I'm assuming you've heard of a band out of Oklahoma City called Hinder; the group has, after all, been pulling in the press lately, as well as making its mark on VH1 and MTV, for better or for worse.
Hinder consists of five groomed, good-looking guys, who, with their bulbous biceps and handsome profiles, resemble clean-cut football players more than musicians. They have been quoted numerous times as claiming they "just want to rock." They speak of partying in vague, publicist-approved terms, hinting at a deep debauchery subsidized by their major label. They write bland, guitar-based, hookless, mid-tempo songs (with the occasional ballad) about bangin' chicks and drinkin' whiskey. Original!
At best, Hinder is a group of guys who admirably strive to live the cornerstone concepts of rock 'n' roll—excess, youthful snottiness and maxed-out distortion pedals—even though they lack the chops to engage in them with any ounce of credibility or in any way that might be the slightest bit interesting. At worst, they are a bunch of douchebags. Either way, as they climb the charts and gather MySpace hits, they are sad evidence that rock is still a young man's game.
Vaden Todd Lewis and Taz Bentley just wanna rock too, but they are not young men. Lewis is 41; Bentley is in his 30s. You probably know who these guys are. Lewis, of course, is the famous force behind the Toadies, the early-'90s Fort Worth band that achieved a touch of fame, while Bentley once absolutely ripped as the drummer for Reverend Horton Heat. The two form the older, wiser core of Dallas-based band the Burden Brothers (guitarists Corey Rozzoni and Casey Hess and bassist Zack Busby round out the group), who will open for Hinder on the Texas swing of the band's tour.
Lewis and Bentley strike me as a delicate, paradoxical balance of resignation and enthusiasm. On the one hand, they light up when discussing their early inspirations, from Van Halen to punk rock; on the other, they sound a touch jaded.
Either way, they've got good stories. As we awkwardly lunch on falafel and lentil-y things at Cosmic Café, the Zen atmosphere is broken by sordid tales of a rock 'n' roll past. "I just wanted the lifestyle," Bentley says of his initial interest in music. "Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll just screamed to me."
Bentley's entry into the upper echelons of Dallas rock in the '80s and '90s was appropriately debaucherous. One night, he found himself hanging out in Austin, partying "with a titty dancer who pawned her ring to get more drugs and booze." The next day, hung-over and bleary-eyed, he got a call from Horton Heat's manager. The drummer had quit. Did he want the job?
Bentley said yes. "Our first show in Telluride, I got laid that very first weekend. I thought, 'This is what I'm doing.'"
Times have changed, though. Both Bentley and Lewis have kids. Bentley just ended his 12-year marriage, and Lewis and his wife, married for eight years, just moved back to Fort Worth because it's a good place to raise kids. "Safer, better cops, that type of thing," Lewis says. When I ask him if he ever thought he'd be worrying about such things, he replies with an adamant, "Hell, no!" These guys are first-generation rockers, the kind of guys Hinder wants to be, and their world has shifted.
But still...the Burden Brothers. The group got together casually, a product of Lewis and Bentley's songwriting chemistry, and scored a surprise modest hit with their first album, and the follow-up, Mercy, was released last month. It is a decent album, centering on sustained guitar blasts and Lewis' signature raw-throated vocals, but it sounds jarringly out of place in 2006, a time when rocking takes a back seat to irony, a time when an orchestrated, painted-on image of rockitude—a la Hinder—outsells the real deal.
Therein lies the rub: These days, musical success comes in two disparate forms. Those who achieve critical success list toward a nontraditional side, with keys, horns, acoustic guitars, even harps blending around highly personal, introspective songs. Those whose success centers around making money and topping the charts must Hinder-ize themselves with trappings and false imagery.
The Burden Brothers fall into some limbo in between. The frustrating thing is that, with Lewis and Bentley, the Burden Brothers' history is no orchestration—they've partied with the strippers, they've hovered around grand success, they've polished off the bottles and, most important, they've written the damn songs. They're for real, yet they find themselves opening for the likes of Hinder. It's still a young man's world, this rock business. The rest of us, sadly, just live in it.
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