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Oh Captain, my captain

The story of Captain Audio begins at the end--two ends, in fact, the death of two bands whose life spans flamed out well before their potential. Even now it seems unfair to those of us who care about such things that Comet and UFOFU don't exist anymore; just when it seemed both were beginning to approach their peaks, they called it quits.

Comet, whose pop sounded like bright sun peeking through thick, gray clouds, ended so suddenly that half its members didn't even know there was no band anymore; it died somewhere out on the road, in the middle of a tour in the middle of the night. UFOFU, whose self-titled 1997 album was one of the best debuts and finales in rock history, dissolved like most bands, with disagreements and not a little bitterness. Perhaps the most poignant part of that band's story is that when the rhythm section disbanded, two brothers were sent their separate ways.

But right now, Josh Garza (once the drummer for Comet) and Brandon Curtis (UFOFU's bassist, co-vocalist, and co-songwriter) aren't wasting time eulogizing yesterday's echoes. Those have long since faded and been drowned out by the music they're making today with the woman who brought them together, singer-songwriter-guitarist Regina Chellew, whose resume to this point includes a handful of local bands she'd rather not mention (among them, Stone Culture and Neurotica) and a brief stint touring with Ruby, the band fronted by former Silverfish vocalist Lesley Rankine. Together, the three of them make up one of the best bands in town--new or old.

Captain Audio began inauspiciously enough: During the summer of 1996, Chellew joined Ruby, which is signed to Sony Music, for Lollapalooza and a handful of European shows. She was supposed to go out and tour behind the next record, but there was no next record (Ruby's still recording, and the world holds its breath). Looking for something to do, Chellew thought about starting her own band; better to drive your own new sports car than ride shotgun in somebody else's used sedan.

"I don't want to go out and be a hired gun for somebody else and take a year off of this, because it's not worth it," she says.

Chellew had long wanted to play with Garza, but he had been tied up with Comet, who released their debut, Chandelier Musings, in October 1996 on Dedicated. Both recall they had played together occasionally, and Garza had helped her out with some recording, but their timing was a little off.

"I knew her, and I liked what she had done, so it was like, 'Hey, I'll help you when I can, when I get the time,'" Garza says. "She wanted to record, so I was like, 'Hey, I'll do the drums.' So when Comet ended, I was like, 'Well, what do I do now?'"

Comet broke up last April--though perhaps broke up is hardly the right explanation. As Garza tells it, one night while on tour, singer-guitarist Jim Stone and his bass-playing brother, Neil, simply decided to return to Mesquite--without telling anyone else of their plans. Jim just felt it was time to quit the rock and roll lifestyle and settle down with his wife. And that, suddenly and inexplicably, was that. Garza spent the next month trying to figure out what came next, when Chellew contacted him about joining her new band.

"I watched Josh play with Comet for two years, and when I'd go to see Comet, I'd just stare at Josh the whole time," Chellew says. "I loved the way he played. He's got a lot of heart and soul, and it's real. When we got together, I think we both approached it the same way: no rules, no limitations. We can do anything we want. And Brandon came in with the same philosophy."

Curtis ran into Garza before one of Captain Audio's early shows; "UFOFU was on its way out," Curtis recalls, and soon enough, guitarist-singer Joe Butcher would be trying out for Radish and Brandon's brother Ben would be playing drums with Tripping Daisy. Sensing the end was near, Brandon had begun writing and recording some four-track demos with a handful of musicians, thinking perhaps the next step would be to form his own band. Curtis asked Garza if he'd be interested in playing with him, but Garza begged off, citing his commitment to Captain Audio. He told Curtis to stick around and listen to the band, and they'd talk afterward. Of course, they didn't.

Curtis and Chellew ran into each other a little later, at a Toadies show, and she asked him if he wanted to play with Captain Audio, at least temporarily. She and Garza had been looking for someone to play bass, keyboards, and guitar--and, they hoped, sing. Curtis, among this town's most valuable and versatile rock musicians, fit the bill and then some (he can be heard playing all over the astonishing solo record from former Funland frontman Peter Schmidt, which is due out this summer).  

"When I told people what we were looking for, they were all like, 'Well, Brandon can do all that,'" Garza recalls. "And once we jammed a few times at practice, me and Regina looked at each other and were like, 'Yeah, let's do it.'"

"I wanted to work with somebody who brought to the table some ideas, and it was strange because in talking to Regina and Josh, they were into exactly the same thing I wanted to do," Curtis says. "It was a perfect fit. I didn't want to play bass all the time. I wanted to play keyboards and do a variety of things, and that was exactly what they wanted. It benefited both of us to get together."

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this story is how three people who sort of knew each other but weren't exactly friends came together in a short period to create this fully formed, perfect entity. Most often, young bands need years to figure out who they are and what they have to say; that's why you should never judge a band by what it does in its first 12 months of existence--it's like asking a baby to speak, walk, and do long division right out of the womb. Captain Audio is indeed a rare, serendipitous accident--three people in the right place at the right time with the right songs.

"We lucked out," Chellew says, chuckling.
In the end, Curtis would add his songs to those Chellew and Garza had begun working on. Right now, the trio has only a five-cut demo they're selling at shows, and the songs could easily be described as "new-wave" or pop, but that would be selling them short; they're far bigger than that, with a song like "TV Generation" managing to be both rhythmic and droning all at once while Chellew's vocals build from a whisper to a subdued scream ("What's the station?"). "Bugs" and "Drivin' Ridin'" are catchy, buoyant, insistent, all sighing keyboards and throttling beats.

