By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
If the three members of Denton's PVC Street Gang didn't tell you that they were in a band, chances are you would mistake them for out-of-work computer programmers and motley ones at that.
"Well, I am currently out of work," singer/guitarist Chris McGaha says with a chuckle. Bald, stout and seemingly oblivious to the current economic downturn, McGaha remains in good spirits; perhaps that's because the band he sort of founded back in 2006 is starting to gain some notice.
"We like where the band is now," he says. "This all started with me making my own beats on a shitty Casio keyboard and a distortion pedal. But, eventually, you look up and everybody is in the band for the same reason."
That reason? A soon-to-be-released debut EP, a projected summer release of a full-length effort and a multitude of gigs. Not bad for some guys who didn't even know the others existed until a couple of years ago.
"We are a very, very, very, very good band," bassist Chris Vivion jokes. "This is the first time in my life that I've been able to rely on other people to get shit done."
Tall and shaggy, Vivion comes off as McGaha's polar opposite. Yet the pair (who met at a party on Fry Street in Denton in late 2007) have a symbiosis that has enabled them to relatively quickly write a bevy of top-notch material.
And you'll be able to hear that material any day now, when PVC Street Gang's debut EP is finally released.
"We're just waiting for duplication," Vivion says, shrugging.
Included on the CD will be "Cutlass," the band's signature statement—if three slackers from North Texas can even have a signature statement. Yet "Cutlass" is indeed a wonder to hear, an oddball amalgamation of post-punk, electropop and fey hip-hop that is both catchy and creepy. It's been listened to on the band's MySpace page nearly 10,000 times.
"Most of those were by me from my other MySpace page," McGaha says, snorting. "What's funny is that 'Cutlass' came together in 15 minutes, and Chris and I just looked at each other and knew it was cool."
Other cool tracks include "Nightmare City," "Secret Society" and "Night Terrors," songs that successfully merge the classically sleazy synths of Suicide with the propulsive guitar work of Gang of Four. Both "Cutlass" and "Night Terrors" have already been turned into appropriately disturbing and claustrophobic videos. Again, not bad for a trio of guys who look like they may, at any time, ask you for a handout.
Besides their music, not much else about these guys could be described as cool. Sitting with the trio at a Vietnamese eatery in Deep Ellum, it's easy to get the feeling that you're providing some sort of charitable service just by talking with these dudes.
Hell, they even got the band name wrong: Former member Jeff Moore thought he was referencing the film Apocalypse Now with the name choice, but it turns out the military boat in the film is called PBR Street Gang. Whoops.
"After a few shows, we realized that we got the name wrong, but we figured, fuck it, we were stuck with it," McGaha says. "Now we get people thinking we're plumbers."
Though most of the tracks on the forthcoming EP were made with a drum machine, McGaha and Vivion knew they eventually wanted to beef up the sound with a third player. They found that member when Klearlight Studio engineer Jimi Bowman recommended session drummer Pete Young (who has worked with Glen Reynolds, Paul Slavens and Corn Mo, among others) as Vivion and McGaha were recording some early demos. Although nearly a decade older than Vivion and McGaha, Young fit in perfectly—which in this case, yes, means he's almost as fucked up as the other two.
A married father of two, Young comes across like a community college professor who was fired for having porn on his computer. Perpetually smiling, with a caustic sense of humor, Young's experience and talent offer the perfect bonding agent for the warped creativity of his bandmates.
"I've played with a lot of bands, metal acts, all kinds," Young says. "And I feel really comfortable with these guys."
And though they're exceedingly laid-back in person, when placed in front of a crowd, the trio manages to summon anger from hitherto unknown sources to become one of the area's best live acts.
"It's an energy thing, man," McGaha says. "There's obviously a sense of tension out there. We try to put the aggression out there for everybody."
Each member's job (or lack thereof) allows him the flexibility necessary to play gigs—lots of gigs. Seemingly every weekend, it's possible to spot PVC Street Gang's name on an area marquee, sometimes more than once.
"Luckily," McGaha says, "no one has gotten sick of us yet."
And, chances are, as long as these guys keep showing the originality and chutzpah they already have, few are going to tire of their shenanigans anytime soon. Intense in its own peculiar way, McGaha's stage presence resembles a homeless guy screaming at passing cars.
"He does everything loud," Vivion says of his bandmate. "He coughs loud—even snores loud."
As a result, the live show finds PVC Street Gang channeling the noisy physicality of Frank Black into a more modern, garage rock sound.
McGaha doesn't mind the comparison, but it's one he's heard before: "Because I'm bald and round, it's easy for folks to compare us to The Pixies," McGaha says. "But I think there's more to us than that."
And, of course, he's right. Floating around in PVC Street Gang's intelligent mixture are elements of The Fall and The Clash, other bands that were great—although certainly not great-looking.
"We understand the thing about ugly bands making great music," McGaha says. "I mean we've all seen Joe Strummer's teeth. We also know that in this business, especially these days, in order to be successful, it's about looking a certain way and being a certain weight. That's not us."
Even without "the look," though, PVC Street Gang appears on the road to bigger things. Not bad for a bunch of plumbers.