Remember the first time you heard your favorite song? The Universe seemed to bend down and kiss you on the forehead; so perfect it was for that exact moment in your life. Be it in a crowded, smoky venue, in your room with your shoes off, or sitting in a friends car with the windows rolled down, when you hear that song your toe will start-a-tappin and your eyes will close as your relive that perfect moment. Now take The Western Civilization’s album, Letters of Resignation, put it in your CD player, and prepare to experience that moment all over again. A musical tapestry woven of honesty, heartbreak, disappointment, and absolution, that from track to track becomes increasingly familiar, Letters of Resignation is a remarkable debut album. Forthright lyrics born of real life struggles set to sweeping melodies and catchy hooks. An exciting union of digital beats and electrified rhythms to their perfect match of breezy acoustics and ethereal harmonies, the music mirrors the duality of its main voices. The boy-girl interplay on Love Struck Angel and Bruise the Paper allows the listener to be a fly-on-the-wall for the verbal assault, the sweet kiss, and all of the unpredictable in between. Letters of Resignation is mesmerizing while catchy, fluid even in its heaviest moments, and just plain good.
The Western Civilization was born in March 2005 in the closet of Reggie O'Farrell's third ward Houston apartment out of one good tube microphone and a pocket full of good ideas. Originally started as a “studio only” side project for area songwriters O'Farrell, Rachel Hansbro, and Gretchen Schmaltz; The Western Civilization quickly became the main focus of the songwriting trio as they started to realize the undeniable quality of their studio pet project. After a bit of trial and error in the drum and bass category, drummer Anthony Schillaci and bass player Fred Nugent were enrolled as well. The distincly different vocal qualities of Rachel, Reggie, and Gretchen as well as widely different musical influences across the board lead to a popy/folky/noisy sound that was lovingly described by Houston Chronicle entertainment writer Sara Cress as “equal parts chaos and craft”. The band's debut album, Letters of Resignation, was released on March 24th 2007 and a notable amount of praise from the press shortly followed. Following the release the band began playing with national acts and playing regionally around Texas and then embarked on their first self booked national tour in October 2007. Letters received top 10 albums of 2007 honors from pretty much every list that was released in the Houston area. Touring in support of Letters continued and during 2008 landed the Civ on stage at SXSW, the Vans Warped tour, and Canada's Halifax Pop Explosion. The band is currently taking a break from touring to begin recording it's next release, but will be hitting the road again in the month of June for a short tour and a stop at the NXNE music festival in Toronto.
The Western Civilization's shows are always intense, fun, emotionally charged, and packed with suprises leaving even the most apathetic listener both emotionally and physically exhausted in thier wake. A typical Western Civ stage setup includes 3 guitars, 4 keyboards, 1 laptop, 2 harmonicas, 3 tambourines, 1 melodica, 2 shakers, 1 kazoo, 3 snare drums, bass, drums, a sampler, and by the end of the show, a whole stage full of drunken stompers and clappers.
TWC has shared a stage with nationals Tilly and the Wall, Maria Taylor, Pony Up, The Appleseed Cast, Microphones, Stars of Track and Field, Now It's Overhead, Colour Revolt, Anathallo, and Margot and the Nuclear So & So's. They have also made appearances at South By Southwest, Vans Warped Tour, and the Halifax Pop Explosion.
The Western Civilization is currently unsigned and working on a followup to their first full length album "Letters of Resignation" which was released on March 24th, 2007.
Rachel Hansboro (Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Voice)
Anthony Schillaci (Drums)
Gretchen Schmaltz (Keys, Acoustic Guitar, Kazoo, Voice)
Fred Nugent (Bass)
Reggie O'Farrell (Acousitc and Electric Guitar, Keys, Harmonica, Glockenspeil, Melodica, Voice)
The Western Civilization :: EP (2006), Mia Kat Empire Vol 1. (2006), Letters of Resignation (2007)
A Melting Pot of Sounds
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The Western Civilization is a melting pot of players and sound. When the band's writers — Rachel Han...The Western Civilization is a melting pot of players and sound. When the band's writers — Rachel Hansbro, Reggie O'Farrell and Gretchen Schmaltz — want to hear 20 tambourines or a distorted organ, they procure the instrument or find the people to make it happen.
"When I'm writing, I play the guitar and hear other sounds in my head," Hansbro says. "I describe the noise to Reggie, he grumbles and says, 'We'll have to figure that out.'
"Then the search for new and interesting instruments begins," O'Farrell says.
Also fitting for a melting pot, the three songwriters are solo performers working on their own projects. They gathered to record one of Hansbro's songs two years ago, and the result was a band they weren't expecting.
"Rachel played guitar, and I played piano and xylophone and Gretchen came over and sang all the backup stuff on it," O'Farrell says. "It was good. So we decided to do it again and then again and then eventually we decided that we had a band."
