Love indie style
Aden Holt stretches out his 6-foot-9 frame on the floor, lying on his back with his Subway dinner in his lap and his head propped up on the back of a futon. Underneath shocks of messy blond hair, clad in his homemade "Deep Blow Someone" T-shirt and black jeans, Holt is listening intently to material just recorded by his band, Caulk. His lanky beanstalk frame rarely stirs, even as the raw, unmixed, and super-loud cuts from the group's forthcoming full-length Love American Style pummel the studio in which the band is working.
When the reel-to-reel runs out of tape, Caulk's frontman doesn't say much to his guest, muttering only a simple and spirited, "I hope you remember what it sounds like." It's the first time someone from outside Caulk's immediate family has heard the band's new tunes, the precious stuff the loudcore foursome has labored over for the past several months, and he doesn't seem to care much whether his guest likes the music or not. Content with the results, he would prefer to let the music stand on its own.
It is Labor Day, and the band is in the midst of recording Love American Style, aiming at a self-imposed deadline for its release date (the album is scheduled to hit stores October 19). But at this moment there is still much mixing left to do, not so easy to accomplish since the band members --Holt, guitarist Marcus Bloom, drummer Erik Schuman, and bassist Keith Sharp--are holding down full-time jobs and slipping into the studio during odd hours and free moments.
Already, each of the Caulk crew has tacked on 20 to 30 hours a week of studio time in order to finish the record, and throughout late summer they gathered in Ugly Mustard bassist Mike Daane's backroom studio after work to lay down tracks for the new album. "It drives me crazy," says Holt, a graphic designer by trade. "I go to work at 9 a.m., I get off at 6 p.m., go to the studio at 7, and we're there until 1 or 2 in the morning."
And for Holt, there's the added task of packaging and selling the album, which will be the fifth release on his home-based, self-owned indie imprint One Ton Records. He's not just a member, he's the president.
Holt initially conceived the label as a venue to release Caulk's now sold-out 1994 debut EP Learn to Take, but the label has burgeoned into a full-time business venture with a handful of releases (including the outstanding Denton-rock compilation Welcome to Hell's Lobby and Jeff Liles' Cottonmouth, Texas spoken-word disc) to its credit and its very own office. But, until now, One Ton was just an outlet for friends' records and pet projects; with the release of Love American Style, as powerfully creepy and as creepily powerful an album as you'll hear all year, the label now is poised on the brink of establishing itself as a truly viable and highly visible one, not just some side project by a guy with a day job.
"If you have the balls enough to think that you can actually get rid of records you make, then it's just like buying a car," Holt relates. "Take out some money and invest in yourself. When you put your money where your mouth is, that shows a lot more than waiting for someone else to say, 'Hey, I believe in your music.' If the band doesn't believe in their music as much as that person does, that person's screwed."
Housed in a Deep Ellum warehouse space and set up between a display case of Star Wars toys and a hanging bedsheet that partitions off Holt's bedroom, the One Ton world headquarters consists of a large desk, a Macintosh Power PC complete with label logo screen saver, and an unorganized bookshelf. Behind the desk, colorful posters of Holt's favorite bands--among them Nirvana and Mudhoney--cover the walls, along with the posters Holt designed for Caulk and the other One Ton releases.
Cardboard boxes of One Ton CDs--including Doosu's debut, So Called the Cupboard's Bare; Liles' White Trash Receptacle; and Hell's Lobby--sit on shelves near the desk; there are no more copies of Learn to Take because it long ago sold out of its initial pressing of 1,000 discs. (Welcome to Hell's Lobby has also sold out of its 1,000 copies.) To find a Learn to Take disc to give to his guest, Holt has to rummage around his room.
Named after Caulk's slogan of "2,000 lbs. or bust," Holt began One Ton in early 1994 as a do-it-yourself venture intended to keep Caulk from getting stuck in any long-term commitments with outside labels; in fact, he says the band was ready to sign a deal with a local indie before backing out at the last minute. He came up with the name One Ton merely to make Learn to Take seem "semi-official," as he says, and started selling the CDs at Caulk shows. Less than a year later, Holt ran out of discs.
After garnering considerable attention and support from friends and fans involved in the Denton and Dallas music scenes, Holt says he "decided I was going to make this label a real thing" by compiling Welcome to Hell's Lobby, which he and Brutal Juice bassist Sam McCall had discussed for several months. Featuring such Denton-based bands as Brutal Juice, Caulk, Baboon, Wayward Girl, Record Player, and Slobberbone, it was the rare local-music compilation--one bound together in theme and structure, kicking off with contributions from the so-called Fraternity of Noise and closing out with Slobberbone's epic country-punk.
Hell's Lobby wound up selling out and recouping its money even faster than Learn to Take, which allowed Holt to take those profits and release the Doosu record. One Ton's most recent release is White Trash Receptacle, which Holt was eager to pick up after it was dropped by a major label in Los Angeles. Currently, the label is negotiating a deal with a California multimedia company interested in producing a film Liles wrote, based in large part on his album, and in distributing One Ton CDs should Love American Style sell more than 5,000 copies, Holt explains.
