Photo courtesy of Xetas
I had an interesting conversation about the notion that certain songs can seem to become a part of your DNA immediately upon hearing them. Upon hearing the track “The Lamb,” from Austin sweethearts Xetas, I was immediately stuck in deja vu, remembering back to a time holding a Playstation controller with Tony Hawk Pro Skater on my television screen. I bring this specific scenario up because those songs and those feelings helped shape a grand portion of my music tastes for years to come. They grew with me, and I immediately feel joy upon hearing any songs from those soundtracks.
Simply put, this group of three best friends make music that crawls its way into your blood. And it stays there. David’s graveled vocals swirling in unison with Kana’s voice of frustration (especially seen in “The Gaze”) and foreboding warning, all swept in a hurricane of jangling, noise-rock-inspired guitar, threading it’s way between a perfectly orchestrated, pummeling rhythm section, building an uproar of palpable outrage. In a time of turmoil, and with an uncertain future, 2017 has been a strange year for us all. One thing, however, is assured: 2017 and beyond belongs to Xetas.
Free Press Houston spoke to the band about their new album, The Tower, their energetic live shows, and about what Austin bands they’re listening to right now:
Free Press Houston: Treat me as if I am a person completely unfamiliar with the band. What I can expect when I come to a live performance, or if I put on this record?
Kana: One guitar, one bass, one drum set, everyone yells.
David: Expect a lot of energy and expect it to be very LOUD!
FPH: The new album, The Tower, rightfully brought to life by 12XU records, is a beautifully crafted collection of very powerful and memorable songs. I’ve read in places it was an almost accidental concept album taking aim at our political climate and the negative behaviors that are now empowered by our new administration.
Kana: I think if you’re sensitive to the world and others around you, things you observe and react to are going to seep into your work. When we were writing these songs, we didn’t think, “O.K., so this is how the presidential race is going, let’s write what happened in the news.” But the more we’d see and hear about national-scale problems, and also be confronted with local problems that were just smaller echoes of these bigger issues, and we would talk about how we felt about those things and how they affected our lives, as well as what was going on in our personal lives — and then practice for two hours. So it was probably on our minds the entire time without us realizing it. We try not to get too hung up in the studio and look at making an album as a snapshot of a time, mistakes and all, and I think that the timeframe in which we created this album definitely influenced the themes and tone of the LP as a whole.
David: Yeah there was no way we could have known that Trump would actually get elected, but just the political and social climate during the period we were writing the album was a huge influence. The songs are more about the personal struggle of the individual surviving in that climate, and not so much about the politics or social issues themselves.
FPH: Upon each of you being remarkably talented musicians, you continue to give endlessly energetic performances. Would you consider your live performance an essential thing to behold if someone wants to really appreciate Xetas as a whole?
David: Absolutely. Every time we record I think the goal is to capture the energy of the live show as much as possible in a studio environment, so if you want to get the real deal, you gotta come to a show! You can still enjoy the songs for what they are, but I think the energy of our show helps get the message across and engage the audience better.
Kana: Definitely. I mean, I’ve never seen us, but I’ve heard we’re really good live! (haha) I am huge fans of both David and Jay in their other projects and as people, and I love being able to watch them play. So I bet it’s pretty good when we’re all three up there. One time I wasn’t really “feeling it” on stage and kind of dialed it in, and at some point I made eye contact with a good friend that also plays music and he gave me the most disappointed, disgusted look and I felt so ashamed. After the show, I talked to him about it and he was very direct with me, saying that he could tell when I was faking it and it completely flattened the emotion of the show. Ever since then I try to devote 100 percent of my mental capacity and emotion to each performance, because it really makes a difference.
FPH: Xetas has been a group 3+ years at this point, with an impressive handful of releases under your collective belts. In those three years, as bands progress, what would you say some of the most valuable changes/maturities have taken place to become the band you are today?
David: Personally, I’ve learned to trust myself as a songwriter and not worry about what anyone will think about our “sound” or our “direction” with each new thing. I feel like we’re comfortable enough now that we know what we want and how to get it, and I trust my bandmates instincts. Every album and every tour we get a little bit better at it, too.
