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7 North Texas Musicians Whose Star Rose When They Left Home

Kaela Sinclair performing with M83 at House of Blues this fall.
Kaela Sinclair performing with M83 at House of Blues this fall.
Mike Brooks
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North Texas is fertile music ground. While we may not have the reputation of Portland, Minneapolis or our neighbors to the south in Austin, a quick jaunt through Deep Ellum, the downtown area of Denton or the riverfront in Fort Worth proves that a great number of talented musicians developed their musical chops here.

However, this area hasn’t always been the greatest at keeping a hold on local talent. Sometimes the lure of New York or Los Angeles proves too irresistible. For every Erykah Badu or Tim DeLaughter, there’s a musician or act who was discovered here but got scooped up by managers or labels eager to put a more cosmopolitan spin on things.

And then there are the times when an artist tries to make it work here and simply finds a larger audience and more career opportunities elsewhere. Below are seven artists whose careers were given a sizable boost upon leaving North Texas.

St. Vincent
Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, is one of the brighter stars in the indie rock community. A guitar grinder, a musical shapeshifter and a budding fashion icon, Clark headlines festival stages like Coachella, vaunted concert halls like Radio City, and has even been given the treasured slot of Saturday Night Live musical guest. It’s still a bit of a surprise to some that Clark hails from right here in Dallas. A Lake Highlands High grad and veteran of the Polyphonic Spree touring band, Clark’s career blossomed after decamping to New York, picking up her moniker and eventually releasing several albums of critically acclaimed hard-to-classify rock.

Lisa Loeb
Though now she’s just as recognizable for her forays into reality and food television, designer eyewear and organic coffee, Lisa Loeb’s hit 1994 single “Stay (I Missed You)” still serves as a staple of adult contemporary radio. Though she seemingly won’t ever escape the shadow of that song, it’s been a pretty spectacular and versatile career for the Dallas native and graduate of The Hockaday School. She’s come a long way from those early days when she busked on Dallas streets and anchored her own radio show on the low-watt St. Mark’s School-supported KRSM-FM. Now she's veering into children’s music, where her sharp and witty lyrical delivery meshes quite well with standards from the genre’s canon.

Secret Machines
Josh Garza and brothers Brandon and Benjamin Curtis decamped to New York City in the early 2000s and caught the rising guitar-based indie rock wave at just the right time. They had played in a handful of different bands in their hometown of Dallas — most notably noise duo Captain Audio — but the trio struck gold with the shoegaze, psychedelic, prog-influenced outfit Secret Machines. The band’s brightest years proved to be 2004-2005 as their single “Nowhere Again” caught the attention of industry insiders and sent them on a whirlwind tour of the globe. They kept at it for several more years before the members split off to focus on other projects. Sadly, Benjamin passed away from lymphoma in late 2013. Though the band remains on hiatus, their style and output is still a solid benchmark of the New York indie rock scene.

If you blend the epic swell of Black Sabbath-esque heavy metal, the classic rock riffage of Iron Maiden, and then introduce snippets of modern metal’s fascination with stoner blues, you would have Mothership. Formed in Dallas, and consisting of brothers Kyle and Kelley Juett, and Judge Smith, the band took home Best Metal Band honors at the 2016 Dallas Observer Music Awards. Though they tour the country regularly and make it a point to play frequently for their hometown fanbase, it’s the overseas market that has really taken a shine to Mothership. Perhaps it’s the more open-minded attitude possessed by fans across the pond: “I will say that Europeans are less brainwashed in the sense of what they listen to,” Kyle told the Observer earlier this year.

Tevin Campbell
Before becoming a five-time Grammy nominee and a seller of three million albums worldwide, R&B crooner Tevin Campbell called Waxahachie home. Campbell cut his teeth as a gospel choir member and then as a featured soloist, performing night after night in little clubs and churches in the town about 30 miles south of Dallas. Before too long, he was on a plane to New York to audition for major labels and collaborate with none other than industry titan Quincy Jones. Soon, his popularity skyrocketed with “Can We Talk” and “I’m Ready,” a pair of Top 5 hit singles. For much of the ’90s, he was on top of the game, but a series of run-ins with the law eventually took him out of the studio. Recently he’s been trying to revive his career: A spate of recent television performances and a few quietly released new tunes seem to hint at something bigger to come later in 2017.

Kaela Sinclair
When Denton resident Sinclair answered an open casting call early last year from the French electronic band M83, she didn’t know her life would soon change drastically. Sinclair was chosen from hundreds of applicants to join the band as a keyboardist and vocalist, has found herself traversing the globe numerous times on the band’s lengthy 2016 tour, and is now settling into her new Los Angeles home, anxious to resume playing her own music while M83 takes a momentary breather. With her debut album — the Denton-recorded Sun & Mirror  — already establishing her as a talent to be reckoned with, the exposure and experience gained with an act as large as M83 will certainly help buoy her next move. It’s been quite a whirlwind past year for Sinclair, with this upcoming one looking just as bright.

Snarky Puppy
Justin Timberlake, Snoop Dogg and, most recently, David Crosby are just a small sampling of some of the musical giants the individual members of Snarky Puppy have collaborated with. Formed in the University of North Texas’ famed jazz studies programs, this collective has since relocated to Brooklyn where they serve as a leading light in that richly textured musical environment. The rest of the world has taken notice too, as they’ve hosted over 100 international jazz clinics and showcases, flown up the Billboard charts and this past year earned a Grammy for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album.

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