NOTE: This blog was published on statesman.com in October 2017. I did eat the bugs. When my coworkers ignored this story and failed to promote it on the homepage, I didn't forgive them.
I ate this bug for journalism. At the State Fair, you can eat one, too.
Dawn of the Picnic: 40 years ago Eddie Wilson got Willie off to a steady start
NOTE: This story was published in the Austin American-Statesman in 2013.
NOTE: This story was published in the San Angelo Standard-Times in the year 2000. It might seem extravagant to write such a long story about a band that really hasn't done anything, but I saw these kids as every 18-year-old young man in San Angelo, musician or not.
The Failsafe plan: Leaving San Angelo to pursue Austin rock 'n' roll dreams
By Dave Thomas
The band is going to Austin.
Three teenage guys, all barely out of high school, aren’t likely to let their dreams be dimmed by the reality of how many have tried and failed.
Who needs to think of such things as housing expenses and insane cost-of-living statistics?
Ah, with spring a young man’s fancy turns toward … well, to be honest, getting the hell out of San Angelo.
The band has had early success. They have confidence.
They’re not exactly sure how it’s going to work out, but they know exactly what that first day in Austin will bring.
“Big-As-Your-Face Burrito at Chuy’s, that’s the first place I’m going.”
“I’m getting me a job as soon as I can.”
“I’ll blow all my money at cool stores San Angelo never had.”
“I’ll contact some people, go to some parties.”
“I’m going to go see a band I actually like.”
“Breakfast at four in the morning.”
This is the story of a San Angelo band bound for the promised land. Three young rock ‘n’ rollers in it for the music and fun and … yeah, “girls and money.” But before we give the band an introduction, let’s set the stage a little.
The opening act
There is punk in San Angelo.
In the early days of the year 2000, I was standing in the Suez Temple near the IHOP watching a punk band from Longview called “The Invisible Kids” discuss the etiquette of mooning from a moving vehicle.
Perhaps “discuss” is too gentle a word. They were “discussing” it in the same way they were “playing” their instruments — with serious vigor.
Under the grand potentate’s red fez, a skinny kid in a “The Price is Right” T-shirt was slam-dancing to the strains of one seriously overworked PA system while kids in scraps of leather, wallet chains and streaks of odd-colored hair milled around like only a group of teenagers can do.
There were about 100 young punk fans there at just about 8 p.m. and enough baggy pants to sew a circus tent.
How were The Invisible Kids? They should be seen and not heard. Fortunately, I was there to see Failsafe. Three upstanding young men of San Angelo who play a little punk — uh, rock ‘n’ roll — music of their own. The band got quite a reception when they took the stage at 8:15. For 20 minutes, the band had as much attention as a group of mostly teenage guys could give anything that didn’t involve nudity.
It was “Pink Hair” — one of Failsafe’s “classic” hits — that got the loudest roar of approval.
“She was the cutest little thing / I met her on the corner of Chadbourne and Ave. L / I’ll never forget her wild pink hair / That night she stole my wallet, but I don’t care, I don’t care / She stole my heart along with many other things …”
Meet the band
We’re in Dustin Aylor’s apartment on the southern fringe of San Angelo. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the inside is clean and comfy. A few punk music posters are neatly displayed and the bass guitar in the corner and a few bass player magazines on the coffee table are all that separate the musician from the music fan.
Dustin, 19, was born here and pointedly says he has always lived here. He finished his senior year in high school through correspondence while he went to a massage school and recently graduated from both.
“I kinda liked it and was always kinda good at it,” he says. “It’s a job where you don’t have to deal with too many people who are angry at you.” (Dustin has also been a telemarketer.)
He’s been playing bass for awhile, but admits he wasn’t all that good before joining Failsafe.
“When I got in the band, they kinda taught me how to play,” he says. He’s been playing seriously as long as the band’s been together, which is close to five years.
With us in Dustin’s small-but-spotless living room is lead singer and lead guitarist Chase Lindemann.
Back at the Suez Temple earlier this month (I know that sounds strange, but that’s where the show was), I had Chase pegged for a shy, polite guy.
While The Invisible Kids played the opening bit and most of the crowd jostled about like their oversized pants were full of ants, Chase and his girlfriend stood up front, hand-in-hand, and clapped courteously after each song.
Here, kicked back on the leather couch, the Howard College student doesn’t seem shy at all.
“I’ve wanted to be a musician since seventh grade — a really long time,” he says. “My dad was a big influence on me playing music because he plays the guitar and is really good … As soon as I picked up a guitar I just knew I wanted to play.
