Bonus: Video Premiere
by Leci Solis
Sunny days in Austin, Texas include bizarre tutti-frutti graffiti, the smell of scorching kebabs or Tex-Mex tacos out of shacks and food trucks abound, and live bands playing in patios at 1 pm. The music capital of the world pulls in musicians from every corner of the states. Florida-native Janson Sommers (vocals/guitar) founded Austin-based band Futon Blonde in 2014, whose music, in spite of several lineup changes, continues to sound indelible. Although they simply describe themselves as indie rock, their song structures are emblazed by the oomph in their groove (think Modest Mouse), at times slipping into an electro-acoustic twang (a nod to fellow Austin band White Denim), and subtle modal interchanges (indebted to back-to-basics Radiohead).
Solid State, a follow-up to their first EP Act Right, is more confrontational without losing tact, showcasing psych and bluesy riffs, bouncy bass lines, and more accented drum beats. At a live performance, they may even distort a chord on guitar as a transitional cue into a melancholy minor-key melody oozing out of a keyboard, atop sizzling maracas. The lyrics are fluent in acidic witticisms sprinkled with cynicism, but the front man sings his gentle angst away in a gorgeous and mature voice. Their newest single "Breathe Deep" retains the chill out grooviness buoyed up by crisp string plucking, multi-layered rhythms, as a gauzy synth line anticipates the Radiohead-esque chorus.
They perform at the Cultura Beer Garden, in downtown Laredo a couple of miles away from the U.S-Mexico bridge. They greet us, still standing on the edge of the wooden stage. Janson confesses to his earliest encounters with music: growing up surrounded by his father's instruments, covering lavishly sad Jet songs on piano, his itch to pick up a guitar at 15. Guitarist Mark Webb shares a bit about his musical obsession for Unknown Mortal Orchestra, as he marvels at their surreal psych-rock funk and how it inspires his own guitar playing. Drummer Steve Zamora recommends his latest musical discovery, the post-punk trio Omni (a band who just released an album under Sub Pop Records). We sit on a picnic table as they speak about their brotherhood born out of traveling and spending so much time together; they argue over whose snoring is the loudest at night (all three point at bassist "BenG").
q u i k t e r v i e w:
Indiemuck: 1. First things first: Tell us about the band's inception and how it has evolved (everything from choosing a band name you're proud of to the process of recruiting bandmates through ads on Craigslist up to the current line-up).
Futon Blonde: Janson wanted to form a band since college. Relocating to Austin from Florida (by way of Seattle), [Janson] started recording demos - fleshing them out with layered guitars, vocal harmony, and synths. The demos would prove to attract the right kind of players; Janson recruited Lukas Truckenbrod (Slugss) and an ad on Craigslist brought in Mark Webb (bass), Ross Woods (drums), and Josh Rice (keys). The newly formed (albeit unnamed) band began rehearsing for several months in a south Austin studio. The name came later in sort of a scrabble-like discussion about band names. We think its meaningless…but who knows? [It] is purposely opaque because we’d really like people to approach our music without any preconceptions. The Act Right EP, a 3 song release recorded mostly live to tape, came out in 2014 as the band began playing venues around Austin. Later that year, Lukas and Ross both left the band for personal reasons, shifting Mark to guitar and vocals, Josh to drums, and a rotating cast of bass players. In 2015 the band released its second recording, Solid State, and continued to perform in and around Austin. In 2018 Josh left the band and was replaced by Steve Zamora and Ben “BenG” Darrow-Goodman joined us on bass. [We] toured Texas in 2018-19 and wrapped up production on a third release.
2. How does the vibrant Austin music community influence your music, and how do you contribute to it?
Austin has a lot of music, that’s for sure. It’s a great incubator for creativity because it’s easy to find people who are into what you’re into. The talent pool is huge! And there’s a bit of infrastructure here because of that, like studios, booking agencies, band rehearsal spaces, and lots and lots of venues. At times it seems Austin is oversaturated with music and musicians - there are so many artists (and talented ones, too) that it’s hard to stand out. But we couldn’t imagine living anywhere else – we love it here because of how open the creative environment is. Maintaining that vibe is important to us – inclusivity for artists and audiences is a contribution we all make to Austin. We don’t like exclusion or judgment based on culture or genre – or anything else except the sincerity of the art itself.
3. Lots of alliteration in your lyrics, who are your favorite lyricists? How much do you borrow from literature?
As soon as there is a lyric idea that uses alliteration, it’s hard to choose anything else to sing in its place. The general approach is playing with words and cramming a bunch into a verse, but not trying to be Leonard Cohen. Janson listens to a lot of hip-hop and cadence, so delivery and wordplay often do it for him more than super earnest emoting. Some favorite lyricists include Elvis Costello, Isaac Brock, Andre 3000, Beck, Vince Staples, Azealia Banks, Why?, Neil Young and Missy Elliott. BenG and Steve got the rest of the band into Homeboy Sandman on our last mini-tour.
4. You guys have been doing lots of shows by the valley and South Texas. What attracts you to the border despite its negative portrayal in the media?
Based on touring recommendations from bands we know in Austin – many from south Texas. We heard that people in South Texas like to come out to see bands play, so we decided to give it a shot. We did a small tour in October of 2018 and had a good experience, so we came back and did another tour in February of this year. Cities like Laredo, McAllen, and Brownsville were really welcoming. We met some great people who are really into music. None of us had visited those places, but we’d hear things on the news like ‘crisis at the border’. We didn’t sense any crisis at all, quite the opposite.
5. Do you guys have any more planned tours?
We're working on another tour for this fall to line up with our new album. We’d like to travel outside of Texas this time, and we’ve enlisted a booking agency to help us. The planning process is probably the most tedious and frustrating thing. Its time consuming and we’d rather spend that time making music. But touring is necessary and it has its benefits – getting the music to far reaching places and making friends and connections outside our hometown. Another benefit is that playing every day really makes the band tight. Sometimes we deal with bad sound systems or lost gear, and we just have to roll with the punches.
6. You guys have played some of your new unreleased songs live already, but when is the full album coming out?
Our new album is done, we’re lining up some support shows and distribution/promotion things, so it will be a couple of months or so before its released. We'll have a single and video out very soon. We wrote this new album in 2016 and began recording soon after. Several parts were written and arranged with help from our rotating cast of bass players: Marc Lionetti, Josh Luckenbach and Dave Price. We recorded ourselves, no one outside the band was involved. Josh recorded the drums in his studio, then Janson and Mark recorded their guitars and vocals in each of their home studios. Janson did most of the engineering and producing.