By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
When Regina Chellew, Josh Garza, and Brandon Curtis came together as Captain Audio, it was as though three painters had stumbled upon a room full of blank canvases; there was no present or past, only future. They had all been in normal bands before -- although calling Comet and UFOFU normal bands is like saying Roger Clemens has a decent pitching arm -- and this time, they wanted to not be normal, do what they wanted to do instead of what they thought they had to do. And that's exactly what they've done since then, letting their ambition lead them every step of the way. Captain Audio concerts have more in common with art exhibits, one-night-only performance pieces that are only loosely connected with rock and roll. Looking back on the brief time they've been together, the members of the group aren't as surprised by what they've done so far as they are by what they could have been doing all along.
"I think when you get a fresh start, you realize that you always had a fresh start," Curtis says, sitting in the band's rehearsal space inside the Last Beat complex. "I never had to play Deep Ellum six times a month."
Captain Audio only plays Deep Ellum about six times a year, if that, striving to keep its performances fresh for themselves and the audience. They stage elaborate shows -- such as the gig at Liquid Lounge several months ago that found only Garza and his drums onstage -- and make set lists that include everything from one side of the Beatles' White Album to nothing at all. You could hear every track from Captain Audio's debut EP, My ears are ringing but my heart's ok, or something even the group hasn't heard before. Which makes the band's recent endeavor, The Secret Machines of Captain Audio, seem a bit like an escape hatch on a getaway plane. How do you throw out the rule book when there isn't one to begin with?
It doesn't have to make sense, which is a good thing, because even when they explain The Secret Machines, walk you through their reasoning behind it, it doesn't all register. The Secret Machines is essentially a side project, yet rarely has an exit looked so much like the highway. The band could include as many as a dozen members or as few as three. It usually involves all three members of Captain Audio, but it doesn't necessarily have to include any of them. Huh?
"I think it's an opportunity to do something different," Curtis says. "It's an excuse to not play rock music, not play songs. Just get up and test your skills."
"And it gives us a chance to play with all kinds of different people," Chellew adds. "I mean, it can be any combination of the three of us. It could be Brandon and five other people, and it would still have the same vibe."
"I think one of our goals of the Secret Machines is to conduct other people playing," Curtis adds.
"Maybe write music and let other people perform it," Chellew says.
So far, The Secret Machines' lineup has included Tripping Daisy drummer Ben Curtis (Brandon's brother and former UFOFU bandmate), former UFOFU co-frontman Joe Butcher, ex-Comet guitarist Daniel Huffman, Go Metric USA's Lindsay Romig, The Darlingtons-Meat Helmets bassist Angelique Congleton, and even former Dallas Observer circulation director John Tomp, who became an impromptu backup singer during the group's performance at this year's Dallas Observer Music Awards. The Secret Machines' upcoming performance at the Gypsy Tea Room could feature all of them, or none of them. No one will really know until the band takes the stage. And the group onstage may not even be The Secret Machines.
"If you come to see the Secret Machines, you might just get a Captain Audio show," Garza admits. "Or you might get Krautrock. Or tejano."
Garza isn't kidding when he mentions tejano. Captain Audio has already worked with a local tejano artist on a project Curtis dubs "Conjunto Audio." It may sound strange, but maybe that's the point. Yet it's just another example that Curtis, Chellew, and Garza have created a situation in which they can perform whatever, whenever, and with whomever they want. Calling themselves The Secret Machines of Captain Audio is more for the audience than for the band, letting them know to leave any expectations at home. "We can call ourselves anything we want," Curtis explains. "It's still just us."
But that is really the only concession the band has made to its audiences. The Secret Machines of Captain Audio, and Captain Audio itself, is more about challenging the people involved, not slowing down so everyone else can keep up. Whether the audience gets it or not "doesn't matter," Curtis says, laughing. Garza and Chellew nod in agreement, giving the impression that maybe the members of Captain Audio don't want everyone to get it. Maybe even themselves.
"There's a level of comfort attached to Captain Audio," Garza says. "When you play a song, there's always a chance that you'll mess it up, but you kind of know where you stand with the formula. I think it's just a desire to keep trying things musically without having to forfeit the band that you're in now. As musicians, I see it as an opportunity to check out other things besides rock and roll. That's what the Secret Machines are about."