“I’ve been playing for eight years and the first time I ever played with a drummer was with Sam — me and him jammed over at his house and it clicked from there. We had other people into it, so we had something going.”
Speaking of Sam, where is he? We decide to delay the interview until the drummer shows up.
I’m watching Comedy Central on TV, Chase is waiting on the balcony and Dustin is somehow nervously managing to do both.
Minutes later, Sam Rich bounds into the room more than slightly late for the 6 p.m. interview, but I’ve got a feeling he knows his charisma makes it hard for him to be anything but instantly forgiven.
The ASU student has been playing drums for “I don’t know how many years now.” He says toy drums were one of his first Christmas presents, he’s been in school bands since sixth grade and was in the varsity band at Central High.
He gestures toward his bandmates. “I’ve known both of them forever,” he says. “Actually my mother and Chase’s mother were best friends in high school and I’ve known Dustin since we were in Cub Scouts together.”
Sam’s family moved to Las Vegas when he was in the third grade for awhile and the scene there made a significant impression on him.
“We went to a lot of shows and I kinda thought that’s what I wanted to do,” he says. “I like the live aspect of it all.”
When he returned to San Angelo, he started a few bands of his own, but he says the earlier efforts were “really terrible, terrible stuff.”
Then he and Chase got together and started writing their own songs and something changed.
“It started as kinda a joke,” Sam says. “It was all a joke until we wrote about three or four songs and then it wasn’t a joke anymore.”
“We used to always say we’d drive around the country / With the top pulled back so we could view the world / And we’d drive through every state and stay in cheap motels / And I want to let it go, but not today”
— “Not Today,” Failsafe
With introductions out of the way, the interview begins in earnest. I ask them to describe their music.
“It’s rock ‘n’ roll,” Sam says. “We’ve been classified as a punk rock band because, like, 98% of our CDs are of the punk rock genre. It’s been the biggest influence on all of us.
“Whether we sound a lot like it, I don’t really know. If it’s punk rock, it’s way more song-oriented.
“Like Michael Bolton on the punk rock tour.”
Everyone laughs at the idea of a punk Michael Bolton. Chase explains that the band’s “scene” is definitely the punk scene.
“And we’ll probably always be in a punk rock scene ‘cause that’s the first thing you hear,” he says. “But we just like to call it rock ‘n’ roll.”
The band started as “No Way Out.” On one hand, it was just three kids who wanted to be musicians and decided to pursue their dream together. But Sam’s not bashful about filling in the rest of the picture.
“I think we also did it because it attracted girls,” he says, drawing guilty laughs from Chase and Dustin. “Girls and money, though we still haven’t seen a penny.”
Not yet old enough to frequent bars themselves, the band gets its music to the masses by putting on their own shows in whatever venue they can and distributing flyers.
“We don’t really need a bar to get our people there,” Chase says. “Most rock bands here play in bars and that’s fine … but it’s kinda cool when we hold a show and publicize it and lots of people come to it.”
The trio credit former Angelo band “Jill” with helping them get their start. With Jill’s help, Failsafe played their first show in ‘96 and since have put on more than 30 shows.
So why do all this? The only thing certain about pursuing a career in music is that it’s going to be harder than you think. I ask them what the goal is.
Dustin says it’s the music: “In a sense it’s to make music, that, hopefully, some people want to hear. And in a sense to make music that we like.”
Sam says it’s the freedom: “It’s not about making money. I mean, we’d like to make a little bit of money — of course we don’t want to hold normal jobs. Basically it’s just to please ourselves with our music. We started out before we could even drive, from that point to this point we’ve gotten incredibly better.”
And Chase, playing the philosopher’s role, insists that having a “goal” is too restrictive: “There’s really, honestly, no really huge goal. We’re not driving for one certain place and we’ll stop there. We just want to see how far we can take it.”
The demo CD
Of course, there’s plenty of teen bands with MTV dreams. Any kid who’s picked up an instrument has pictured himself on stage with thousands of fans singing along and girls throwing secret articles of attire at him.
But last summer, Failsafe took one big step toward rock ‘n’ roll reality by recording a demo CD with San Francisco producer Ryan Greene.
You know, the guy who has recorded No FX, Bracket, Tonic, PropaGhandi and even Wilson Phillips. OK, I didn’t know either, but the guy’s a major producer in the punk/alternative scene (plus Wilson Phillips).
“I think everyone’s kinda stoked … that we recorded with Ryan,” Sam says. “Ryan’s done all of our favorite bands, he’s done all the kids’ favorite bands. Everyone at that (Suez Temple) show pretty much knows who that guy is.”
I ask them about the process of recording the demo and all three answer at once.
Dustin says the process began with a mother just trying to help her son be a rock star.
