By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
George Reagan has been a musician for almost half his life, starting in 1985, when he was a 16-year-old Lewisville High School student playing with ex-Fever in the Funkhouse singer-guitarist Nick Brisco and former Tripping Daisy drummer Bryan Wakeland in a band called Aspirin Damage. He's been in bands ever since--many of them all too forgettable--from Scam, which did little beyond appearing on the Dude, You Rock! local-music compilation in 1990, to The Bratz, which did even less, notable only because it also included Darlington drummer Steve Visneau. Throughout much of this decade, Reagan has been Hagfish's dapper frontman, managing to look so grown-up singing songs that, well, never really grew up. It's the resume of a much younger man, and now that Reagan really has grown up, he's ready to move on. He just doesn't know if anyone will let him.
"I realize that everyone I know has a fucking Mohawk deep down inside. They look at me like I'm crazy. I don't know who to give this shit to, so it's just been sitting there," Reagan says, referring to the album released in July by his new band, Tele. "I don't know R.E.M.'s manager. I think punk-rock connections are going to be the end of my career."
For the last few years, Reagan has felt trapped, confined by Hagfish's punk-pop riffs, limited by what he thought Dallas audiences would accept. He looked at bands like Tripping Daisy and saw the freedom he desperately wanted, so he fiddled with the formula, tried to add two and two together in order to get five. After Hagfish's second album, 1995's ...Rocks Your Lame Ass, Reagan began trying to incorporate his newfound love for such groups as Radiohead and The Verve into the band's rigid descendants-of-the-Descendents design, attempting to meet his bandmates halfway between what he wanted and what they needed.
But he never could make it work; punk rock isn't for those who like to order off the menu. Reagan now calls those failed experiments "just wrong...a huge clash of concepts, like if Pink Floyd tried to play Wham! or whoever." It didn't stop Reagan from wanting to write different kinds of songs; he just gave up trying to force his new musical influences on Hagfish. In fact, lately he's beginning to wonder if he wants to write any songs for Hagfish. He's a 30-year-old man now with a wife and two young children, looking back on his punk-rock past and questioning whether it should be a part of his future, or even his present.
"Today, there was somebody at my work, and they said, 'Hey, man, you can't be the same George Reagan that was in Hagfish,'" Reagan says. "I was like, 'Yeah.' And then I realized they were like 14 when Hagfish put their first record out. I think that was like a year ago or something, but that was a long time ago. All those kids...they're not kids [anymore]. They're full adults now. It's weird. It made me think about what I was doing with my music, and am I getting the point across? I don't think I have been."
Getting his point across is why Reagan embarked on Tele, a low-key adventure in hi-fi with a few longtime friends, a band as diverse as Hagfish was consistent. Tele's music gently bounds from trip-pop melodies to effects-laden acoustic gems, songs that are as out there as they are in here. Last July, Tele quietly released its self-titled debut on Womb Tunes Records--the same label that put out Mazinga Phaser's first album, Cruising in the Neon Glories of the New American Night--selling a little more than 200 copies so far, a respectable number for a project that has had so little publicity. As the band works on a follow-up to be issued later this summer, Reagan isn't sure that people will get the point he's trying to make with Tele, but he's happier with his attempt.
"I know it'll probably piss off a lot of people," Reagan admits. "I mean, the last Hagfish record [1998's Hagfish], I was trying to put some heart and soul into it, as far as expanding, saying what I really mean, not what I wanted to do. I think people in the band got frustrated with it. Like, you know, 'He's kind of pussying out on me,' or whatever. I really want to say a lot, and it's hard to do that with three chords. If people don't like it, that's cool, because it's really kind of personal art."
As much as Tele is a personal leap for Reagan, it's not really his band--or not only his band, at least. He doesn't even sing that much (only one song, "Glitter"), leaving it up to Meikle Gardner, who formed Tele two years ago with guitarist David Trammell, several months before they recruited Reagan. Actually, Tele is more Gardner's band, springing from four-track recordings he's been making at home for the last several years. Even after Trammell and Reagan joined, it was a hobby more than anything else, existing mainly in their garages and bedrooms, occasionally spilling over into Reagan's brother-in-law's home studio in Garland when inspiration hit. Now, Tele is ready to fully reveal itself to the public, begin the process of moving from the garage to the stage. And if people come to see Tele or buy their record because they are fans of Hagfish and know Reagan is a member, that's fine by Gardner, Trammell, and recently added guitarist Jonathan Price. After all, every little bit helps.