The Fraternal Order

Rob Dunlap stands up, extends his long arm and says, "Look at this." The tattoo on his wrist reads 7FN, and his Golden Falcons bandmate, keyboard player Jonny Mars, yells out what it stands for: "7-foot ninja!"

Dunlap, the band's unmistakable 6-foot-11 lead singer, crouches awkwardly. "I got that name because I'm tall," he says. "And stealthy."

One by one, the band's other five members reveal their nicknames in what sounds like a rap posse's roll call. Guitarist Joshua Weber goes by Cougar, short for Joshua Cougar Mellencamp. After five drinks, Mars becomes a slap-happy character called Marlin. Everybody has a weird alias and an even weirder (and off-the-record) story for it.

Scary thing is, for a while, this sense of humor was all the Golden Falcons had. What began as a casual project between Dunlap, bassist Ryan Sutton and anyone else who happened to show up has turned into the most exciting hard-rock band in the city. The guys may love cracking jokes, but the music is serious as hell, and with this week's release of their debut, The Honduras Album, they're done joking about the hard work.

"I've listened to it from beginning to end, and I'm blown away," Dunlap says. "Like, 'Wow. Rock. I'm on this. I'm in this band.'"

It wasn't always like that. When the band played its first show at Denton's Inferno Lounge in February 2002, the guys had a DJ in the lineup, and Dunlap, Sutton and the rest played a sloppy, vocals-only mess of a set to 14 people. Among those 14 were Mars, then a member of Dallas' New-Style American Boyfriends, and Weber, fresh off the breakup of late-'90s local stand-outs Floor 13.

"We had the same energy as we do now, but we just got up there and went grrah!" Dunlap says. "It was really raw and weird and horrible." And the crowd loved it.

"Their old drummer Joe Hickey [who, oddly enough, currently runs Uptown restaurant State and Allen Lounge] wasn't very good at drums, but he was such a funny guy," Weber says. "And someone could completely ruin a song live and go, 'I forgot it, sorry, har, har,' and it was funny. It didn't matter. They'd say, 'It's fun. Let's play the next song.'"

As local friends kept joining and leaving, another ex-Floor 13 member, George Terry, brought his guitar to one of the band's occasional practices. Unlike other visitors, however, he stuck around.

"This is cool if you want to hang out, drink beers and whatever," Terry told them. "But if you want to start an actual band, give me a call."

And so they did, enlisting Weber on second guitar and The Danes' Jared Jackson on drums. Late last year, Mars, who had helped on guitar in the band's early days, returned to play keyboards.

The guys bonded over their love for the '80s, especially U2 and Jesus and Mary Chain, but their sound liberally steps around the decade's stereotypes. Honduras jumps from the hardcore riffs of local legends Brutal Juice and Baboon to the British new wave of Echo and the Bunnymen, and there's even a taste of psychedelic techno-rock that sounds a lot like Dallas' Tomorrowpeople.

The record's overwhelming production brings out more of the band's psychedelic influences, a fact that will surprise fans accustomed to Weber and Terry's double lead guitar parts. But the loud riffs sound even better this way, and fans may have already heard the improvement, since Honduras has been placed in notable jukeboxes around Dallas weeks before the official CD release. Four of the band members are bartenders and waiters in Dallas, but when asked if they'd planted the CD at their places of work, the Falcons smile and shake their heads.

"Not us," Mars says. "That's the fraternal order. Our version of the KISS army."

He's referring to an unofficial group of friends who have stuck with the band since the first show at the Inferno. Among the order are notable locals like Course of Empire's Mike Graff and Mur's Jonathan Price, who, along with Jonathan Lacey and Austin's Chris "Frenchy" Smith, helped produce Honduras. Despite three hands in the cookie jar, though, the album is amazingly cohesive--a 50-minute haze of spacey rock and smart riffs that closes with a pounding, otherworldly cover of Pavement's "Here."

But that's not half as otherworldly as the band's Web site, full of hilarious stories, fake Dallas Observer articles and an imaginary Iron Chef cook-off in which the band faces off against Dashboard Confessional. Not surprisingly, the album's sense of humor is just as odd. For starters, there's a shout-out to Japanese schoolchildren midway through, and song titles include "Horse Thieves" and "The Moon, the Gutter and Ferguson Jenkins." Say what?

"We didn't think we'd ever have to really name the songs," Dunlap says. "We sit around and try to think of the most ridiculous name, because that's the most fun part about a song."

The second-most fun part, then, must be live performances in which the guys go completely nuts. Jackson beats his drums like they cheated on his wife. Terry jumps into the crowd during solos while aiming his guitar at the crowd like a gun. Weber poses and raises his forearms during quiet parts to imitate Eva Peron, and Dunlap looks like the big, talking trees in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers when he screams bloody murder.

The Falcons may look like a drunken party onstage, but these are no frat kids. With most members in their early 30s and many previous bands between them, the guys feel like their age and experience are the group's biggest assets.

"I've been in other bands where we tried really hard," Weber says. "We had to meet the right people, do the right things, record at the right places. But that came out sanitized. So I thought I was done with it--I went back to school. But George kept coming into my work saying, 'You're going to be in this band,' and I finally tried it, and I liked the experience of it. We hung out, wrote songs and did all the things that are actually fun about being in a band." Weber continues, "The bands I admire the most, I see them differently now. I realize how much of their music was just to make themselves happy, and they made everyone else happy in the process. And that's what we do."

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sam Machkovech