The Mothership Hangar, as it is called by the band, is as much a stoneriffic rec room as it is a rehearsal space. I'm sunk improbably deep into the cushions of the second-hand couch patterned in barf-colored geometric shapes and wedged between the room's door and a stack of PA speakers. To say I'm couchlocked is like saying outer space is vast.
From the playlist streaming out of the mains in the corners of the room, it sounds like a Pandora station based on The Sword, but everything is kind of hazy, because I'm stoned and the room is illuminated by the muted glow of LED ropes strung along the tops of the walls. Everywhere I look there are either posters of rock bands or posters of bikini babes, the sultry gazes of the latter drifting at me across the mellow gloom. If there were a bag of snacks and a pinball machine, I'd have a difficult time leaving. And yet you won't find much in the way of distractions beyond a couple weed pipes and beers lying around. Mothership has been obsessively woodshedding an album's worth of new material, as well as prepping for two upcoming tours.
"We've practically been living up here," says bassist and vocalist Kyle Juett. "I think Judge (Smith) crashed here last night, in fact." Smith, the drummer powering Mothership's warp drive, shrugs his shoulders. "We've been pretty busy."
Mothership formed in 2010, after Kyle Juett decided to start his own band after leaving Brake!Vegas, the Dallas-based punk outfit for which he sang and played bass. During a trip to Houston to watch his brother Kelley play guitar in some local band, he convinced Kelley to quit and move back to Dallas -- an awkward conversation, since he'd said it in front of his brother's band. "Kyle came to the show, and after it, we were all hanging out, and he goes, 'Man, you should just quit this band and move back to Dallas and play with me'," says Kelley. "I ended up playing second guitar in Brake!Vegas for a while, before we got Pops to play with us."
In order to launch Mothership, the brothers looked no further than the living room, drafting their dad to fill in on drums. Smith, who was playing in a cover band at the time, replaced Dad after months of going to shows and asking to tryout. "I kept bugging them to let me jam," says Smith. "And they kind of messed with me for a bit."
"Yeah, we were pretty much, 'yeah he's the one,' but we kind of made him hold out," says Kyle.
In time the band became the kind of band who would play just about anywhere, resulting in a loyal fan base of metalheads, potheads, bikers, babes and anyone else into heavy rock. Dallas and Fort Worth both boast lively heavy rock scenes, but Mothership has steadily risen to headlining status, and is now a go-to opener for most of the national touring shows. They've now opened for German psyche-rockers Kadavar, California's Gypsyhawk and Austin's Scorpion Child. If you dive into the black hole of heavy music scenes throughout the country, chances are you'll find a Mothership t-shirt in their pictures.
"That's because Tasty is the man," says Kyle, referring to the band's road manager, merch guy and "unofficial fourth member. "If it were up to me and Kelley, we'd probably just give our stuff away. Tasty's a master of selling that shit and turning a profit." Whether the band itself can turn a profit remains to be seen, but the dudes are obviously committed. "You pretty much have to tour, even if it that makes money tight," Kyle says. At the moment, he's the only one with a job outside the band, bartending at Reno's Chop Shop in Deep Ellum. Smith and Kelley occasionally pick up production work ("lighting, stage work, that sort of thing," says Kelley), but for the most part it's all Mothership all the time. "The band's about it for me," said Smith. "We're all-in, you know?"
In the case of Mothership, "all-in" means a lot of work. If they're not playing, they're rehearsing, pulling the all-day, all-night jam sessions of a band determined to make a hobby into a job. Following SXSW, the band returned to Crystal Clear Sound to record the follow-up to their self-titled debut with producer/engineer Kent Stump, before heading on the road in early April for a couple weeks across the South on another tour with Kadavar. When that tour ends, the band heads across the pond as one half of their "Texas Takeover Tour" of Europe, with Stump's own band, Wo Fat.
While tightening any loose screws for two higher profile tours is a heavy component of the Mothership regimen, crafting their second album seems to be what's really fired the band's engines. "The new songs, they're definitely Mothership songs, but they're more mature," says Kelley. "I think our new material is a lot more technical. The ideas are more expansive than the ones on the first record."
"These new jams are definitely the next chapter," says Kyle.
The first chapter, 2013's Mothership, wears the band's influences on its sleeve, both literally and figuratively. From the busty space-angel on the album's cover to the Orange Goblin-meets-Blue Cheer within its grooves, the band's debut is a hooky slab of heavy jams, crisp solos and fuzzed-out party rock; it's the sound of a custom van chugging its way through an asteroid field, like Chewbacca out on a beer run. The new material, thundered live in front of me at earth-shaking volume, fits the Mothership template, but this stuff is moodier, more complex. It's undeniably heavier, too. Mothership II is indeed the next stage of the band's evolution; rather than cobbling together the best riffs and hoping for the best, the band's drive to write songs as opposed to merely rearranging or repurposing jams is obvious.
Of course, this is a band on a small indie label (California-based Ripple Music), which is great for distribution but less so for buying studio time, at least if you want to keep your masters. "They would've paid for it," Kelley says, "but we want to keep the rights to our music."
"We've started an Indiegogo campaign to help fund the record and the European trip," says Kyle, "We're trying to keep it DIY." He adds, "The way we record, we basically just rehearse the album for a week or so, and then we track live, so we make the most of our studio time." Where Mothership ultimately lands is anyone's guess, but the hours spent in the Hangar are stacking the odds in their favor.