The NYC band shares their experience at “band summer camp”—including purple guitars, obligatory tacos and bands from Hawaii, Brooklyn and beyond
Along with our own SXSW highlights, we asked our friends from Colatura to share theirs. Below is a band diary from the most insane music week of the year. (And if you missed them in Austin, never fear! You can catch them, far closer and likely more conveniently, at their album release show 4/22 at The Sultan Room. Tix here).
We’ve only seen Austin during South By. Which I must say feels unfair. Austin is a city which we imagine hates being reduced to a place that hosts festivals, yet our understanding of it always stays frozen in the same week of March.
Justin (of Sharkswimmer)’s best friend Paul hosted us in Austin, kindly lending us his garage to set up shop in and his adorable Great Pyrenees dog to keep us company at night. A musician now working in the restaurant industry, he gave us all the best food recs. The favorite of the trip came on day one as we left Walmart proud new parents of four air mattresses. Paul mentioned a Vietnamese spot he frequented, Pho Van. It was in a strip mall and was easily the best pho any of us had ever had. The broth had the kind of depth of flavor you would stand in a line for. The other best Paul rec came on our last day, just hours before we left for the airport. We had been asking Paul throughout the trip for some good restaurants near downtown (since that’s where we were for the majority of the trip) and he assured us that they didn’t exist. “There’s nothing worth eating down there,” he kept saying. Then on the last day, on a whim he just threw out “hey you want to go downtown and get the best burrito in Austin?” We all laughed and agreed to meet him at a little truck just west of the center called Super Burrito. It instantly brought Digo back to his childhood in Santa Cruz, and we all agreed it would have been a staple had we found it sooner.
On Tuesday, we found ourselves at The Pershing for the Women That Rock/Paste magazine showcase. Meredith ended up striking up a conversation with a vendor there – a new women-run Guitar company start up called K&M Guitars out of San Diego. Feeling a bit cheeky, she asked to borrow one of their guitars for a few of our shows. She had her eye on a cool violet one, clad in dual p90 humbuckers, and reminiscent of the rad 60’s Italian brand Eko. They obliged and ended up coming to all of our shows to take pictures of her playing their guitar. We all became good friends, and ended up hanging out most nights until last call.
Las Perlas has the best tacos we found in Austin. It’s also where our official showcase was Tuesday night. We think SXSW did a good job of curating the night, since we really enjoyed all the bands that we played with that night. We got to share the stage with a cool band from Hawaii called Ragamuffs who kept telling us they were one of the only indie bands in Hawaii which we thought was funny, a band from Mexico called Los Nasdrovia as well as local New Jersey favorite Pynkie and Austin natives Jane Leo. We expected the other bands to bounce the second they finished playing – I mean they could go catch Beck or whatever blog-worthy band was a must see – but that wasn’t the case. We played at 1am and honestly expected no one but our PR team to be in attendance, but instead all the other bands stuck around, along with a packed room of who knows who else, showing us love as if we were the first band of the night. It felt like the bands all had this certain bond as if we were staying in the same cabin at summer camp. We’d run into the various band members for the rest of the trip, sharing drinks together, and talking about what our favorite bands we had seen were.
Wednesday afternoon Meredith snuck off to Pershing to catch some of the only Seattle natives she’d seen listed at the festival, a kick-ass DIY indie rock band with roots in the hip hop / rap scene called Enumclaw. They slayed the indoor stage with the most energy we’d seen all week, and rushed off to the Illegal Mezcal tattoo booth directly afterward for permanent souvenirs. She also caught one of her 2021 faves Katy Kirby, who was incredibly kind on-stage and off.
Wednesday night we found ourselves playing a show at Hole In The Wall, which we had been told was an Austin institution. Upon first glance this little divey venue (with a very un-divey sound system – it was some of the best sound we heard all week) sat nestled between a new swanky hotel and some metal high rises. It gave the impression that it was the noisy neighbor that refused to be bought out. A relic of a past life, far removed from its surroundings. We felt like we got a glimpse into the local scene in Austin. And they had karaoke out in the backyard, always a plus.
On Thursday we put out a new song/music video – “Kids Like Us” – which, in case anyone is wondering, we don’t recommend doing while at SXSW, cause we were so busy running to our noon showcase that day that we almost forgot to post about it.
That show was at Chess Club, a new venue by the folks behind Barracuda. The showcase was put together by New York City semi-pro soccer team, moonlighting as musicians, Steele FC. They had apparently ordered 120 cans of Liquid Death for their tour, but were delivered 120 cases instead, so Liquid Death became the accidental sponsor of the show. We also got to finally see fellow Brooklynites Been Stellar play before their car got towed.
On Thursday, between our showcases at Chess Club and Long Play Lounge, we caught an awesome set by a local Austin band called Letting Up Despite Great Faults and then met back up with them after our Howdy Gals showcase. We had been online friends prior, and it was nice to consummate the relationship with beers in East Austin. Mike, the lead singer, joked about people who say they like “Live Music” – it seems like such an Austin thing to say, but what does that mean? No genre, no specific band or record label, just a love for live music full stop. If someone ever said to me, “Do you want to go see live music?” I would have many questions prepared. What kind of music do they play? Who do they sound similar to? Where are they from? Can I listen to them on Spotify? A rigorous list of qualifiers assuring that they were indeed more important than staying in to watch Netflix. However, because the fervor for live tunes runs deep in Austin, the crowd at the Howdy Gals showcase at Long Play was the best we had all week. There was even a couple slow-dancing to our song “King Kalm,” which was a first for us!
