Looking like a burned out Rick Owens, Signals and Alibis guitarist Brian Carter skulks into the building on a bright fall afternoon, flanked by his bandmate, singer Rebecca Jozwiak. Carter’s eyes betrayed a lack of sleep and some kind of rarefied sadness, the sort that only he understands. He, and maybe his bandmates.
“I had the day off,” Carter says as he sits, even though he looks like someone who has never had a day off.
He speaks in a near whisper, the kind of hushed tone that makes court stenographers and interviewers crane their necks. Yet as he talks, that sadness fades into the horizon, in lockstep with the orange sun retreating in the Texas sky just outside. He seems happier, almost at peace, as he shares stories about music and, most important, the people he makes it with. For Carter and Jozwiak, music is an escape; it’s therapy. And like any successful therapy, it evolves to fit the needs of the patient.
“I’ve been in a lot of bands, and this one is … ,” he says, stopping himself to ruminate as much as he can on his next words. Then, he finishes. “This one is different. I don’t think this sound would be possible without any other group.”
By “this sound” he means the electronic stylings that Signals and Alibis have infused into their new six-song EP Aislada, their first release since 2016. Before this record, the band’s style could best be described as shoegaze, the ambient, moody pop style that originated in the U.K. in the late 1980s. Jozwiak and bassist Joshua Beene share Carter’s passion for that genre, so it only seemed natural to name their band after a song from Curve, a quintessential shoegaze group.
“Although ‘Signals and Alibis’ is not my favorite Curve song,” Carter is quick to mention. “It was just one of the few names we could agree upon.”
Signals and Alibis have endured nearly a decade of evolution to get where they are today. Carter founded a shoegaze-inspired band in Fort Worth in the 1990s, but life happened. Some people got married, others got pregnant, and they all took an extended break from music. Then, in 2010, Carter got an email from his old bassist, Cybil. She wondered if Carter was doing anything musical these days (the answer was no) or if he wanted to (a definite yes).
Cybil and Carter reunited, put together some songs, and started looking for a new frontman. Or rather, frontwoman.
“My preference was always to work with a female singer,” Carter says, citing his love for bands like British alt-rockers Siouxsie & the Banshees, whom Signals and Alibis cover on Aislada. So Carter put out some feelers and some ads, calling for female singers to audition for the band that would become Signals and Alibis. A dozen or so auditions later, he was still searching. Enter Jozwiak, a singer whose résumé included some critically acclaimed karaoke performances and the fact that she owns a piano.
“I didn’t think I was what they were looking for,” Jozwiak says, laughing. She was wrong. Her commanding voice has a haunted feel to it, a sound that appears, at first brush, to be coming from somewhere far away, like the U.K. in the late '80s or early '90s. Carter was hooked.
“My mindset has always been, ‘Hey, if something comes out of it, great,’ but we’re doing it because it’s an escape.” — Rebecca Jozwiak
By the time he met Jozwiak, the rest of the band had once again moved on. That didn’t matter, though. The guitarist and singer started recording songs with help from a loop station, and in 2016, they released a five-song EP entitled Looks Like Rain, a moody throwback that earned some local traction and funded forays to Oklahoma, Austin, Arkansas and St. Louis. The EP sounded less like Curve and more like Massive Attack. Nevertheless, it was Curve who took notice — albeit after months of outreach from Carter.
Dean Garcia, one-half of Curve, agreed to remix the dark, aptly titled “Monstrous Whore” for a collection of Looks Like Rain remixes curated by Carter and Jozwiak. Their story had come full circle: band forms out of love for shoegaze, band makes solid record, band meets shoegaze hero. Carter and Jozwiak had no delusions of grandeur; they did not believe a record label would swoop in to Fort Worth and whisk them away to L.A., nor did they exactly want that.
“My mindset has always been, ‘Hey, if something comes out of it, great,’ but we’re doing it because it’s an escape,” Jozwiak says. “I have a kid, we have jobs and lives, and we get to come together and create, and that’s fun.”
“Ever since I was a little kid, listening to records at my grandma’s house, I’ve dreamed of making music of my own,” he says, his eyes once again showing a glimpse of a storm brewing deeper within. “So this…”, he trails off again, and appears to be thinking very carefully about what to say next. After a moment, he continues. “This is the dream.”
That does not mean they are done. Signals and Alibis is still a work in progress, as evidenced by Aislada, their first release with bassist Beene, the jokester of the group, who, for the record, would very much like a record deal.
“I think there’s still a chance we can turn this into something bigger,” he says. “That’s one of my goals, at least.”
Aislada was created using the software Ableton Live, a choice that allowed Carter, Jozwiak and Beene to create and share music from the comfort of their own homes while not having to rely on a loop station. The three members have day jobs, hectic schedules and tight budgets that prevent them from booking consistent studio time.
Carter can create guitar lines that brim with weighty sadness after his shift at his retail job is over, and Jozwiak can add her melancholic voice once her daughter has fallen asleep. Later, Beene adds the bass, and the trio uses the software to add some synth. That same software has also allowed them to explore some new electronic sounds. Carter thought Looks Like Rain would be as electric as his band would get; the new record proves him wrong.
“I think we’re always evolving,” Carter says, coming alight with excitement as he looks from Jozwiak to Beene. “We’ve always been a mix of genres, so Signals is never really done.” And with that, Carter smiles.