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by way of minneapolis and el caminos

by tim mcmahan




Lazy-i: July 25, 2001
Published in the Omaha Weekly July 18, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.












Houston guitarist/vocalist Jeff Halland likes to talk in analogies, especially ones based around cars.

"If everyone's buying Pathfinders and Dakotas right now, I'd like to think we're an old El Camino with one tail light out. And no muffler. And we're not even going anywhere. We're just sitting in our front yard, shirtless, drinking Pabst, working on our El Camino."

Even their name is an analogy, but to what, I'm not sure. The Minneapolis-based trio, which has been around since '99, has no noticeable ties to the Lone Star State. And the vibe Houston generates with its rawkish sound generally conjures darkness and black leather rather than cowboys and Texas twang.

But maybe there's a metaphor in the fact that the title of their soon-to-be-released second CD, Head Like a Road Map, is reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails' "Head Like a Hole." Houston and NIN frontman Trent Reznor share a number of sonic similarities. No, Houston isn't synth-based industrial noisescapes. But their guitar-driven dark melodies and trippy/heavy rock has shadows of post-Downward Spiral NIN. From the brooding opener "Waves," through the 11-minute reprise that caps off the CD, Halland's voice is more than a little reminiscent of Mr. Reznor's, surrounded by almost arty instrumentation. Regardless, the band has been compared to Shudder to Think, Failure, Radiohead and Jawbox. But Houston is darker than that, and much more fraught with danger than any rusty El Camino I've encountered.




Halland answered a handful of e-mail questions from the print shop where he and drummer "Ian" work "surrounded by dozens of gigantic printing machines -- any one of which costs more money than I will ever see in my lifetime," he said. "Everything is covered with an inch-thick layer of that carcinogenic industrial dust. My environment is, in a word, icky. But since Ian and I won't be coming back here post-tour (we don't want to and they REALLY don't want us to), and also since I'm being paid by them to answer your questions, this whole scene here is actually quite laughable."

Halland said the band's first full length, Overhead, is more or less a snapshot of the first two or three months in the life of Houston. "So it has a kind of optimism that reflects the honeymoon-type phase that we were going through as we learned to play and write together," he said. "The split EP we did with The Dames was more like just a good time with your buddies kind of vibe. Head like a Road Map was difficult to make. I was NOT in a good place for that record, and I think it's fair to say that the band was experiencing some growing pains, too. On top of all that, it took a really long time to finish, and I think all of those factors shaped it into a very moody record. And we we're all on drugs."

Ah, Internet interviews are so liberating for artists, allowing then to freely write things they may never have said over a telephone. Halland said the band will self-release Head… Aug. 11. The CD includes three songs produced and engineered at West End Studios by Paul Malinowski of Shiner.

"I was NOT in a good place for that record, and I think it's fair to say that the band was experiencing some growing pains, too."



"I think we'll all jump at the same time and try to knock the earth off of its axis. Then we'd get some attention."



Their July 19 show at the Junction marked the second appearance by the band in less than a year. In fact, Houston's mini Midwest tour only includes venues in which it has received a warm welcome in the past.

"Omaha was very kind to the Houstons last time -- Ravine and Fromanhole played the show with us, the room was cool, the people were cool. It was a great night for rawk," Halland said.

He said the Twin Cities continues to be a nurturing home for rock bands. "The local music scene has really warmed up the last few years, and it's very cool to be a part of that," he said of Minneapolis. "(Bassist/vocalist) Lane likes the cold, and WE ARE THE COLDEST. BY FAR. People always want to know if you saw Husker Du (I lie and say, 'Saw them? Dude, I KNOW them.'"

The band's relentless touring has managed to generate a buzz among the Midwest's rock and metal scene. What's been the toughest part about trying to get his band heard by lots of people, and what is he doing about it?

"Houston=3 people. The rest of the world=5 billion people," Halland wrote. "Those aren't the best odds, my friend, but we're trying."