I can’t even remember what night it was now. What I do remember…is that I reckon I was ramblin’ around somewhere on Red River…probably between Emo’s and the taco stand on a smoke break…and all of the sudden…there was LOUD everywhere. Loud volume, loud guitars, and loud Ludwigs all over the entire friggin’ loudness.
So, I’m standing there…and I’m listening…wondering where in the name of Hades this heaviness is coming from. And so I followed my ears. And somewhere around two blocks around the corner later, through the alley, at Red 7, I discover…TOW THE LINE. Ho-lee Hail!
Austin’s TOW THE LINE is comprised of brothers Nicholas (guitars/lead vox) and Jason (guitars/vox) Saldana, Ross Tweedy (bass guitars/vox), and Santiago “Jimmy” Vela (drums).
Nick and Jason had previously been jamming in their band called MEANEST CAPACITY. And Ross and Jimmy were previously in a band called RECOVER, touring with the likes of THURSDAY and COHEED and CAMBRIA over the years, while signed to the Universal imprint – Strummer Recordings.
These guys are some of the coolest, funniest, most humble, and down to earth folks I might have ever met. And from what I’ve heard so far, the music sounds like a runaway train loaded for bear, full of alt-metal/stoner/punk n’ roll sour mash, and ready to take you on a death trip straight to damnation. It’s no wonder they’ve been invited to play this weekend’s LOUD!FEST 2011 in Bryan, TX.
We recently stopped by the TTL jam room to see what the guys are up to. And after a little break in the action, some chat about LOUD!FEST, cheeseburgers, Chili’s, and chicken dumplings, we finally settled in for some real meat and potatoes (and a case of Miller High Life – of course). Enjoy!
RT: So…you guys mentioned you’ve all played in other bands before TOW THE LINE. Can you talk about how y’all came together?
Nick: Well, Jason and I are brothers. We grew up in San Antonio. We had our own band in around 1999 that was called Meanest Capacity.
RT: So…who or what are some of your influences as a band? What inspired your sound?
Nick: Nothing really, to be honest. We really just wanted to get together, and jam, and do something that felt new for us.
Jimmy: Most of our inspirations come from non-musical things and ideas. For instance, one of our instrumental songs is a cover song (‘Tow the Line’) by a guy named Nick Drake. And that’s the song we kind’ve started jammin’ on when we first got together. And we didn’t have a band name, yet. In fact, we had been jammin’ for months without a band name, almost to where it started to get silly.
Jason: Yeah, we had like forty different “inside joke” type band names we were foolin’ around with. It was kind’ve ridiculous.
Jimmy: So then…we just kind’ve turned the Nick [Drake] acoustic song into more of our own version of a rock song…and we just decided to call the band TOW THE LINE after that.
Ross: It’s a hell of a lot better than “CHUBBY!”
Nick: We also were thinking about calling ourselves “BATMAN ONE.” Ross made a logo for it and everything one day. And after finally tossing around a couple of other names, I think it was Ross or Jimmy who finally said – “let’s just call it TOW THE LINE.”
RT: I have to tell you that you guys play some of my favorite rock music instruments of all time – Les Pauls, SGs, Rickenbackers, and Ludwig drums…
Jimmy: Ross actually had an old black Rick that he was sharing with his brother, and it got stolen or misplaced at a show. He just got a new one.
Nick: Yeah, Jimmy and Ross were into like heavy shit. Like punk and metal stuff, mostly, when we were younger.
Jimmy: Yeah, I really liked NIRVANA.
Nick: I think we all liked NIRVANA.
Jimmy: NIRVANA was the band that pretty much made me decide to want to play the drums.
RT: That’s really cool. Not many musicians will admit how influential NIRVANA was to them. It sounds too “cliche” or whatever for them.
Jimmy: That was one of the first shows I went to when I was a kid. I saw bands like Nirvana and Mudhoney. And then a lot of R&B, too. My mom listened to a lot of R&B, and eventually I picked up on some Michael and Janet Jackson and stuff like that. I probably listened to more R&B, than I did metal growing up, actually.
Nick: Ross – what was your first favorite band? Skid Row?
Ross: Probably, yeah, it might’ve been Skid Row. My first tape I ever bought was Metallica’s ‘One’ single. And I think, on the other side, was their cover of Diamond Head’s ‘The Prince’. That might be the most bad ass Metallica song I’ve ever heard.
RT: Alright…so what was your favorite Metallica album?
Ross: Mmmm…that’s a really tough one.
Nick: Well, probably the most popular one for me growing up was the Black Album. Other than And Justice For All, the Black Album was really kind’ve the first Metallica album I had ever heard at that point.
Jimmy: That was really the whole era for us, when we first started to jam.
Ross: That was all after Cliff Burton, though, man. Cliff was the shit.
Jimmy: But yeah, nowadays, now that I’ve kind’ve gone back through their catalog…I’d probably say Ride the Lightning.
