Built it, and they will indie-rock

Josh Baish has hardly begun to tell his story--how he recently bought half of Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios in Denton, how he wants to turn it from an occasional performance space into a full-time club, how he feels his adopted hometown of Denton is on the verge of something big--when his frustration interrupts him. His voice suddenly takes on an exasperated tone, as if the other shoe just dropped and landed on his head.

Yesterday, building inspectors informed Baish and his husband-and-wife partners, Memory and Jason Wortham, that they would have to build a parking lot to accommodate 103 spaces, the latest in a series of stumbling blocks Baish has encountered since he decided to go into business with the Worthams a few months ago. It seems getting the money to buy half of Rubber Gloves was the easy part; his parents finally gave him access to his trust fund. Transforming the club he co-owns into the one that exists in his mind has been the problem, taking much longer than he originally anticipated. It's been hard enough just getting started.

"It's just so much freakin' bullshit," Baish sighs less than a minute into our conversation, exhaling like he hasn't at all since the building inspectors stopped by. "It's one thing after another. Originally, when I got back here [after the holidays], it was going to be a month and a half from that. Now, we've pushed it back. My birthday's March 31, so we want to have it [completed] by the end of March. Once we get this parking lot in, that's going to be the last thing we need to do, then we knock down the wall, and we expand it. It's like the snowball effect: You get one thing going, and then everything kind of falls into it. When all is said and done, it's going to be right-on. It's going to be really cool."

Baish can't stay upset about the delays for long, because he--and everyone involved--realizes how much potential Rubber Gloves has. Almost as soon as his agitation surfaces, it's gone again, replaced by his enthusiasm for the project. It's not hard for Baish to stay upbeat, because he knows that as soon as he and the Worthams overcome the setbacks that keep tripping them up, they will be part of something special. Rubber Gloves, he believes, won't be just another club; it'll be a home, something the Denton music community hasn't had since The Argo shut down in September 1997.

But he doesn't want simply to recreate The Argo. He wants to make Rubber Gloves into something bigger and better, a real club, though not in the image of The Curtain Club or Caravan of Dreams. His ideas include not only expanding and opening a bar, but adding an art gallery as well, and maybe a small movie theater. He sees Rubber Gloves as something Denton can rally around, a focal point of a local scene full of people searching for somewhere, anywhere to go.

"These kids here need a place, and it's not Rick's," says the 24-year-old Baish, who should know, since he's worked as a bartender at Rick's for five years. "People come here, it's not the Groovy Mule. It's not this bullshit. It needs to be this place that they can contribute to and come to."

If all goes according to plan, Baish's idea of a community center-cum-nightclub should become a reality in the next few months. The first step is opening a bar, a key to the rest of Rubber Gloves' development. Up till now, it has operated under a bring-your-own-beer policy, severely limiting its profitability; the $5 cover charge collected at most shows is barely enough to pay the bands and the bills. Barring any more suggestions by the building inspectors, Rubber Gloves will initiate the procedure of obtaining a liquor license from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, a process that usually takes a little more than a month.

As soon as the license is acquired, Baish and the Worthams will begin serving beer and wine in an area that is currently used by the Worthams as an apartment. Once they move out, the wall that separates their apartment from the performance space will be knocked down, almost doubling the size of the club.

Opening the bar not only means more room and more money, it also allows Rubber Gloves to stay open almost every night of the week, once again offering Denton--and Dallas, for that matter--a real alternative. When The Argo closed, it threw a stick in the spokes of the Denton scene, and coupled with the Orbit Room's demise last June, its passing practically erased the Dallas-Denton-Fort Worth area from the tour itineraries of the punk and indie rock bands that used to come through. Wanz Dover's annual Melodica Festival--which brought in such national bands as Silver Apples, Experimental Audio Research, 5ive Style, the Sea and Cake, and Tortoise--was forced to move to Austin.

It hurt local bands just as much, forcing them into friends' houses and, for a while, the basement of a Mr. Gatti's in Denton. The Worthams began hosting shows in the spare room of their rehearsal studio complex out of necessity, initially only picking up a few concerts that had already been scheduled at The Argo. It was a temporary gesture, something to take up the slack until The Argo reopened in a new location. But it never did.

"We didn't have a stage or any sound equipment or anything," Memory Wortham recalls. "It was just a real haphazard kind of deal. We just decided to put it together to make some extra money. And then, The Argo never opened up again, and all these people started calling us. The word was getting out, and it just kind of exploded on us. We weren't expecting it at all. We were just expecting to run rehearsal studios, and that's about it. But we're happy about it."

As their former side project began looking more like a full-time gig, the Worthams began making piecemeal improvements, like installing a proper sound system and constructing a larger, outdoor stage. However, it wasn't until the influx of Baish's cash and ideas that they began to think about what they'd really like to do with the place. They hadn't even really thought of themselves as a real club, and hardly acted like they owned one, not even advertising shows other than on their voice mail. In fact, Baish didn't even know Rubber Gloves was hosting a show a few weeks ago until someone called and asked whether he was going.

"Here I am, I'm half-owner of the place, and I don't even know what the fuck is going on," Baish laughs. "We're going to have ads now. More people are going to know about the shows. We're going to do a lot more stuff that they're not capable of doing right now, because they don't have the funds to do it."