Friday night we caught Japanese Breakfast’s set at Mohawk. You can always tell you are in for a different experience when the people on stage setting up are not members of the band. There must have been 10 different people buzzing around trying to set up. It reminded me of a Nascar pit stop. One person plugging in the amps, another tuning, others hurrying to set up the 6 different synths they used. It was impressive. We had been watching bands loading themselves in for a week, rushing to plug in their complicated pedal board as they fought through feedback for the first two songs. It’s a very humbling experience that every band has to go through at some point. You come up to the mic to introduce your band in the coolest way you can as if we all didn’t see you running around the stage for the last 15 minutes trying to get your gear to work. So It was fun seeing a band on the other side of that, it was definitely inspiring.
The next morning we went back to Mohawk to see an Austin band that we were fans of called Blushing. In the middle of their killer set one of the guitar players broke a string on his guitar. It didn’t seem like anyone in the audience had a back up, and Jennica remembered that our K&M Guitar friends from earlier in the week had their guitar stand set up upstairs. So she sprinted to borrow the purple guitar once again from them and delivered it back to Blushing in what felt like 10 seconds. The team from K&M came down to see them play it and it felt like the whole week of making new friends and hanging out in Austin had led us to this very moment. Like we were on the cutting floor of a cheesy reality show that was in desperate need of a happy ending.
On the last day of SXSW, we decided to break our rule of not intentionally seeking out any New York bands and followed our friends in Ok Cowgirl around for their 24 hour SXSW blitz, meeting up with them at their second show of the day at Icenhauer’s, a bar on Rainey street. None of us had been to Icenhauer’s, yet it felt very familiar. It was like that college bar that always took your fake id, the kind of place that keeps Long Island Iced Tea pre-batched. Whose bartenders all wear the same expression on their face – a sort of thousand yard stare born out of endless hours of having to invent something “fun and fruity”.
We walked out back and watched Ok Cowgirl setting up on the outdoor stage. Having driven two days nonstop to Austin, the band seemed to have a sort of exhausted excitement that begged the question “was this all worth it?” Looking out across the crowd, whose backs were turned to the stage, we watched a group of girls singing along to Katy Perry’s Firework with the kind un-ironic exuberance that could inspire countless “living your best life memes,” while the others vacillated between vaping and taking selfies. I thought to myself, damn I hope they don’t hate this. Then without introduction Ok Cowgirl went into their first song. It seemed to catch the crowd by surprise, a few turned with “what the fuck is this” on their face. Then at about 30 seconds into the first song I looked out again and suddenly the whole crowd was totally on board, some dancing or jumping in the air, a few fist pumping while trying to sing along to lyrics they didn’t know. Number-one fans in an instant. Such a far cry from the New York crowds who typically stand stoically, arms-crossed in quiet judgment. I thought back to the conversation we had with Mike from Letting Up and laughed. Well I guess we found them, here they are: the lovers of live music.
One of the last shows we saw in the week was Best Coast at the White Claw Wave house, and it was a fitting show to end on. We stood alongside all the other SXSW insiders, arms crossed in tempered anticipation. Best Coast came on joking about how they only booked them because of a California bop they wrote a decade ago. I imagine they hadn’t played a stage this small in a really long time. While that might have thrown another band, they seemed to enjoy it, teasing the crowd when they wouldn’t engage in audience participation, saying “come on you are not too fucking cool to clap”. She just carried on like a pro, and in between new and old hits she got vulnerable about a pet she had just lost – thanking the audience for so publicly mourning her pet with her – and stopping at one point to draw intention to the injustice of Texas abortion laws. She seemed so in her element on stage, so carefree, as if we were hanging out in the practice space with her. We stood there nursing our yuzu lime White Claws, knowing full well they only tasted good because they were free, and wondering how we felt about the last week.
As an outsider, Austin can feel like a contradiction. A cool city turned corporate tech-hub, still proud of their live music heritage, but unprepared for the kind of corporate interest a reputation like that would attract. As musicians, we can relate to this existential crisis, and the fact that art and commerce are always so intrinsically intertwined will always feel gross. Yet we can’t pretend that we’re not part of the problem, as we head straight to instagram the second we get added to an official Spotify playlist thanking them for the honor. Sometimes it feels like we all have to play this dumb game together, and in that sense, for one week in March, Austin starts to feel like the best place to level grind. Not because some industry bigwig might happen to catch your showcase, but because you end up meeting a ton of cool people and other bands the same size as you or a little bigger, and you start to become part of the greater community of whichever genre you find yourself in. You realize if you can get everyone in your scene really loving you and your music, then, as the city of Austin has shown us, the corporate overlords will soon follow.
PS: Monday was Jennica’s birthday, so we stayed a couple days past the end of the festival, which was great, because there was a tornado that hit Austin that day, so we got to add “sheltering in a laundry room” to the list of fun band activities we’ve done together.
Feature image: Keira Zhou