Austin360 2016 Artists of the Month
Presented by TicketCity
In the national consciousness, Austin is spotlighted as a music city during our big festivals, but we celebrate living in the Live Music Capital of the World year-round. For this series, we search the clubs, the coffeehouses and the hundreds of random band houses scattered around the city to bring Austin's best emerging talent to your desktop.
Each month, we introduce a new artist, telling their story and sharing their sounds through audio tracks and video performances filmed in the Statesman Studio. Explore the artists we've profiled here and keep up with the latest news on Austin360 Artists of the Month in the Austin Music Source blog.
Recordings: “A Month of Somedays,” out Dec. 6; “Broken Spell,” 1993; “Stray Dog Talk,” 1990.
David Halley is catching up, at long last. More than 20 years after his last album, the once-omnipresent, then-invisible Austinite is back with “A Month of Somedays,” a 10-track disc as good as any record a local singer-songwriter has made in this decade.
That won’t come as a surprise to those who knew Halley in his younger days, when he appeared on “Austin City Limits,” wrote songs that hit the country charts, and regularly played the city’s top clubs with one of its best bands. But the world went on without him. And so, for an entire generation, his return is more like a new arrival.
Croy & the Boys
Releases: “Hey Come Back,” released Oct. 28.
Seven years ago, Corey Baum wondered if he’d made a big mistake. At 24, the native of Bowling Green, Ohio, had moved 1,300 miles southwest to Austin, sight unseen. He knew almost nothing about the city — not even that the University of Texas is here.
All he really knew was that he wanted to dive head-first into music. The Midwesterner, who wrote what he called “sad-bastard singer-songwriter stuff,” recently had become fascinated with Waylon Jennings’ classic “Honky Tonk Heroes” album. In his mind, he envisioned the outlaw-country paradise that Austin had incubated four decades ago.
So when his only two friends in town took him to a Red River District club and the bands were playing indie electropop, “I was totally crushed,” he says. “I thought it was really going to be like whatever I pictured Willie and Waylon doing in the ’70s.”
Releases: “Moonhigh” EP, 2015.
"Corners,” the new EP from Keeper, is a departure from the slick mix of eurocool club grooves, swirling harmonies and ‘90’s R&B throwback vibes that established the self-described synth soul outfit as one of the most promising acts on Austin’s vibrant electronic music scene in 2015. Downtempo and brooding, the new release has the ominous atmosphere of a fractured fairy tale. It’s a turbulent dreamscape where imminent heartbreak lurks in the shadows as slow moving chords linger over sparse beats. The harmonies are still there, but this time, the women’s voices emerge as beacons, ribbons of light filtered through a haunted darkness.
While the lush soundbeds provided by local producer Bird Peterson pulse with discordant hints of latent menace, the women’s voices shimmer with plaintive beauty. Tension between the two fuels the EP’s power. This is an emotionally weighty release, a lost innocence tale, a lyrical meditation on separation and letting go.
Recordings: Featured vocals on “Wings” on Gary Clark Jr.’s “Sonny Boy Slim,” 2015; “Naked,” 2016
A simmering sensuality marks the music of Tameca Jones. She winds her body when she sings, caressing steamy phrases as they move through her. She morphs cadences into moans and slides seductively through slinky passages augmented with kitten whispers or pleasurable gasps.
“I normally write about sex because I love sex,” she says with a laugh when we meet at Radio Coffee and Beer in South Austin. “Who doesn’t love sex?”
But the emotional peak on “Naked,” her five-song solo debut set to drop later this month, is “Head Over Heels,” a slow-burning pop devotional that builds into a stadium-shaking eruption of pure heart. With impressive vocal leaps and soaring high notes, the song is driven by the desperate yearning of wounded love, the feverish determination of a boombox-hoisting John Cusack character.
Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few
Members: Monte Warden (acoustic guitar, vocals); Erik Telford (trumpet, flugelhorn, melodica); T. Jarrod Bonta (keyboards); Craig Pettigrew (upright and electric bass); Mas Palermo (drums).
Recordings: None yet.
A lifelong Austinite who’s carved out a three-decade career as a solo artist and songwriter and with country band the Wagoneers, Warden had been thinking for a while about following his passion for the pop-jazz crooner heyday of Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. The twist being that he wanted to write all new songs in that same classic style.
