By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
But in the end, the way to judge a label is not by the bands on its roster but by the way the label treats its stable, and there's no label in town that promotes and coddles its artists with more vehemence than One Ton. (Take note, steve records. The folks at Sam Paulos' label must like Legendary Crystal Chandelier's Love or the Decimal Equivalent so much they want to keep every copy for themselves, because damned if I've ever seen any promotion for that record.) One Ton sends out more e-mail newsletters than free-porn Web sites do, and when Doosu's Casey Hess wanted to do a techno side project, Jump Rope Girls, Holt gave him free rein. (The result: Dallas Observer Music Award.) And One Ton has managed to create its own self-sustained scene--it's not every band for itself. On the forthcoming Big & Bothered, Volume 2, Casey Hess and Eric Shutt of Doosu and Pete Thomas can be heard all over a Caulk farewell, "Birthday No. 5." A label that slays together stays together.
A few weeks ago, Holt spoke of a few upcoming projects--some about to happen, others still distant daydreams. He asked that the discussion remain private, so suffice it to say that at least one of the discs bears some vague resemblance to One Ton's 1996 compilation Sandy Does Dallas, which featured a cast of local all-stars (among them UFOFU, Dooms U.K., the Toadies, and Course of Empire) recasting the Grease soundtrack in punk-mock tones. The disc Holt has in mind is equally ambitious, and a step in the right direction toward bringing together a disparate collection of bands beneath the "community" umbrella. Nothing reprobate about that, not at all.
Winner for: Producer
Denton's Matt Pence, the all-arms-and-glasses drummer who looks like David Hockney and plays like Keith Moon on a bright sober day, seemed an unlikely candidate for a speedy ascension to best producer in town. But he is, God bless the boy--his ear is as honed and discriminating as his own playing. He has single-handedly made North Texas lo-fi something to write home about, while turning around and producing some of the fullest, most daunting projects--in addition to keeping the beat for Centro-matic. (Which is fitting, since, after all, Pence is the only other drummer in town who's as entertaining to watch as Will Johnson was when he was drumming for Funland--no small compliment.)
When the alterna-country-pop Adam's Farm broke up back in 1996, drummer Pence and bassist Mark Hedman joined Johnson in his nascent stab at Life After Funland. Johnson had been writing and recording scads of songs on his own, but with Pence along for the ride, Johnson suddenly had a recording partner, someone who could help him find that solitary sound. Turns out Pence, who'd been noodling around various studios for years, was a born engineer. Among his first official full-lengths as producer was Centro-matic's debut long-player, 1997's Redo the Stacks, and that album's impressive range of sounds and textures and sonic experimentation brought all kinds of young bands sniffing at Pence's door. Finally, a guy in these parts who didn't think the word "produce" meant "suck the life outta the song."
Since then, Pence and the Denton rock scene have matured together. No longer satisfied with mere lo-fi aesthetics, Pence began pushing his own envelope and taking on a wealth of acts and styles: Little Grizzly, Budapest One, Wiring Prank, the Baptist Generals. His association with Matt Barnhart, founder of Transcontinental-cum-Quality Park Records, has given many of his recording forays a label home. Last year, Pence's production work on ex-Funlander Peter Schmidt's project, Legendary Crystal Chandelier, solidified his status as the Man With the Golden Ears. LCC's debut, Love or the Decimal Equivalent (released on steve records), packs some of the most viscerally satisfying studio work around some of the most haunting and challenging songs a producer could ever hope to handle, making the record one of the best offerings of 1998, here or anywhere else.
Meanwhile, Pence and Barnhart had moved out to Missouri, hoping to cultivate Pence's role as producer out of his St. Louis house. Centro-matic recorded dozens of songs in Son Volt's studio outside that city, again with Pence at the boards, and Centro's next three albums (the first, Navigational, was recently released on Idol Records) will all list Pence as producer. The work is so gorgeous, so subtle and knowing, that you'd swear Pence slept with every song before recording it. Only instead of him doing the song, the song does him, and he lets it emerge and settle the way it was meant to.
And just as we all feared we'd lost Pence to the Midwest forever (despite the fact that local bands were making regular pilgrimages to St. Louis to work with him), he announced he was moving back to Denton---to his friends, his band, his musical ground zero. These days, Pence is setting up shop with another of Denton's beloved engineers, Dave Willingham of 70 Hurtz studios; these two are a booked-in-advance duo to be reckoned with. The bands are lining up.