“I guess it all started with my mom who plays a big role in everything we do,” he says. “I have really cool parents. She emailed (Ryan Greene) and asked about prices and things like that and, surprisingly, within a couple of days he emailed us back. We talked on the phone and we sent him our stuff and he liked it.
“We really wanted to go and get a good demo, so we went up there and got to the studio and pretty much for four days we were in beautiful San Francisco confined to that small space.
“And he worked with us on our music and our sound and also produced (the demo). He worked with us for a long time, like, 13-hour days. It was straight, ‘wake up, eat, do music.’”
Chase agrees: “By the end of the day, I couldn’t even hardly keep my eyes open and he was still saying ‘c’mon, we need to get this, and this and this.’”
But Dustin says the experience was worth the effort.
“In four days, we had gotten what we wanted,” he says. “It was real good experience because going into it we knew nothing about recording or producing or anything like that … we’re really happy with it.”
The toughest thing yet, however, might be settling on a publicity photo to send out with the demo CD.
“We’ve been kinda lazy about all that,” Dustin laughs. “We’re trying to find the right shot where we look really cute.”
Sam says the response to the demo in San Angelo has been “unbelievably excellent.”
“I’ve had club owners say it’s some of the best things they’ve heard out of a San Angelo band like, ever,” he says. “Like they’ve ever heard in their whole life.”
To some, this might sound more than a little boastful. But Sam’s just convinced that the band’s ready to take the next step.
“In a way, we’ve been sitting in this town for four years kinda perfecting a sound and never really did much with it here. There’s really not much you can do.”
Bound for Austin
“To feel the pressure of feeling fine / it eats you up deep inside / You have your options you want to
find / Your own way home but the world just passes by / Don’t want the world to pass me by”
— “Outside of the World,” Failsafe
The band has been waiting for the next question.
“How is it being a rock ‘n’ roll band in San Angelo? There’s got to be a feeling of …”
“Loneliness?” Dustin finishes and answers the question in a single word.
Chase and Sam agree.
“As for being a rock band in this town, it’s pretty lonely,” Chase says. “If you’re not a country band, you really don’t have a place to play.”
“Or if you’re not a cover band,” Sam says. “We pretty much refuse to do covers and if we do covers, no one’s ever heard ‘em before.”
That’s why the band is bound for Austin.
“We have a better shot out there,” Chase says. But the music is just part of the equation. There’s that shortage of affordable housing and the whole enormous cost-of-living problem that Austin has become famous for. How are they going to make it until, well, they make it?
Sam keeps it honest: “Dustin, you can answer that one because I have no clue how we’re going to make it out there.”
There’s a few jokes about living under a Ben White bridge before Dustin can answer.
“Part of having, again, really cool parents, they’re going to help out as much as they can,” he says. “The price of places to practice there is enormous. My friend’s going to help me get a house — a two-bedroom house so we can have a place to practice.”
Breaking into the local music scene, the guys figure, can’t be that tough.
“We’re hoping to open up for some bands,” Dustin says. “We have some friends down there that know some bands that have quite a big following.
“So I guess we’ll try to hook up with some local bands and see where we go from there.”
Chase says he doesn’t expect it to take that long. “If we started playing shows when we got out there, I’m sure we’d be playing regularly within three or four months.
“We’ve got a bunch of friends out there in bands that have pretty well made it. A lot of hook-up, a lot of connects.”
Right now, Dustin’s an apartment office manager, Sam’s a student and a projectionist at a movie theater and Chase is a full-time student. But their confidence goes beyond sure success in Austin. Looking 10 years down the road, the band doesn’t hesitate to share their vision.
“Hopefully we’ll have a label, tour, still be together, make music and still be friends,” Dustin says. “Hopefully we’ll still be having fun.”
“Hopefully we’ll be rockin’,” Chase adds. “We’ll have our own record label and we’ll be looking out for other bands that are struggling.”
The trio only know that they’ll be leaving West Texas sometime this summer, but there’s no uncertainty that leaving is their only option.
What will they miss least about San Angelo?
There’s a long, collective exhale. “The list is so looooooong,” they all agree.
Sam wants a bigger showcase for the band’s music.
“I’m not going to miss not playing shows. Ever. I’m not going to miss sitting at home every night when we could possibly be playing shows.”
Dustin says he’s ready for the big city and bright lights.
“I’m not going to miss how boring this town could be on a Friday night. Or any other night. Or any other day I’ve ever been here.”
And Chase just wants to go.
“I’m not going to miss seeing the same buildings. Every day and all day over and over again. I’ve been on every single road in this town. I’ve lived here all my life. I want to go see something else.”