Musical dreams become guitar-driven reailty for Austin's the Young on new record, new label
"Dub Egg," the new album from Austin-based rock band the Young, opens with a high-pitched, sci-fi "wu-eeeeeeee." Then come the guitars, one growling, the other bright and wobbly.
In a video for the song "Livin' Free," directed by guitarist/vocalist Hans Zimmerman and bassist Jason Costanzo, various members of the group are picked up by a van as it cruises through ghost towns in McCulloch County northwest of Austin populated by nothing but some broke-down palaces and fields of wildflowers.
Zimmerman's voice is gravelly: "I'm livin' free, I'm livin' free, I'm livin' free ..."
From that point in the wilderness, the Young — Zimmerman, Costanzo, guitarist Kyle Edwards and drummer Ryan Maloney — dig in, focusing on repetitive grooves that serve as points of departure for psychedelic adventures that push the band through a jagged sonic terrain and beyond, ultimately delivering them to a soulful place on the other side.
The isolated, hazy feel of the music is in part owed to the fact that to make the record, the band traveled to Bandera County, west of San Antonio. Before that they traveled even farther, to Nashville and Mississippi, to get the tools they needed, including an old tape machine, that would allow them to record how they wanted.
The result is gritty and innovative rock 'n' roll, a carefully crafted onslaught of guitars that serves as a poignant contrast to overly polished, computer-reliant music. It's an approach that probably will influence like-minded musicians, especially since the album is being released by large independent label Matador, something that will help music get to many more ears than it has already during the band's five-year existence.
Influence at 33 1/3 rpm
Zimmerman, who has close-cut hair, glasses and brightly colored tattoos covering much of his arms, started the Young as a solo project in 2006 before the rest of the band came together a few months later.
He was born in the South Texas town of Port Isabel and grew up next door in small-town Laguna Vista. There were no bands in that town, so he would drive an hour or more across the Rio Grande Valley to places like McAllen just to see music. His tastes were dictated by what was available. "It was a pre-Internet know-it-all age," he says.
He took his first guitar lesson in junior high, and although he didn't necessarily retain some of the more technical elements of guitar, the lessons helped foster an interest in music. Among the things his teacher did was encourage Zimmerman to get a four-track tape recorder. Without knowledge of what it looked like or how to use one, Zimmerman ordered one from a used music equipment newsletter he subscribed to and began experimenting.
Home recording was one way into whatever music scene existed in South Texas at the time. If there was a professional studio in the area, Zimmerman didn't know where it was. So his band made their own recordings and figured out how burn them to CDs to pass around to people. "My buddy in my first band, his aunt and uncle bought him a drum set, and I had this guitar and we would sit in my room and improvise total garbage," he says.
His parents, too, played a role in shaping his musical future. There was his father's record collection — Zimmerman still has the turntable — which was filled with likes of ZZ Top and other rock bands. At the same time, though, he was searching for something else. "I was a teenager with orange hair and I wanted music made by other weirdos," he says.
His parents were cool with that and allowed Zimmerman and his friends to practice in the garage or his bedroom. "I don't know how they put up with that (expletive), because you don't even want to hear someone that's really good play drums for two hours let alone someone that's never played before ever try to play fast or do anything at all," Zimmerman says.
The product was punk — three guitars, Zimmerman on bass and "a guy screaming" or some variation of that. They played shows around South Texas.
Zimmerman, who left Laguna Vista for the University of Texas at Austin after high school, still keeps in touch with his former bandmates.
A boost by ‘Casual Victim Pile'
Last week during a set at the Beauty Ballroom for the Chaos in Tejas festival, the band was in lock step with each other, somehow finding a way to inject even more life into the music. They also appeared at a perfect point on the bill, in between the hazy psych guitars of Gun Outfit and hardcore/punk/Matador labelmates Ceremony, a bridge that the band in some ways crossed themselves.
Their ability to play together as well as they do speaks to a lineup that hasn't changed since coming together in 2007. It took the band some time to arrive at their current sound, including a detour into a period where the band nearly "imploded," shunning their earlier, more straight-ahead punk style at shows in favor of abrasive improvisation. "It was insane because we alienated all of these people that were into what we were playing, and everybody got really bummed out," Zimmerman says.
They once again gained focus with a song included on Matador co-owner Gerard Cosloy's "Casual Victim Pile" compilation in 2010, which was followed by an invitation to release an album on indie label Mexican Summer.
The album, 2010's "Voyagers of Legend," was the Young's "Heart of Darkness," a dive into a shadowy world dominated by mind-bending guitar work, moods that shift from anxious to antagonistic, where the sun occasionally peeks through in the form of rising codas and a few more tuneful moments (see "Bird in the Bush") before the music ultimately closes in with a calm sense of foreboding as guitars wail like sirens in the distance.
Cosloy was impressed both with the way they played live and the way their sound was evolving and signed the Young to Matador. A fan since their early days, he described "Dub Egg" in the band's bio as the "sort of shimmering, incandescent, modern approach to classic forms that none of us could've imagined from these guys a couple of years ago."
He also anticipates that they'll continue to morph into something different. "I don't see these guys making a xerox of ‘Dub Egg' a year from now," Cosloy said by email.
An ovate conduit
The title sounds like a reference to the bottomed-out Jamaican production technique, though there isn't anything like that on the album. Rather, "Dub Egg" has its origins in one of Edwards' dreams.
In the dream, the band was in their Austin practice space, which is in Zimmerman's back yard. They were doing dub remixes of the record by running a wire into the yard where they had set up an odd sound-collection device that involved shooting audio through a soft-boiled egg and back into a soundboard.
Zimmerman draws a diagram on a napkin. At that point they didn't have a name for the album. "I said, ‘Well we should just call it ‘Dub Egg,' " he says.
No eggs were harmed during the actual recording process, but a cabin on a creek was turned upside down. After having recorded "Voyagers of Legend" by dragging their gear in and out of various living rooms around Austin, the band knew two things: they responded well to a change of venue, and they couldn't record in their practice space because a) there was no air conditioning and b) it was covered in carpeting, which made for a sound that Zimmerman describes as "dead and muffled."
"We were like, we have got to get out of here, it would be insane if we just hung out somewhere in the middle of nowhere," Zimmerman says.
They rented a vacation cabin on the edge of a creek in the town of Vanderpool. The band completely rearranged the house, flipping beds and moving other furniture. "My fear was that the owner was just going to pop in and say ‘Hey, is everything OK?' and just see four barefoot dudes with their house flipped upside down," Zimmerman says.
That didn't happen, and they were able to "live with the record," as Zimmerman puts it, keeping long hours devoted to working out the songs, recording hours of tape with each piece holding different versions — something not economically feasible in a professional studio.
On "Dub Egg," the dank dungeon that served as the setting for "Voyagers" is replaced by the doldrums of August: brown and burnt and at times distant, but also driving and free. That difference stems not only from the location where it was recorded but also from the time of the year. The band recorded "Voyagers" in the winter. Here they had the heat and drought with which to contend. "For me that's the difference," Zimmerman says. "It's sort of a state of mind."
After returning from exile, the band finished the record in Austin and eventually pulled an all-nighter cutting tape and piecing the songs together by hand so that they could be sent to a mastering house in Manhattan. The result is a crisp-sounding album, but one that's far from shiny; the band lays it all out, and there are points where not every beat is perfect, though plenty are. "If it sounds wrong, we left it there because that's how we are," Zimmerman says. "The tracks that we picked have the right kind of mistakes."
Contact Peter Mongillo at 445-3696
The Young record release show