By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The band took to an almost completely instrumental sound on the last tour, but Newsom feels that was only a stage in the metamorphosis that's still not complete. "That's one of those things I don't want to think about us at all. I do not want to portray the image of an instrumental band." Newsom adds, "Lyrics are important."
The music on Set a Summery Table is cleaner, more proficient, and more complicated, yet, according to Newsom, it's a result of immersion in the peccadilloes of rock culture, not an effort of studied musicianship, a discrepancy that is key in their difference from Newman's band and the current crop of instrumental acts. "They [Paul Newman] come from a different school than we do," Newsom says. "I love repetition in music, but I'm not up to that sort of repetition in [our] music." According to Newsom, Rhythm of Black Lines is much more unlearned and unstructured: "If it comes across as being tech-head, it's a fluke. Tim, Kiki, and I are not musicians."
In recording, as opposed to attempting to capture the band's blisteringly loud live sound, the band is a quieter model, in hopes of bringing a more complete picture to a live show. "With a record recorded kind of quiet--when we play live, and you hear the songs--it gives you a chance to pick up on the melody in a different way," Newsom says, clarifying a concept he claims to have gleaned from The Who. "If you listen to Magic Bus, or any of their studio records, the vocals are clean, the guitars are quiet. Then, you see the live videos, and they're The Who."
Rather than trying to recreate an outdated sound, the band has looked to rock standards for a purer take on the methods of music-making. "For us," Newsom declares, "we've tried to throw away the whole contemporary music thing." To Newsom, the clubs of Austin aren't necessarily the best places for nurturing those sensibilities. "Growing up in El Paso, I got into the concept of a tight knit scene. Kiki and I and all the guys in At The Drive-In spent a lot of time in warehouses, playing music because there wasn't much else to do." To Newsom, Austin has been less of a scene experience and more of an inevitability due to the University of Texas and the youth culture industry surrounding it.
"There are a lot of music critics here," he says, not just referring to the ones that work at the Austin American-Statesman or The Austin Chronicle. "There are a lot of people who will just write you off. The rent is extremely high, but I came to Austin without thinking about that, or about the music now. But Austin is so interesting--those garage groups, the Tim Kerr stuff, all stuff that really changed punk. It's not a city like New York or Chicago or Seattle, where people go to be part of this huge happening, but Austin's already on the map." He supplies, with only a slight local scoff, "There are bands like Spoon and [And You Will Know Us By the] Trail of Dead, not bands that I would personally endorse, but they're out there and working really hard."
Rock's intellectual history, the components of scene culture, commercialism, and their effect on musicians, fascinates Newsom, a University of Texas history major. "I'm writing a paper on the history of the MC5 right now, how they and the other bands that were in that Detroit scene got pulled into the corporate record label, David Geffen trap." Incidentally, he's taking heed of his eminent El Paso friends. "I'm writing about At The Drive-In in this paper," he says. "They're really similar to the MC5, if you think about it, both in the way that they reached fame and the way that they put together their sound." Seeing fame and being part of a scene as mixed blessings, he adds, "Any good band develops in a vacuum, not thinking about what they're doing."
Like their friends in At The Drive-In, Newsom, Sollis, and O'Neill continue to dedicate themselves to furthering their band, including more recording and their third full tour in less than two years of existence. "We're really serious about this," Newsom says. "We just bought this van, and we're playing shows [outside of Austin] as much as we can now, because we have this new, super-fast van." Touring has been beneficial, and almost essential for the band. "We broke even and made a little money on the tours, and we've come back knowing more what we wanted to do," Newsom says.
Rhythm of Black Lines may or may not know what they want to do yet. The process of learning what exactly that is has proven to be the most fruitful part.