Liberation front

Two local Web sites hope to bring Dallas music to the world

The directions lead to a nondescript office building off Central Expressway, just south of Meadow Road--a five-story tan-brick box that saps the life out of you just looking at it. There is no sign on the outside, just an address in large white numbers on the facade, the sole identifying mark separating this building from all the others marking the miles between downtown Dallas and the outskirts of Allen. Inside, it's even more anonymous: Gray hallways lead to rows of offices with men in dress shirts and ties moving among them to a soundtrack of white noise--the wheezing and coughing of computers and fax machines and copiers creating a paper trail. Ceilings lined with fluorescent lights cast everyone in the washed-out pallor of death-row inmates. Men waste decades of their lives in offices like this one, trading their souls for gold-plated Seikos and cookie-cutter houses in Plano.

It's a place for tired finishes, not fresh starts.
Nothing about the suite of offices located on the third floor of the building seems to offer a different impression, from the sterile setup to the white-collar blues emanating from the office equipment. If it's not the last place from which you'd expect new opportunities for the local music scene to emerge, it's definitely near the bottom of the list, literally and figuratively miles away from Deep Ellum.

The offices aren't different, but the people inside of them are, people like Allan Restrepo (who also owns Carpe Diem Records) and Todd J. Anstis, men willing to bet everything, including the future of local music, on the Internet. With a few other like-minded believers, they've launched W3CD and etherStream, online stores that hawk new and used compact discs and MP3s, respectively, focusing much of their attention on exposing local acts.

Since starting W3CD early last year, they have amassed a catalog of more than 50,000 new and used compact discs (for sale through www.w3cd.com), but etherStream (www.etherstream.com) is the more important site to everyone involved. Restrepo and his co-workers want etherStream to be one of the first sites to make sense of all the new technology available, not just MP3s. EtherStream, they insist, is where the playing field is really leveled, where every artist is presented together--and they're all just a point and click away.

"Ultimately, the thing that's attractive to me about this is that, on the Internet, your music--especially regional music--isn't ghettoized by being put in the corner and saying, 'This is Texas music,' or something like that," says Jeff Liles, etherStream's new director of A&R, the man in charge of assembling the talent. "We're allowed to present it within the context of other national stuff, because it is national stuff. To someone outside of Texas, it's not local music, you know?"

With Liles around, it seems as though Deep Ellum isn't that far away. Liles is quietly crouched over his desk, occasionally typing on his iMac, surrounded by remnants of a life spent serving as Dallas music's most dedicated supporter and biggest fan. His stereo is almost disguised by a collage of band stickers, and the wall behind him is knee-deep in tapes by bands such as End Over End, Three on a Hill, and the New Bohemians. Above the stack of tapes, Liles' gold record--which he received for his appearance with his former band, Decadent Dub Team, on the soundtrack to 1988's Colors--hangs proudly, a testament to the fact that bands from Dallas can make it nationally.

For more than a decade, Liles has believed that the bands he was seeing on stages around Deep Ellum deserved more attention, and he has spent his adult life helping them get it. He's done everything he can do--running the Theatre Gallery and Prophet Bar, booking shows at Trees, setting up record labels (Deep Ellum Records and HEIRESS-aesthetic), and organizing local-band compilations for Island Records (1987's The Sound of Deep Ellum) and Triple XXX Records (1990's Dude, You Rock!). With W3CD and etherStream, Liles believes that he and his co-workers will finally "be in a position where we can raise the profile of the artists around here higher than it's ever been before."

"One of the things I was hoping would happen was that this would be the first step to kind of galvanizing the scene," Liles says. "I mean, there's a lot of really good bands in town, and there's a lot of really cool little labels, and there's a lot of little pockets of activity. The thing is, they're not all collectively on the same page. It's a very fractured scene. What I was hoping is this would be like the first step of everybody looking at it as one group of people. Even if the only thing we have in common is where we're from, we still need each other.

"Looking at the performance of all the different labels in town, they've all kind of reached this level, and then stopped," he continues. "A lot of the One Ton bands, the most they've sold are three or four thousand copies of their records. That's how many copies you can sell in this area. The idea is to try and broaden the area that people are into our stuff. If there's some way to just get everybody together and all on the same page, it will benefit all of us at the same time."

One of the ways to get everyone on the same page was involving musicians. Restrepo brought Liles on board about a month ago to provide content for the sites and hire an office full of people to provide customer service. And it didn't take Liles long to figure out exactly whom he wanted to fill out the staff. His new job had given him the kind of stability he had never had, and he wanted other musicians in town to receive the same kind of support. He knows what it's like to take a tour of friends' couches, hoping you won't get sick because you don't have any insurance to take care of it or enough money to pay for anything. So far, among the musicians he has hired are Dave Gibson (Slowpoke), David Monsey (Junky Southern, Cottonmouth), Mike Jerome and Mike Graff of Course of Empire, Doni Blair (Hagfish), and Scott Johnson and ex-New Bo Kenny Withrow, both of whom played in The Slip with Edie Brickell.

"This is the first job I've ever had where I have insurance and full benefits and stock and all that," Liles says. "I want some of these other musicians who've been living for the last 10 years with no medical insurance to be in a position where they can work at a job where they're involved with music all day long, but they still have insurance. There will be 30 or 35 customer-service people that we'll bring on in the next few weeks, and most of them will be musicians, I imagine."