Last fall, Warden broke his leg while sledding with his son in Colorado. “I am not really made for sitting on the couch with my leg elevated for three months,” says the hyperkinetic Warden, who typically runs six miles a day and is known for his animated stage presence.
But with that pause came opportunity. Warden started writing some short chapters of what might eventually become a memoir. At the same time, he and his wife, Brandi, a music publisher and fellow songwriter, began envisioning a new band that could broaden Warden’s musical horizons.
Mindz of a Different Kind
Members: Te’aunna “Blakchyl” Moore, Breez “BZA” Smith, Darrion “Chi-Clopz” Borders, Nick “Pip Demascus” Cruz
Recordings: “Butter & Water” 2013; “Foursight” 2016
Mindz of a Different Kind are a true hip-hop crew.
The four emcees prowl the stage, young and hungry. Each individual is a dope rhymeslinger, united they are a soul force. They switch off leads, but no one ever takes down time. They pounce on each other’s rhymes, amplifying key words and phrases to stick important points. They swagger with the verbal ferocity of rap gladiators, unleashing a lyrical blitzkreig of incisive message music. Native Austinites, raised in our city’s downtrodden corners, they chant down gentrification, police brutality, poverty and injustice. They are the voice of the streets, the soundtrack to a revolution that will not be televised and, with an outstanding full-length debut, “Foursight,” they’re ready to blast onto a national stage.
Members: Dani Neff (lead guitar and vocals), Zack Humphrey (drums), Will Krause (bass).
Recordings: “Welcome Home,” 2016; “Maximalist,” 2014; “Surreal Estate” 2012; “Larger Than Human” 2010.
Megafauna, the psych-metal, prog-rock act fronted by Dani Neff, spins magic through stark contrasts.
“Desire,” the lead track on the group’s new album “Welcome Home,” is a slow-building siren song. It opens with Neff’s vocals wafting over a lilting guitar line that gradually grows more ominous as her airy voice betrays hints of menace. When it explodes into a turbulent soundstorm of pounding drums and foreboding bass, Neff leans in, churning out sludge-like guitar riffs that wind into distorted wails.
The rapid vacillation from vulnerable to fierce, soft to hard, is striking. This sound, very aggressive, but also very feminine, is a signature for Megafauna.
They found it organically.
“I just happen to have a soft voice and I happen to want to play gnarly guitar,” Neff says when we meet for breakfast at the North Campus deli Food Heads.
Backing band: Chris Masterson (guitar, harmony vocals); Eleanor Whitmore (violin, harmony vocals); Bobby Daniel (bass); Chris Searles (drums).
Recordings: “My Mountain,” out this week; “Letters,” 2007.
The bluesy opening track of Jeremy Nail’s new album “My Mountain” references natural forces, a recurring theme on the record. Tides and waves gently propel the rhythm of “Down to the Ocean”; a river flows to the sea in tranquil tones of “The Great Mystery”; trails and pastures dot the dreamlike journey to the “New Frontier.”
But that mountain in the first song is more than just a metaphor.
“I was at inpatient rehab at St. David’s, and on the first floor, there’s a ramp to go up. The incline’s probably like this,” he says, indicating a very minimal rise with his forearm.
“During physical therapy I would go up and down that thing. They called it Mount St. David’s. It looked so small — but training with the leg, it just felt like you’re going up Everest.”
The story of how Nail, 35, came to climb that mountain stretches out over several years. A native of the small West Texas town of Albany, Nail earned a degree from the commercial music program at South Plains College in Levelland and moved to Austin in 2005, hoping to become part of the city’s music scene.
Dana Falconberry & Medicine Bow
Members: Dana Falconberry (guitar, lead vocals); Gina Dvorak (guitar, banjo, backing vocals); Karla Manzur (keyboards, backing vocals); Christopher Cox (bass, guitar, synth); Matthew Shepherd (drums, percussion); Lindsey Verrill (cello).
Recordings: “From the Forest Came the Fire,” out this week; “Leelanau,” 2012.
Picture this: It’s the summer solstice of 2016, and you’re in southern New Mexico at White Sands National Monument. The shimmering dunes stretch out endlessly under a starlit sky brightened by a full moon.
Into that otherworldly space drifts the sound of voices rising up in harmony, floating atop strings, keyboards and percussion. This ain’t no nightclub, this ain’t no disco. This is Dana Falconberry & Medicine Bow’s idea of a tour itinerary.