Love American Style, then, is undoubtedly One Ton's most important release: Where Learn to Take was intended as a risky one-off that would give Holt the satisfaction of having a record whether it sold or not, the release of the new full-lengther involves higher stakes. Not only does it find Caulk at a crucial point in its development, but it's also the album that can turn a project like One Ton into a thriving business for Holt.
Unlike the previous One Ton releases, usually sold at local shows and promoted through word-of-mouth, Holt has actually hired a staff (including Liles, former Trees booking agent and Last Beat Records employee Steve Shein, and an intern) to promote Love American Style--which means getting it played on radio and stocked in record stores.
"This whole thing has been a snowball," Holt says of One Ton, "and I think it's going to gradually become a bigger and better thing. Hopefully, it'll be a label people will recognize as not being a hobby but a real deal. I feel that the new record's really strong, and I think it has what it takes to do that...We just think the combination of things is at a point that if we keep our fingers crossed, we can make a big deal out of all this."
During a break in the recording session, a photographer asks Holt to come with him for a brief shoot. As he disappears behind a curtain, bassist Sharp takes note of Holt's departure. "So Aden's not here," he mumbles. "So we're gonna say, 'Um, uh, oh well.' We're not...talkers."
Make no mistake: One Ton may be Holt's baby, and he may be Caulk's frontman and spokesman, but this is most certainly a band; Caulk has the personnel changes to prove it, having endured several since the release of Learn to Take, enough to have slowed production on the album by several months.
A little less than a year in the making, Love American Style is an enormous step away from the near-metal whomp of Learn to Take, an album that was as subtle as a knife in the back. Where the band's debut EP was overwhelming almost to the point of repetitive excess, the new batch of songs juxtapose varied speeds and styles with more compelling success. And songs like "Winona" (with its chorus of "Ryder, ride her, Ryder") and "Shrink to Fit" (with its grotesque, none-too-subtle image of a "baby girl on the dash/arms ripped off/legs bent back") only complete the picture, adding a disturbing element to a sound that lurches between noise and melody.
As Holt says of the band's evolution, Caulk simply got bored with being "another chug-chug-chug White Zombie band" and wanted to "make the music more interesting for ourselves."
"We've even gone a step further, even gotten away from the older stuff we were doing and explored new ground," he explains. "We've pulled it off in a really cool way. I just can't wait for it to come out. I want to see everyone's reaction. I'm not saying you're not going to recognize our music as Caulk's, but there's going to be a lot more variety than people are used to expecting.
"There's a very strong pressure for us to top what we did before," he continues. "I feel we have by leaps and bounds. I don't think anybody who bought the first record will be disappointed. It's gonna be different in so many cool ways."
Caulk actually began as an inebriated whim in 1991, when Holt, Bloom, and ex-bassist Charlie Begue were students at the University of North Texas. During spring break, the friends took off for a cabin in Hot Springs, Arkansas, with a bunch of records by Mudhoney, Tad, Butthole Surfers, and pre-Nevermind Nirvana, listening to them as they drank. Thinking they could do the same, and sick of the funk bands like Goodfoot and Whitey that dominated the Denton scene at the time, they started Caulk, though none of them even owned the instruments they wanted to play.
Back at school, the three bought some crappy used amps, concerned only with how loud they could go and how much feedback they could kick up. The band started playing parties--the first came on Halloween 1991--then became more serious when they noticed the good response they were receiving. In time, Caulk started playing Denton's punk venue The Main Event twice a week on bills with Brutal Juice, forging the famed Fraternity of Noise that would also come to include a band like Baboon.
Yet as Caulk began to make an impact in Denton, it also became more and more difficult for the members to juggle the band with school priorities and relationships. After drummer Mike Malinin (formerly of Last Rites, now with the Goo Goo Dolls) quit in the summer of 1993--though he would return from Los Angeles to record Learn to Take that September--Holt and Bloom graduated from UNT and found themselves waiting on bassist Begue and drummer David Douglas to finish up. But when the rhythm section decided to devote more of its time and effort to classes, the two quit the band.
At that point, Holt and Bloom almost gave up themselves. Finally, last fall, they recruited the relatively inexperienced Schuman to play drums and found Sharp, who had played bass with such unknown local bands as the Tremens and Pail. The new hires rejuvenated Holt and Bloom and set Caulk back on its course. When the foursome entered the studio earlier this year to begin recording Love American Style, Holt and Bloom quickly noticed how their newest bandmates, especially Sharp, changed the ways the songs were written and recorded.
"That to me is what makes the sound that we have so interesting," Holt says of the songwriting process, which begins with Holt and Bloom bashing out an idea and then bringing in Sharp and Schuman to refine it. "It comes from so many different points of view. We all want our points of view to be represented. We don't all have the same vision, but the visions that we have complement each other well."
As they close in on the release date for Love American Style, they are anxious to see if reality lives up to their expectations--or their vision. They voice their hopes for extensive touring and gaining some name recognition, though their excitement about the album hints at a yearning for something bigger.
"We've written a lot of good music and we want to get it out," Sharp says, almost impatiently.
"If we pull off this thing--even if we pull it off moderately--to where we can get our record out," Holt says, "get it in people's hands, get people at our shows, and be able to say we did it completely and totally by ourselves, that's the shit for me.
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