Drummer Anthony Schilaci — who is readying his singing voice in the "singing bullpen," the band says — rounds out the group.
Letters of Resignation, released in April, is the Western Civilization's debut album. It's a collection of noisy indie-pop that aches with longing, anger and frustration, each song spilling over with elegantly wrought emotion. In lesser hands lines like, "you'll choke me down as some horrible mistake" would sink, but the band keeps everything afloat with pretty flourishes and balance.
The three voices, tested by years of open mics and previous bands, form a pleasing whole here. O'Farrell and Hansbro sport a similar deadpan sadness in male and female flavors, while Schmaltz's childlike coo hovers in the background of every layer.
"I don't think that our voices sound alike, but I think we use them to make something that sounds cohesive," Schmaltz says.
O'Farrell and Hansbro saw back and forth with their world-weary pipes on Love Struck Angel, telling the story of a disastrous fling: Don't ever trust a liar with bad intentions at heart. I couldn't have imagined I'd just rip you apart.
Reggie Goes to War is the most startling example of the band's use of noise, with a crescendo of shattering glass — recorded in a night of grand destruction at O'Farrell's residence — reflecting the mental collapse of a friend. The Sun Will Rise features stomps and claps to punctuate an angry breakup scene.
"We had a big party at my empty house with hardwood floors. We got everyone drunk and had them stomping and clapping," O'Farrell says, laughing at the memory of trying to coordinate the drunken stompers.
The let's-make-this-harder-than-it-needs-to-be mentality at work within the band is the function of the members' goal to create something original.
"When musicians get together in a practice setting to write something, they're automatically going to play whatever is most comfortable to them," O'Farrell says. "We're playing a lot of stuff that we wouldn't have naturally come up with on the fly; instruments that we've never played before or never played and sang at the same time."
The resulting music, equal parts chaos and craft, makes this an interesting new band to watch.
The West is Best
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Local new-ish indie rock label Mia Kat Empire has blasted onto the Houston music scene in the past f...Local new-ish indie rock label Mia Kat Empire has blasted onto the Houston music scene in the past few months, bringing with it a stable of talented musicians. The Western Civilization’s Letters of Resignation is one of the label’s most recent releases and has garnered the band a fair amount of local attention.
“The CD release went really well”, Reggie O’Farrell, who handles vocals, guitar, xylophone, and harmonica (among other things) for The Western Civilization says. “We had a little over 100 people show up and they all got a copy of the CD as part of the door charge. The vibe was really good … It’s really exciting to know that we will be bringing the songs to people that have not heard them before all over the country … It’s cool to think that we will be spreading awareness about the label nationally as well. Hopefully it will pique some interest about the music scene in Houston.”
The Western Civilization’s music is hard to pin down – folk-pop-indie-rock-electronica is as good a description as any – but listening to the band’s music seems to give different impressions at different times, as if it almost fits the listener’s mood. “Our music is fairly simple”, O’Farrell says. “But there is usually a lot of those simple elements intermingling at one time to make a more interesting whole.”
O’Farrell says his current playlist includes The Arcade Fire, Bright Eyes, mewithoutYou, Daniel Johnston, Tilly and the Wall, and Via Audio, but that The Western Civilization’s primary influence runs much deeper: “the act of living life”.
“That may seem like a pretty broad topic, but we don’t feel that enough writers attack it with the honesty that they should”, he says. “We like to go straight for the jugular rather than dance around a topic with vague wordplay. We have three songwriters in the band that all come from different backgrounds musically, so we actually influence each other quite a bit as well. None of us would have ever done anything like this on our own, but when we get together something completely different happens.”
The band – O’Farrell, vocalist/guitarist Rachel Hansbro, vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist Gretchen Schmaltz, drummer Anthony Schillaci and bassist/guitarist Sara Carter – doesn’t claim Houston or Texas as being influential in their musical development, but the band has a few thoughts on the local music scene. “the ratio of general population to people that pay attention to local music seems to be pretty low for a city this size”, O’Farrell says. “We aren’t trying to compete with anyone for whatever attention is up for the taking though. Music is (or should be) art and it’s not to be put in competition. If people adore the art that we have shared with them as much as we do then they will tell other people about it. Those people will tell other people, etc. We’re just going to keep playing shows and touring and hopefully people will catch on.”
TWC play at Walter’s on Washington on May 11. Letters of Resignation is available at miakatempire.com, iTunes and Sound Exchange. For more information, visit myspace.com/thewesterncivilization.
