“Fat Tony says a pair of trips this year to places he’s never been before changed his life.
The Houston-born rapper spent a week in Paris in May for a “performance camp” run by acclaimed Canadian pianist Chilly Gonzales, writing original music and performing for crowds.
“(Paris) was really tough, but I really learned a lot,” Tony says. “It really showed me that there is no end to the lessons you can get as a musician.”
And he’s recently returned from a week in Jamaica, a trip that was “purely leisure” with his girlfriend and friends. It was a rejuvenation and preparation for what looks to be a busy several months for the Third Ward native.
His fifth full-length album, “10,000 Hours,” has a Sept. 28 release date. He’ll return to Paris this month for a Fashion Week party with Virgil Abloh, Louis Vuitton’s artistic director. And his tour kicks off Sept. 27 in Canada and runs through November.
Before that, though, Fat Tony comes home for a Friday show at Satellite Bar.
“Man, I miss the diversity,” Tony says of his hometown. “And I miss the food.
“I love getting a good banh mi because it’s hard to get those out here (in Los Angeles), and they are super-overpriced. The other day, I swear, I saw a $7 banh mi. You got me all the way f—ed up. That just goes against every inch of my fiber.”
Tony, whose full name is Anthony Obiawunaotu, was on an upward trajectory even before he left Houston in 2016 for Los Angeles. He’s a smart, funny and thoughtful performer who draws from the city’s rap traditions while frequently turning them inside out. His last two full-length solo albums, 2013’s “Smart Ass Black Boy” and 2017’s “MacGregor Park,” earned national attention. He scored a viral hit in 2016 with “Dame un beso,” a collaboration with Houston tropical dance collective Bombón, and hosted monthly hip-hop parties in Mexico City.
His current track, though, has a different feel and sound. It plays like the precursor to a real moment — the culmination of so many years of hype and hustle.
“I think I’m busier than ever. I used to travel, like, once every couple of months. But now it seems like damn near every week I’m busy doing something,” he says. “And it’s cool because I’ve started doing stuff that’s more than music.”
At the top of that list is “Thrift Haul,” a game show he hosts for Super Deluxe, a multimedia entertainment platform. “Thrift Haul” is a “competitive fashion show” featuring comedians, rappers, singers and YouTube personalities vying to put together the best themed thrift-store outfit.
Like his music, Tony says it works because it draws on his own love of ’90s fashion, from overalls to vintage T-shirts to faded jeans. There are currently a dozen episodes online, with plans for many more.
He says moving to Los Angeles, which he calls his “workspace,” opened up possibilities beyond music.
“I started to meet more people in that world. Just seeing the way that they operate, how it can be an extension of what I do,” he says. “I was always interested in doing more than one thing, which is why I’m all over the place as a musician. I like to make my own music. I have my other group, Charge It to the Game. I also DJ.”
The music, of course, is still front and center. “10,000 Hours” is his most adventurous effort to date, an autobiographical affair that includes a multitude of local references while still beautifully expanding his sound. There’s even a country song, “Got It Out the Mud,” which he says was inspired by an acoustic version of the Rolling Stones song “Wild Horses” and his father’s love of the genre.
(And, no surprise, it’s more country than most of what’s currently on radio. Listen above to the premiere.)
Tony has a strong partner in producer Hev1n (Lucas Gorham), previously of acclaimed Houston group Grandfather Child, who also worked with The Suffers’ Kam Franklin on her recent solo EP.
“Lucas was always a guy I looked up to as a musician. He was one of the first guys I ever saw play a real concert. I grew up with his little sister,” Tony says. “It fed into this album naturally. This was purely based in friendship, where I think my best s— comes from.”
He previewed the album last month with “Texas,” a fiery track that plays on his punk roots and pays homage to Le Tigre and Devo. The lyrics shout out Selena and Solange, Pimp C and ZZ Top, alongside rails against the NRA, Greg Abbott and SXSW. It’s a perfect example of Tony’s unique appeal.
“My whole story is about going against the grain. I’m always going for what feels the most honest to me,” Tony says. “I’m just naturally going to not do what’s regular. It just doesn’t appeal to me.
