Feature Stories

Tablet, '90s Deep Ellum Heroes, Make a Comeback After Nearly 20 Years Away

There was a time in the 1990s when Tablet was inescapable around Dallas. Between 1993 and 1997, they were pegged to go the way of Tripping Daisy, the Toadies and Old 97's, with their songs on the radio and playing live quite a bit. But when frontman Steve Holt stepped away from the band after one album on Mercury Records, it was all over.

Now, almost 20 years later, Holt and Tablet are back together for a vinyl reissue of their album Pinned and a show in April at Gas Monkey Bar N' Grill. And we have Holt's teenage son to thank for why the band got back together.

Holt had moved on to a few different bands after Tablet, including Ohno, Fireworks, the Now and Binary Sunrise. He loved making a living as a science teacher, but the desire to play music again never went away. He kept a copy of Pinned in his car as a memento, but never listened to it. One day on a long drive, his son and friend wanted to hear the CD. Remembering what he loved about the band and their songs, he thought about playing them again.

"Their reaction cleared my head a little bit," Holt remembers. "[Tablet] had a lot of baggage around it. I had changed a lot. I'm proud of what we did, but at the same time I always want to keep moving forward." His son and friend liked what they heard and Holt got to thinking. "I set all my prejudices aside and listened to it with an open mind," Holt says.

While there had been talk of reuniting the band in the past few years, it finally came together after Holt called Tablet guitarist Paul Williams about a reunion. Williams himself had found a lucrative career working as a producer and engineer. After Tablet had worked with Matt Hyde on Pinned, Williams got more interested in the production side of things. Working with a number of acts like Eleven Hundred Springs, Flickerstick, Salim Nourallah and Chris Holt, he's remained very busy on that end, as well as in his roles as co-owner of State Fair Records and a member of Mur.

Holt and Williams contacted Tablet's drummer, David Christopher, and he was game. As far as the bassist situation, the band had included a handful of different ones during their original time together. They decided to ask Williams' Mur bandmate Max Hartman to play bass, thus rounding out the lineup. The new version played a private show at Poor David's Pub last December.

"When we first got in the room to play together, there's an undeniable sound that we make," Williams says. "The type of energy and power we have as a group is unique in what we do. There's a lot of quirky stuff and melodies in the songs."

With a 180-gram vinyl reissue of Pinned on State Fair happening, plus work underway on songs the band never released, there is considerable excitement going into the show in April. "We're doing a lot of songs from Pinned and we have another 10 or 12 tunes that we all liked that we played back then," Williams says. Holt realizes how rare it was that bands like Caulk, Funland and Radish got major label interest just off of local momentum. "We worked really hard, but the way things lined up, the timing — it was amazing," he says. "You can either get really negative about it or you can say, 'God damn, we were lucky to actually be a part of that and live through it.'"

But while other '90s bands like Jibe have also reunited recently, Holt isn't living in the past. "I mean, there's a shitload of interesting things going on right now," he says. He sees no end in sight of amazing bands and with streaming making music so accessible to hear now, he looks forward to the future. "If you focus on the problem, the problem gets bigger," he adds. "If you focus on the solution, the solution gets bigger."

Holt loves seeing venues like Dada, Three Links and Trees bring in local and national acts, and he hopes matters in Deep Ellum continue on an uphill swing. "In retrospect, I hope it happens again for my son," Holt says. "Whatever he experiences, I hope there's something amazing that he can look back on and feel happy that he was a part of something significant."

Tablet, the Orange and Manny the Martyr play a free show at Gas Monkey Bar N Grill on Saturday, April 16, 2016