Last Saturday I went with some friends to see Sounds Under Radio, an Austin-based band whose songs have been featured in Spiderman 3, The Vampire Diaries, and even commercials for American Idol.
But the most important thing to me about this band is that the artist who plays lead guitar for them is Doug Wilson. He also happens to be my brother.
If you went into Rudyards, the Houston venue where they were playing, you would think that it was the most casual thing in the world for this band to be playing between a singer-songwriter named Joseph King from Brooklyn, and a band named Deep Ella, which has a lot of band members, including one with a jet black electric violin. But let me tell you: a lot of work has gone into Sounds Under Radio, a band that has been together for nine years, which for bands is a remarkably long time.
Rudyards is a smaller place, with creaky wooden stairs and a second floor for the bands. People sit outside under umbrella-ed tables waiting for their band to start, and of course everything is supposed to start at 8, but nothing ever does until 10. This is the way it is. If you care about these things, you might as well go home, but why would you want to do that? I am so happy to be in jeans and super high-heel loafers and out of my professor clothes that I don’t care what time it is as long as it lasts awhile. The girl at the check-in stand has the biggest black-rimmed glasses I have ever seen in my life, and she must be all of 21. She is so relaxed that I am wondering how she will handle it if someone does not have enough ticket money, or claims to be on the guest list even if they are not. But I don’t have to worry about any of that, because Doug checks me right in and I get in free because he is my rock star brother. Call me “La Toya.” I have a lot of favorite phrases, and “I’m with the band” is definitely in the top ten. Admit it: you just want to say it, over and over.
The first act is a solo one, and let me say right off that I have a huge respect for this because if things go awry there is no one else to blame. The singer has that Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol “I don’t care” hair, and I sort of get this because being an artist is exhausting, and this guy is deep, and he has more important things to worry about than his hair. But the part of me that is raising Christopher, my eleven year old son, thinks that maybe he could take a little break from art and get it cut. Later I look this singer up, and he went to Stanford and seems to be on the brink of genius, so I feel really thrilled that I could see him so up close in Houston. But he is angry, really angry, as he tells us his ex-girlfriend wrote a song for him, and that she is a great artist, and famous, but he won’t tell us who she is. I think he might be a little bitter. He tells us after they broke up she changed the lyrics to this song, and then he starts insulting her, and sings the same angry song over and over again. Now I sort of understand why they broke up. He kind of reminds me of that guy who sang that song called “Beautiful” about how he is in love with a girl he meets on a train, and he doesn’t really know her, and it feels like stalker music, but somehow he sold a lot of compact discs because of that song, and I start looking at my watch.
My friends Theresa and Nancy are there, my friend Susie and her new psychiatrist boyfriend are there, my friend John is there. I want to tell them how many hours Doug practiced guitar while we were growing up, and how once he was even a soloist in a concert at school, but he was so modest that he almost forgot to tell my parents that he even had a concert. They didn’t know he was the featured performer until they showed up at the school. I want to tell them that Doug has a business degree from the University of North Texas, and that all of the band members have demanding lives, full time jobs, girlfriends and families, and that they still dedicate time to this band, and have had remarkable success. I am so impressed with this that I want to distribute resumes of all the band members to everyone sitting in that place, so that they can fully comprehend how these are real artists, and that they juggle two lives all at once while the rest of us hobble around carrying just one. I want to say, “Forget Neil Peart. Wait until you hear Sonny Sanchez on those drums.” I want to say the reason some of the lyrics are so memorable is because Lang and Bradley have English and history degrees and have, uh, you know, read stuff. And I especially want to say, “Hey, when you see Doug Wilson flip his hair, spin around, and school you about the way to play the guitar, you are looking at hundreds of thousands of hours of practice and this is what it looks like when you are watching an artist.“
I want to say to everyone around me that there are no overnight successes; okay, maybe three, but those don’t count, because they are flukes. I want to say that artists are possessed because they work so hard at it, and that is what they catch, some kind of fever, but it is no mistake, no favorable constellation of stars. It is the playing over and over again until it is like breathing, and you cannot do without it. For this band, it is not the recollection of emotion in tranquility. It is the recollection of intense emotion over and over again in the studio, and that is what makes whatever talent they were already given glimmer and shine, and stay in the mind long after the show is over. When Lang sings “I want out!” I believe him, and that is no small thing, because 90% of the songs you hear are not believable, and that is why you forget them. The mind can only handle so much phoniness, and then it shuts down, waiting for something real to take its place.
I would tell you what Sounds Under Radio sounds like, but the reason I put in their video is that they have their own sound, and they really are not like anyone else. They can rock out, but then the next thing you know, they have shifted gears, and can sing something more like a ballad, something slower, something so emotionally riveting that it makes girls whip out their credit cards and buy t-shirts and songs for their Ipods. For example, they have this great song that was played on “The Vampire Diaries” called “All You Wanted,” and if you listen to it, especially after hearing their other songs, you realize that part of what makes this band great is that they can surprise you, keep you thinking, keep you on your toes, keep you wanting more.
The truth is I would love this band even if my brother were not its lead guitarist. But he is in it, so good for me. It is true that I frequently exploit Doug’s rock stardom for popularity, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Since Lang is the lead singer, he has the microphone, and he tells the audience that their new EP is coming out, but he does not know when. None of the band members talk about people who have let them down: they have music to play, they don’t have that kind of time, they are artists who let their art sing for itself. Don’t let their easy-going natures fool you: they have worked hard on all of their songs, and they have never stopped experimenting. They make it look easy on stage, like this is not difficult, but simply what they do. They have sprezzatura, and it makes you think that you too can be a musician, even if you really can’t.
Lang says they are still working on their songs. This is a tease I can live with. I can’t wait to see what they do next, can’t wait to see what songs spin out of the synchronicity of their four imaginations, can’t wait to hear what they have to say. I’m with the band, no matter what, even if I am thinking, I love that new song, so hurry up, follow through. I am thinking this because this is what we think about everything that we want right now: a person, a book, a song. We think “hurry up,” even if we know, deep down, that it is worth the wait.