely, but you know, we are not restricted to our current style. Who knows, we might come up with a big, lush, layered pop, and perky sounding song some time. 

HC: Obviously there are a lot of electronic- and 80s’ new wave/underground influences in your songs. What do you consider to be your primary musical influences and how do they play into your music?

Jason: Each of us have pretty broad tastes in music, but I think the major influences are pop of the 60’s, with the noisy side of rock, mixed with dance and electronic music.

Cesar: I think our main influences come from Brit-pop, oldies, 70’s punk rock, and electro bands. My favorite band is The Jesus & Mary Chain, but I can say that Suede and Kasabian, Tommy James & The Shondelles and The Troggs, The Ramones and Iggy Pop, The Crystal Method and Underworld are all part of our influences as much as JAMC. What all these bands and style have in common is that we think they wrote great songs, and that’s what we are all about, writing what we think are great songs.

HC: Do you have any plans to market Thoughts Like Bombs in the UK? I think it could do well, if it could get into the right hands…

Jason: We would love to. We are working on it. Our MP3s are available on several UK sites already, and we will have our track “Fast Song” included on a Northern Star Records sampler in a couple months. If anyone out there has some UK contacts send em our way…

Cesar: I also think it could do well over there. We have promoted our album there through the limited tools available to us, which are pretty much social media based. I think we have our EPs for sale in the UK at some internet sites too. We haven’t done anything like what we are doing here, but now that you think about it, maybe we should look into that.

HC: What’s your favorite thing about being a musician in Houston?

Jason: Playing in Austin…just kidding. I like the relaxed atmosphere of places here in Houston. The pace of the city is more laid back, and the people seem more honest here. People here go to shows to see shows, not to look cool and try to be seen or be in the scene. Don’t get me wrong–it is great to play anywhere, and we have had shows in other cities like Chicago or Detroit that are also on the list of favorite shows we have played.

Cesar: I’m not too sure what that is. Maybe that it’s easy for us to get good gigs? I think the scene in Houston has the potential to be much better, but for some reason it’s not. Perhaps after the Summer Fest things will start changing.

HC: What are some of your favorite local bands/musicians?

Jason: Glasnost are doing some cool stuff. Flowers to Hide. Riff Tiffs are great. Ladyheat are amazing, but they recently moved to L.A. –we miss those guys. I’m jealous of the vocal harmonies that News on the March have. I hate lists like this because I always forget to mention someone. Let’s just say there are tons of bands I like, and not many I dislike. There is one group of douches who have tried to start a couple fights with us, though–which I think is kinda funny, this scene is too small to have enemies. We should work together instead of trying to start some Oasis/Blur type BS.

Cesar: There are plenty of great bands here, probably too many to remember them all. I can think of a few of the top of my head, but I’m sure I’ll miss some of them: News On The March, Spain Colored Orange, The Western Civilization, Springfield Riots, Glasnost, and many other whose names I don’t remember right now.

HC: What are you most looking forward to at the Free Press Summer Fest?

Jason: I’m most looking forward to seeing Broken Social Scene again.  I know every second of both days is gonna be awesome though! It is great to be a part of something this big.

Cesar: Performing! Hopefully in front of lots of new faces.

HC: What are some of the things you’re listening to these days? Anything to recommend?

Jason: Little Boots, Darker My Love, The New Placebo, the new IAMX, Chairlift, The New A-Camp. I’ve been going back and getting in Miracle Legion a lot.

Cesar: There are so many new good bands. I get excited with new good bands. I’m in love with Glasvegas, I really am. The new Placebo is very good. Other bands worth mentioning are Crocodiles, The Duke Spirit, White Williams, Warren Suicide, Alaska In The Winter, Miss Kittin & The Hacker’s new album is great. If I start talking about all the bands I listen to I’ll never stop!

Thanks to The Watermarks for taking the time out to answer these questions. Be sure to catch the band live at Free Press Summer Fest this Saturday, August 8th, at 1:15pm on the second stage.

The band also plays September 12th at Warehouse Live with …Trail of Dead and The Secret Machines. Visit the band’s website for more information.

Download Thoughts Like Bombs here.

Tags: Interviews · Music · Show listings · SXSW

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