Cloven Hooved Gangster

Cloven Hooved Gangster was a zine focused on local music in Austin, Texas in the mid-2000s. Mostly based on my ventures out to shows and writings inspired by the music that I saw, CHG also included poetry and other musings. Ultimately, I think that the project was motivated by both my love of music and desire to participate. The majority of reviews and interviews are of and with friends and bands I love.

The zine was initially paper-based, but it shifted to online content after three issues and before I abandoned the effort to make music of my own in my spare time. Below are highlights from each paper issue and from the online content:

Issue One

Keeping Pop Alive
Brandon Tucker and Coco Candissi help to drive Austin’s rock scene

After taking in two Coco Candissi shows in one weekend, I sat down to chat with their lead man, Brandon Tucker. We spoke about the band, his influences, songwriting, and the future of pop in Austin.
It’s Not a European Porn Star...
CHG: What were your major influences in music?
I think the first thing I remember hearing was my Dad play Creedence or Steve Miller, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or Ted Nugent when I was a kid, you know. As far as wanting to play an instrument, I was really into The Cure, The March Violets, Missing Persons and a lot of the new wave stuff at the time. I was into rock and roll too, like Adam and the Ants. I got into Heavy Metal Black Sabbath. I was into glam rock too Motley Crue. I think that’s what got me into punk rock even though I didn’t know what it was all about until I heard SOD and Agent Orange for the first time and then I was totally turned on. I became the biggest Dead Milkmen fan for a while because their lyrics were so hilarious, making fun of stuff to a cow-punk rhythm.
CHG: Coming out of Oklahoma, how did you progress to the point you have reached today?
After a few years of attempting to go to school and, ah, failing miserably (laughs) I was playing a lot of music I just decided that the school thing wasn’t for me and I had a friend that wanted to start a band in Austin. I lived here for about five years and had the band Glaze and Greasemonkey. We did some playing out locally and recording, but it eventually fell through. I moved back to Oklahoma to go to college and ran into a few old friends who played. I had written a whole bunch of new songs and I was just so excited to get a chance to play.
CHG: That band was Harmony Gritz?
Yea, that was Harmony Gritz, and we put out a six song EP and a single over about a three-year period. We did a lot of playing out around Dallas and Oklahoma.
CHG: Now you are with Coco Candissi. Where did the name originate, and how would you describe your sound? If someone were to say “punk rock”, could Coco be identified with that?
Somewhat, I mean, we’re pretty much pop. We have that Iggy and the Stooges or the Flaming Groovies thing going on. Definitely it’s pop. I think some of the riffs and ideas are influenced by punk, but it is pop just as much. The writing style is pop.
CHG: And the name?
Well, it is definitely not a European porn star no, Melissa Sternberg and I were at Saigon Kitchen having an iced coffee. We were looking at her architecture books (Melissa got her Master’s in Architecture), and one of the books was describing 18th century European chair styles. There were several names in the book, a Ko Ko Pleia and (some word) Kandissi, so we crunched the Ko Ko into one word and made it all Cs. We were inspired by chairs.
CHG: Do you think the band has attained the sound you were originally going for?
I think we are just now getting to the sound we were going for. We were trying to get there for a long time, but what the band has evolved into is way beyond my expectations. I think the pop sensability we have is full of life and has some room to grow.
CHG: Coco is coming off a recent hiatus with a new setup (Leslie Pettit on keys, Chris Azios on drums)...
Right, with our drummer situation, Leslie was playing drums originally and Melinda Barsales playing keyboards. Then she decided to move on. She was an fabulous musician, an awesome cello player and keyboardist. Kliph Scurlock (moved from Kansas to play with Sixteen Deluxe) filled in for two or three shows, played so hard and powerful. He was totally the John Bonham or Flaming Lips style drummer. We were like, wow, what this band could be!
CHG: So was that the type thing you were going for when Chris (also of Blaster) came aboard?
It’s added so much to the sound. The energy level is so vibrant. The fact that he is a human metronome, and he understands crescendo and decrescendo, he understands pop songwriting he is a true percussionist and a straight up hard hitting drummer at the same time. His voice opens up another layer for Coco in the studio as well.
CHG: Speaking of voice, you’ve got Leslie Pettit on keyboards, and her vocals seem to mesh well with yours. When that happened, originally, were you surprised?
I was blown away. We sang together for a couple of months and I started to hear that there was something there. We could do octave jumps, fifths, and thirds. We got used to each other after a while and after hearing our vocals on tape we decided that a lot of our songs could be written around our vocals.

