Chris Lewellyn is one of the last true believers--one of the few people around who still sees Deep Ellum as a community, still thinks in terms of us instead of me, still believes in a scene. You've probably never heard of him, because as much as he loves music, the 23-year-old Lewellyn knows his place isn't on stage or in a recording studio; it's behind the scenes. He's labored there for years, manningthe merchandise booth at Reverend Horton Heat concerts, working at Last Beat Records, organizing all-ages shows at the now-defunct Orbit Room, anything and everything to do his part. Lewellyn's an unsung hero of Dallas music, an enthusiastic cheerleader not content to stay on the sidelines, getting dirty with the rest of the offensive line until the home team scores.
Recently, Lewellyn has stepped up his role, become a part of the structure he has long helped support. Last year, he assembled two fine compilations of local bands (part of his Dos Sensenseos fanzine), and last month, he put the finishing touches on the first release on his own record label, Clandestine Project Recordings. The album--Essays on: Frantic Desperation, Anihilation, and From Another Passerby, a three-way dance featuring Dallas' The Paper Chase, Denton's E-Class, and Birmingham, Alabama's Lugsole--is an ambitious debut, put together with the kind of care that empties bank accounts.
Not that a negative bank balance matters much to Lewellyn. He realizes he probably won't see a dime from Essays' release; he'll be lucky if he even recoups his initial investment. But money isn't the driving force behind Clandestine Project Recordings. Like with the pair of Dos Sensenseos comps, it's more about giving exposure to bands he likes, bands that get lost in the cracks between Denton and Dallas. To Lewellyn, if any of the groups benefit from Essays--financially or otherwise--then it can be considered a success.
If he happens to benefit too, well, that's even better, but it's not the bottom line. He's a fan first, and being a businessman doesn't even crack the top 10. The only bottom line he's concerned with is helping out deserving bands. But he knows better than to make any promises. After all, at this point, he's struggling as much as they are.
The only promise Lewellyn has made so far is the one contained on Essays. It's a promise of things to come from Lewellyn and Clandestine Project Recordings, and of the potential of the bands included on the album. Essays is a thrilling disc, a three-headed monster that attacks you from every side, The Paper Chase's unsettling noise arm-in-arm with E-Class' jagged pop and Lugsole's combination of the two. The bands are similar enough to share space, but at times, their styles diverge so wildly, you begin to wonder how they ended up together. For Lewellyn, it was simple.
"I've always been a big fan of Paper Chase," Lewellyn says. "They're easily one of my favorite bands ever. And then E-Class, I saw at Fry Street Fair for like 10 minutes and fell in love with them. And Lugsole I heard on a comp about a year ago, and then I tracked them down, found out they were from Alabama and all of that. That was basically that. And everyone liked each other. That was the cool thing with it. It kind of seemed to give them a bond with each other and helped them promote each other. All the bands want Lugsole to come up, and Lugsole wants all the bands to come down. They've got sort of a friendship out of it."
Actually, The Paper Chase and E-Class had already built a healthy friendship before the project, often appearing on the same bills in Dallas and Denton, not only out of necessity but also because of a mutual respect. In fact, The Paper Chase's inclusion on Essays was one of the reasons E-Class decided to participate. Both bands have been around a couple of years, lingering in the shadows. They were two of the bands who frequently played the afternoon all-ages shows at the Orbit Room that Lewellyn helped arrange. With the Orbit Room's demise, The Paper Chase and E-Class have been shooed further out onto the fringes, finding a home at Denton's Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios and almost nowhere else. They need each other's help now more than ever.
"The Paper Chase are our good friends, but more than that, we love the music that they play," says Eric Whitworth, E-Class' singer. "That was one of the main things. When he was telling us what bands were going to be on it, we were like, 'Yeah, definitely, if they're going to be on it.'"
Clandestine Project is a more focused version of Dos Sensenseos, a chance to shine a bigger spotlight on some of his favorite bands. Of course, a bigger spotlight also means a bigger budget. For the Dos Sensenseos albums, Lewellyn had the benefit of label support; this time, he was the label. To get Clandestine Project off of the ground, Lewellyn borrowed $5,000 from friends and family, and threw in a few thousand of his own. He says he could have taken out a loan from a bank, but he laughs, "My parents would rather make the money." It's not exactly pocket change to someone who works at Whole Foods to keep his rock-and-roll dreams alive (he quit his job at Last Beat a while back), yet Lewellyn seems unconcerned, already making plans to release two more three-way splits, featuring local groups such as Budapest One (featured on page 79 of this issue) and Policy, as well as El Paso's At The Drive-In and Chicago's Hi-Fi and the Roadburners.
