Friday, March 20, 2015

A Portrait Of The Artists As A Young Band: A Day With The Rich Hands At SXSW

Posted By on Fri, Mar 20, 2015 at 6:09 PM

Page 2 of 2

click to enlarge Cody Mauser shredding, with Nick Ivarra rocking the Jordan tongue - JAIME MONZON
  • Jaime Monzon
  • Cody Mauser shredding, with Nick Ivarra rocking the Jordan tongue

As great a networking opportunity as SXSW may be for The Rich Hands, the fact is they won’t make a dime from any of the shows they’ll play this week. And unless you’re Lady Gaga, Prince or a handful of the other big ticket stars who have made stunt appearances at the fest, none of other 2,000 or so bands set to play this week will either. The payoff supposedly comes in attention from the 28,000 or so music industry reps bouncing around town on the look out for the next big thing.

I pose the question to the band, wondering if they buy the idea that these music execs are in the audience looking to give them a break.

“It totally can happen,” assures Mauser. “You never know who’s watching.”

“Always play. Always play,” adds Ivarra, nicely capturing the band’s workmanlike approach.

As for the not making money part?

“I mean it sucks,” said Ivarra, “but you have to make the sacrifice.”

For Nick, Matt and Cody, that sacrifice means taking off work from their multiple day jobs and college commitments. If the Rich Hands see the payoff in SXSW, they’re a rare breed among the San Antonio scene. Just about a dozen San Antonio based acts are participating in the festival this year, pretty staggering considering the number of SA bands and the shortness of the drive.

The band agrees to give me a lift downtown on their way to the Hotel Vegas. On the way, we pass the strip on Red River where a year ago today, four people were killed and 15 others were injured by a failed rapper who drunkenly plowed through the crowd in a stolen 2012 Civic. Even with the usual cavalcade of corporate-sponsored showcases, it’s easy to feel the lingering effects of the accident. There’s a subdued feel to the festival, even on this Wednesday night.

“It’s just not as big, not as impressive,” notes Ivarra, reminiscing about blowouts of years past.

The following day, I’m back with the band at the Whip-In, an excellently eclectic spot just off I-35. The band’s first show for the day, a record store festival, was cancelled last minute after a neighbor called in a pre-emptive noise complaint. Mauser seems content to view the cancellation as a veiled blessing. “I’m in better shape to play at 7pm that 4:30pm anyways.”

The setting may be different, but otherwise not a lot has changed. Like the Spiderhouse, the crowd here is sporting the same Bart Simpson-chic of backwards caps, skateboards and worn-to-shit Vans. Even the bands, pulled from the heavily overlapping Fountain and Burger records lineups are mostly the same.

Perhaps most importantly, we’re again a couple miles from the SXSW epicenter, and there’s not a badge or press credential in sight within the crowd. Just as the band takes the stage at 7:30 p.m., a notification informs me about Miley Cyrus’ surprise appearance at Fader Fort, further highlighting our disconnect from the festival proper.

I ask Mauser how he’s feeling about the fest right before they close things out.

“Every year I feel like I don’t wanna do SXSW,” says Mauser. “It’s a clusterfuck of bands and people and traffic. But in the end, we get everything going and I always have a good time with it.”

The band seems intent on closing out their SXSW with a bang, laying down an even stronger set of material from their three albums, and closing with a killer cover of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Almost Cut My Hair.” It’s a thinner crowd, though the enthusiastic presence of Nick, Cody and Matt’s girlfriends dancing and talking selfies up front, adds needed energy. After the set, I sit with Ivarra to reflect a bit as his band wraps up their fourth festival appearance.

“You know the first few times we played, there was no gradual growth. We’ve played to empty rooms or half-assed rooms multiple times. It’s bigger now, but for me, my whole plan is to figure out why it’s like that. How you get the crowds out there, how to build a scene.”

I ask how the festival plays into this.

“We’ve done SXSW four years. And you know, if it doesn’t get bigger next year, well, I don’t know…”

It’s hard to gauge how successful this fourth outing was for The Rich Hands. Certainly they had a good time, played some great shows and solidified their network of contacts. But for a new band, looking for a big break, it’s hard to see how these satellite showcases or any other platform the festival offers can lead to much attention. If anything, the Rich Hands offer a lesson in persistence, in how making great records, playing killer shows and building a network can slowly but surely pay off. It might not be the usual SXSW Cinderella story, but given the current state of the festival, it’s certainly closer to the truth. 

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