Hiring musicians isn't the only way Liles is working to support the local music scene on a local level. Earlier this year, HEIRESS-aesthetic released Static Orange, a 31-song, two-CD set featuring contributions from bands and musicians such as Pleasant Grove, Tele, Lewis, Meredith Miller, Slow Roosevelt, Legendary Crystal Chandelier, Reed Easterwood, and Centro-matic. Static Orange was given away at area high schools and shows, and has been made available free with every purchase of a local CD at Bill's, CD World, various CD Warehouse locations, and The X in Denton. All of the bands on the compilation will appear at a series of concerts at Trees from May 25 through May 29.

The idea for Static Orange came from Matt Gunter, a local teenager who contacted Liles about helping him put together a collection of recordings by local bands that were just starting out, trying to find room in a crowded scene. Gunter wanted to give people a reason to come down to Deep Ellum and see these bands, help get them on their feet so club owners would be forced to book them. But when Gunter enlisted Liles to assemble the disc, Static Orange became something different, bigger than he and Gunter could have predicted.

"When Matt Gunter originally asked me to do it, you know, the idea was to make this record specifically for high school kids," Liles says. "And after I started working on it, it became less for high school kids and more about high school kids. The kind of linear theme in the record is what it's like to grow up in suburban Dallas, the different situations you happen upon, the different decisions you have to make. I mean, I really wanted it to have a specific theme. I think after what happened in Littleton, Colorado, a lot of people that are our age are really out of touch with the way kids think, and what their perception is and stuff. I think this record will give people insight on what it's like to be a teenager."

To help people get into the theme, Liles split the compilation up into a "Passive" disc (features cuts by the Immaculates, Brian Houser, and Tele, among others), and an "Aggressive" one with tracks by Valve, Buck Jones, and Caulk. One of the bands on the "Aggressive" disc is Lewis, which will release its first album later this year on the resurrected Deep Ellum Records, now run by Russell Hobbs and Patrick Keel.

Liles laughs a bit when he hears this--not at the fact that Hobbs and Keel have rebooted Deep Ellum Records, but that they are still calling it by its original name. As much as Liles still supports local music, he no longer wants to be involved with Deep Ellum--not the record label, and definitely not the area. He can't get gigs there anymore (just three since Thanksgiving), and it's no longer the same place he helped build. And neither is Deep Ellum Records. He's not sure what either of them is anymore, but he doesn't want to be a part of it. His future is online.

"It's kind of ironic, because I started that label because of Patrick Keel," Liles says, laughing. "Patrick Keel lived in Austin at the time, and he blew into town and started signing all of these Dallas bands. And now it's 13 years later, and [Russell] and Patrick are partners--it's a weird circle. I wish them luck. I don't have any ill will against them. I think the decision to call it Deep Ellum Records in 1999 is not the brightest decision in the world. To tell you the truth, anybody that attaches themselves to Deep Ellum to further whatever it is they're doing is misguided." He pauses, then adds. "Unless they own a restaurant."

The Static Orange showcases are scheduled to happen at Trees May 25-28. Jibe, Valve, Grand Street Cryers, Neon Girl, Pleasant Grove, and Jump Rope Girls perform May 25. Hollowpoint, Orchid, Cult Cleavers, and Local 63 perform May 26; Centro-matic, Meredith Miller, Cosmic Chimp, Pleasant Grove, and the Immaculates perform May 27. Terror Couple; cottonmouth, tx; Reed Easterwood, Tele, and Cosmic Chimp perform May 28.

Scene, heard
One of the funniest press releases we've ever received came across our desk this week. It reads as follows: "CRESTA [their caps, not ours] will appear on THE JENNY JONES SHOW airing later this month or early next. The band was flown up to Chicago at the end of April and performed 'My Reminder' in front of a studio audience at NBC." Now, since we've appeared on Hard Copy twice, we're hardly the right people to make too much fun of Cresta's...ah, good fortune. But still--this is what bands aspire to now? Maybe the band's hoping a record-label executive will come out from the curtains and reveal he's always had a crush on the band (or maybe just Jenny Esping) and all hell will break loose, resulting in a shooting and a $25 million legal payout. Hey, a band can dream. Till then, Cresta performs May 22 at Westfest in the West End...

Oak Cliff Assassin and the Lock Down Records posse--among them, most likely, such local hip-hop luminaries as Kanine, L-Double-E (which, we guess, would be "Lee"), MX-2, and the kiss-assedly named Strict-9--will appear May 22 during the weekend-long grand-opening ceremonies of the Wherehouse Music store in Garland. The Lock Down Inmates gone do da' fool like they always do, or something, supporting such recent releases as Lock Down Correctional Facilities and Da' Drama Continues, the latter of which contains such hits as "I'm Fucked Up," "Kinda Bitch I Like," "Brang Da' Pain," and "Droppin' Shit." That's very kickin'...

Just a few days after we complained that no one would get to hear The Tomorrowpeople's unreleased Geffen Records debut, the damnedest thing happened. On Saturday night, 17,001 folks--not to mention Mike Modano, Brett Hull, and the rest of the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues--were treated to "Mercitron," one of the songs not on the band's forthcoming Marijuana Beach EP. The song blasted out of the Reunion Arena public-address system during the first period of the Stars-Blues Game 5 on Saturday, much to our delight and surprise. Sure beats the hell out of "Song 2" or "Sweet Home, Alabama," the latter a staple at the Ballpark in Arlington, no thanks to Rusty Greer. The Tomorrowpeople also perform at Westfest on May 22.

--Robert Wilonsky

Send your free local CDs to Street Beat at rwilonsky@dallasobserver.com. We will love them.

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