In many ways, Lewellyn seems to have started Clandestine Project almost by default; if no one else was going to do it, he wasn't going to keep waiting, a continuation of the do-it-yourself ethic that led to the creation of Dos Sensenseos. The fanzine-compilation was born out of his dissatisfaction with both local radio stations and the fans that were--or weren't, really--coming out to the afternoon all-ages shows at the Orbit Room and Galaxy Club. Instead of simply bitching about it, Lewellyn took matters into his own hands, resulting in Dos Sensenseos, a fanzine that collected local art and local music, with a disc featuring tracks by Captain Audio, Spyche, Baboon, Darlington, Centro-matic, Cowboys and Indians, and many others. He worked on it during his off-hours at Last Beat, using the label's connections to help collect a few bands on the way and his boss Tami Thomsen's shoulder to cry on.
Funded by the bands, local labels, and Lewellyn, the 'zines were like brochures for Deep Ellum, including ads for Last Beat and One Ton Records and a listing of upcoming all-ages shows at the Orbit Room. More than anything, the Dos Sensenseos project was an open love letter to the local scene, written so that others would fall in love with it too. He wrote inside of the front cover of the first issue that he hoped Dos Sensenseos would "serve as a display case to promote local art, writing, and music" or--at the very least--to "have a small impact on the appreciation of local art."
To that end, he passed out copies of Dos Sensenseos free of charge to almost a thousand kids at 15 area high schools, an effort to reach out to a new generation of fans, let them know there was something out there besides what they could hear on The Edge and The Eagle. He even timed the 'zine's release to coincide with the school year. And, in conjunction with the release of each of the compilations, Lewellyn lined up a month's worth of Saturday-afternoon all-ages shows at the Orbit Room--featuring nearly every band on the discs--to lure the kids downtown.
"I thought that there were a lot of bands that they [radio stations] were neglecting," Lewellyn says. "But I was also frustrated with the all-ages crowd, because, basically, all the kids that I wanted to come to the shows weren't coming. And it was only because--what I felt was the reason--they didn't know about these other bands that they weren't hearing on the radio. These other bands are almost 10 times better than a bunch of stuff they're hearing."
Unfortunately, the project didn't work out as well as he hoped. He says there was a "subtle realization" of his goals, that the 'zine and disc were well received and the all-ages shows were well attended initially. However, toward the end of the second set of shows, attendance had dropped off markedly. By the time he released the second edition of Dos Sensenseos last spring, Lewellyn had already decided to redirect his energy into a new endeavor, Clandestine Project Recordings. While Dos Sensenseos may not have achieved everything Lewellyn wanted it to, it did give him enough confidence to start his own label and enough credibility to gain the trust of the bands he wanted involved.
Luckily, Lewellyn didn't promise a speedy delivery once he convinced the bands to contribute to the CD. The bands expected it to come out several months ago. Lewellyn began readying Essays last April, but the album fell victim to the usual manufacturing delays and other problems. In addition, Lewellyn was on the road for several weeks at a time--selling T-shirts for Reverend Horton Heat--leaving him unable to work on the album. The label is more of a top priority now, Lewellyn says, so the next few discs should take less time. For now, he's concentrating on three-band splits--not because they are cheaper, but because he wants to expose as many bands as he can, even at his own expense.
"It'd be nice to break even, but that probably won't ever happen," Lewellyn says. "I don't expect too much. But, I didn't come at anybody with, 'Hey, I'm going to do a lot of promotion. I'm going to get distribution.' I didn't do any of that. I just said, 'Hey, I've never done this before. Hopefully, we'll even get it out.'"
Chuck Voellinger, who played guitar on M.C. Duncan's Dog and Pony Show ("Out of time," December 24), has phoned to notify us and you that the band's wonderful-but-never-really-released debut Human Cannonball! is indeed available at Recycled Records in Denton. So there...
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