Brave Combo have been local music legends for years. The Denton polka punks have been mainstays of North Texas music for nearly four decades, picking up two Grammy awards and even making an appearance on The Simpsons. But now it's really, truly official, with news that front man Carl Finch will be inducted into the International Polka Association Hall of Fame later this year.
Soon Finch will be included among polka greats like Eddie Blazonczyk, Frank Yankovic and Myron Floren, and he still can't believe it.
"My life continues to surprise and confuse me," Finch says, speaking over the phone while standing on his patio — or, as he likes to call it, his "catio," or patio for cats. "I'm amazed that I've made enough money with Brave Combo that we could build this really nice patio for our cats."
Brave Combo have been one of Denton's longest-standing mixed-genre indie-rock bands since forming in 1979. But the "indie" label is used loosely here, as the band's music has bounced between styles like salsa, waltz, ska, merengue, tejano, cumbia and so many more categories of music before indie rock was even a thing. They've also called themselves "nuclear polka" at some point in their career.
The group's reputation on the international circuit has only grown since the band's humble beginnings playing in the basement pub at UNT, when that still existed. With a big cult following, plus the Grammy wins (they've been nominated six times) and Simpsons appearance, the band has been called "a happy fact of life" for the North Texas music scene.
Now Finch can boast about his "official" polka status as one of the world's finest in the genre — and he says that's even more important than the other accolades.
However, while it has been a core part of the group's cool aesthetic, Finch says the band's background never technically fell within the polka scene. His fascination with the genre all started with his artistic endeavors prior to starting the band. He'd experiment with polka songs on sculpture installations way back in the '70s, when he was still in his late 20s.
"I was working with polka then, but I was an outsider exploring this music that I suddenly found interesting and exotic," he recalls.
After discovering the music and starting Brave Combo, Finch says he wanted to present polka in a way that wasn't stereotypical of the genre during the band's growth in the '80s, when accordion in rock music was unheard of, much less popular.
"I was confused about why polka music was always the butt of the joke — why it was always the music that people would use to sell beer and sausage," he says.
Over time, it became a tool for the band to "challenge the music industry" in a way that made them stand out from other popular bands of their day. By not sticking to any specific formula, Brave Combo was able to mold themselves into a variety of genres that could introduce audiences to forms of music that they would not have otherwise heard. But it's their polka that has made them who they are.
"I know where our hearts have always been, but it's great to know that the people who we've used as influences honor us as well," says Finch.
News of the award dovetails nicely with the group's upcoming Ultimate Dance Party May 21 at Kessler Theater, where Finch says they'll be playing different styles from all around the world: German, Polish, Italian, Tejano and every kind of polka imaginable.
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