By Jeremy Hallock
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In fact, he's even a little gun-shy of how his mall punk is perceived outside the scene.
"I went to this house show up in Denton, and one of the guys in [Denton-based punk outfit] Teenage Cool Kids just looked at me and said, 'You're The Secret Handshake, aren't you?' And I'm like, 'Yes... please don't beat me up.'"
He's kidding, of course. Mostly.
Thing is, the members of Dallas' mall punk scene are getting recognized. It's near impossible for a week to go by without one of the area's mall punk bands—Forever the Sickest Kids, The Secret Handshake or any of the other somewhat successful acts that call the DFW region home (among them PlayRadioPlay!, Red Car Wire, The Hit, Artist Vs. Poet and many others)—finding itself the subject of an item on AbsolutePunk.net, a site almost entirely devoted to bands of the ilk. Likewise, an issue of Alternative Press, the glossy magazine dedicated to the same fan base, practically features a Dallas band per issue.
Others have taken notice, too, namely the celebrity blogs, which couldn't help but be curious as to who this Forever the Sickest Kids band thought it was when it started hanging out with celebrities like Paris Hilton at chic nightclubs in Dallas and Los Angeles, or when the band started posting YouTube videos of its members goofing off with Disney starlet (and Grand Prairie native) Selena Gomez.
National outlets subsequently began asking the same questions that the agents who book the biggest venues in Dallas, Denton and Fort Worth have been wondering for some time: What the hell, exactly, is going on in Dallas' suburbs? The short blurbs in Alternative Press quickly became cover stories, and for FTSK, they led to invitations to participate in the magazine's sponsored tours (last summer, the band toured under the AP banner with longtime idol Bryce Avery of The Rocket Summer). Common threads among the area acts soon blossomed into full-on trends.
The Dallas suburbs suddenly had become an area of intrigue. Fans and reporters started talking about "the Dallas sound," about the legions of fans in the area, about the main players in all aspects of the scene—management (Quon), promotions and booking (Ziemer) and production (Arlington-based producer Geoff Rockwell)—helping turn the entire machine, and not just its products, into a model for success for other cities. Or, in some cases, a mecca.
In a short bio AP recently ran on local mall punk act Artist Vs. Poet (who, like FTSK, saw its debut EP produced by Rockwell and developed its fan base at Ziemer's showcases), the band talked about an act from Oregon that had gleefully told the band that it would soon be moving to the metroplex to join in on the scene. Ziemer, meanwhile, says he gets calls almost weekly by out-of-town musicians asking him if he knows of any up-and-coming acts looking to add on another member. Quon describes being approached by five to 10 bands a week looking for management representation—a number of them coming from outside the region. Rockwell, too, who is admittedly as stumped by the question of what "the Dallas sound"—a sound he is credited for helping create—actually refers to, is busier now than he's ever been, thanks to the constant pleas for production that his studio receives.
"Dallas is the new Nashville," FTSK's Cook says with some bombast, but little hyperbole. "Once you've got one band blowing up out of an area—kind of a success story, if you will—A&R reps from the major labels take notice of that, and they all flock to that area.
Dubuc, for one, doesn't think that's a good thing. He toured the country—beyond too—before even releasing a debut EP in order to build up a fan base. It's a concept he says is lost on the newer bands of the region.
"That's the problem with Dallas right now," he says. "These kids think they can start a band, write some songs, not work hard, put out a demo, throw a few songs on MySpace and get signed to a major label. It shouldn't work like that."
For the time being, that process seems to be working, though. Sure, the music is fairly simple—even FTSK's members acknowledge as much ("Simplicity is amazing," Turman says)—and, like many of the Top 40 hits of the day, the songs these bands create come with a highly produced sheen.
"It's weird," Dubuc says. "Remember a few years back when you'd hear a band and you would say that it sucked because it was overproduced? I went on AbsolutePunk the other day and was reading a review and all the kids were slamming it because it wasn't produced enough."
It all makes for some catchy tunes, though, Dubuc's music included (and maybe more so than some of the others'). And that's just what the kids want these days. Even at the stage shows.
Before its House of Blues show, FTSK's members joked about a new introduction it was incorporating into its performance, in which the members run out onstage and lip-sync hip-hop lyrics and pre-recorded slams at one another before it all devolves into a staged bow-and-arrow and Old West gunfight.