Edge Life

listenlisten up: Texas-sized Gothic folk group creates music with a global reach

listenlisten up: Texas-sized Gothic folk group creates music with a global reach

listenlisten in their din of dirges
In the shadows of their simple, work-a-day studio hideout Photo by Matthew Williams
Jose Chavez, a panther on the drums
A hungry panther in pursuit, Jose Chavez pounces on the drum kit Photo by Matthew Williams
Before the Alter in listenlisten's studio
A guitar and hat altar in listenlisten's din of dirges studio Photo by Matthew Williams
Ben Godfrey's warm throaty vocals
Ben Godfrey stills the room even when the music is chaotic Photo by Matthew Williams
Marshall Graves on Bass Guitar
Marshall Graves goes into a trance on the bass Photo by Matthew Williams
Marshall Graves Spidery Piano Playing
Marshall Graves' plays piano with spider like senses Photo by Matthew Williams
Shane Patrick on Guitar
Shane Patrick on guitar, but horns are his sweet spot Photo by Matthew Williams
Big horns in listenlisten's music
A trumpet lies in wait Photo by Matthew Williams
Ben Godfrey on the vocals
Ben Godfrey on vocals Photo by Matthew Williams
Shane Patrick's lung packed buttery brass
Buttery brass blows out of Shane Patrick's horn Photo by Matthew Williams
listenlisten playing at the Orange Show in September 2010
listenlisten at the Orange Show in September. Catch them on their return to Houston on October 7th at 13 Celsius and on October 29th at Mangos Cafe. Courtesy of listenlisten
listenlisten in their din of dirges
Jose Chavez, a panther on the drums
Before the Alter in listenlisten's studio
Ben Godfrey's warm throaty vocals
Marshall Graves on Bass Guitar
Marshall Graves Spidery Piano Playing
Shane Patrick on Guitar
Big horns in listenlisten's music
Ben Godfrey on the vocals
Shane Patrick's lung packed buttery brass
listenlisten playing at the Orange Show in September 2010

Edge Life is a new CultureMap column that chronicles unusual people with uncommon passion. People out on that thin ridge of life where not many of us have the courage, conviction or will to reach — let alone stay.

We all know that if you put  "Texas" in front of any word, it makes it better, bigger and bolder.

If you need to be reminded of this timeless truism, let's try it: 

Whiskey...Texas whiskey.

Football...Texas football.

Beef...Texas beef.

Thunderstorms...Texas thunderstorms.  

Yep, it works.

The same holds true for music. In this case it's "gothic folk," where Houston's own listenlisten is creating a better, bigger and bolder "Texas Gothic folk" with a truly global reach. Think of a Cuisinart loaded with goth, folk, country and indie rock pureed using the Texas button, then lightly seasoned with Devendra Banhart (coincidentally born in Houston), Neutral Milk Hotel and some classic Texas country music.

So on a sun-baked Saturday afternoon on what nearly qualified as a stoop of a non-descript house in the heart of the Montrose neighborhood, this hard working four-man band sat, smoked and half-acknowledged me as I approached.  We were scheduled to meet at 1 p.m.; it was 1:20. I couldn't tell if they were pissed by my tardiness or by the fact that they were going to have to talk to me for a while instead of playing.

Probably both.

Through a long screened porch, cluttered foyer and sprawling kitchen, I emerged into listenlisten's den of dirges — the room where they practice and record all their music. The spare decor could not help but confess the true intentions of the space: Shut-up and fucking play.  Ben Godfrey, Shane Patrick, Marshall Graves and José Chavez were about to do just that with me as their happy audience. But first, they replied to my "interview-with-a-band" questions with reasonable enthusiasm tempered by bouts of genuine old-fashion Southern etiquette.  

Front man Godfrey sings and plays guitar and banjo. His warm throaty vocals drift like breezes across a distant plain fanning a cozy campfire. He sings stories you want to hear with feelings you want to feel. Godfrey founded listenlisten five years ago with Patrick, who pumps out lung buttered tones on brass accompanied by Graves' spidery piano playing. All have known each other since high school, including Chavez who joined up a few years ago to pounce on the drums like a panther in pursuit. Yet each member plays a multitude of instruments with considerable skill, so it would be a tad unfair to stick a single instrument label on any one of them.

Pick any of their songs and play it with your eyes closed. You'll see a band of modern day prospectors set out on a long, determined and dangerous quest. Like sweaty Texas oilmen drilling an unforgiving land for something nearly too deep to reach or too hard to pump out: Original songs crafted to withstand the test of time and trends. These are risky dreams, so demanding that most people can't sustain them for very long, if at all. Where backs give out, stomachs turn and nerves fray at the drone of so many "son, when are you going to get a real job?"  

It would be well within reason to call them a tribe of would-be treasure hunters bound for glory or willing to die trying. That last part taken literally since their home studio hideout has been robbed three times in the past year, with Patrick being rolled at gunpoint a fourth time on the street.  As he put it, "being in a band is hard when they keep stealing your shit." 

I first discovered listenlisten in 2007 after working with Godfrey on a music website. I've been a growing fan since, but even more of what seems to be their determination to be themselves, whatever hell may come. On Dog, their new full length LP coming out in November followed by a national 12-city tour, each song feels like it is submitted to a certain failing and falling and rising back up again until what was found is somehow better than what was lost. 

However, unlike their previous Hymns of Rhodesia, a rich, interlaced spiritual chorus that ranked #39 on eMusic's "Best Albums of 2009," Dog allows each song to stand on its own, like a collection of polished parts carefully grooved together into one big architectural construct. Perhaps this "grooved" concept is the motivation behind Dog's release on sweet, juicy 12-inch vinyl LP or digitally as MP3s.  That's right folks, there is no plan for a CD release.

As for their creative process, "it's all about song service" says Chavez.  While Godfrey might lay down a few chords and some lyrics to get things started, they all build up and break down every song, finding ways to incorporate each others ideas to get to something that feels authentic and sturdy. Listen for yourself to five songs from Dog offered below. 

You can catch their hypnotic live performance as they kick-off the Tenuto Fall Music Series at the intimate 13 Celsius this Thursday at 8 pm.  Or even better, celebrate the start of their big national 12-city tour for Dog on October 29th at Mangos Cafe with the Callers.

Okay.. I know you're just dying for me to say it, so here you go:  listen to listenlisten

I rise

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Deaf comes to everyone

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Try like hell

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I will be mean

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Nothing

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Video of "On the Water" from their 2009 Hymns of Rhodesia LP