When I listen to Texas is the Reason’s Do You Know Who You Are?, I have the feeling I’ve been here before. The first song “Johnny on the Spot” erupts in the typical drum, guitar, and bass triad common to indie/emo bands. The guitars bounce around on happy distortion, the bass hides in the background, emerging only when it wants to be known, the drums simply propel the song, and Garrett Klahn actually sings (not screams), “You’re allowed to stay for awhile / I’m going to need your time to slow down and waste some time again.” No fanciness. Just pure indie rock. So why do I enjoy it so much?
Texas is the Reason sounds like your typical emo-core band. I can’t imagine hearing anything on Do You Know Who You Are? that I wouldn’t hear on a contemporary radio station, what with Jimmy Eat World and The Strokes getting airplay. Yet, unlike their peers—and their predecessors—Texas is the Reason avoids the common pitfalls surrounding emo. They avoid the macho hardcore sound and aesthetic of the many indie/emo bands popular nowadays. Yet, also, they avoid descending into the overly melodic preaching of other bands in the genre, like Sunny Day Real Estate and Mineral.
The nine songs on Do You Know Who You Are? meld both the emo genre’s need for earnestness and emotion with pop-punk’s sense of fun. As mentioned before, the first song “Johnny on the Spot” begins with an eruption of slightly distorted guitars bouncing around driving drumbeats. Garrett Klahn’s urgent singing merges with the beat, becoming less of a distraction, and more of an essential part of the song. In fact, Klahn’s voice is the best instrument in the band. Unlike many indie/emo bands, where the lead singer’s voice could be replaced at anytime without anyone noticing, or where the singer’s vocal cords have been rigorously massaged by a belt sander, Texas is the Reason’s lead can hold a note and make it sound unique. Klahn’s voice sounds like a cross between the nasal whine of Oasis’ Liam Gallagher mixed with the cynical rasp of Modest Mouse’s Issac Brock. Klahn honestly feels what he’s singing while also giving you a little wink. By the time he gets to “I’ll make up my own damn mind / Just let me sit here for a while” you honestly believe his disgust.
The most “emo” song on the album is “Nicklewound”. The song begins with melodic, slow guitars, a marching drumbeat, and Klahn sadly observing, “Its getting cold all over again / So I’ll be inside way too much again.” Yet, moments later, the guitars explode into angry distortion only to return to the slow structure at the beginning. While this is the typical structure of emo, and all of pop music for that matter, Klahn manages to avoid the typical melodrama of the emo lead. He injects intense emotion into his words, singing with such a restrained sadness, that you can’t help but believe him. Unlike most indie/emo singers who let the emotion overwhelm them, exposing their hearts to too much oxygen, Klahn keeps his tucked nicely inside. He only begins to lose control singing, “Isn’t that enough for me? / Isn’t that enough for me?”, his voice ascending into a borderline raspy scream. Yet, even this is controlled. Klahn immediately returns to his restrained singing. The words become real, hinting at a sadness lying underneath. The emotion becomes believable and not a sideshow.
Other notable songs are “Something To Forget (Version II)”, with Klahn hinting once again at hidden hurt, and “Do You Know Who You Are?” The title song is a slow, soft instrumental-typical on most indie/emo albums-that, as it progresses, dissolves into more and more chaotic distortion, leading into the hardest song on the album, “Back and to the Left”. It’s a neat trick that Texas is the Reason manages to pull off while still making it sound fresh.
Texas is the Reason was on the brink of being the “next big thing” during the neo-punk explosion of the late ‘90s. The band had released several EPs on the independent labels Jade Tree and Revelation Records. Their only full-length album, Do You Know Who You Are?, became Revelation Records best-selling album and influenced the entire genre of independent and emo bands. The band was being wined, dined, and courted by major labels even though they insisted on staying with Revelation. Tension between the band members came to a head, and the band imploded on the eve of signing with a major label. Texas is the Reason finally dissolved in 1997. Yet, the band lives through it’s influence on modern music. The individual members of the band moved on to other projects, notably New End Original which just recently released their debut album.
Indie rock has always held a certain form of elitism. To become part of the mainstream (and gasp record on a major label) is to wear the horrible stigma of “sell-out”. Indie bands moving into the mainstream usually lose their fan base, adopt fickle fans based on fad, and become pariahs in their own field. After all, the whole indie scene is subversive to what is popular. As Theodor Adorno points out, mass culture destroys art. Independent bands then have a right to control how their art is produced. And, if their art is adopted by mass culture, the basic premise of their music is destroyed. At least, that’s the philosophy. To bad it usually leads to destruction of the band itself. Oh well.