But "Cool Beef" begins with waves of feedback and background traffic noises as Chellew sings in a pretty whisper; her voice then splits suddenly into two, as though she's having a conversation with herself. The result is unsettling, like coming across a woman on a street corner mumbling to herself. Then there's "Untitled," which begins sounding so Pet Sounds-pretty until it explodes into fuzz and static as Curtis provides the scolding lyrics: "You see inside yourself a shell of what you could have been, but you can't let it go," he sings. "You made a run, now run and hide."

"What makes it fun for all of us is there are no rules," Garza says. "If we want to do a good, catchy pop song, we do it. If we want to do a Pet Sounds, Beach Boys song, we do it. If we want to do [Pink] Floyd, we do it. Whatever we feel like doing, whereas maybe our other bands were like, 'Oh, we're space-rock' or, 'We're punk-rock.' With this band, it's however we feel is how it's going to be. No one's gonna get uptight if it isn't pop or if it's too artsy. Who cares as long as we're having a good time? And I haven't had a good time in a band in a long while."

"The sincerity I feel in this band is so intense, because we're all doing exactly what we want to do instead of trying to fit into some notion or some mold," Curtis adds. "We're not aiming for anything. We're just trying to create as honestly as we can, and it's gonna change as time goes on. It's gonna change when we play live, and it changes from song to song. Our plans for recording are a lot different from our plans for playing live. We're limited on the stage, but we all have ideas for arrangements and instrumentations. Like, right now, we're in the process of working on a short film we're gonna score, and it's gonna be something we write and play. It's inconceivable to me to have that freedom, to have it be Captain Audio and be all-encompassing."

Chellew insists Captain Audio is unlikely to play too many shows around town in the near future. Indeed, Garza and Chellew explain that they performed too often toward the end of last year, resulting in new-band burnout--after all, there's little reward in playing the same handful of new songs night after night to the same small crowd of friends. There was also the question of trying to figure out whether they wanted (or needed) a third member; suddenly, the thrill of forming a band turned into anxiety.  

"Then we just chilled out. Brandon came in, and having him sorta made us feel like we could do songs instead of playing gigs and trying to record and trying to get a label," Garza says. "It was just like, 'Let's play songs and have the occasional show.' You can play every weekend, but I don't understand that. Even some of my favorite bands I wouldn't see every week. I would see them once a year, and I'd feel like that's enough. And we're just a local band starting out."

"We'd much rather work on songs than work on getting 50 more people to the club to see us," Chellew says. "If we have the songs and we have the shows, when we do play, people will come, and they'll come back. I don't think we're in any hurry, which is nice. We're taking our time and really trying to do things we want to from the start."

When they talk about making a record, they talk about doing something big--maybe bringing in strings, going "all-out," as Chellew says.

"We have grand ideas," Garza says.
"But simplicity is also sweet," offers Chellew.
But they are in no rush to record a full-length album. They talk of not wanting to deal with finding a label or a producer and of still learning how to write with each other--how to edit each other's ideas, how to take a song written by Curtis or Chellew and turn it into a song written by Captain Audio. That process will take some time, and they are in no hurry. If nothing else, perhaps they've learned from past experiences. Sometimes a band is a band; sometimes, it's just three people.

"I want to make an album where we do it our way," Garza adds. "Even thought Comet ended the way it did, I'm still happy with the recording that we did. As long as we go in and make an album we're all happy with, even if we break up after that, that'd be cool with me." Garza smiles broadly. Curtis and Chellew laugh. "I could say I did it the best I could with these two cats."

Fry Street unfair
Fry Street Fair co-organizer Cabe Booth doesn't really have an explanation, only an apology: This year, instead of shutting down at 10 p.m. like in years past, the annual Denton rockfest will run from noon till only 9 p.m.--so sayeth the city fathers and mothers, who wouldn't let Booth and the Delta Lodge hold the hootenanny unless they cut it short. "It's something they wanted us to do in order for them to give us the permits," Booth says. "It's no big deal, but it does cut down on the slots." So does the closing-down of the Argo: Instead of four stages, Booth could only book three this year.

But, hey, it doesn't cut down on the rock: Performing on the main stage this year are, in order of appearance: Pops Carter and the Funk Monsters, Strap, Centro-matic, 420 Blues, Slow Roosevelt, Doosu, Baboon, Bobgoblin, and the tomorrowpeople. The second stage will feature: Loveswing, Headcase, The Bands, Funktion Junktion, Elemental, American Fuse, Caulk, Beef Jerky, and Soak. The bands filling the Rick's Place stage are: Hi Fi Drowning; Valve; Drive-By Orchestra; cottonmouth, texas; Buck Jones, Bowling For Soup, and Pimpadelic. Admission is $8, or $7 with a canned good; proceeds go to the Denton Humane Society, Denton Red Cross, Denton Food Shelf, and Denton Christian Pre-School.

Scene, heard
Last week in this space, it was reported that Psalm 69 was breaking up, which is what the band said in a press release. Frontwoman Judy Hill called to inform us that the missive misspoke and that the band was merely retooling and will stick around with a new lineup that features Sean Chadwick on bass and Daniel Garza on drums (both are formerly of Diablo Sol). Thank God...

The 1998 Dallas Observer Music Awards will take place May 3 in Deep Ellum--50 bands, 15 venues, all for one low price of five bucks when you buy a wristband at area Blockbuster Music locations. And while you're there, pick up a copy of the third volume of Scene, Heard, our compilation of 21 rare and unreleased tracks by such local bands as Slowpoke, Vibrolux, Peter Schmidt, Brave Combo, Meredith Miller, UFOFU, Johnny Reno, Mental Chaos, Mr. Pink, the tomorrowpeople, and Baboon. Self-promotion is the key to world domination.

Send Street Beat e-mail tips, gripes, and pipe bombs to rwilonsky@dallasobserver.com


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