Concerts

Hi-Fi Floating: Eric Martin Returns to a Dallas Stage 20 Years After Rounds the Rosa

Interest in '90s music is booming as Hi-Fi Drowning's seminal Rounds the Rosa turns 20.
Interest in '90s music is booming as Hi-Fi Drowning's seminal Rounds the Rosa turns 20. Cabe Booth
It’s been the better part of a decade since musician Eric Martin has performed on a Dallas stage. On April 30, after performing in three bands, several solo projects and a stint in New York City, the Dallas-based singer and songwriter returns to play a special set with an array of well-known Dallas musicians at Sundown at Granada. A career musician, music teacher and music production manager, Martin has fronted several influential bands, such as Memory Shivers, Heart Eyes Open and the ever-popular Hi-Fi Drowning.

Hi-Fi Drowning consisted of brothers Jon and Jeremy Eggert, Carlos Jackson and Martin. Early on, the band developed a reputation for being the loudest, noisiest and most experimental project in Dallas. Hi-Fi Drowning was revered by musicians and critics alike. MTV.com once published an article hailing them as the United States' answer to Blur, helping boost Dallas’ particular brand of space rock into the national arena.

Flickerstick, Chomsky, Secret Machines and Hi-Fi Drowning were receiving major label attention and poised for the national stage. Hi-Fi’s opportunity came in the form of a developmental record deal with MCA records. In 1999, after signing, the band flew to Chicago for six weeks to work with producer Keith Cleversly (Spiritualized, The Flaming Lips) and record their first offering, Narci Darvish.

After successfully releasing the album, the band amicably parted ways with original drummer Carlos Jackson and enlisted powerhouse musician Taylor Young of the O’s. This lineup with Young on the drums elevated the band’s musicianship considerably as the group went into the studio to record their follow-up, Rounds the Rosa, releasing the album in 2002.

Twenty years later, Rounds the Rosa remains one of the most influential and spectacular Dallas-made albums of the past two decades. A village of important and influential musicians including brothers Todd and Toby Pipes of Deep Blue Something, Austin-based producer Chris “Frenchie” Smith of The Bubble, Taylor Tatch and even Stuart Sikes of White Stripes fame had a hand in shaping the 10-song opus that is Rounds the Rosa. The album is a journey into sonic texture, positions and melody. A hard album to pin down, it was a true testament to the work ethic of local musicians at their best.

Where there’s a community of artists with real interest in one another, there’s a great thriving scene.” — Eric Martin

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“Community has always made and helped everybody involved. Where there’s a community of artists with real interest in one another, there’s a great thriving scene,” Martin says.

While Todd and Toby Pipes are credited with producing the album at the famed BPL studios they once owned, it was Chris “Frenchie” Smith, that brought his signature noise chaos to Hi-Fi Drowning.

“It’s really a great record, and if just myself and Hi-Fi would have made it together, we would have been focused more on the noise and chaos. Todd and Toby had a real pulse on balancing," Smith says. "They chaperoned the band and anchored the album to a more timeless piece of work”

The album took well over two years to write, record and mix with many versions being sent back and forth between the band, the producers and a man known as “The Count” in San Francisco doing the final mix. It was recorded on 2-inch tape, adding to that warm aura that prevails throughout, something the Pipes brothers were known for.

Rounds the Rosa wasn’t going to be made if it wasn’t for Todd and Toby Pipes belief in the band," Martin says. "John Kirkland and Toby randomly came out to one of our Wednesday night Trees shows when we were basically kids, and we were blown away to see them there. It was later that we got to work with them, but that’s really how the relationship with Deep Blue Something and us first started.”

Before the recording process began, Martin and the Eggert brothers moved into a house together, playfully named “The Ponderosa” after a trailer park adjacent to a 1970s roller rink. It was at The Ponderosa that the band wrote and rehearsed day and night for the release.

“The origins of that sound is that the band were around each other nonstop," Smith says. "There was a constant adaptation of how they played together.”

Martin took inspiration from stream of consciousness writings and wordplay when working on lyrics.

“A lot of the songs on Rosa were written in The Ponderosa backyard with candles, clippings and my tiny tape recorder," Martin says. "I’ve always been drawn to more abstract music and art. Sometimes too much realism in a song pigeonholes a person’s imagination.”

Not long after Rounds the Rosa was released, the band parted ways as Jon and Jeremy Eggert moved to the West Coast, Taylor Young finished college and started the successful O’s with John Pedigo, and Martin moved onto other musical endeavors and briefly to New York City.

“That was a moment in time, four guys coming together and just making amazing music," Toby Pipes says. "We were all so excited to be doing what we were doing and I think that shows on the record."

As the obsession with the '90s music culture floats around freely these days — like the special appearance of Blur frontman Damon Albarn on Billie Eilish’s Coachella set — it’s hard to forget the decade of Dallas music that drove major label reps into a feeding frenzy. While most of the bands have called it quits and traded in guitars for insurance plans and 401(k)s, there remains serious interest in what happened here decades ago. The Flickerstick reunion show, scheduled in June at The House of Blues, sold out in just a few days. The DFW Legacy series continues to release and sell out of vinyl albums from this period. Demand for this music has never been greater, and 20 years after the fact, Hi-Fi Drowning’s Rounds the Rosa has recently been added to Apple Music and all other streaming platforms for the occasion. Being a music teacher, Martin is amazed at what his students want to learn on the guitar.

“Everything in art, fashion and music is cyclical. I teach guitar and voice and have been blown away when students in their late teens ... want to learn Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and Slow Dive albums. With music now you can discover everything out there on YouTube,” Martin says.

After years underground, Martin is ready for his next chapter. For him, stepping back into the arena and playing shows again is an exercise in patience, gratitude and redemption.

“I’ve been in a state of personal renewal. For the first time I feel like I have enough scene control, personally, spiritually and emotionally to do this,” Martin says.

Eric Martin with Chris Norwood perform at 10 p.m. Saturday, April 30, at Sundown at Granada, 3520 Greenville Ave. Tickets for the 21-and-up show are $10.
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