Texas’ own Riverboat Gamblers aren’t new to rowdy fans and raucous SXSW showcases, but that doesn’t mean they tire of playing Austin. In fact, they relocated from their home of Denton, Texas about 225 miles away from Austin, to SXSW’s home. Last year, The Gamblers released their fourth full length album, ‘Underneath the Owl.’ After catching up with The Gamblers, it’s easy to see that rock and roll isn’t just a style of music, but an attitude too.
Describe your sound in your own words.
I would say loud. At the end of the day it’s just kind of loud rock music. Our vibe has changed a bit from record to record [as far as hi-fi and lo-fi, we like a lot of that, a lot of those kind of sounds, but our interests lie in garage rock and punk rock and pop music and they all kind of meet in the middle where they overlap in the venn diagram of all those things. Everything kind of meets in there in the middle. There was never really a plan but that’s just kind of how it happened. And it’s cool because I used the Venn diagram as an example, so it proves that public education has taught me something.
How did your band form?
We were all based in Denton, Texas at the time and we were all in other bands. It was kind of an incestuous scene and it was commonplace for everyone play in different bands and do different projects. There weren’t a lot of goals involved other than to play with a lot of bands and record 7″ albums and singles. The [Riverboat] Gamblers are kind of a reaction to other music going on the area from that time. Everyone was kind of in a jangly state and there was a lot of pretention in the scene. We wanted to be basic and straightforward to hearken back to early 70’s scene punk rock (think Dictators and The Ramones). Our formative years were in Denton and it’s a big part of who we are. It still strikes me as odd that we’re kind of living off the band and making it a full time job. In Denton we played in this band and other bands, but no one considered that you can try to make a living off of a band. The way it was set up back then it was for fun, but I think that made it a little bit more pure. I don’t see myself as having a moment where it was like, “let’s do this full time,” it was a baby step process and I don’t regret that at all.
What are your musical influences?
There are three songwriters in the band and we collaborate, but I think the three of us draw on a lot together and then there are things we draw on individually. I’d say for me that I’m in to a lot of bands that are genre benders (like, Scared of Chaka is a big one). A big, base part of the band is based on the fact that we like an older sound of punk rock and rock and roll, the roots of those styles, so influences come in and out. I listen to a lot of pop music that’s not punk rock at all, and indie stuff, too. The attitude of a lot of hip-hop is kind of an influence and I really listen to a lot of hip-hop; what I like about it is the honesty and the way they tell stories. I really respect people that are able to really spell out a story and really kind of lay it all out there and I think those guys have a little more room and time to spit stuff out. I like music that’s like storytelling and I especially like it when, lyrically artists try to spell things out and hopefully in ways that people haven’t heard before, but be honest. A lot of stuff we write is a reaction to things. I don’t like the movement going on here so this is like response to it. It gets into my head how music is phony and this genre is labeled as this and we [Gamblers] like to do the exact opposite.
How did you come up with your band name?
That was from our old bass player. I think the idea for the name kind of came from the old scene back home and things getting pretentious. There was a band called Fall into the Fear and Yellow Leaf, which was typical of the scene at the time. It was just a lot of big, flowery sentence and fragment kind of names coming out at the same time. Names were half a stanza of an obscure French poet and people were trying too hard to be esoteric and unavailable. It seemed like Riverboat Gamblers were the opposite of that and it wasn’t really punk rock but people had never heard of something like that. A lot of people who have never heard of our band think it’s an alt-country band or Americana music.
What is one thing your band never goes on the road without?
The iPod is pretty much it. I marvel that my music collection is on this tiny thing. While traveling it’s good to kind of go into your own “other world” and not hear anyone talk for a while.
What type of venue fits your band best and why?
We used to play these small, sweaty, rowdy little shows but I think we’ve grown and we’re playing bigger shows and it’s a totally different vibe. I’ve grown to enjoy playing really big stages that are kind of separated and stuff. Things like that is an apples and oranges thing though. I think it depends on mood and it can be nice to do both. If there is a way to do both we would but i love the rowdy shows that i can feel and get something back from it, small or big its most essential to get something back.
Which city is your favorite to play in and why?
It’s a toss up between Long Beach at Alex’s Bar and Minneapolis. Austin is up there too. Austin is a perfect place to play but living there it can be overwhelming because there is so much on top of it. In some ways there’s more work to playing in Austin, but the shows are probably the best anywhere. It’s pretty amazing in Long Beach and Minneapolis though. Both cities treat us very well and the audiences are amazing. We have this weird connection like we’re playing at home but we only know a few people there, but it’s like being a hometown band. Long Beach and Minneapolis shows are always enthusiastic and the people are super nice and take good care of us, they make you feel loved. It’s not like they make you feel like a “rock star” in the typical sense, but they are just very welcoming and treat you like friends that are happy to see you again. We’ve made a lot of friends at Alex’s Bar and they are genuine cool people with no agenda other than wanting to hang out and be friends.
Originally posted at Spinner on March 13, 2010.