Know 'em, Chomsky
The members of Chomsky believe the band didn't really exist until six months ago; of course, many people didn't know it existed at all. To most, Chomsky has always been just another name in the crowded club listings, another band stuck with an early slot at Trees on a Friday night, or at best, the band the tomorrowpeople's John Norris used to be in. Since forming in 1994, Chomsky has been another example of a talented band falling through the cracks Dallas is so full of. So, if the band wanted to pretend the last few years never happened, you couldn't blame them--and it wouldn't be too difficult to oblige them. Chomsky has no history, no evidence it ever existed, save for a handful of downloadable songs on its Web site (www.chomsky.com) it recorded last summer with former New Bohemian Wes Burt-Martin, yet there are no seven-inch singles, no homemade cassettes, no compilation appearances, nothing. It's not very hard to forget something you never knew was there in the first place.
However, the band--singer-guitarist Sean Halleck, drummer Matt Kellum, bassist James Driscoll, and guitarist Glen Reynolds--isn't trying to shake any bad memories or clean the slate with its revisionist sense of history. As the quartet sits around a table at On the Border on Knox Street, they aren't making whine out of sour grapes. They're just trying to underscore the fact that they've become a better band since May, when Reynolds replaced Norris in the band. Everything has changed since then. The songs have more energy, and so does the band. They're playing more shows and, for the first time, Chomsky is planning to release a record, as soon as they can find the time to finish it. As Kellum puts it, when Reynolds joined the band, "That's when the real ass-kicking really started."
"We were just searching for ourselves before, and then Glen came along," Halleck says. "John [Norris] and I were friends in high school. He used to play in the band for years. But his duties to the tomorrowpeople just started taking up too much time, so we started looking for other people. Luckily, we found Glen."
Reynolds laughs, "And it was magic."
"It's very cliche, but it was," Halleck continues. "It's like night and day. What I really like in music is energy. The early Pixies had energy. Early Police had energy like that. Early '80s XTC. Things like that. I think it comes off now. We get up, and it's like this raging energy. I don't know if it's the movement, or Glen jumping around, or the speed of the songs. But we just have this energy now we didn't have before."
The material the band has recorded at Barry Poynter's Little Rock, Arkansas, studio backs up Halleck's claim. It doesn't even sound like the same band that recorded the songs that appear on its Web site. The new recordings--part of an as-yet-untitled project the band has been working on for the last few months--combine keyboard-fueled new-wave rave-ups and melodic, shout-the-lyrics power pop, resulting in a sound that roughly resembles Bobgoblin covering Centro-matic songs. Even in their unmixed and unmastered form, the songs are much fuller than their Internet counterparts, like a bomb exploding instead of a firecracker popping.
But even more important than Reynolds' presence is the band's involvement with Bobgoblin-cum-The Commercials frontman Hop Manski (or Litzwire, or whatever he's going by these days). Lately, Manski has been like a fifth member of the band, advising them, helping with production, and adding his keyboard parts to the mix.
"One of the coolest things about recording was sitting up there, doing the songs, and then letting Hop pour over them," Reynolds adds. "He came up with some really cool stuff. That one track, 'Two Steps,' he played all the keyboards on that song. He totally took it over the edge. He really made that song."
Halleck continues. "I think it's really good to get someone else's opinion about your music while you're making it. It's the most fun playing with your friends. You're helping your art with your buddies. We were sitting there thinking, 'We got these people that make music that we love.' Why not try to involve them in our project? Hop said really good things about Barry, and so we went up there and checked it out. It was great. Barry's a great guy. He's a proper Southern gentleman, and he's got incredible ears."
So far, the biggest obstacle to finishing the record has been time. Because of job commitments, the band has had to record whenever they have time, a couple of days here and there. So far, they've managed to completely finish only one track. The band plans to make several more trips before the end of the year, but doesn't expect to have anything ready until early next year. At this point, though, they still expect to release the finished product, unlike the songs they recorded with Martin last summer.
"It was a weird period for us, because John was busy, and we weren't very together," Kellum says. "I don't think any of us were real happy with how it turned out."
For years, Chomsky was less a band than just a group of guys having fun while making good music. For the most part, that's still true; you'll never see a band whose members are closer friends than Chomsky's. Lately, though, they've realized that being a band is more than just playing and hanging out. They know that if they want to move to the next level, they have to put in the effort. The first step is playing more shows. The next is finishing their record. After that, the band is not exactly sure how to proceed.
"It's easy to want to rely on the strength of your music, and how much you believe in it," Kellum says. "At some point, I guess you realize it's not enough."
Halleck adds, "Chomsky is befuddled by the business aspects of music. I have had multiple conversations with other musicians, like Peter [Schmidt]: 'What do you do? How do you retain your credibility and get help?' We need help now. In order to participate on the next level, we need someone to get us in there. Management, booking agents, things like that. We need to find people that believe in us. We need to find people we believe in. That's hard to do. The music's definitely there, it's just the business aspect."
Until that happens, Chomsky will probably continue to end up where they were last Friday night at Trees: the third band of a five-band bill, sandwiched between TOO Much TV and Screwtape Letters. With only a half-hour slot, the band sped through its set, looking like a quartet of Mormons in their matching ensembles of white shirts, ties, and khaki pants. The band barely paused between songs, stopping only occasionally to tune. Reynolds bounced around on the side of the stage, kicking his legs in time with the music like a metronome and mugging for an imaginary camera. He wasn't really trying to entertain the crowd so much as he was attempting to make his bandmates laugh. He succeeded, but in the process he accidentally ticked off a couple in front. They squirmed in their seats and made faces back at Reynolds.
Halleck paused between songs as the band was wrapping up its set. "Chomsky is an acquired taste," he said, addressing the couple, hoping to ease the tension. "It's not for everyone." The couple promptly left. At least they know Chomsky exists.
Chomsky performs at Club Clearview on November 28.
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