*“They are always working always feels like it is on the path of the least resistance.”

The Path of The Least Resistance...
CHG: So what sets Coco apart from other bands?
The chemistry of the band. We don’t have two guitars fighting against each other. We don’t have harmonies or melodies fighting against each other. They are always working together; it always feels like it is on the path of the least resistance. It’s not like we want to write a lot of “la-la” happy songs I just feel like at this point we sort of feel like we understand what our potential is. And, the happier we get about that, the better the songwriting gets and the better our moods are on stage.
CHG: What’s next for Coco Candissi?
Well, we’ve been playing in shows under the name Coco for about 2 1⁄2 years now...
CHG: It seems like the frequency has gone up lately.
Yea, it really has. In the last year, we’ve really been playing more shows and we’ve done some recording. We’ve got a single out there, and we’ve done the two compilations, the Pop Culture Press compilation we put “Sugartooth” on that. Then, Animatronic released the God Striped Gum compilation. We have “Sweet Cheat Gone” and “Niagara” on that. The next step for us is to record a full-length record, and we’ve got a lot of new songs that we are real excited about now.
CHG: On to your songwriting...what do you draw on when you are in a rut as far as songwriting and composition is concerned?
During the hiatus, I looked to the Beatles, especially the song “I’m Only Sleeping” and thought about some chords that I had never played. I think the most important thing to think about is to keep it simple and pure. Start small, let a song flourish, and then get technical with it. The gut feeling is a song’s simplicity, though, something that makes you feel good, and not settling unless it feels good. If a song is close but not quite there, we will come back to it. Rediscovery is key.
CHG: Ten years from now, what do you hope is said about this scene?
Hopefully it’ll still be around. Hopefully there will be bands that have kept progressing for 10 or 15 years, like Sonic Youth has, moving closer to “finding it”.

Issue 2

The National Pastime
The National Pastime is ROCK! And monkeys and clowns...

Creeping on some old school punk

It's June 11th, and after walking in to Flamingo Cantina and putting my card down for a drink, the bartender said, "It's a ten dollar minimum!"
"Wow," I thought, "I'm going to get loaded!"
Being alone, I instantly searched for someone I knew and spotted
Mark McMillan standing front-and-center. He told me that they were anticipating playing third instead of second. Fine, I thought, because Overstep just finishing their last song, and I must admit that they sounded impressive. They were a few guys from Kansas City on tour with Season To Risk for the first leg. The rhythm was a gorgeous Gretsch run through a Fender Pro Sonic and a Marshall Cab. It sounded great to my ears, so I wound up trading a beer for a demo later in the evening!
However, the band finished and Mark and I joined friends upstairs to discuss the week's events. Of course, the Black Cat burned down leaving one less rockin' joint on Sixth Street. I drank my first Austin beer in that place after asking someone (who turned out to be a cop) to buy my friends and I a drink. The cop, unfortunately, fell through, and we had to get some other dumb shmuck to buy us beers. They were cheap!
We had just taken our seats upstairs at Flamingo when Nick came up to tell Mark that the mgmt wanted them to play next. So, we uprooted ourselves and walked back downstairs. Soon, TNP had checked and they were ready to hit it. The crowd followed when Andrew hearkened out for us to come closer to the stage. It's a wonder when anyone questions whether or not Austin can do anything, and these guys come out and show us that everything can be done.
Look at us, reading our Rolling Stone, buying our Blockbuster CDs, going to our "sold out" concerts, and we wonder where it all starts. It all starts here. Tiny clubs, good PAs, bad PAs, great sound, lousy sound, bad rooms, good rooms, all the greats played in them, through them, and with them. The National Pastime is great. Through sampling a bit of what is chic at the moment and adding the love that is seen when an Austin band plays Austin, TNP bring a flair to the local scene that everyone needs.
Relaxing on the open air, upstairs balcony of Flamingo I began meeting the band and settling in to the scene again. It has been a while, and the Gangster is rusty, so I stuck to what was familiar, picking and choosing my risks. Nick and I talked a bit about his other band, The Octopus Project, who receives a lot of play on KVRX. For the most part, for TNP, he is a solid lead guitar playing through the classic Orange amp tone.
The other thing to mention about TNP is the harmony on vocals that Andrew, Mark, and Nick provide. My friend Chris was trying to tell me that the sound setup was great for them, but I cannot hear when a band is playing. I thought he said the sound was needed to be louder by the thumb in the air, and only found out the truth after the show. The whole time I was searching for a problem in the vocal mix and there was none.
So, this is where I decided that these guys deserved an interview...