The developments at Rubber Gloves have already had one positive side effect: The return of three-quarters of Centro-matic, as well as Matt Barnhart, from St. Louis. The group moved there early last year, and frontman Will Johnson was expected to join them sometime this year. But they began having misgivings about staying in St. Louis; there weren't enough bands in the city to support drummer Matt Pence and Barnhart's production company, Transcontinental Recording, or Barnhart's label, Quality Park Recordings. In fact, the only projects they worked on while in St. Louis were based in the Dallas-Denton area, even the music they recorded with fellow Denton expatriate Matt Duncan. When they came back for Johnson's wedding a few weeks ago and saw the progress at Rubber Gloves and the resurgence of the local scene, it helped them make up their minds.

"Josh is a really good friend of mine, and we just got to talking," Barnhart says. "He started talking about the stuff he was trying to do out at Rubber Gloves, buying into it and trying to make it a bit more of an actual club. Just offhandedly, he said, 'We really miss you guys around here, and we wish you were around to help out and stuff." We spoke with Peter Schmidt, and after talking to him and a bunch of other people, we just came to the realization that, as much as we love the city of St. Louis--it's an amazing place to live, and we love it--there's just too much going on in Denton and Dallas to ignore."

Johnson agrees. "I think he [Barnhart] is really taken with the idea that Baish has taken such an interest in Rubber Gloves," Johnson says. "I don't know, I just get the feeling that Barnhart kind of came down here and saw some roots being planted in really good ways that maybe made him miss the place even more than he originally did. It'll be like old times for a little while. I think it'll be good--for probably a long while, actually."

Pence and Barnhart's return--and Johnson's non-departure--only adds to the wealth of local activity. As soon as all of the arrangements can be made, Transcontinental Recording will merge with producer Dave Willingham's 70 Hurtz Studio in Argyle, creating perhaps the best production facility the area has ever seen. And Barnhart's Quality Park Recordings has a full slate of releases due in the coming months, including the debut full-length from Little Grizzly (featuring guest appearances by Johnson and members of Slobberbone and Check), a compilation of everything Denton's Wiring Prank has ever recorded, and two Centro-matic albums (an odds-and-sods collection in May, and another full-length in the summer). Barnhart will also help Baish put together a 'zine, called Trick Knee, centered around the goings-on at Rubber Gloves.

For Baish, the involvement of Pence and Barnhart in Rubber Gloves, as well as their joint venture with Willingham, only makes him more excited about the future than ever--the future of Rubber Gloves and Denton itself. This, he claims, is only the beginning.

"There's a lot more foundation and support here," Baish says, any hint of frustration completely absent now. "All the bands are so incestual. Everybody's been a part of everybody's band. Everybody's recorded everybody. Everybody's played with everybody. And everybody's friends, for the most part. I think that it's really coming together now. In the six years I've lived here, I've never seen anything like it, and it's just starting right now. I just feel that I'm not doing anything, that it's happening around me. I'm just really happy to be a part of it."

A Bedwetter grows up
Among the local bands invited to play South by Southwest, the annual music-biz confab that takes place March 17-21, is one that has yet to release even a cassette or play a single live gig. In fact, the tape that got the band into the conference contained only three unmixed songs and came bearing a handwritten note: "No information can be given, listen to the music." And just like that, The Deathray Davies will be among the hopefuls descending upon Austin like locusts in the springtime--even though at the time the tape was made, the band wasn't even a band. Rather, it was just one guy: Bedwetter guitarist John Dufilho, who shuttled between San Antonio and Dallas to record what will become The Deathray Davies' debut CD Drink With the Grown-Ups & Listen to the Jazz.

The album, which should be available within a month, sounds much like Bedwetter--if that band recorded in a garage in 1968 with, like, one guy playing all the instruments. It's the catchiest piece of lo-fidelity rock this side of the new Sebadoh record, a pop-pop gem brimming with fuzzed-out guitars pogoing with tambourines and organ; like Dufilho sings, "I wouldn't change a thing." Drink With the Grown-Ups is the result of songs the guitarist had left over from the recording of a yet-to-be-released second Bedwetter album, which was finished last summer. A friendship with Centro-matic's Will Johnson--himself the master of the bedroom one-take--spurred Dufilho to make use of the songs, even if it meant playing every single instrument on the record. So he spent the last few months driving to San Antonio, Bedwetter's old home, to record; he then finished the album at Big Time Audio here.

"I've kinda been in bands for a while, and when I moved up here, I guess one of the inspiring forces was that I became friends with Will," Dufilho says. "And when I heard what he did, a light bulb went off: 'Hey, I could do that." He laughs. "It kinda happened that way."

But now that The Deathray Davies has been accepted to play SXSW, and since Dufilho needed some extra musicians to play some gigs once the album was released, he has had to put together a band--which was easy enough, since he was already playing in Legendary Crystal Chandelier, better known as Peter Schmidt's band. Dufilho recruited Schmidt to play guitar, Bedwetter's Jason Garner on bass, Transona Five's Rachel Smith on keyboards (including Farfisa organ), and Chomsky's Matt Kellum on drums, though The Commercials' Rob Avsharian has also been behind the kit as of late. "Within the next month, it'll kinda solidify," Dufilho says. That lineup, more or less, is the one he's taking with him to SXSW, where Bedwetter also has its own showcase.

"When John asked me to join and played me the songs, I liked them a bunch," says Schmidt. "It's a really good '60s-influenced garage-pop album. The songs are fun, and it's good for me to play the songs and not have to worry about anything. I did it because I was his friend, but I wouldn't do it if I didn't like the songs."

--Robert Wilonsky

Send Street Beat your building permits to rwilonsky@dallasobserver.com.


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