“This album is just about me being myself and just having fun. Every album is like that. But I think honestly, as time goes on, I feel more like myself every year.” – Joey Guerra (Houston Chronicle)
“White Lies/All My Fault,” the new split single from Houston-based band The Wheel Workers—may be a pair of songs aimed straight at Donald Trump and the 2016 election, but musically and lyrically, it extends far beyond the political heat of the moment.”
– Alex McLevy, The A.V. Club
“They are simultaneously brilliant and down-to-earth, sincerely progressive and catchy as hell, that rare band that can incorporate thoughtful politics into music while keeping things fun and engaging…The Wheel Workers are freaking awesome, and [with Citizens] they’ve gone a very different direction from the path they marched down last time. And it’s good. Oh, is it good.” – Jeremy Hart, Space City Rock
“On their third full-length album, Citizens …. is Higginbotham’s best and most fully realized set of songs to date.” – Chris Gray, Houston Press
“Loving our latest track premiere [“Yodel” by] Houston’s brightest hope. Damn. Seriously righteous.” – BLURT
MEREL & TONY met in 2013 while working on an art installation in a small Dutch village. Since then, they have released several EPs of songs, written music for THIS AMERICAN LIFE, been commissioned to compose a musical for a Houston-based theater company, recorded an album of protest songs funded by a grant from the Houston Arts Alliance, and toured Texas with their band, THE WOE WOE WOES. Merel & Tony now divide their time between Rome and Houston.
“There’s something about straight artistry that tickles the ears of any music journalist. True art, without genre or placement where the music is eclectic and different. That’s probably the best way to describe the music of Merel & Tony… this duo makes music that sounds like no one else while still having plenty of hooks to catch a hold of your ears and stick with you for days.” – Houston Press
“We rarely review EPs and only when it’s something that really stands out. This is one of those cases. We’re always on a continual search for sincerity and originality in the world of music. With the Houston, Texas-based duo Merel & Tony…you get both. We’ve never ever heard music from Texas that sounds like this.” – babysue
Born into a musical family in Texas, Hunter was exposed to a wide variety of influences. Outlaw country, conjunto, Czech dancehall, classical, blues, and rock & roll all played on the family station wagon’s 8-track.
The result was a childhood of music performed in garages, barns, burger joints and gymnasiums. While still in high school, Hunter started a blues band with his uncle and played the Texas club circuit. He decided on music full time and spent seven years travelling the world and studying music.
He resurfaced as an awarded classical guitarist with degrees from both the University of Texas and the Yale School of Music. He released two solo guitar records: Hunter Perrin and Subtitles.
Hunter then moved to New York and formed rock & roll band Hi-Five. He also began working as a film composer and session musician. Two years later, he moved to Los Angeles and did a four-year stint touring and recording with John Fogerty. Over the past few years, he’s started three bands: Thunderado, Bandito Royale, and Le Flashcube.
P.O.D. (Payable on Death) formed in San Diego, CA, in 1992, and have since charted their own course with worldwide sales exceeding 10 million, hugely successful international tours, and a series of chart-topping radio hits. Over the span of two decades they have released eight studio albums of original songs – including the triple-platinum Satellite – seen chart success with more than a dozen Rock radio hits, including “Southtown,” “Alive,” “Youth of the Nation,” and “Boom,” the Active Rock hit “Beautiful” and their No. 1 single, “Lost In Forever,” received three GRAMMY Award® nominations, and racked up four No. 1 music videos. The band has also contributed songs to numerous major motion picture soundtracks. P.O.D. is Sonny Sandoval (vocals), Marcos Curiel (guitar), Traa Daniels (bass) and Wuv Bernardo (drums). The members of P.O.D. are also active members of a tight-knit music community, collaborating on their own records as well as others’, including Katy Perry, H.R. (Bad Brains), Mike Muir (Suicidal Tendencies), Sen Dog (Cypress Hill), and more. P.O.D. released their ninth studio album, The Awakening (T-Boy/UMe), on August 21, 2015.
Celebrating their 33rd Anniversary together, Atlanta-based folk rock act, Drivin N Cryin, have spent most of 2018 on tour.
In October 1985 Drivin N Cryin played their first show at Atlanta’s famed 688 Club. The band quickly gained attention for their blistering live shows, and amassed a rabid fanbase in the fertile soil of the late-1980s Southeast music scene. Now, 33 years later and after releasing four full length albums on Island Records and one on Geffen Records, founding members Kevn Kinney and Tim Nielsen find themselves enjoying a milestone anniversary for the band, having survived the pressures of fame, a shifting musical landscape, multiple lineup changes, and miles of backroads and highways to arrive here.
