Party Static light up a room. With their five members carousing on stage and their scuzzy, nonsensical music, they're a band who truly lives up to their name. There's the locked-in, simple rhythm section of Billy Kuykendall and Alex Mitchell. There's the fuzzy riffing of Brett Michael Strawn. And then, of course, there are the two ladies of the group, Laura Harrell and Kjersten Funk, who manage to overpower the boys with their exuberant dancing and wild, carefree shouting. Every time they play, they're clearly having the time of their lives. And so too do their fans.
The origins of the band can be traced to Harrell, who picked up a guitar as a teenager to gain the interest of her first boyfriend. "I bought it and called him: 'Will you come over and teach me how to play this?'" she laughs. "It worked." As Harrell began writing her own music, she recalls British singer-songwriter PJ Harvey was a favorite, particularly the 4-Track Demos album. "It may have been inspirational," she admits.
In 2012, Harrell used a four-track recorder to capture some ideas. She contacted people she wanted to make music with and sent CDs of the recordings to those who expressed interest. Guitarist Strawn's work with Hormones, a now-defunct Dallas punk band, caught Harrell's attention.
"I was attracted because she always writes simple ideas that have a lot of room to add colors and textures," says Strawn. "I knew I would have lots of freedom and it was ideal for improvisation." Strawn cites Hendrix, Jonny Greenwood and Graham Coxon as a few of his guitar heroes.
Funk's previous experience with music consisted of a dozen years in theater. "I was in stuff like Annie and Oklahoma!" she says. Funk and Harrell are longtime friends and coworkers. "We make a good team," Harrell says. More than one member of the band refers to her as "The Song and Dance Man." "I like new wave and '90s hip-hop," Funk says. "I love live music but I only go places where I can dance."
Kuykendall played jazz trumpet throughout his teenage years before spending several years playing country bass, writing country songs, and dreaming about country music mixed with noise rock. "I do not consider myself a drummer," he says, and quickly dismisses any claim of being a multi-instrumentalist. "That just means I'm not really good at anything," he quips.
Party Static played their first show at La Grange (the space now known as Three Links) in August 2012. On Halloween that same year, they played their third show at Good Records. It also happened to be the first show that Mitchell attended. After that, he was at the next half-dozen Party Static shows until he was asked to play bass for the band.
"I thought it was the coolest thing," says Mitchell. "No one in Dallas is doing this! I never expected them to ask me." With previous bands Ricin, OMG You're Dead and Trifle Tower, Alex has extensive experience with recording and touring nationally as well as in Canada and Mexico. There was just one issue: Alex was a guitarist. But Laura didn't see a problem; she simply decided that Alex could play bass if he could play guitar and loaned him her bass.
"He just started playing bass for us after that," shrugs Funk. "We became a tribe. When we got Alex it was a happy marriage." Amusingly, Mitchell still doesn't own his own bass: "I am still playing on Laura's bass," he admits. But Mitchell's presence has proved crucial, coming from a background in hardcore and punk rock. "He injected some energy into the band and he's an artistic person," Kuykendall. "We got a lot faster with Alex," Harrell agrees.
In the fall of 2013 the band self-released its first EP, This Isn't Music. It was a digital-only release, with the exception of 50 unmastered CDs. They plan to self-release a second EP by the end of the year, hoping to offer it on vinyl this time. Party Static are also working on possible spilt EPs with other bands and intend to release a full-length album in 2015.
In the meantime, their shows keep getting bigger and better. They have played at venues all over the city and opened for bands like Peelander-Z, the Coathangers and Free Energy. Party Static can easily be billed with all sorts of different bands. "I like that we get the weird ones," Harrell smiles. "That's fun."
Old songs are evolving, new songs are being written, and the creative process has changed. Songs initially started with Harrell, but now everyone is involved. "In the beginning, lyrics really came from Laura because she had the four-track recording for us," says Funk. "Laura's the conductor, but everyone throws ideas at her." "Something will happen and then we'll realize it's a song," adds Strawn. "There's no egos. Each person is 20 percent."
To say that the songwriting process is organic would be something of an understatement. Often ideas come from spontaneous, even ridiculous, occurences. For example, once when Funk was taking Harrell's picture during a band practice, Harrell yelled, "That's my bad side!" Mitchell quickly started playing his bass and yelling those words, at which point the band turned it into a song idea. "Alex will come up with an off-the-wall idea that seems ridiculous," says Kuykendall. "But then we'll do it."
Not surprisingly, at its base Party Static thrives on the band members having fun. "I thought it was this really weird thing that would appeal to a very specific type of person," Brett says. "But it appeals to all types of people for completely different reasons."
"It's more fun if people are dancing," Funk chimes in, smiling.
"You have to want to dance," Harrell says, before pausing. Then, she adds, "We always dance."
Party Static open for Skating Polly and Shonen Knife at 7:30 P.M., Thursday, October 2, at Club Dada, 2720 Elm St., dadadallas.com.
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