Under the radar

A year ago, Cory Kreig would have found it hard to believe that his band, Flickerstick, would be headlining at Trees, especially on a weekend night. The group seemed stuck in Fort Worth without a map, unable to find a way into Deep Ellum that didn't lead through three-bands-for-three-bucks gigs on Tuesday nights, playing in front of a handful of friends who were willing to make the trip. Now that Flickerstick is a big enough draw that it regularly commands top billing almost every weekend, Kreig wouldn't mind playing earlier for a change. The lean, dark-haired guitarist-keyboardist-vocalist will be relieved if he can demote his group's headlining status on October 9 at said venue to the middle slot. Let The Adventures of Jet go on last; the members of Flickerstick would rather have their rest.

"They [Trees] weren't really too keen on it at first," he admits. "It's gonna be a great lineup, but we just need a break. We don't want to be up playing until 2 a.m. for once."

Flickerstick ranks among the best-kept secrets in the Dallas-Fort Worth music scene, which means you haven't heard of them, but surely one of your better-informed, much hipper friends has; after all, the band packs regional watering holes and music halls around the metroplex with its blend of hard psych-pop and theatrical, eye-catching stage show. Still, with little to no radio play, no record deal -- hell, no record even -- it isn't difficult to understand why this little-hyped, high-energy combo hasn't yet registered a blip on the mainstream consciousness. The young four-piece (all the members are in their early to mid-20s) has built up a steadily growing loyal following the hardest, yet most reliable, way: by word of mouth.

They've been at it for years now, even if it seems as though Flickerstick only recently emerged onto the scene. Kreig and vocalist-guitarist Brandin Lea met while they were classmates at Southwest High School in Fort Worth. After graduating in 1995, the pair spent the better part of the next two years jamming together in various projects that, like a car with a dead battery, frustratingly refused to leave the garage. Before long, the two recruited Brandin's younger brother, Fletcher, on bass guitar, forming a primordial version of the band that would later evolve into Flickerstick.

With Fletcher and drummer Jeff Lowe in tow, the band plodded along around the Fort Worth scene for about a year or so, playing local rock hangouts, among them the now-defunct Impala and Dog Star Café. But steady gigs in Fort Worth weren't all the group was after. The members of Flickerstick knew that if they wanted to be successful, they had to branch out. The quartet, however, remained quarantined from the live-music mecca in Deep Ellum, separated by more than just the half-hour drive down I-30.

"We had heard horror stories from [Fort Worth] bands that had gone into Dallas and played Tuesday- and Wednesday-night gigs in Deep Ellum, didn't draw anybody, and then were never asked back," explains Brandin. "We didn't want to play those 'bullshit nights' in Dallas. We were scared because we knew we'd probably only have one chance to make that first impression."

As luck would have it, the neophyte combo caught the attention of fledgling rock promoter and drummer Dominic Weir, late of longtime Deep Ellum pop-meisters Stranger Than Fiction. Weir, Kreig says, was "blown away" by what the group was doing on stage, after watching an endless stream of bands that had all the stage presence of a microphone stand. Flickerstick was different, if only because Kreig and Lea were convinced that they wouldn't be another local group that trudged through its sets staring at their shoes. Weir offered to help the band get some gigs in Dallas, and within weeks, he found himself auditioning for a role behind the drum kit, a position that hadn't yet been vacated.

The band was caught between the pressure of realizing their collective rock-and-roll fantasy and sticking by an old friend -- which is like being handed a multiple-choice test on which the answers are a, a, and a, so the group decided to ditch drummer Jeff Lowe. Both Kreig and Lea consider Weir's induction to be the official genesis of Flickerstick. "May 23, 1998," remembers Kreig with uncanny precision. "That was technically the first Flickerstick show."

For the next six months, the band honed its live sound while moving up the bills at local rock venues in both Fort Worth and Dallas. Jettisoning their original mix of power punk and grunge-lite, the group found new influences within the local music scene, and at the same time, started to uncover newfound emotional depth in their songwriting brought about by the respect felt for such British bands as Radiohead and Spiritualized. Brandin Lea is not at all sheepish when running down the list of bands that Flickerstick takes its cues from.

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T. Erich Scholz

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