Ross: I just wanna remind you guys…Cliff played a Rick.
Ross: Oh yeah. With his fingers though…like a bad ass.
Nick: Why don’t you do that, Ross?
Jason: Yeah…look how big your arms are, Ross!
Ross: I can’t! I got little fingers, man!
RT: Ross – who was your favorite bass player of all time?
Ross: That’s a tough one, man. My brother, Craig, was probably the best bass player I ever knew.
And his shit’s custom, too. It’s like epic, dude. It’s like the elves from the Lord of the Rings came in there and got their fuckin’ wood going.
Jimmy: Les Claypool is probably my favorite bass player.
(we learned pretty quickly…that if Ross wants to lead the discussion…you let Ross lead the discussion…and that was just fine with us…we were too busy laughing our tails off at this point anyway…)
Ross: Hey, Jason…did you sell your Impala yet?
Jason: Not yet, man. But some guy in Australia wants to buy it.
Ross: Really? Sweet.
Jason: Yeah, I don’t know how he’s gonna get it there, but I’m not worried about that part of it.
Ross: Hey…you know…in Corpus, they have replicas of Christopher Columbus’ pirate ships. Like legit pirate ships.
Nick: What?!? Like real ones?
Ross: Yeah. We’ll put that fucking Impala on one of those and pirate our way to Australia. We’ll take the Santa Maria to fucking Australia and we’ll pillage and plunder!
Nick: Ross – that’ll take at least two months.
Ross: No, man…two years.
Nick: What?!? What will you do?
Ross: We’ll pillage and plunder, man! We’ll take our swords and cannons. They might have guns. But those won’t…those are inferior. Come on dudes…I’ve been trying to be a pirate for like…seven years. And I really want you guys to help me out here. This might be my only chance!
Nick: Ok man…I’ll ride over there.
Ross: Dude, we’ll need like fifteen people…and maybe some girls. Does that make sense? It does make sense. It makes a lot of sense.
Jason: Right on, man.
Ross: Yeah! No, man…we’re gonna go! We’ll just cut the chains, and set sail. They can’t catch us. They don’t have the technology…at all. And we’ll just go, man. And we’ll take the fucking Impala over to Australia…like real pirates.
Ross: What?! You actually thought that was gonna happen for a minute? So did I.
(after a short pause for some comic “relief”… )
RT: So…I gotta ask why you went with the cassettes to sell and distribute your music?
Nick: Well, we didn’t wanna do it on CD because most people just throw their CDs on the ground, and step on ‘em, and burn ‘em in their microwave and shit. And we didn’t really have enough money to put out a 7-inch. And we wanted to record right here on the spot, because we haven’t really recorded in a real studio anywhere.
Jimmy: We really had to do it with a least cost perspective…and still offer something that would be cool for people to have.
RT: Pretty clever. Keepin’ it old-school like that. I like it!
Jason: The thing is….Jimmy and Ross – their other bands have gone all the way to like…major label level. And we’ve done a thing in our other band, where we pressed a thousand of our own CDs. We still haven’t sold all of those CDs. We made our money back, but once you’ve sold 400-500 CDs at shows or whatever, people pretty much start sharing and copying…there’s just not enough money there.
Nick: Yeah, so we were pretty much like “fuck it.” You know…if nobody cares about good music, if nobody wants to pay for good music anymore, if CDs are worthless in the eyes of the consumer, and it’s all just digital downloading…we thought, let’s actually sell something that nobody can actually listen to unless you have an old cassette tape player.
RT: It’s brilliant when you think about it. Because it’s almost like the perceived value of having the cassette (versus the CD), nowadays, is almost reversed. It’s sort of like how some of us still look at LPs on vinyl.
Jimmy: Yeah, a lot of cool labels are starting to bring back the cassette now. It’s pretty cool. It’s almost like that feeling of having a “collector’s item” you know?
Nick: There’s sort of a certain novelty feel to it, too.
Jimmy: But yeah, you know…there’s lots of record collectors out there who still swear by the LP and old 7-inches. A lot of people still seek those out, and buy them just because that’s what they love, and that’s what they love to collect and listen to. There’s still a lot of cool folks out there keepin’ it old-school.
Nick: Yeah, I mean…the fact of the matter is that unless it’s your CD release show, you don’t really sell CDs at shows, if you’re a local band. You might sell one or two, but most people just don’t care anymore. They’ve come to expect that music should be free, and they’ll just go and figure out how to get it without paying for it.
Jimmy: It gets tough after a while, because once you’ve saturated your local market, and your local fans have all bought your CD, you kind’ve just naturally stop making any more CD sales, because all of your fans have been out to see you already. We’ve seen some bands start to make limited edition runs of certain albums, that are only available on tour, and things like that.
