The Nervebreakers Prove Old Punks Never Die
The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The Clash, The Police, Roky Erickson.
Pick one to match your musical flavor, 'cause, no matter, there's a Nervebreakers connection to each; the Dallas proto-punk outfit opened for every one of those legendary acts, as each made its first—and in some cases, only—travels into North Texas some 30 years ago. And, in Erickson's case, long before Austin's Okkervil River or The Black Angels took over as the 13th Floor Elevators frontman's backing band, the 'breakers had their turn too.
So, yeah, The Nervebreakers boast the résumé, bolstered by singles like "My Girlfriend Is a Rock," a Modern Lovers-like track in which frontman Tex Edwards extols the virtues and the pitfalls of creating a partner from stone, and a pre-Mötley Crüe "Girls Girls Girls Girls Girls" that marries both the Ramones' and Sex Pistols' spectrums of the burgeoning late '70s/early '80s punk rock sound.
To the uninitiated, The Nervebreakers sound like the bridge between the Modern Lovers and the Supersuckers—and, yeah, that works just fine, as the 'breakers' heyday fits nicely between those punk outfits. And as such, even some 30 years after the fact, it's worth remembering and praising a band that, if it wasn't the first Dallas punk band, certainly stands the test of time as the first one worth a damn.
But why the sudden nostalgia? Well, on Saturday night, at Club Dada, for the first time in 15 years, The Nervebreakers will take to a Dallas stage to regale its longtime, now mostly gray-haired fans with its catalog and to boldly stare the rest of the local music scene square in the eye and snort, "Hey, remember us?"
Consider it a reunion, if you must. But to hear Mike Haskins, The Nervebreakers' lead guitarist tell it, the band never went away.
"It's sort of like a family," Haskins says. "We're always going to be The Nervebreakers, whether we're playing or not."
For the past two years or so, though, The Nervebreakers have been playing, believe it or not, putting to tape previously written but never recorded 30-year-old tracks. Yes, The Nervebreakers have a disc of freshly tracked, barely heard material ready to release. Oh, and another disc of previously recorded (but never released) stuff that the band's looking to put out too, if it can find a home for it on a label willing to take the chance of releasing and distributing it.
That's why the band—some 41 years after the first time Haskins played onstage with fellow Nervebreakers guitarist Barry Kooda at a YMCA dance—found itself playing an unsanctioned day party at this year's South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival: to shop its stuff around.
"It was still us up there playing," he says before laughing. "Whether anybody remembered us, I dunno."
Some people did, it turns out, and by Haskins' account, the performance went pretty well. "We were revved up for it," he says nonchalantly. As a result, Haskins says, the band has three or four parties interested in releasing the long-shelved material, although nothing is yet "written in stone."
But just the fact that the band played SXSW? Well, that sets the stage for this: Unlike the last time the band played Dallas—15 years ago for a gig at Trees—The Nervebreakers' members are fully focused on the band and the future of their band's past. And well-prepared too.
"We're revved up for this too," Haskins continues. "As soon as we decided to do [SXSW], a lot of our old friends and fans contacted us and said, 'Well, when are you going to play Dallas?'"
For now, it'll be just the one time, it appears—although Haskins isn't ruling out more performances in the coming years. He just doesn't expect the band to bum around the music scene like it once did. After all, the snotty kids who openly mocked their own song titles (in a May 3, 1980, live recording, the band introduces "My Girlfriend Is a Rock" as "My Girlfriend Has a Cock") are in their mid- to late 50s. But the music, Haskins is quick to say, still works just fine.
"The music is timely," he says. "Maybe not timeless, but timely. I think our stuff is still good."
And the new stuff? In Haskins' quite biased opinion, it's better. The songwriting, because it was written way back when, remains just as gritty and crass. But the equipment is better, Haskins points out, and, thus, so too is the sound quality. The goal in releasing it, Haskins says, is pretty simple too.
"Just to make as much money as possible," he says with a laugh, before correcting himself. "No, this is our music. This is what we do."
At least once every 15 years or so.
"It's a steady pace," he says, again with a laugh. "Just not a real rigorous one."
Oh well. Makes it easier to jump on the bandwagon that way.
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