Their name? The Rock Stars.
This isn't the first time Burnett has plugged a musical project with Escovedo, whom he's been friends with since the early '80s. Back in late 2014, he announced the formation of a supergroup called the Almost IV that also included Peter Buck of R.E.M., Scott McCaughey of Minus 5, and Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads. At the time, he boasted in an interview with Central Track that, "This is the last band I'll ever be in."
More than a year later, though, that's the last we've heard of the band.
"I vastly overestimated starting that band," says Burnett with a laugh. "Everybody in the band is still excited about it. It's still happening. It's just taking a lot longer than any of us had hoped because of everybody's schedules and living in different parts of the country." In fact, he promises that the Almost IV are scheduled to be in the studio later this month for a recording session with Salim Nourallah.
Working one-on-one with Escovedo is a different prospect, however. For starters, Escovedo recently moved from Austin to Dallas (believe that?), where he's taken up residence at The Belmont in Oak Cliff. "When he called me six months ago and said he was moving to Dallas, I laughed uncontrollably and [said] he had to call me back the next day," Burnett recalls. "I was like, 'Dude, you're kind of the king of Austin, why would you want to move to Dallas?' But he really loves it."
The pair had talked about doing their own project as far back as two years ago, but it was only after Escovedo moved that the Rock Stars became feasible. After jamming together on the Faces' "Ooh La La," they made their first stab at songwriting. "We had a little songwriting session for the first time in 30 years last week in his apartment and it went pretty well. We didn't finish them but we at least liked the ones we started," Burnett says. They've worked on two songs so far. "We take the attitude that if it's going to take more than 30 minutes to write a hit single, don't write it."
Burnett's goal in writing songs with Escovedo is simple: "I want to write trampy rock songs and stupid cowboy songs and play diners," Burnett says. He's serious about the diners, too: He plans on playing the band's first show inside his favorite booth at Gold Rush Cafe sometime next month. "It's like, dude, that's a step up for me and a big step down for you. We can meet in the middle," he adds with a laugh.
For all the time that Burnett has spent in the music industry, including being Tiny Tim's manager and owning a series of record stores in Dallas over the years, he's very rarely been onstage much himself. "I never play live. I've recorded three albums and played onstage a total of probably an hour in my whole life," he admits. "I think this will be a good way to start experimenting with playing in front of people and having fun with it and destroy Al’s career in the process."
First, though, comes the hype, which Burnett is shameless about enjoying. "Why has this band name not been taken for like 50 years?" he asks with amazement. "I googled the shit out of that and it has not been used. I hit the dumb band name rock lottery." One thing's for sure: The Rock Stars have their priorities straight. "We agreed that what we must have first is a band name, which we didn't figure out till yesterday. We'll have a logo, we're having shirts printed and might have a meet and greet. Then we're going to do the Gold Rush gig."
Will that show ever happen? Will any of it ever happen? Does Burnett really care whether it does, or does he just enjoy the theater of it all? Only time will tell, but in the meantime he's not backing down on his promises — including that major label deal. "I'm sincere about this: I don't want the Rock Stars, especially with a name like that, to be on an indie label and disappear in three weeks," he insists. "I want to be on fucking Reprise Records or something, because we're rock stars. Got it?"