Music » Music Stories & Interviews

Music House of cards



Archer Avenue hooks up with Pete Anderson, records an album in Burbank, and contemplates living in the same city

For Archer Avenue, rehearsals are a long-distance proposition.

With its members spread over four cities in two states, the roots-rock quartet has learned to collaborate via the postal system: Frontman Jack Bonner writes a batch of new songs, records a demo, and mails it from Houston (where he teaches high -school English) to drummer Dave Volk in Phoenix, guitarist Marc Sauceda in El Paso, and bassist Steve de la Cruz in San Antonio. They learn their parts over a period of months, rehearse once if they’re lucky, and hope for the best when they hit the stage together.

Archer Avenue: Roots rockers who admired each other’s bands before uniting in 2003.

This working method is typical of the way Archer Avenue jumped into the deep-end of the pool in the summer of 2003. Before they’d figured whether or not they were a band, they recorded a song (“Greyhound”) at Monster Music Studios for a compilation disc. They liked the results so much, they quickly committed to making an EP, which they called Left of the Dial.

“When we went to do Left of the Dial, we rehearsed on a Wednesday, played the `White` Rabbit on a Thursday, and then went in the studio on a Saturday. We hadn’t even really rehearsed together,” says Volk, the band’s de-facto spokesman and a third-year law student at Arizona State University. “But the tracks sounded good, and those were the ones that we gave to labels, so it was cool that they held up. It sounds cheesy, but we all felt that there was a chemistry there.”

One of the people impressed by their demo was Pete Anderson, the veteran guitar virtuoso whose fluid, chicken-picking style defined Dwight Yoakam’s sound for two decades. Anderson met Sauceda two years ago at an El Paso club, where Anderson was booked to play with country singer Moot Davis. Sauceda gave Anderson a ride to a coffee shop that night, and just happened to pop the Archer Avenue EP into his car’s CD player. The next night, Anderson played in Phoenix, and Volk was ready for him with a copy of Left of the Dial.

“Of course, I cornered him and just kept talking to him,” Volk recalls. “I’d met him back in the Dwight days and you couldn’t get two words out of him, but this time, because it was just him and the band, it was good. We sort of hit it off with him on a buddy level. I’d send him stuff in the mail like a lunatic.”

Anderson’s label eventually approached the band about playing an El Paso show with him. When Anderson witnessed the band’s live command and its ability to stir up a club audience of about 100 people, his curiosity was piqued. Over breakfast, Sauceda half-joked, “We should record with you.” Much to his surprise, Anderson responded, “Yeah, we could do something.”

Volk says: “We were sort of persistent in a way, but we weren’t annoying about it. Plus, he thought we were cool guys and he liked the songs a lot.”

Anderson invited the group to record in Burbank, California at his DogBone Studios, with Anderson serving as executive producer, Tony Rambo producing/engineering, and Sally Browder editing. When they arrived in California last June for the sessions, however, the band found that Anderson and Browder had meticulously dissected their 20-plus-song demo tape and determined what shape the album needed to take.

For one thing, they whittled away about half the songs Archer Avenue had given them. For another, they voiced strong ideas about needed changes in the remaining songs.

“They wanted to tighten the songs, to make the songs a little bit shorter, a lot of times get to the solo a little quicker,” Volk says. “But mostly, just to make the songs more interesting. It was stuff that we didn’t think of off the bat, being in the band.”

Forced to learn new arrangements on the fly, the group rose to the challenge. But things became a bit thornier when they completed their backing vocals and Rambo incredulously asked, “Where are the rest of them?”

“That first night we just couldn’t come up with the parts,” Volk says. “I don’t know what it was. On the spot, we couldn’t do it that night. But we took more time the next day and were able to do it.”

If the process was nerve-wracking, the finished product, titled We Watched the Headlights, We Watched the Stars, suggests that Rambo, Anderson, and Browder knew what they were doing. The band sounds bigger and more muscular than it did on Left of the Dial, without sacrificing any immediacy. The group’s classicist streak reveals itself with “Radio,” with response chants that pay tribute to the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner,” and the opening “Cops Don’t Care,” with its nod to Van Morrison’s “Gloria.”

Archer Avenue

Sun, Jan 1

Jack’s Patio Bar & Grill
2950 Thousand Oaks Dr.

Much of the time they suggest a more earnest (and less relentlessly clever) Old 97’s crossed with the Gin Blossoms, particularly on the bouncy “House of Cards.” The group reworked three songs from Left of the Dial, and the difference between the originals and the remakes is the difference between spirited demos and a polished record.

The group’s stint at DogBone came a week after former Meat Puppet Curt Kirkwood had completed a recording project there. “He left his lyrics everywhere, so we were joking that we were going to have a new song called ‘Beautiful Weapon,’” Volk says. “And he’s an artist and he drew all this weird stuff on the wall.”

Volk completes his law studies in May (focusing in entertainment law), and he says the band will likely settle in San Antonio at that point. In the meantime, they’ll be focused on promoting We Watched the Headlights, with a regional release set for January 3 and a national release coming a month later. That doesn’t mean, however, that the band’s New Year’s Day gig at Jack’s Patio Bar & Grill constitutes a “CD-release” show.

“The thing about making it a CD-release type of thing, we want people to buy the record, but there shouldn’t be a specific show where they’re obligated to buy it,” Volk says. “It should be one of those things where people see the band, like it, and think about buying the CD. Instead of saying, ‘This is the official bring-your-extra-10-bucks show.’”

By Gilbert Garcia

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