“My music is not necessarily best placed in a bar,” Falconberry says, beginning an explanation of how she came up with the idea of a tour that will include performances in national parks and monuments such as White Sands, Saguaro, Sequoia, Guadalupe Mountains and Isle Royale.
Mama K & the Shades
Band members: Kelsey “Mama K” Garcia, vocals; Nnedi Agbaroji, vocals; Willie Barnes, vocals; David Thacker, keys, Johnny Storbeck, guitar; Lee Braverman, bass; Wesley Gonzales, percussion; Chris Barnes, drums/vocals; Donald McDaniel, trombone; Joseph Morrow, trumpet.
Formed: 2014 (co-founder David McKnight died in June 2015).
Recordings: “Honey Made” 2016.
On July 11, Mama K and the Shades came in with a wall of sound when they took the outdoor stage at Empire Garage. The backline shook the crowd with wicked funk grooves punctuated with horn blasts while the three singers holding down the front danced madly and unleashed a barrage of spirit-raising soulful hooks. Coming together in polyrhythms and structured harmonies, the large ensemble seemed to move as one. The energy was explosive as they implored the crowd to dance away the midsummer sluggishness, to release their bodies in something akin to the ecstasy of praise.
Then, the mood shifted. As cool blue light bathed the stage, and the band drifted into the wistful instrumental intro to “Midnight Train.” The song was one of the first written by Garcia and the group’s co-founder, saxophonist David McKnight, at a makeshift kitchen-top recording studio, and, Garcia explained, it was McKnight’s signature jam.
Members: Megan “Megz” Tillman (vocals), Chris “Dougie Do” Beale (keyboards, beats, vocals), Erik “The Greek” Nikolaides (guitar), Derek Van Wagner (bass), Mike Gonzales (drums).
Recordings: “CirQlation” out Feb. 9. “Like It Is” mixtape, 2014. “Van Geaux” mixtape 2014. “Van Geaux” (remix) mixtape 2014. “Show String Theory” mixtape 2013. “Creature Creative” mixtape 2012.
A hip-hop band with a female emcee in a music scene built on the backs of dudes with guitars? It took some time for Magna Carda to find their niche. Initially promoters thought the band wasn’t “rap enough to be at these rap shows,” Beale says, but also out-of-place on an indie rock bill.
“That’s kind of still the case. We still kind of get thrown on random bills,” Tillman says.
But as the band solidified their skills, they grew into an easy draw on their own.
A year or so in, Tillman, who considers herself less a frontwoman and more part of a crew, began to doubt her ability to hold the stage on her own. “Was it boring to watch me the whole time?” she wondered. “But instead of like, adding a person, the guys just kind of encouraged me to work on stage presence and be more on the stage. Be two or three people. Be that entertaining.”
It worked. She’s wickedly witty and fierce, but also warm and charming.
Members: Cory Reinisch (guitar, lead vocals); Dustin Meyer (bass, backing vocals); Annah Fisette (keyboards, mandolin, backing vocals); Coby Tate (lead guitar); Wes Cargal (drums).
Recordings: “Rival,” out this week. “Lightning in a Bottle” EP, 2013.
Opening for country mainstays Mike & the Moonpies, Reinisch and his four bandmates wear their love for classic American roots music on their sleeves. They confidently churn out versions of classics from the Neil Young and Doug Sahm songbooks, even as they reveal a near-obsession with Whiskeytown by playing four songs from the Ryan Adams-fronted band’s 1990s heyday.
But it’s Harvest Thieves’ own material that gets the most stage time. Their 75-minute set surveys most of the dozen songs on “Rival,” which the band releases this week with a celebratory show Friday night at Scoot Inn. A four-song EP in 2013 hinted at the band’s potential, but “Rival” heralds Harvest Thieves’ arrival as a contemporary heir to the hard-twang sounds pioneered two decades ago by the likes of the Old 97’s and the Jayhawks.
Their sound reflects what can happen when a bunch of small-town Texas country folks immerse themselves in Austin’s vibrant indie music scene. Reinisch, bassist Dustin Meyer, guitarist Coby Tate and drummer Wes Cargal migrated here from Brady, Victoria, San Angelo and Longview, respectively; only keyboardist Annah Fisette is a native Austinite.