The Phuss Bounce Back from Recent Turmoil with On the Prowl

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Even if the Phuss "Don't Feel Good," they really ought to. You see, they've had to deal with some real emotional whiplash over the past few months. Early in the summer came the exciting news that they had signed to New York label Magnetic Eye Records, who would be releasing their third album, On the Prowl, in the fall. They also lined up an East Coast tour and landed a spot on this weekend's Index Festival in Deep Ellum. Things were looking up.

Then something terrible happened.

"I punched death in the face and lived to tell about it," says drummer Trey Alfaro. He can laugh about it now -- he has a deadpan sense of humor -- but it was deadly serious business.

Late one night in August, Alfaro was biking home from a friend's birthday party when he was involved in a hit and run, left on the side of the road with a concussion, severe road rash and almost all of his teeth broken. As is the case with many musicians, Alfaro, a single father, doesn't have insurance and was left with massive medical bills.

That's when his friends and fellow musicians in North Texas banded around him. The Phuss' singer and guitarist, Josh Fleming, set up a fundraiser, with local promoters 13th Floor Music and King Camel Productions also holding benefit shows that helped raise over $9,000 through more than 600 donations. Miraculously, within weeks Alfaro was back on his feet and already behind his drums.

"I couldn't have made it without you, Dallas," Alfaro says. It's a sentiment that Fleming is quick to echo: "We couldn't have done it without everyone," he says. "Even outside of Dallas, people in Austin and New York were asking about how Trey was doing. It was just cool to see that we had affected people."

And so the Phuss can get back to the business of playing music and trying to capitalize on their recent momentum -- now with a little more perspective on their work and a new appreciation for those closest to them.

The Phuss formed in Fort Worth in 2008, originally as a duo between Alfaro and Fleming, two self-proclaimed best friends who were roommates when they started the band. Six years, five tours, three albums and an additional band member later (bassist Forrest Barton), the band has honed a particularly furious brand of head-banging, growling garage rock.

Ironically, when Fleming came to Dallas he was intimidated by the talent ("Everyone's really fucking good," he comments) and felt out of place, so he retreated to songwriting. In making this record, though, he ended up meeting a huge segment of the Dallas music scene and fell into the environment he had written about being isolated from.

Now, though, Fleming and the band are well-acclimated to the Dallas scene, making Deep Ellum venues like Three Links and Double Wide their home and packing the clubs with a profusely perspiring crowd. The Phuss thrive at venues where the stage and audience are crammed together, forming a homogenous sea of intoxicated individuals.

"You can only get that feeling from a more intimate venue," Fleming says. "Like, you love this band and they're on this awesome stage and everyone's in it together."

Though the band is only working with three members, their sound doesn't relinquish an inch, with each musician carrying more than his share on each face-smashing hard-rock track. Simultaneously, though, the Phuss make sure they retain their straightforward, to-the-point edge and avoid cluttering up a song.

"We're a simple band," Fleming says. "So I don't try to overcomplicate things. But the weirder you can make things, the better."

Fleming says the smaller band helps them be more creative and maximize the limited instruments at their disposal. He used to be in a band with nine members, and when asked if he preferred smaller or larger bands, he immediately says smaller. "Scheduling, man," he says with a laugh.

They even attribute the kind of music they gravitate toward to the size of the band, and a humble Fleming insists that Alfaro and Barton are the talent, while he would sooner consider himself a songwriter than a guitar player. "They add a lot of depth to whatever we're doing," he says. "Anything I throw at them, we go with it and it always works out well."

The band's motto is a necessary one for their performing volume: "Fuck Your Ears." Fleming says they're probably too loud to do house shows at this point, and although he admits there's a point at which the volume could make them sound bad, they try to ride on the brink of that threshold.

"There are some days when you get off work and you don't really give a shit anymore, you just want to be as loud as possible," he says. "We've always been loud. We like to feel some air moving behind us."

For On the Prowl, Fleming says they took a different approach to piecing together each track. Instead of writing the majority of songs outside the studio, he'd bring in a song's "skeleton" and the band wrote around it in the studio. By developing the ideas together, the sound became more cohesive and refined the band's direction.

"I never write in the studio; we've never done that before," Fleming explains. "That's why I wanted to do it. It was like coming in fresh and really looking at the material we had." Placing the emphasis on recording the songs live in the studio was partially intended to avoid the pitfall, in Fleming's words, of being told "your album isn't as good as you are live."

Alfaro says the 24-minute new record, produced by Jeff Saenz, is dirtier and more aggressive, but also functioned as a chance for the band to develop individually. In his drumming, he had to learn to pull back slightly and allow straight beats to keep a song driving, even when he initially disagrees with the choice.

"If Josh asks me to make it simpler, I bitch about it and argue against it," Alfaro says. "But in the end, it's made me a better drummer and it really shows on the record."

The album's lyrical focus bounces between Fleming letting his mind wander while driving and his own disconnected experience when he first moved to Dallas. "It's a live-fast, die-young record. It's not the deepest thing in the world, but it's certainly honest," he says.

Alfaro, undeterred by his recent brush with mortality, says he's already thinking about the next record. But then that's just part of the band's DNA. Even with Index Fest and those big fall plans beckoning, there's no time to be wasted in the present, much less the past, however recent. Live fast, indeed.

INDEX FESTIVAL takes places at 4 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, September 26 to 28, 2525 Elm St., index-festival.com

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