Nick: Most people will go out and buy the professionally packaged new Beastie Boys CD, for example. But nobody seems to really care about a burned CD-R with a cool DIY cover made by the band anymore. So the cassette was just another way for us to kind’ve differentiate.
Jason: That was another funny story about when we were thinking of band names, too. It was when some friends of ours in another band and I were flipping through the jukebox one night at a bar.
We got to the end and there were no more records left. So the spots were all filled with the black and white “Compact Disc” label everywhere. And we were like…what if it said “Compact Dics” – would that be a cool band name? Or what about “Laser Dics?” And then that was the name they ended up going with. And that’s who is featured on the other side of our cassette. Funny how it works out like that, sometimes.
Ross: Dude, “Sucker Dics” is the best name. And it’s like…”Sucker.” It’s not like…”Suck Our Dics.” It’s like…”Suck’er Dics.”
Nick: I didn’t even know that until just now, Ross.
Ross: I’m not tellin’ you anything about our new band. I already have the fuckin’ promo photos done.
Nick: Is it just you?
Ross: It’s just me. Alone. With my shirt off…and a …
RT: So, where are you guys at right now? What’s the current “lay of the LINE?”
Ross: We just play, man.
Jimmy: Yeah, we’re kind’ve just handling our separate lives right now. This is kind’ve like our “let’s get together and jam” kind of thing. I mean…we’re definitely writing music, and setting up shows. But we don’t have like a “major aim” right now to go ballistic. We’re kind’ve just jamming, and practicing, and setting up shows wherever anyone is happy to have us.
RT: I find your whole approach pretty refreshing. I don’t stumble upon bands that often, that sound like you guys do, as heavy as you are, that seem to be so casual about it.
Nick: Well, we didn’t even really know how this whole thing was gonna happen, really.
Jason: So…like Jimmy and Ross and their previous band…they did their thing. And they’ve gone pretty much all the way in terms of their maximum potential, at least in terms of what the music industry sees, you know.
And Nick and I have been jammin’ in and out of different bands over the years. It kind’ve just came to the point, about a year ago, where we were all here, in Austin, and none of us happened to be doing anything at the time.
Jimmy: It kind’ve just turned into some hang sessions, and then some jam sessions.
Nick: Yeah…and then it just kind’ve progressed and here we are today. It’s really been a lot of fun. There’s no real agenda, or ego with this band. We’re just having fun, making music.
Jimmy: We’re kind’ve over that whole mindset of trying to be famous, or get a record deal. We all work hard. And for us, it’s just fun to come in here at the end of the week, get together, and jam.
RT: Y’all are way too humble!
Jason: Most of our songs originate from like a three-second bit of a riff or whatever.
Jimmy: Yeah, and other bands often have one or two main songwriters. And they spend days and weeks and months trying to write the perfect song, or the perfect single. We just come in here and jam.
Nick: Yeah, for the most part…it’s all pretty much written right here, organically, right on the spot.
Jason: We’ll jam on something for a while, and if we get stuck, we just take a break and come back to it later. Usually, it’s Ross who’ll come up with some weird bridge idea or a part that gets us over the hump. He’ll be off humming something with his mouth or Jimmy will have this idea for a drum part, and we just come back in and hammer it out.
Nick: Yeah, that’s why we stopped writing songs. It just happens better if we just let it flow naturally.
Jason: Yeah, Ross – get your fucking shit together, man!
Ross: Yeah…I need to get back in the game.
Jimmy: It’s definitely more loose and relaxed. It’s more about allowing ourselves to experiment, and try these different parts, and see what happens. I’m pretty much anti-band about it, really. I mean people will know, as soon as they see us, that we’re serious about our music. But we also don’t want to create a sense of expectation about anything.
Nick: Right…I mean it’s still pretty intense sometimes, and we have our moments. But we kind’ve just do our thing, put it out there, and see if people can keep up with it or not.
Jason: We definitely still try to shape what we’re doing. We don’t just shit on a plate, and expect people to eat it.
RT: Gotcha. So, what’s next for you guys? What’s coming up over the next couple of months?
Jason: We’ve got the LOUD!FEST this weekend, in Bryan, which should be a lot of fun. And then June 15, we’re gonna play at Red 7 with the Young Widows, and they’re awesome, too. They’re from Louisville. They kind’ve remind me of The Jesus Lizard a bit. And My Disco, from Australia, is also playing that show, too. Other than that, we’re just gonna keep jammin’ and doin’ our thing.
RT: Sweet, dudes. Thanks for hangin’ and the many laughs. And thanks for taking the time out. We’ll see you soon, for sure.
Nick: Thanks for coming by, man. It was a pleasure. See you soon.
Here’s how to get up with TOW THE LINE and where you can follow what they’re up to:
And here’s a little snippet of a TTL jam (literally had to pretend to be a fly on the wall for a minute on this y’all…definitely wasn’t going for an Oscar on this, but my little cam didn’t do too shabby on the audio – all shredding considered). Holy shite!