Houston Calls

Houston Calls


These NJ fellows make music that shimmies and shines with electrified keys and punched up drumming and are known for whipping the crowd into a dancing frenzy. Makers of infectious pop gems.


In "A Collection of Short Stories," an indelible cast of characters finds a hundred ways to escape a soulless life: some by Amtrak, some by the bottle and some with a scrawled note of farewell. But the authors of this collection are no Pulitzer Prize wannabes. Rather, Houston Calls is Jersey-based group making their Rushmore Records CD debut. In the process they prove to be fierce defenders of classic pop melody as well as great storytellers.

Writing songs that mirror the short story genre came naturally. "Most of the songs follow a plot," says vocalist/lyricist Tom Keiger. "I like to tell stories of my experiences, mostly in the third person so I can sit back and relate as well." Produced by Ed Rose (Get-Up Kids, Motion City Soundtrack, Spitalfield), the new CD was recorded in Eudora, KS, (pop. 5000). "The only good thing in Eudora is the studio and the Chinese-Mexican restaurant," laughs Tom. "But working with Ed was awesome."

"We poured our hearts into this," adds keyboardist Richard "Okie" Okamoto. "Every piece adds up and everyone's love of music shines through." Musically, Houston Calls draws on a sunny pop-punk style to underscore the storylines, but the lyrics are invariably pointed, poetic and deep. Though Tom wrote most of the thought provoking words on this record, Okie contributed three of his own short masterpieces. The band prides themselves in their song writing process as it is a collective effort. Tom is hit with an idea, Okie and guitarist Kenny Ryan add the right flourishes, while drummer Josh Grigsby and bassist Jarrett Seltzer solidify the low end – simultaneously keeping the rhythm structures interesting.

The album kicks off with "Sunrise Goodbyes," an uptempo rocker about an incipient romance. "It started out as an ode to a ‘perfect girl,'" say Tom, "and ended up taking on a theatrical aspect." In "Exit Emergency," the band tallies the wins and losses after a rough break-up, while "Bob and Bonnie" is the story of Tom's parents and how they met. "It's an ode to the fact that my parents' love is so true," says Tom, "how that affects my views on love and questions the foundation on which I build relationships."

"Elephant and Castle" is about a young girl making a break from her childhood home, while "Amtrak is for Lovers" spins a tale of faltering romance ("Her regrets can't quite be counted on both of her hands - but count on her goodbyes"). "High Rise" is a tune Okie describes as a "not-quite-confession to a girl. It's about knowing what you want, but not risking what you have to get it."

In "Bottle of Red, Bottle of Spite," an alcoholic haze exacts a toll ("The wine helps to counteract the pain/Her whine makes him crazy"), while "One More Won't Hurt" recounts a late night hook-up down in the basement ("Let's toast our glass to Christmas lights/They're hung up on the wall in place/I'm hung up on your glowing face/You've had enough to drink tonight").

“Line in the Sand” is a dark examination of betrayal, while “A Pen and a Piece of Mind” continues the upbeat thread begun with “Sunrise Goodbyes.” The CD ends with 'The Better Part of Valor, " which the band calls a “big chorus-summer-blockbuster-movie-soundtrack-emotional climax” song.

Outsized drama isn’t the band’s typical stock-in-trade but they’ve never been afraid to venture far and wide musically. Four of the five band members hail from Rockaway, NJ, (Joshua is from Westchester, PA), with Jarrett, Kenny, Okie and Tom friends since middle school. They became regulars on the local coffee house scene before they could legally drive “I was middle school manager of Tom’s crappy band, ”remembers bassist Jarrett Seltzer.

A former trumpet player, Okie wanted to bring something special to the band’s sound. “I wanted to use the keyboard as another lead instrument,” he says. Kenny had played with Hidden in Plain View, but when he later became available to join Tom and company, he jumped at the chance. Once Joshua hooked up with them in May 2003, the line-up was set and Houston Calls was officially born.

Though the five had varied musical backgrounds and influences – from the Beatles to Radiohead – all could agree on one thing. "All of us like music with hooks," says Tom. "We like catchy music that's pleasing to the ear, something you can sing for days."

Houston Calls started out local, building a New Jersey base before expanding farther out. "We knew the key to becoming bigger was to tour," says Tom, "so that first summer we went out with Hidden in Plain View. It evolved from there. We started writing better songs and the next year we sent music to the labels."

The band put out a four-song sampler in their first year, and a five-song EP in the summer of 2004. That year, the band showed it’s enterprising spirit and proposed that Pure Volume and Absolute Punk sponsor them for a nation-wide tour which the band booked. “That was our first awesome tour,” says Tom. “We pride ourselves in our energetic stage antics


Houston Calls - "A Collection of Short Stories" LP