By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Last year was a tough year. Clubs in Deep Ellum, Denton and Fort Worth closed, only to be replaced with sterile, corporate-owned chain venues. Carter Albrecht was killed. The Toadies, one of the most overrated bands in Dallas history, reunited. Zooming out beyond the local music scene, things don't look much better. We voted to build a toll road in a drainage ditch, the Mavericks were on the losing end of a shocking playoff upset and the Hardline imploded. On the national and global scale, our unwinnable wars—on terror in Iraq and on drugs at home—continued with no end in sight, and all we can watch on TV are reruns and reality shows.
This year will be better. It just has to be.
I know of at least one person in the world of local music who is ready to get on with the new year. Few people had a more eventful 2007 and have more to look forward to in 2008 than Scott Porter.
In June, Porter's band Record Hop recorded with Steve Albini at Chicago's Electrical Audio and had John Congleton and Justin "J.C." Collins work on the mixing. Albini was impressed; during an online Q&A in a poker forum, they were the first band he thought of when asked who was still "carrying the torch of rock 'n' roll." Secret Headquarters, the Denton DIY venue Porter co-founded, was kicked out of its building after drunken friends committed a relatively minor act of vandalism. Rather than evolving into a counter-culture mini-mall as planned, the venue closed its doors amid hurt feelings and finger-pointing.
But Porter ended the year with the ultimate symbol of hope for a better future. On December 15, he proposed to Ashley Cromeens, his longtime girlfriend and Record Hop singer. The two will marry May 24. Their initial "honeymoon" will be a Record Hop tour, though they will take a trip together to Portland and Seattle later. Talking to the two on the Saturday before Christmas, I got the impression—just a hunch—that they'll be one of those rare couples that makes it work. Not once did an unkind word or look pass between them, and they were constantly hugging or patting each other. Little things like that give me hope that maybe it's not such a bad world. This year, we can take comfort in knowing that there will be at least one more strong marriage in this screwed-up country. That's something worth celebrating, right?
Tell me about the new Record Hop record.
Porter: The new record is now sequenced. It'll be out—we're trying for February. We want it to be out in time for South by Southwest, which we just found out we get to do for the first time. I'm really excited about it. We've listened to it so much and dealt with it so much, we haven't even realized it's actually going to come out now. So that'll be a whole new wave of excitement for it.
Does that dampen the enthusiasm for it, the long delay?
Porter: No, it doesn't feel like too much of a delay. We just had stuff to get done, and you gotta get the money to pay for it. It comes in waves. It's like, "Well, that sure was fun making the record." And then you realize, "Oh fuck, it's still going to come out." It's getting more and more exciting every day. The art's finally done and looks really cool. Our drummer [Tony Wann] did the art.
Albini had some nice things to say about y'all. What was that like?
Porter: That was incredible. What's the phrase? Praise from Caesar. We have so much respect for that guy. Clearly, we're all influenced by him.
Cromeens: That was better than any Christmas gift I've ever gotten.
Porter: You hear all these things about Steve, like he may be hard to work with, and he's prickly. But once that first-day intimidation from being in the room with a guy you respect so much [was gone], it really turned into a casual goof-off fest. And then for him to say the things he said after we were done, it's like, I know we'll be working with that guy again. It was all too perfect.
[It couldn't have been too much of a "goof-off fest." Staying at Albini's studio, they got the whole thing done in two days of recording, with a third day of mixing. On their day off, they ate hot dogs.]
Did you guys play poker with him?
Porter: He invited us. He was very open about the fact that, "Since you guys don't play, you are more than welcome to sit at the table and lose your money."
Tell me about Secret Headquarters closing. Is there any future for it?
Porter: Where we are now is trying to pay bills. We're trying to get a benefit show together. But we're just so tired of begging people for money and operating at this loss, that it's just like, "Oh my God, we've got to do something now or we're going to die!" But the place closed, and there's a moment of deep breath, but then the bills are coming in from last month. So we're kind of licking our wounds, trying to figure out what we did wrong and what we did right. Our partner Cody [Robinson] is shouldering most of that. Everything got put in his name, because it was the only way we could do it. He's got a family, for God's sake, and now he's got all these stupid rock 'n' roll bills coming in, so we're trying to figure out ways to get him out from under that.
There's talk, people that were involved wanting to get it going again. Chris Lewellyn from The Clandestine Project was coming in right when it closed and was going to help us get the new vision going. He's still working on that with some of the guys that were involved. There's already new spots picked out. It's basically the players from the first one deciding how important it is to them.
The goodwill after it closed down is one of the most important things that ever happened in my life. You never get a chance to see it while it's going on, because there's always a bill blocking your vision. But after it closed, it was like magic. "Wow, I didn't know everyone was having that good of a time."
Tell me what TXMF Records [which Porter co-founded] has in store this year.
Porter: We've got the new George Neal coming out, Record Hop, Pinebox Serenade. And what I mean by that is, we're not doing shit for any of these bands. They're just putting our sticker on the album. We're just trying to create a community of like-minded people. 100 Damned Guns is doing good. We lost Hogpig since they broke up, but we're still working with their record. We're about to start doing business with Chris Garver, and Bob White and the F-Electrics. We had a meeting the other day, me and J.C. and Kody [Jackson] sitting around drinking beers, and we said, "OK, does everything still rule? OK, meeting adjourned." I'm thinking in 2008, we're going to find a way to help out these bands more.
I ask about their engagement. Porter popped the question at the Zach Galifianakis show at the Lakewood Theatre, which Cromeens had planned to attend with girlfriends, without Porter. He'd contacted Galifianakis' management to let him propose onstage but was turned down. Cromeens figures they were leery that he was some local comic trying to weasel his way onstage.
Cromeens: It was a very good plan. The plan was not what went wrong.
Porter: The plan went wheels-off, and I ended up running out drunk and finding her in the parking lot and got down on one knee in front of strangers, like [exaggerated drunk voice], "Will you marry me?!! It's been such a crazy day, just say yes and marry me."