I live in Austin, TX and always love finding out about a new band from my current place of residence. Austin touts itself as the Music Capitol of the World so there is no surprise that even if I dedicated all my time on bands with Austin connections only, I could be writing for quite a while. I happened across Texas Microphone Massacre (or TMM as their twitter handle and fans know them by) through social media and at first glance I wasn’t sure what to expect.
TMM is the brainchild of long-time comrades Chris Veden and Heath Tull. Initially conceived as an off-beat satire of hip hop and heavy metal, the duo added Gilbert Sanchez to the fold (songwriter and multi-instrumentalist) and began the pursuit of a long discussed dream project: a genre bastardizing hybrid of electronica influenced by hip-hop sensibilities and prog-rock methodologies. In the summer of 2010 they started on their debut album Fantasy Rolodex.
After listening to both albums by TMM, Fantasy Rolodex (released in 2011) and Saturn’s in Retrograde, my best description would be a hybrid of multiple genres including rock, electronica, metal and even some rap. If you like Nine Inch Nails or Crosses, you might be into TMM. There really is no genre box you can check off for TMM, but I love finding unique bands and it’s even cooler when I find one in my own backyard. I reached out to them because I was intrigued about the new album Saturn’s in Retrograde that was released in September of last year and they were gracious enough to answer a few questions.
TMM is Chris Veden (Vocals, songwriting), Heath Tull (Noise, songwriting), Tim Gerron (Noise, songwriting), Gilbert Sanchez (Guitar, songwriting). They all collectively help produce their albums.
The interview questions were answered by Chris and Heath.
I really like the diversity with Saturn’s in Retrograde – there is such a variety of tracks. There is almost a sweet sound to Saturn’s Rings and then you guys are hardcore with Mask of the Red Death. Was there some experimenting going on with this album?
To be honest, every song we do is an experiment. We’re not really sure we know where we’re going until we get there. Sure, we often start with an idea, but the way we’ve defined our creative process really allows for each contributor to redefine a song in their own image. One guy may take the lead in songwriting and overall aesthetic on one track, whereas someone else may fill that role on the next one. It’s really interesting . . . on this album we just had to get out of the music’s way and let it happen.
Personally for me, the quality on the new album also sounds a bit better – did you guys record in a studio, or did you use a different process completing the new album?
Fantasy Rolodex really represents the genesis of TMM. About 3/4 of that album was composed by Heath and Chris and recorded in Heath’s bathroom. Gil came into the project later on, initially as a supplementary guitarist/bassist, then evolving into a full songwriter. We thought we were onto something, so we reached out to Mark Dufour, an old friend of ours to help bring the album to the finish line. At the time, Mark was producing full-time for Ghostland Observatory. He liked what he heard, and contributed engineering on two songs, Secret Love and Last December. However, his gig with Ghostland had to take priority, and he wasn’t able to give the album the attention we thought it deserved.
It was then that Tim was approached. At the time, he was the studio manager at The Music Lab in Austin, TX. Even though we’d all worked together in the past, we were a little intimidated with contacting him about working on the album. After all, the guy’s a grammy-nominee that’s worked with everyone from Sinatra to Bowie. After hearing the demo, Tim was blown away and became involved in the project full-time, contributing songwriting, engineering, and production. The refining of that process over a couple of years is what is represented in Fantasy Rolodex. It’s really the document of how this project came to be.
Flash forward to Saturn’s in Retrograde. Tim is now operating his own studio, Gerron Music, out of Space Rehearsal and Recording in Austin, TX. It’s really high end and epic. Saturn’s was recorded, mixed, and mastered in its entirety at Gerron Music. So, it definitely makes sense that it sounds better – the production value is higher.
The writing process for Saturn’s was the polar opposite of the writing process for Fantasy. For Saturn’s in Retrograde, every member was engaged in the songwriting process, not just Heath and Chris. It was almost a creative assembly line – one guy would start with something, then pass it on, then the next guy would change it and add his thing, and so on. For example, the vocal melodies Tim and Chris would write might precipitate Heath and Gil to go back and change bass lines. It was a really cool give and take that usually resulted in a final product that was different from the initial vision.
I really love your Cry Little Sister cover. I totally grew up with the Lost Boys, was there a nostalgia with that song or a particular story with choosing that cover?
We love The Lost Boys, but to be honest the idea for the cover wasn’t even ours. We were asked by our label to do it for a compilation. It turned out so awesome that we decided to put it on the album. We really enjoy doing covers. At the risk of sounding a little self-involved, we think we are pretty good at preserving the integrity of the songs we cover while still putting the TMM stamp on them.
I felt more of a synth vibe with Fantasy Rolodex, and Saturn’s in Retrograde is giving me more of an industrial feel – kind of like Crosses or NIN. Did you have a different sound in mind, or did it just turn out that way?
We’re stoked that you mentioned Crosses – we think that was one of the best albums of 2014. Regarding the different sound, that’s really a reflection of the crystallization of our songwriting process that we mentioned above.
You guys have some pretty elaborate videos to go along with this album – three so far, do you have plans for more? Were these all self-produced?
We’ll release the videos for Saturn’s Rings and Cry Little Sister in the first half of this year. They are the best two videos we’ve ever released. After that, we’d like to maybe do a few lyric videos throughout the 2nd half of the year.
The majority of our videos were somewhat self-produced. We think the term “produced in-house” is more applicable. Heath’s wife Lucy Sica does most of our videos. She did Cry Little Sister, the “Famished” trilogy (Crickets, Sight Beyond Sight, and Mask of the Red Death), Blown Away, Space Oddity, and Giants on Stilts. Kyle Day and the team at Digital City Productions did Saturn’s Rings and Last December.
We enjoy adding the video component to our music whenever we can. We’re all movie and comic book geeks, and we like to add a cool visual (even if it seems to have nothing to do with the song) when we get the opportunity.
Anything else you guys want to add?
TMM fans are the most beautiful and intelligent people in the known universe. They have impeccable taste. #tmmlovesyou
I will keep my eyes on TMM and definitely want to try and catch them live sometime. I am posting my three favorite tracks from the album – “Crickets”, “Saturn’s Rings” and the cover “Cry Little Sister”. If you dig Crosses or NIN, TMM might be a band for you. They are also on Spotify and Saturn’s In Retrograde can be purchased on The SKR Store, CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.
TMM Website: www.texasmicrophonemassacre.com
Facebook: Texas Microphone Massacre
You Tube: Texas Microphone Massacre
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