Photo by Michael Dubin
As members of '90s emo band Texas Is The Reason slowly walked out of the dark to their instruments at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, you could hear the dense, spiderwebbing guitars of their one instrumental, "Do You Know Who You Are?," issuing from the speakers in neat overhead streams. The stage was traced with small circular lights, as if powered by tiny, diminished suns. During their two-show 2006 reunion, the band were enhanced by dynamic, interweaving spotlights; this new setup felt as if they were consciously creating a new environment, tended by warmth.
Guitarist Norman Brannon played the opening chords of "Antique": a few drifting chords that seem very near one another, that feel naturally related, like bodies of water. Garrett Klahn sings in one note that sounds painfully excavated; it resembles a stream pushing gravel. All of the band's music has a watery aspect, actually—each song gives off the sense that it will feed into a larger or smaller embodiment of itself. The final cascading riff of "Back And To The Left" is indistinguishable from the main riff except that it has an entire song behind it, an anchor from which it lifts. "A Jack With One Eye" is an actual whirlpool. It has a turning center, a massive circling riff. They play it last and people in the audience arc their entire bodies to it.
Members of a band have to be extremely tuned to each other to play hardcore; it's a specific kind of tightness. Play too fast and unlock from one another; the result is less a song than spillover, a swiftly unravelling gesture. The music has to be both accelerated and coherent. Later developments in hardcore scenes allowed for more expansiveness in the music, but Texas Is The Reason still pivots on a solid interaction between the bass and drums. It's this interaction, this expressive animation from a mammoth groove, that links music termed "emo" and "post-hardcore."
That October night at Music Hall, Texas Is The Reason proved they're still a tight band—after ten years apart they're still elastically cleaving together. They played every song from their only album, Do You Know Who You Are?, and the shifting parts braided together exactly as on record.
Do You Know Who You Are? is a hard record to write about without a lot of context—the small, deliberate advances of a few sounds, the communities that created and preserved them. Before Texas, Brannon played guitar for a New York hardcore band called Shelter, and Daly played for 108; both were strains of punk oriented toward Hare Krishna. Texas seems spiritually neutral, but it is still a mingled product of these communities. In an interview with This Is Albatross in April, Klahn said of his bandmates, "They had the history with [New York hardcore]. They had made their rounds... and they knew people. In the grand scheme of things, they were from New York City as far as I was concerned. They grew up going to those shows."
Do You Know is not a hardcore record as much as it's the product of musically complicated people who fell in love with hardcore and encountered one another through it. It's difficult to determine a place for it except in retrospect, where you can apply the genre tag "emo" to thousands of geographically distinct sounds. "I kind of feel like things got very unnecessarily segregated," Brannon said in an interview I conducted with him last year. "Whereas back then I think that there was a communal feeling just based on where you were from and how you operated in your band. Whether or not your band had any sort of ethics, whether or not you were doing things yourself, whether or not you were contributing to a scene that existed."
Regardless, even in 1996 it was difficult to properly situate Texas Is The Reason. "At the time, late '94, early '95... there wasn't really like an abundance of 'melodic hardcore' bands," Brannon said in a 2006 interview with Gothamist. "So we kind of had to play with a lot of bands to figure out where we fit in." They signed with Revelation Records, a hardcore label that had also been home to Quicksand, one of many bands that introduced elements of funk, metal, and dub to hardcore, turning it into something more breathable and exploratory. Texas would play with Madball, who performed a thicker strain of hardcore that determinedly grazed thrash metal. Brannon also recalled a show they played with Ida, a New York outfit whose songs developed almost exclusively in soft increments.
There are fifteen Texas Is The Reason songs in total. A few of the song titles (and the band's name) refer to conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination. Though tied to a slew of simultaneous musical evolutions in hardcore and emo, their sound is very singular, easy to live in. The songs groove and twist intermittently, like a moving dark. At Music Hall, darkness worked through the crowd, the band's thoughtful music producing identical contemplative events in its listeners. The audience members were polite and attentive, as if carefully piecing a memory back together. An hour after the end of the Music Hall show, Texas reappeared, this time at Greenpoint bar Saint Vitus, playing four songs as a sort of coda to the set of fellow Revelation band Gameface. The crowd there was frenzied and heaving, packing themselves into the small back room. They baked in the unstructured lighting. The experience of traveling from one show to the other was almost a pure transfer from self-conscious to unconscious, mindless bodies in flight above me. I was suddenly ringed by aggression and release.
It was sort of disorienting at the time, but Texas' music is dual in nature; it's both hardcore and something more mercurial, and people can be drawn by either quality. It's easier to conceive of the music as an inviting, open space—a venue, even—in which people of wildly disparate backgrounds can combine and intersect. "When I look back at my experience in the hardcore scene, I feel strongly that it's all about the people I've met—they're what made the whole thing so interesting to me," Brannon said in an interview with Scanner Zine. "We used to say hardcore was 'more than music,' but I'd argue that it's not about the music at all. It's a community and a family. The music is a ritual."
Over the past few years bands have reformed and toured on a moral core of nostalgia. (I saw Sugar Ray a few months ago and they genuinely requested that the crowd remember the year 1999.) But that night, at both Music Hall and at Saint Vitus, there wasn't the sense that Texas needed to relive something, to inspire dazzling flashbacks in their audience. It was more of a rediscovery. In March, I flew back to Las Vegas, my hometown, the first time I had visited in two years. At first I noted the preponderance of haunted space; stalled developments, desert landscaping, parking lots. All familiar absences. The cliché, the sensation you're supposed to get when you reenter old environments is one of feeling giant, of feeling the power draining from a place, replaced by a neutral warmth. This wasn't it. The truth is that places, like people, cling to their features until they die. The city where I grew up had only been gently modified by time. I could find myself again in it—not the young me, but an accumulated me. I stood outside and felt the wind, which in Vegas feels as if produced by a brutal machine. I could see myself as its smoothed output. There's no misplaced aura, none of the loss that engineers nostalgia. Years had passed and no one felt them.
Originally appeared in Maura Magazine #2.