Houston noise cult Indian Jewelry stumble onto dark brilliance
Don't mess with Texas. Because from the sounds of it, it's already pretty messed-up. Once you get outside Austin's cowboy-hat, college-town, singer/songwriter churn, it's all Roky Erickson's acid-casualty psychedelia, Butthole Surfers' freakout post-punk and the Geto Boys' claustrophobic funk, their minds playin' tricks on them.
Houston noise cult Indian Jewelry sound a little like all the above, give or take a Bushwick Bill, but they're too busy just getting by to claim to be heirs to that or any other lineage. The band's core members—singer/guitarist Tex Kerschen and his wife, keyboardist/singer Erika Thrasher—are currently homeless, couch-surfing just outside their hometown between tours. "Butthole Surfers are a band we used to crash our mom's car on the way to see," Kerschen explains. "But as far as a tradition or a sound, it's fundamentally more pathetic than that. Houston's a broken city, so it's a broken line. Every band in Houston splits, except the Geto Boys, and I don't think they hang with us too much."
Broken or not, Indian Jewelry and their various incarnations (Swarm of Angels, NTX + Electric, etc.) have managed to release a lifetime's worth of material while running their Girlgang label, which issues the likes of the Wiggins and the Electric Set in small, 7-inch pressings. Since Indian Jewelry's emergence in 2002, their output has been as noisy and droning as it is plaintive and wistful, as lo-fi, full-on electric as it is sequenced and electronic—they even had a track on IDM poster boy Kid 606's Tigerbeat6 imprint a few years back. Huh?
Kerschen explains, "Six years ago, we had this band going, and the way we were going, it was really headed toward the center of the fire when all the amps blew. So all we had was electronic equipment. It started off really hairy. We were an accidental terror to most soundmen. Now, Erika can tell them more about how to do their job than they can tell her what they had for lunch. We're like accidental geniuses."
He speaks like Charles Manson in prison interviews, full of stylized speech and reaching for archetypes ("center of the fire"), making his points with a mix of drama and matter-of-factness, but with a rhythm and vocabulary that are also a little forced, which lets you know things might be more than just a little fucked. It's this vague air of desperation, of fast-talking his way out of obscurity, of screaming beneath the waves, as Echo and the Bunnymen once put it, that makes Indian Jewelry such an essential reminder of what made you love bands such as the Velvets, Spacemen 3, even the Raveonettes in the first place.
On their latest, Free Gold! (We Are Free Records), great songs are breech-birthed through noise and low-frequency grime (guitarist Brandon Davis is the Marc Ribot of noise) in a way that's closer to White Light/White Heat than Lust Lust Lust. "Pompeii" is the sound of Lou Reed trading in his Pickwick pop pedigree for heroin and drag queens, while "Werner's Subtle Bodies" finds Thrasher intoning over atmospheric synths like Karen Carpenter OD'ing on nothing. Songs are messy, overloaded and great, the sound of 10 pounds of shit being fit into a 5-pound bag, even when that shit is ambient atmospherics.
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But in that way, Free Gold! seems stuck at that raw and rugged stage of development through which other bands have passed, never to return, and beyond which Indian Jewelry, thankfully, will never get.
"Growing up in the '80s in the suburbs, all you had was hair metal," Kerschen says. "I was always told if you didn't do that, then you couldn't play music, so we're, like, going spear-hunting for things, as opposed to getting in your car and going to the store. Yeah, I'm not a good musician. I get closer and closer to where people are on guitar when they're 11 years old."
So what if the only way you'd hear Indian Jewelry on the radio was if you heard the screeching of their band van's brakes as they ran over one? Kerschen couldn't give a shit. "We stumble onto something," he says, "but we stumble forward."
Indian Jewelry perform with Meho Plaza and XRBRX at the Phoenix Grille at UC Irvine, Campus and W. Peltason drs., Irvine, (949) 824-4659; www.acrobaticseveryday.com. Sat., 8 p.m. $7.