Unclean thoughts

An indie-rock revolution is happening in the Alamo City

Morgan put Unclean on hold and went to work as a buyer for Sound Exchange, the record store on "The Drag" across from the University of Texas campus. Perhaps not by coincidence, the store would eventually become the locus for Austin's next underground, and by 1991, Morgan's fellow Sound Exchange buyer Craig Koon had started Rise Records with poster artist Frank Kozik.

"I'd already made records, so I was jealous as hell," Morgan recalls. He jumped in with a single by The Flying Saucers, a neo-psychedelic band that came to include former Reiver Cindy Toth on bass and ex-Poi Dog Pondering guitarist Adam Sultan. Then another Sound Exchange buyer, Christian Caperton, "got the bug" and started Undone Records, says Morgan. Very quickly, a new and growing Austin underground had its own very crowded singles rack.

Since 1992, Morgan has released 15 seven-inch vinyl singles by such acts as The Inhalants, Cherubs, Crown Roast, Thomas Anderson, Blind Willie's Johnson, and Fuckemos; there have also been occasional CDs, including last year's compilation, The Beginning of the End Again.

"Seven-inch records are great [because] they're so much fun to make," he enthuses. "But there's no profit in them at all. You're lucky if you make your money back. They're like a business card."

A compact-disc EP by the now-defunct Saucers helped the band win a Warner Bros. demo deal, but Morgan's epiphany came when he saw one of the first Austin gigs by the Sons of Hercules, fronted by Pugliese.

"I was just blown away," Morgan says. "I went home to my wife and said, 'This is it. This is the band.'" After years of releases that went nowhere, Pugliese was similarly encouraged by Morgan's enthusiasm: "He gets the records out there. From other bands I was in, I have closets full of 45s. We had no distribution, no one helping."

The Beginning of the End Again documents Unclean's Austin years, revealing a more open-ended approach than the paint-by-number punk revivalism of Green Day and The Offspring. The bands recall a time when Texas was populated with so many unknown garage bands that went nowhere despite their talent and yet still live in a certain forgotten infamy--groups like the Esquires, the Mystics, Mouse and the Traps, the Exotics, and the Headstones. They were the first generation of Texas punks, issuing their 45s on tiny indie labels that became obscure even before they went to press.

Unclean, for better or worse, inherits the legacy of labels like Glenvalley, Fraternity, Gina, and Polly; but if nothing else, Morgan struggles against that legacy like any good punk-rocker. He has secured a European distribution deal and plans to release new albums from the Sons (Hits For The Misses), N.O.T.A. (Give 'Em Enough Dope, a parody of the second Clash album), The Dropouts, and rock critic Tim Stegall's band The Hormones.

"I wanna experiment," Morgan says. "I don't always want to do the sure thing. I want to do bands that are real ahead of their time, that I know won't make money for a couple of years. Somebody's gotta do it; somebody's gotta make those records. I grew up on the hardcore punk thing, where you hate 'The Man.' Anyone who has a little money is 'The Man.'

"I've even had a couple of scrapes with some punk kids who now view me that way. I'd crank all these records out, and all of a sudden it turned on me."

Perhaps Unclean's move to San Antonio, predicated by Morgan's greater involvement in the careers of the Sons and The Dropouts, might also bring something to a city whose nascent, scattered scene needs a jump-start. Meanwhile, a couple of the Sons have opened their own music club, The Green Onion, located in the city's reviving downtown near the Riverwalk.

Pugliese laughs at the idea that after 20 years in this business called music, he has finally begun to follow a trend: "Some of my songs are from 1975, and now it's all fresh and new," he chuckles. "I'm just doing what I did then.

"I think the Sons of Hercules guys are onto something that's more of a rock and roll thing and not a faddish thing, like hardcore punk or disco," Morgan says of the band on which he's pinning so much of his hopes. "This is something that's going to last. I can still listen to Raw Power by Iggy Pop, and I think these guys are gonna be that way, I really do. I really hope."

Sons of Hercules perform January 12 at the Orbit Room. The Mullens and Grinnell open.

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