Record Release: The Western Civilization
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We can’t remember the book specifically, but we’re pretty sure it’s Samuel P Huntington’s The Clash ...We can’t remember the book specifically, but we’re pretty sure it’s Samuel P Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. No seriously, it’s a wicked page-turner. And, if we’ve got the book right, somewhere in it is this great statement about how, in spite of all the bitching and moaning to the contrary, Western Civilization (as opposed to Islamic or Hindu or Orthodox or Sinic or Latin American or Sub-Saharran) hasn’t really caught on in the rest of the world.
This proposition doesn’t dispute the rather one-way transmission of Western cultural and commercial brands and iconography like Pepsi, Elvis or the Marlboro Man. Rather, it posits that things like the rule of law, freedom of thought or expression and representative government are the true embodiment of Western Civilization, and that nobody should really get that worked up that a cab driver in Serbia is listening to The White Album.
Put another way, who gives a lick that some bastard Sudanese is wearing Levis when he commits genocide; him liking Donald Duck doesn’t count for spit if he hasn’t bought into the theory that you shouldn’t maim, rape and/or kill people because they have different ideas about what God is.
Ok, how does this record review feel so far? Pretty heavy, right – you weren’t exactly expecting a Darfur reference when you typed in the URL were you? Yeah, now find the opposite of that response: That’s way more akin to the listening experience of Letters of Resignation, the debut full length by local kids The Western Civilization.
First off, from its core to the carmel skin around it, this is a pop record (and we do not consider that a derisive label, quite the contrary). It’s rich and textured and beautifully produced, full of duets and accompaniments, be they male/female vocals, live/machine drums or guitar/ harmonica/ chimes/ organs/ whatever. Real Talk: This is one of the best sounding local releases to come out of Houston in years. Unlike the sparseness of WestCiv member and Mia Kat Empire label-mate Gretchen Schmaltz’s solo work, this record doesn’t want you going through it alone; even at its quietest moments, they make sure every instrument has at least one hand to hold.
And while Letters is not peck-and-a-smile blush-pop, even in its most dire gullies you still get the sense that the travails of which they speak are surmountable; that far from no hope, they are on the chapter subsequent or at the very least know that the stitches will be out soon. You will not find the grit and balm of too much time lived in the heart of smog on Letters. For every time this record will make you want to get off the highway and take a meandering FM road, there are an equal number of moments where you'll mash the gas and beat the cameras when yellow turns to red.
No doubt some of you, our readers, will not like this record. “I don’t like the words” or “It sounds like someone else” you might say. And that’s ok. The Western Civilization isn’t trying to be as one-size-should-fit-all Western Civilizationally as gender equality. They’re a great pair of jeans, and while they may not fit everyone, they fit us – and Letters of Resignations is more than worth trying on for size. Recommended.
The Western Civilization
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Whoa. I should probably note straight off that I never-never-never put bands up on this list merely ...Whoa. I should probably note straight off that I never-never-never put bands up on this list merely on the strength of a couple of MySpace songs. (Well, almost never, anyway.) I usually try to at least see a band before I put 'em in here, just because, well, that's been my general rule since this site started. Of course, these days I get out of the house a lot less, so I find myself feeling the need to bend/break the rules somewhat -- what the hell, I wrote the damn things, so why not?
At any rate, local indie-pop/rock quintet The Western Civilization can claim partial credit for me throwing the old rules out the window. I first heard the band on the recent Mia Kat Empire comp and found myself mesmerized by the very first song, "Love Struck Angel," so much so that I almost immediately jumped to their MySpace site and frantically listened to every track they've got up. And man, are they good.
It's crazy, but despite their relative youth, these five kids -- if MySpace is to be believed, it's Anthony on drums, Gretchen on vocals/keys/guitar, Rachel on vocals/guitar/beats, Reggie on vocals/guitar/bunch of stuff, and Sara on bass -- have managed to meld electronics, teenage heartbreak, and shimmery-sweet twee-pop into a melancholy, gorgeous whole that evokes the best moments of that whole Saddle Creek/Omaha scene while remaining pretty unique. There are some nice Azure Ray moments here with Gretchen and Rachel, and Reggie's voice brings to mind both Conor Oberst and The Elected's Blake Sennett in its fractured vulnerability.
Seriously, I'm liking this stuff, especially the boy/girl interplay on "Love Struck Angel" and "Bruise the Paper"; the music's sad and bitter, but still driving and hooky in the best possible way. These folks are so together, so right-on good that it's ridiculous -- they make me look back to my own band days and shudder... Apparently the band's debut CD will be out later this month (March '07), and I, for one, will be eagerly looking forward to it. Keep an eye out, people, because if there's any justice in the world, The Western Civilization will be gracing hipster magazine covers in the not-too-distant future.