...However, when I arrived at their practice one balmy Thursday afternoon, they let me in on the well-known fact that the press is the enemy. It was then that I worried that the interview would not happen at all. That, and Nick was MIA. I tried to impart that the CHG is anti-press. Perhaps, I thought, that term would get me in...anti-anything is good, right?! They remained wary:
So what was the impetus behind this creation?
Andrew: Monkeys! Monkeys and clowns and naked...
Mark: No, clowns had nothing to do with it.
Andrew: Mark's Dad's a carnie!
Mark: No, he was a telephone man for thirty
Wimberley...Wimberley, Texas.
Where are the rest of you from?
Scott: Lake Jackson
Andrew: East-Texas-ass Tyler, and then Clear Lake...
A lot of people rocking there?
Andrew: Not when I was there, but we went back...
Scott: Yea, we went back when we were with Dynamite
Boy. We played there a couple of times.
Andrew: We played in a barn!
Mark: They played the little towns.
Scott: It was terrible.
Andrew: Little towns go was fun.
Mark: Playing VFWs is crazy.
Scott: Well, in those towns there aren't any bars or clubs,
so you play wherever you can, and that includes community centers.
So how did TNP all get together?
Mark: Everybody was really involved in something, and
then fell out of it in about a year. Oddly enough we all knew the same people.
Andrew: There were a lot of weird connections that brought us together. Scott and I had talked about playing together, and I had songs all ready to go. When we were looking for a bass player, we searched the Chronicle. We had tried some clown-asses...
Mark: I put an ad out for the first time, and I get e-mail from them.
Andrew: Our e-mail said, "Sell your soul for rock-and- roll?" That was when Mark realized that he wanted to sign his soul over...
Mark: Or when they realized that I blow glass.
CHG: What about Nick?
Andrew: That was weird. I was playing with a really good
friend of mine, Dave, and wanted to keep playing with him, but he didn't have time. So, Mark introduced us to Nick. I had actually played with him once before, and he came in and played...
Scott: Jimi Hendrix spacey shit...
Andrew: Yea, over my simple pop/punk, which was cool because it's something you don't hear that often.
It seemed that you guys came together pretty quickly. What made it work out?
Mark: We did (come together quickly).
Andrew: Yea, there are bands that have been together for four years and are still looking for a bass player or a drummer.
Mark: Everybody was really involved in something, and then fell out of it in about a year. Oddly enough we all knew the same people. It was good chemistry.
Andrew: Also, we had all played in bands that had done pretty well at one point or another. It was just a matter of getting everybody together personality-wise or songwriting-wise. It's cool because everybody brings something to it each time.
The name of the band...are there some baseball fans in the group?
Scott: Ha, I don't think any of us are baseball fans...
Mark: We came to rehearsal one day with lists of names... Andrew: A bunch of names...
Mark: We all picked five each. Then we picked three out of
those. The one that was the most recurring was 'The National Pastime'.
Andrew: My personal take on it, what I like about it is that I grew up around lots of kids who were encouraged to go play sports...
Scott: Baseball, Football, whatever...
Andrew: The people that I hung out with, everyone's hobby was being in a band. It was kind of a separate fold, and when people say "The National Pastime" shouldn't spend too much time thinking about it.