With a gold record, 10 full-length albums, and a handful of EPs to their credit, the band still refuses to rest. In 2012, a documentary about the band entitled Scarred but Smarter: Life n Times of Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ was produced. In 2015, a collection of 10 choice cuts from the band’s 4-EP “Songs” series, entitled Best of Songs, was released on Nashville’s Plowboy Records. Additionally, the band was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame the same year. The following year, Drivin N Cryin released a vinyl-only album, entitled Archives Vol One, with a collection of basement recordings from the years 1988 to 1990.
With Dave V. Johnson as their drummer, and the band’s newest member Laur Joamets (originally Sturgill Simpson) now being added to the lineup, Drivin N Cryin is continuing to tour the U.S. to great acclaim.
Island Records re-released their much celebrated “Mystery Road” album through Universal Music Group (2017) & Darius Rucker cut “Straight to Hell” on his new album, “When Was the Last Time”, released October 2017 with guest vocal appearances by Luke Bryan, Charles Kelley, and Jason Aldean. “Mystery Road” was recently named one of The 50 Best Southern Rock Albums of All Time by Paste Magazine.
A quote from the band’s lead singer, Kevn Kinney, gives a little insight into what Drivin N Cryin is all about: “We are a band that’s like your record collection.” Drawing influence from a wide array of musical elements, Drivin N Cryin has developed a unique sound over the years. Their name derives from the eclectic nature of this sound: a little drivin’ rock n roll and a little country twang. Comfortable with their past and confident in their future, the band has an arsenal of songs, a full tank of gas, and no plans of stopping any time soon.
It Was An Unlikely Combination
Dixie brought her bare-knuckle style of drumming, Joe Mazzari brought his gutter rock guitar, and gritty vocals that have a New York bite, to create 61 GHOSTS. Nevertheless, the gravity that attracted this unlikely duo, that are based out of the Northeast. 61 GHOSTS draw upon their own personal musical influences. Each had already honed a sound through years on the road.
Joe played with Johnny Thunders (post New York Dolls), fronted a handful of his own original rock bands, and recorded with Jimmy Miller who’d produced the Rolling Stones, Motorhead and Traffic.
Dixie traveled the world with legendary bluesman Leo ‘Bud’ Welch for three years performing between 20-30 festivals worldwide.
61 GHOSTS felt the need to create their own unique style of music drawing upon Joe’s poignant lyrics and melodies. Joe and Dixie create steamy-driving grooves, razor sharp dynamics, and high energy to create what they refer to as gritty and primal rock n’ roll. Their combined passion and need to create a style of music all their own bring the streets from the City of Sin and the restless spirits of the Mississippi Hills that conjures up 61 GHOSTS.
On May 25th, Snow Patrol returned with Wildness, their first album in seven years, which finds the band searching for clarity, connection, and meaning, while staying true to the melodic songwriting prowess that brought them to prominence. Wildness taps into something raw and primitive, and lead-singer and songwriter Gary Lightbody says of the album: “There are many types of wildness, but I think it can be distilled into two: the wildness of the modern age, all it’s confusion, illogic and alienation and a more ancient wildness. Something primal, alive and beautiful that speaks to our true connectivity, our passion, our love, our communion with nature and each other. This is the kind of wildness the album is centered around. The loss of it. Trying to reconnect with it. To remember it.”
Since their 1998 debut, Songs for Polarbears, Snow Patrol has racked up an impressive number of critical and commercial accolades, including 15 million global album sales, 1+ billion global track streams, five UK Platinum Albums, and are Grammy, BRIT Award and Mercury Music Prize nominated. After their Fallen Empires tour ended in 2012, band members —which also include multi-instrumentalist Johnny McDaid, guitarist Nathan Connolly, bassist Paul Wilson, and drummer Jonny Quinn — decided to take a step back from the band, and focus on their own projects. Gary Lightbody continued his work with his Tired Pony side project with members of Belle and Sebastian, R.E.M, Reindeer Section and Fresh Young Fellows and moved to Los Angeles to begin writing songs for movies (including “This Is How You Walk On” for 2017’s Gifted), and doing a number of high-profile co-writes with Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Biffy Clyro, and One Direction. Taking this extended break from Snow Patrol proved to be a source of inspiration, and writing songs that were not pulled directly from his own psyche helped heal what Lightbody considered to be not so much writer’s block as life block.