Top 10 Local Discs of 2007
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By SARA CRESS and JOEY GUERRA Copyright Houston Chronicle 2007 Listen to the best local albums o...By SARA CRESS and JOEY GUERRA
Copyright Houston Chronicle 2007
Listen to the best local albums of 2007 and you will hear some of Houston's multiple personalities. In one corner you will find lilting folk, feel-good pop and wild abandon. In the other, you will find something darker: a twangy protest album; screaming, jagged rock; the sounds of plates crashing set to a chorus of fragile indie-pop voices. The combined effect is a little jarring and not the least bit boring.
Here are our top 10 albums from Houston artists this year:
Images From Hard Luck Town, Hilary Sloan: Nothing this year, at least to these ears, made a more powerful, passionate statement than Sloan's stunning concept album. It's the tale of a soldier who returns home to find the life he knew destroyed. Sloan began writing Hard Luck Town around the beginning of the Iraq War, but you needn't be politically minded to enjoy the gorgeous array of bluegrass, country and acoustic peace songs. Every moment evokes a clear image, kicking off with a haunting fiddle take on Nina Simone's Images. Perfection. — J.G.
There's No Home, Jana Hunter: This hipster media-acclaimed folk album rewards the open-minded listener with an enveloping sound and pockets of mystery. It's a breath of fresh air in a sea of noise. Since releasing the disc Hunter has moved to Baltimore, but this album was recorded in a creaky Houston house (which was recently torn down, of course) with other Houston musicians, so I have no problem calling it the best album to come out of Houston in 2007. — S.C.
Handshake Smiles, Arthur Yoria: The pop songwriter scene was relatively quiet this year, with someone touring, then leaving (Lanky, Nashville) and someone working on an album (Tody Castillo, should be out in 2008). The burden of creating radio-friendly music rested on Yoria's shoulders, who does Houston proud with his latest album, Handshake Smiles. It's a wonderful, varied effort with feel-good pop and some sexy, stripped-down rock.
Upcoming show: 10 p.m. Friday at Rudyard's, 2010 Waugh.— S.C..
Dance Hall Incident, Sugar Bayou: An easy chemistry and impeccable instrumentation make this eclectic disc sparkle. The songs veers effortlessly between bluegrass, blues, jazz and Cajun rhythms. It's like asking your (thoughtful) friends to contribute tunes for a party playlist. Standout moments include the gorgeous, gospel-bluegrass of Faith Train, the swooning charm of Dance With You and Galveston, a top-down ode to our sister city. — J.G.
Dry Futures, Bring Back the Guns: This is essentially a re-release of an album that has been floating around in local hands for a few years. But what an album it is. Acrobatic rock that challenges, never afraid to take the listener to weird places. This official release on Feow! Records will, we hope, attract a larger audience for a band that has already found a following around the country. Next up: festivals and fame, surely.— S.C.
The Red Airplanes, the Red Airplanes: The Christian-rock group's second self-titled album (this one features a black strip) is big and bold in every way. The arrangements are sweeping walls of sound, and frontman Nathan Walker's emotive vocal work is dramatic without spilling into pockets of earnest pretentiousness. That it's all self-produced only adds to the shimmer of tunes Light Up This Town, A Chance to See and I'm Alive.— J.G.
Medicine Show, Sideshow Tramps: Another album that has been in the works for a long time, the songs long familiar by the band's rabid fans. But this recording is a faithful re-creation of the Sideshow Tramps' powerful, revivallike performances. It's a heart-pounding mix of Americana, gypsy-jazz, punk, rock and insanity. Upcoming show: 8 p.m. Friday at Avant Garden, 411 Westheimer. — S.C.
The Shape of Things, Sheila Swift: Buoyant pop music just doesn't have enough local representation. But Swift carries the load on this intensely likable disc, which is better than most of what you'll hear on top 40 radio. The title track is a swirl of new-wave grooves, and Feel Like I Do turns the breakup blues into pure sing-along joy. The only bad part about enjoying Swift's songs is that she just doesn't perform enough around town.— J.G.
Letters of Resignation, the Western Civilization: The band isn't content to offer intricate indie pop with three intriguing vocalists. It strove for perfection in the stomps, crashes and every sound that punctuates this very fine debut.
Upcoming show: 9 p.m. Wednesday at RocBar, 530 Texas. — S.C.
Old Hardin Store Road, L.L. Cooper: Namesake Larry Cooper leads his band down Americana roads of heartache and humor. His authoritative voice matches the muscular framework, which also boasts help from locals Lisa Novak, Lee Alexander and Lise Liddell. Nashville stars could make these hits. But we're glad Cooper is ours for now.
Upcoming show: 9 p.m. Dec. 27. Rudyard's, 2010 Waugh.— J.G.
Tie Me Up
Reggie Goes to War
The Things We Can't Deny
Your Ugly Heart
Letters of Resignation
Bruise the Paper
Love Struck Angel
The Sun Will Rise...
There are no upcoming dates at this time.