The South by Southwest Music Festival is to indie rock what Schwab's Pharmacy was to aspiring movie stars in the 1940s. Just as Iowa farm girls flocked to the famed Hollywood hangout in hopes of becoming the next Lana Turner, countless bands trek to Austin, Texas in hopes of being "discovered" by someone, anyone.
So it's more than a little ironic that the Blind Pets — an Austin band that's repeatedly been rejected by SXSW — should end up forging a connection during the conference that led to its placement on the newest soundtrack album for the smash Showtime series Californication. (Their episode will air on March 10.)
Typically compared by critics to Queens of the Stone Age and Mudhoney, the group was playing one of many "unofficial showcases" held during the festival — this one in a Sixth Street cantina called Chupacabra — when an agent for a New York music licensing company wandered by.
Two years later, Blind Pets are pretty much the least-known band on the Californication collection, which features tracks by Ryan Adams, Warren Zevon, Joe Walsh, and the Mark Lanegan Band. Less likely still is the fact that "Fever" (which first appeared on the band's debut album Smashed) is the new album's third track, nestled right between Johnny Thunders and, uh, Marilyn Manson.
"It's kind of funny because Marilyn Manson is definitely the genre of music that I was into when I was 13 and pissed off at the world," says Blind Pets frontman Joshua Logan, noting how "Fever" was a song that came to him really quickly. "So now it's come back around full circle. It's like 15 years later, Marilyn Manson is still doing his thing, and we end up on this soundtrack."
Still, Logan couldn't be happier. "Being right next to Johnny Thunders is a complete honor," he says of the music world's most beloved dead junkie. "I mean, he's definitely a legend, you know? Oh yeah. I'm constantly living under a 'Chinese Rock.'"
Logan's also constantly amazed by SXSW judges, who have once again rejected his band's application to be one of the event's 1,000-plus showcasing artists. By this point, though, the Blind Pets have gotten used to it.
"They'll accept some crummy band from Iowa before they'll accept bands that are here in Austin," says Logan, echoing a common complaint among musicians in "The Live Music Capital of the World." "The festival used to be about the city bringing people from out of town to showcase Austin artists. But it's gotten bigger and bigger by pulling more bands from out of town.
"It's a business decision, you know, but it sucks for the local bands that made it possible for the city to even have a festival. I mean, last year there was a giant Doritos vending machine that bands played in. It's like Austin is really whoring itself."
Indeed, while Austinites were once annoyed by the influx of record labels that descended upon their city like magpies drawn to a big shiny object, the current wave of corporate sponsors with more blatantly mercenary aims is making record-industry vultures seem quaint by comparison.
"Yeah, totally," says Logan. "It's like, 'Ooh, Stepdaddy didn't hit me as hard as Step-stepdaddy.'"
Don't worry, be grungy
Logan, who grew up on grunge, says his fascination with music actually dates back to early childhood. One of seven kids raised by a single mother, he was a little kid when his mom gave him a cassette of Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy."
"I played that thing forwards and backwards," he recalls with a laugh. "I played it to where it sounded like Alvin and the Chipmunks was doing a cover of it. Finally I conned my mother into taking 10-year-old me to get Pearl Jam's Ten, which was awesome."
Just like Bobby McFerrin, Pearl Jam spoke to the future musician, but in a considerably less lighthearted way.
"Eddie Vedder wrote a lot about his father abusing him, and I was a little pissed off about not meeting my real dad. And then Kurt Cobain, he was pissed off, too, you know what I mean? So it was perfect, because it was a way to deal with my own personal anxiety."
Later on, Nirvana's "Come as You Are" would be the first song Logan learned to play on guitar. He continues to love both bands to this day.
"I was kind of upset that Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder couldn't get along. Everybody else was like, 'Yeah, fuck Eddie Vedder.' 'Oh yeah? Well, you know what? Screw Kurt Cobain!' I'm like, 'Man, come on, can't they both just get along?' Like, they're both in my tape collection. I don't know what to do. Should I put Bobby McFerrin in between them?"
Perfectly smashed guitar
While Logan and co-founding bassist Dustin Hannah — along with relatively new drummer Michael Anthony Gibson — still have no problem channeling their aggressions into music, they aim to capture a more multi-dimensional sound on their forthcoming third album, Heavy Petting.
"I would definitely say this record is more Beatles than Stones," says Logan. "I mean, I love the Stones — but the Stones did one thing great, while the Beatles did several things great. We've definitely gone for more of a refined sound, which is kind of how we're evolving. The record's just all over the place, you know? It's not just a heavy rock 'n roll album."
That said, live Blind Pets shows can still be pretty cathartic, especially when Logan's in one of his more destructive moods. A five-year-old video on the Blind Pets' YouTube channel witnesses him engaging in the kind of behavior John Hiatt decried in "Perfectly Good Guitar."
So how is it that most bands make smashing guitars look easy, while Logan's technique, with more than a half-dozen sledge hammer-style swings before the instrument finally gives way, makes it look really difficult — and maybe a little amateurish?
"That was the first one I ever smashed, and I was really angry, and didn't want it to be something that was fast or whatever," explains Logan, noting that he kept hitting the guitar on its edge, bashing up his hand in the process, rather than what he calls "pancaking it for show."
"So yeah, I looked a bit 'amateur' doing it, but it was more of a ritual. Although afterward I realized that was the hardest fucking way to do it."
As for the band's plans after finishing up this tour, Logan says he'll go back to his "really random" day job as a merchandiser for a hummus company, get in some practices before next month's unofficial SXSW shows, and finally see the Californication episode in which his song will appear.
"I'm really amped-up about seeing the episode on March 10," he enthuses. "Actually, none of us have cable, so we're gonna have to hook up with somebody who does. Or we'll just wait and watch it online on March 11.
"I know that sounds kind of lame, but you do what you can, you know?"