Kana: I like that we have figured out how to be completely self-sufficient in that time, which is a huge point of pride for me personally. Our label presses the records, but we manage, fund and promote everything else ourselves on top of each holding down full-time jobs, relationships and participating in the community. It’s a lot of work, but also a lot of reward. We don’t have to answer to a label or an agent and can accomplish the same things other more successful bands have done by thinking ahead and working together. If we find the right agent, we would consider a partnership, but from doing all the legwork and paying all the bills ourselves, we know exactly how being in a band should go and can’t be taken for fools. As a music documentary junkie, the lesson I’ve learned is: know what is going on with your band or someone will take advantage of it. So we’ve always prioritized setting goals and working together, and the hard work is starting to really pay off.
FPH: Austin is bursting at the seams with bands, and it’s hard for everyone to be aware of everything going on. Being a band of incredibly talented, genuinely great people in a city such as Austin, where because of the amount of transplant inhabitants it immediately sets up the mercenary mindset of “I am here to get mine,” do you find more success on the road, or playing locally in a comfortable setting?
Kana: I think we tend to surprise people on the road. A lot of people who play music in Austin only focus on “making it” or whatever, or in terms of getting social capital out of it, like, whatever their idea of being “a notable person about town is.” But we’re not really trying to prove anything, we just make music because it’s what we like doing, and we are lucky to live in a town where we have access to multiple venues multiple nights of the week and a giant roster of peers. When I was growing up here, all the older kids called Austin “the Velvet Coffin” because it was so seductive and comfortable and then one day the lid snaps shut and you’re trapped and never did those things you said you were gonna. So that has always been a fear of mine. I just wanna keep moving and go anywhere there is opportunity and support for us.
David: When I moved to Austin years and years ago, it was a little overwhelming, but I never had that mercenary mindset. I’ve always seen punk as a community and not a competition, so I just put in the work and tried to prove myself. It’s definitely easier to pack a house and have a wild show here in Austin, but every time we go out on the road it’s more successful. I feel like the word is starting to get out to other places that we aren’t fucking around.
FPH: Xetas is a beast of it’s own creation, and the power seems to come from the chemistry between members. Who or what else inspires you to create what you create?
David: Inspiration can come from anywhere. Sometimes I’ll read something in a book and that will get the gears turning, or I’ll have a conversation with a friend that will make me think about something in a new way and that will inform a song. A lot of the great bands here in town are constantly inspiring me. We have so many talented friends. We really have to work hard to keep up!
Kana: I’m definitely inspired by my bandmates and conversations with my friends. Our music community is full of passions and projects that are interesting, well-executed and push me to want to be a better musician and artist. I also work in a record store and am constantly finding sources of inspiration in music that my friends share with me in addition to what I find and research on my own. I inherited a love of history from my Dad, and combined with being a record store nerd, I am constantly seeking out new timelines to explore.
FPH: Mentioning earlier the influx of Austin bands, are there any local bands you particularly are enjoying at the moment? What are some memorable shows you feel stick with you?
David: Jesus, too many to name, and I know I’m gonna miss some important ones, but off the top of my head Borzoi, Vampyre, Lung Letters, Street Sects, and Tear Dungeon, who may be defunct now. Breathing Problem… I could go on forever. I think all of our shows have been a blast, and we really haven’t had a shitty one. The last tour kickoff that ended up being the Hex Dispensers farewell show will definitely stick with me for a while.
Kana: I really enjoy Mamis, Hot Fruit, Lustron, and Street Sects for rock or noise shows, and lately I’ve been enjoying Jonathan Horne’s various projects and Christina Carter’s solo shows when I can catch them in town. One of the great things about Austin is that there are so many musicians and bands here that you can see all types of music and all formats of shows, sometimes happening within blocks of each other.
FPH: Now that The Tower is released, what are the future plans for the band? Any slowing down points, or is there no choice but to go all in and take over?
David: I don’t think we know how to slow down or take it easy, haha. We’re writing the third LP right now, as well as working on a short East Coast jaunt for the fall… gonna try to do some radio sessions while we’re out there. Kana is editing together a tour documentary, and we’ll hopefully have some more music videos out in the near future. I dunno, we’re doing it all ourselves so we can do whatever we want, I guess. It’s a good feeling!
Kana: Haha, yeah, I’m not sure if slowing down is an option. Life is short and we have a lot more to do.
Catch XETAS at Walters, Wednesday July 26. The night will also be the LP release show for Houston’s own Poizon, with support from local synth punks Criminal Itch. Grab a copy of “The Tower” from 12XU.net or from the band themselves.
Tear Up the Boards: An Interview with XETAS This was reposted for my personal reading use