Near the midpoint of Buxton’s fifth album, “Stay Out Late,” singer and songwriter Sergio Treviño sings, “Only when you turn me inside out / it’s when you get to see what I’m about.”
Those lines most clearly articulate a thematic through-line that unites the album. On “Half a Native” three years ago, Treviño touched on an inside/outside theme, though it was through a brighter filter. He touched on subjects like identity and home.
“Stay Out Late” has a darker and more ethereal tone, with more internalized reflection.
Some of the tenuous tone on the album arises from Treviño’s struggle to get words down for the songs. Buxton released “Half a Native” three years ago. He worked on songs for his other band, Ancient Cat Society, but when time came to start rolling the stone for a Buxton album, he came up empty.
“I wasn’t able to write music for a long time,” he says. “Or at least any music I liked. You have this filter going all the time if you’re a working musician. And you know you have to continue and push along, even if you’re not feeling good about what you’re doing. You do it until you feel good.”
Then the song “Haunt You” came along. It wasn’t the first “Stay Out Late” track to get done, but Treviño says, “It felt like it put us on the right track.”
The song touches on connections both felt and perceived, a haunting of sorts befitting the title.
Buxton marks 15 years as an entity next month, a passage of time that caught me off guard as a listener as much as it does the members of the band.
“We thought of ourselves as young bucks here,” Treviño says. “Now we have people tell us, ‘I saw you when I was 13.’ And they’re adults now. You wonder how that’s possible. Then you realize a lot of our lives have gone through this band.”
That span of time started in La Porte, where Treviño began making music with bassist Chris Wise and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Jason Willis. They released “Red Follows Red” in 2005, an album that leaned toward folk, before adding drummer Justin Terrell and putting out “A Family Light” in 2009, which added some rougher edges to the mix.
To play all five albums in sequence is to notice a remarkable evolution. At times, the progress might seem like a reinvention, but “Each Horse With a Name” from “Family Light” feels like it has some shared fibers with the newer songs. Wise points out “Bones” does the same. The band added Austin Sepulvado, and its members all pushed any preconceived parameters as to what Buxton could sound like.
“‘Bones’ is like a synthy acoustic track,” Wise says. “We’ve been doing a version of that for a long time now. But a lot more on the new record.”
“There are things we do to keep it like Buxton and keep it consistent,” Treviño adds. “But I think I have a general inclination to progress, or evolve. It’s hard for me to do the same thing over and over again.”
Treviño mentions a trip to California where he bought the album “Laughing Stock” by Talk Talk, a British band that spanned 1981 to 1992. Talk Talk was born into the ’80s new wave and initially made fairly middle-of-the-road new wave music. The band pivoted on its last two albums into creating lush, almost symphonic song forms that unfolded over long spans of time.
“I got home and tried to do something like that,” Treviño says. “And I couldn’t create anything that made me feel that way it made me feel.”
While he blames those efforts to emulate “Laughing Stock” on initiating his writer’s block, it’s possible they jogged something loose because Buxton’s arc in some ways resembles Talk Talk’s. Both have vocalists with distinctive high voices that waver with beauty and eeriness. And both bands have made multiple albums with an identifiable sound, though the ground covered between the first and the most recent (in Talk Talk’s case, last) is vast.
Both bands have learned to use silence and quiet space to add mood, and grown savvy at punctuating the quiet with precise and intriguing sounds.
And both created inviting vibes that evoke nighttime. After putting a sun on the cover of its previous album cover, Buxton has a more interpretable piece of cover art for “Stay Out Late”: a sun-type orb sets while a pink moonlike orb rises. The image, as well as the music, carries a touch of Nick Drake’s mysterious progressive folk, a type of music in which nighttime can be both a haven and a source of anxiety. Buxton hits on that with the closing “Green of Endless Pines,” which captures the feeling that night rides home can be both comforting and ominous.
“That was me radiating while driving home from this experience I just had,” Treviño says. “So I was excited by the experience but also thinking about how you can lose it. So it’s almost a love song. It’s just a very somber love song.”