I’m writing this from a campground in the middle of Texas. It’s raining, and I can see the runoff down the slopes of the bulbous red rocks that surround me. I forgot to download any music onto my android before I lost signal. Woe are the days of the cloud! Luckily, what I do have saved are demos from Boston’s own Silver Mirrors. I blast “You Got Me” and toss another log on the fire.
I’ve lived in Austin, Texas for about 8 months now. I still feel like a stranger in a strange land. The most comfortable I’ve felt has been in Texas’s bizarre wildernesses. I say bizarre, but that’s a matter of opinion. I’m used to the lush green landscapes of New England and the East Coast. Here, the trees in Hill Country are small and dry, as though the life is being drained from them. There are no mountains, only hills. It’s fascinating to explore.
Austin itself is a vast and curious landscape. It’s a wonder how large a city it is for its small town mentality. Currently, Austin is experiencing extreme growing pains. It’s in full blown leg-cramping, limb aching, why-am-I-growing-hair-in-weird-places mode. It’s one of the fastest growing cities by population (source: every complaining Austinite). There’s an explosion in the tech industry from California and elsewhere. Programmers and entrepreneurs are migrating to where regulation and taxes are negligible, culture is plentiful, and homes are far more affordable than in Silicon Valley. However, this has caused property values to rise higher and higher throughout the last few years. Native Austinites–and also those who moved here long enough ago to remember $800/mo 3 bedroom homes–are pissed. I’ve lived all over the East Coast in major cities. I’ve never seen this kind of mass disdain for “outsiders” coming to a new place. One gets the sense the locals are trying to sniff you out, to pick out fresh faces and squash them.
It’s not all the fault of the West Coast’s young and wealthy. The city of Austin clearly didn’t see this coming, or didn’t know how to prepare. It doesn’t have the infrastructure for growth like this. It has no reliable mass transit to speak of. It has one train line that makes approximately two stops in relatively inconvenient places in the middle of the city. The buses come whenever they feel like it. All it seems willing to develop are uber modern condo buildings with no affordable housing for those displaced by said condo construction. Having left Boston because of the outrageous housing prices and rapid loss of diverse culture, I’ve seen this future and it isn’t pretty.
Well, I suppose it is pretty. You’re drowning in high-end boutiques, bourgeois cocktail bars and Dunkin Donuts dressed up to look like European coffee shops. It just doesn’t feel like a city made for me anymore. I completely understand the disgruntled cries coming from the graffiti around every corner in Austin, “Don’t Move Here!” As someone who came chasing that bohemian dream of cheap beer, cheap land, and free live music, I already see that I’m a decade too late. Regardless, this is my new home. It’s still a culture-rich musical haven. The traffic is just awful now.
When I’m not pondering the fate of increasingly popular little/big city, I get through the days with sparse bursts of creative output. On the road trip here, and when we first arrived, I wrote and played quite a bit of music. Our new music room set-up was invigorating. I pumped out some despondent songs about not fitting in anywhere, being on the road, being lonely. I was emotional and excited and feeling adventurous. Then, I got into routines of work, relaxation and Netflix exploration. I let my hands and thoughts fall to the wayside so that I could insert myself into life as a Texan. That is, until The Silver Mirrors arrived.
When I first saw the Silver Mirrors at Out of The Blue in Cambridge, I instantly wanted to take them with me to every party I would ever attend. They were playing to a crowd of less than 20 as though it were a packed arena. With Joe Quintero’s frontman vibe harkening back to Iggy with the Stooges; Joe G’s charming, laid back attitude; Pat’s brilliantly tight drumming; and grooves that rival the Rolling Stones, they instantly became one of my favorite bands in Boston. Sure enough, when they played my going away party, they brought the house down. Joe Q was crooning and crowing and yelping and writhing on the floor. A show stopper, and my humble band had to follow it.
But as luck would have it, my worlds would collide when that band I loved from Boston booked 4 shows at SXSW, and asked me to fill in for them on bass. We played, we partied, we laughed in my apartment building’s hot tub until I thought I’d pee myself.
Seeing a little piece of home here in Austin made me long once more for the East Coast. But more than anything, it reawakened in me a fire that had started to die. I knew as soon as they left that I had to return to what I was always meant do: play music. I sent out my crappy bedroom recordings to some people, wondering if they had any idea what to do with them, since I didn’t. One day I hopped on craigslist on a whim. What a golden place of opportunity Craigslist can be. What a socialist utopia if there ever was one. But now, it has a negative stigma, and the best you can generally find are people’s “gently used” ikea bedside tables with a slightly noticeable water ring stain. But on this day, almost impossibly, there was an ad for me. I swear, it was written for me. I couldn’t believe it. “Female bassist/singer.” Those of you who aren’t female bass players and singers might not understand this, but it’s not every day that a band is looking for that exact person.
They needed experience collaborating and harmonizing (yes!), writing and playing basslines (yes!), and the willingness to play out at live shows (yes yes yes!). The singer/songwriter Lisa Taylor and I exchanged a string of enthusiastic emails. When we all met, we clicked right away. I felt awkward and mediocre, but they paid me compliments and made me feel so welcome. They had already been a band a year and I was being thrust into the mix they had already established themselves. They had a ton of shows already booked and plans to buy a van in the near future. The tone of my Hofner was so perfect for their Americana/rock sound. Lisa and I sang together like we had been doing so all our lives. They didn’t meet with anyone else for the position.
I have so many aspirations for my brief little existence. But I couldn’t feel more grateful to wake up on those days when I have a live show to play. All the pedantic, shallow stuff floating in my mind, leftovers from my strange dreams at night, it just falls away. I moved here to get away from the crushing New England winters, to find myself in the music scene, and both things have already rewarded me. Despite being in a rapidly expanding city at such a weird time, despite struggling to get my friends out to my shows, despite being so far away from so many people and musicians that I love, it’s been worth it. But it’s been an odd ride.
It was very bittersweet having them play that party. I was just getting to know them and it felt as though this was goodbye.