-No question elicited the next twenty minutes - here are some highlights:
• There are people who live off of selling their songs so that
little kids who are scantily clad can go out and sing some pre-
programmed shit that someone else got paid to write.
• Jimmy Eat World's video for The Middle was made simply to
sell records.
• A band has to have money and label backing to get something
out there, be it video or radio. You will be lucky to get it
played and then it will be rotated for a week.
• A band reaches a point where you keep doing what you want
to do or become packaged and sold in a certain way.
• When the whole Seattle thing happened, people said, "Oh,
they're all lumberjacks!" Now you're seeing more of the, "Everyone has to be heartbreakers." There always has to be some big story.
• Drummers puke. Especially when it is hot or they drink themselves into it.
Four influences for the band, what are they?
TNP: Seaweed, Quicksand, Fugazi, and Metallica
If you could kick the shit out of anyone, who would it be?
Andrew: Carrot Top would be high on the list.
Scott: Rosie O'Donnell
Mark: Ol' Reverend Falwell, I wouldn't mind punching him in
the nuts a few times! I don't know...I'd probably beat some Catholic priests...if anything just to keep them in line, (punching his hand) "Don't fuck little boys!"
Ok, Great ROCK stories anyone?
Mark: Go ahead Scott.
Andrew: C'mon Scott you have a ton of ROCK stories.
Scott: Turn the tape-recorder off.
CHG: (click)...
All: Hahahahahahahahahahaha!
Mark: Andrew and I had a weird twilight zone experience one
night when we were recording. We went outside to smoke while the engineers were mixing two of our parts. So we were 'taking care of our business outside' when this white cat comes around. It finally gets the nerve up to inch toward us and rolls on the ground and get friendly. We noticed that the cat's neck was red that was odd, and the cat got up and ran off. And we noticed that it left a spot on the pavement. We looked at it again and the cat's neck was separated all the way around.
Andrew: We asked its owner about it and she said, "Oh, no he doesn't mind!"
All: silence
Scott: Great ROCK story guys.
Where would be the ideal venue for TNP?
Mark: Ideally, we should get to play wherever the hell we want
without anybody raising a finger to ask why.
Scott: The Cannabis Club in Amsterdam.
Andrew: Red Rocks in Colorado
What do you think about people who think that rock is dead? Note from the CHG: This is a loaded question. We all
know that Radiohead destroyed ROCK!

Andrew: People that say that have no idea...there are people who
say that Trail of Dead is too rock.
Mark: They don't understand that rock is evolving and self-defining. It is whatever pisses off parents.
Scott: People say that?!
If you could pit two superheroes/movie monsters against each other, who would it be and why?
Band Consensus after deliberation:
Mothra vs. Godzilla
You guys have a great web-site. Who does that for you?
Mark: Casey Rhodes, a friend of mine who played music with me
for about eight years. He was in my other band Blaster for a while. He set it all up for us. He's been doing our posters and offered to do a digital press kit (DPK) for us. Once we finish recording our full-length, he's going to add some audio/visual and interactive material to it so that if you pop it into a computer it will bring up a prompt and you can choose music or interactive.
Andrew: And it'll be a two-hour loop of dancing monkeys!
Mark: Shaved monkeys. They're always naked, so we just shave them. And you can print that.

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