By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
(Full disclosure: Since 2006, the author of this piece has performed recreationally with Pinkish Black drummer Jon Teague in a "proto-punk repertory band." In his defense, the author says, "I was a fan of Jon's creative output long before either of us ever contemplated such foolishness.")
To the multitudes that got wind of Pinkish Black's self-titled debut LP via online tastemakers such as Pitchfork, Brooklyn Vegan and Cvlt Nation, the Fort Worth-based duo's new album must have seemed like a bolt from the blue. Released on Handmade Birds, the imprint of Denton musician R. Loren (Pyramids, White Moss, Sailors With Wax Wings), Pinkish Black is a fully realized piece of work by musicians in command of their materials: dark, brooding, intense and ultimately cathartic. It's also the culmination of more than 20 years of music-making for two of the most prolific musicians the Metromess has produced — a refinement and distillation of all they've done before.
For singer/keyboardist Daron Beck, the tonal half of Pinkish Black, the buzz surrounding the release is "welcome, because it's always nice when people appreciate what you do, but also pretty weird, since I've been playing music since 1988, to little or no attention."
The music sounds both brand-new and very, very old. There's Gothic horror here, but it's as referential of '60s and '70s TV and movie kitsch as it is of Poe and Lovecraft, which makes it no less haunting. (In a just universe, which exists only in this writer's imagination, it'd be Beck, not Johnny Depp, playing Barnabas Collins in the remake of Dark Shadows.)
It's worth remembering that Goth's twisted romanticism is a literary construct, a way of sublimating Victorian sexual repression and a morbid curiosity about the forbidden. But in Pinkish Black's music, it's intertwined with another strain, one that first germinated when Brit war babies armed with Gibsons and Marshalls made metal out of scraps of the blues, substituting the dissonance of the "devil's interval" for the syntax of the flatted third and seventh, and has since mutated into something even more primordial and atavistic.
For Jon Teague, who provides Pinkish Black's rhythmic propulsion, making music has always been about "my friends and me, exorcising demons."
Teague was born in Morgantown, West Virginia, in 1975, and moved to Fort Worth with his mother when he was 10. There he met Tim Cowden, a budding drummer (now with reggae-rockers Sally Majestic) who influenced Teague to take up the drums. At 15, he joined his first band: Crucified Choices, a DIY punk outfit fronted by Brian Waits (who now leads recently reunited Fort Worth metal juggernaut Garuda). A scene coalesced around Shawn's Subs, a deli on University Drive near Texas Christian University, where Teague worked and was able to book some shows.
He also played in Little Boy with Chad Percy, a colorful character who subsequently left Fort Worth to hitchhike and ride the rails around the country; worked at Stanley Marsh's Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo; and played in Ghostcar and his own band, Cadillac Fraf & the Mockingbird Cartel, before dying in 2010 from injuries sustained in a traffic accident.
In 1998, Teague was playing in a band called Yeti, which included bassist Tommy Atkins and guitarist Eric Harris, while occasionally jamming with Atkins and Doug Ferguson, a slightly older music aficionado who'd worked with Teague at Shawn's Subs. When Yeti's lead guitarist quit, Ferguson was invited to join. He was a persuasive advocate of European progressive rock, a collector of vintage analog electronic keyboards and a veteran of musical projects including Frankie Teardrop, Ohm and Vas Deferens Organization. Atkins was a self-described "smart fat kid," whose bond with Teague sprang from their shared alienation, intelligence, sardonic humor and connoisseurship. Harris was an intuitive player, whose penchant for sonic surprise made up for his unfamiliarity with musical structure.
Yeti's 2000 album, Things To Come, is the sound of a young band flexing its musical muscle and reveling in its power, but not quite transcending its influences. While four tracks are listed on the sleeve, each side really functions like a long suite, with shifting tempos and lengthy extemporizations by Ferguson on his arsenal of keyboards and Harris on acrid-toned guitar. Yeti's sound is highly evocative of '70s prog, space rock and fusion, anchored by the telepathic communication between the rhythm section players.
Ferguson died unexpectedly on February 23, 2002, following a brief illness. His bandmates never missed a beat; keyboard duties were simply split between Atkins and Teague. On Volume, Obliteration, Transcendence, released in 2004, their sound had become noticeably heavier. Teague was now attacking his kit with the most precisely controlled violence imaginable, Atkins' bass sound had taken on gargantuan proportions, and Harris would often sync up with him to hammer the hypnotic ostinatos home. They'd added vocals, which were growled or whispered with unintelligible menace, but the anguish was palpable and real.
Angry young men often deal with grief and loss either by turning on each other, or by turning away from each other. In Yeti's case, they took the latter course. Things came to a head on a tour of the West Coast. Harris was plagued with drug problems. Atkins, moody and prone to depression, quit the tour in San Francisco, leaving Teague and Harris at loose ends. When they played one final show at the Wreck Room in Fort Worth (where Teague had worked as a doorman, booker and soundman), Harris kept playing the same few notes over and over, while Atkins stood for most of the set with his hands locked behind his back. You could have cut the tension with a knife. After the performance, Daron Beck approached Teague and told him he'd like to collaborate. The two began writing together, and soon enlisted Atkins for their new project: The Great Tyrant.