By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
You never notice the smell of cigarettes until you stop smoking them, and even then it takes a while before you really start to notice the stale stench staining air and skin and anything else it comes in contact with. Kind of like breaking up with someone and not realizing until months later that you hated him/her the whole time. Or that you should have, anyway. Point is: Not exactly the smell you want to wake up to on a Saturday morning. Even less so if it's more like Saturday afternoon. And especially not if it's the aftermath of about half a pack of Basics coming from a pair of unexpected guests waiting outside the front door.
This is the part where it should be pointed out that the guests weren't exactly unexpected--we'd set this up a few days earlier, after a few failed attempts--but the hangover that preceded them was. Needless to say, it wasn't the right time to think about work. Or play. It was hard to tell which category the two men--Chris Purdy and Herman Suede--were in the mood for.
At any rate, ladies and gentlemen, meet one half of Ruffled Feathers: Purdy, the quietly talkative leader, shorter and scruffier than his silent partner Suede, who sipped from a cup he repeatedly replenished with Reunite, until the bottle ran out and he grabbed another one from the black truck parked at the curb. They looked like a couple of friends wasting a Saturday afternoon, and they were. But they also had a purpose: They were there to drum up business for their band's soon-to-be-released debut and infrequent live shows. Ambitious, but not really. It would have worked too, if there had been a tape recorder nearby. As it stands, that afternoon wasn't an interview, but a conversation.
Two months later, and nothing much has changed, except the cast has grown, and the proceedings are being recorded for posterity. Purdy and Suede are joined this time by Jared Young, as well as drummer Keith Stephens, a fairly recent addition to the band. The band is crowded around a table at the uncrowded Cavern; it's only 8:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, a little too early in the night--and the week, for that matter--for much of a drinking crowd. Still, the volume on the jukebox is set on stun, and the upstairs bar is dark enough to hide a few hundred people. All it's covering at the moment is one group of none-too-boisterous musicians and a table that rapidly fills up with empties and cigarette butts.
"What's the story here?" Chris Purdy asked periodically during that first abortive interview and on the phone a few days after. "Have you figured out what the story is yet?"
Yes, I know what the story is. I've figured it out. So have you. So has everyone. It's clear what the score is as soon as they all start talking. Purdy's story, and that of Jared Young and Herman Suede and Ruffled Feathers is a common one in this local scene and, more than likely, in every other music community around the country. Of course it is. Think about it: A group of young musicians burn out before they have a chance to fade away, sacrificing everything in return for nothing. They give up on the band, music, even themselves for a while. Even though they swore they'd never play again, much less with each other, a few years later--guess what?--they're doing both, and better than ever. Making it is all of a sudden less important than just making music. Here's the part that doesn't always happen: In the process of not trying to impress anyone but each other, they impress someone--the kind of someone who comes with a record contract in one hand and a pen in the other. It's a cliché, a Hollywood script, a John G. Avildsen flick with a good soundtrack. It's been done.
Although that is essentially Ruffled Feathers' story, it sounds different the way they tell it. Maybe that's because they don't, really. Tell it, that is. They leave most of the story out, sticking to the most minimal amount of information required. It's not even a story--maybe an outline, depending on how loose your definition is. For example, here's how Purdy and Young describe their time playing music together:
Young: "Me and Chris have known each other for years, about 10 years. Played together previously in a band called Girl. Did that for about, I'd say, four years. And, uh..."
Purdy: "Broke up. We all went our separate ways, and then came back together, around October or November 1999."
That's it; they move on. No reasons for the break-up, no highs or lows, no nothing. Eventually, the rest of the story leaks out, but it takes more than an hour and more than a little piecing together, taking one sentence here and adding it to one brief tangent there, until it all adds up. For the most part.
Here is what it adds up to: Chris Purdy and Jared Young formed Girl around 1993, after they'd worked together at the long-gone Mad Hatter's in Fort Worth. Purdy had just come off a two-and-a-half-year tour of duty as the drummer in Slowpoke; check the credits of the band's debut for Grass Records, 1994's Mad Chen, for one Chris Michael, as Purdy was calling himself at the time. Girl (which also included, among others, Gospel Swingers singer/Sub Oslo drummer Quincy Holloway) was a pop band--disheveled in all the right places, yes, but still a pop band. In an interview with the Dallas Observer in 1995, Purdy and Young 'fessed up to their shared enthusiasm for albums such as Toad the Wet Sprocket's Pale, a record almost "everybody seemed to be making fun of us for having," Purdy said at the time. They weren't going to change the world, though they stood a decent chance of making it sound a little better going around.