Austin, Texas: The City That Always Sleeps

austinx1

Nate Grace was an ex-hardcore kid living in a shack in the outskirts of Austin when his door got kicked in while he was on the road for his job cataloging book stock in chain stores across the country. All his recording equipment was stolen, and an entire album’s worth of material was gone forever. He got out of there soon after the robbery, even though he had plenty of space and says he could even stand out in the yard completely naked if he wanted. But his view was a field of fluttering trash like something out of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic American wasteland. To top it off, the place was full of roaches and rats.

So Grace moved to a more central part of Austin, into a cleaner, former halfway house with two massive, deep red doors that sits at the end of a quiet residential street. Some of his friends, including a bandmate in his group Pure X, Jesse Jenkins, already lived there. Six people reside in the five-bedroom house, but it’s a surprisingly orderly place, filled with well-fed pets and a constant stream of guests. Grace, Jenkins, his girlfriend Stefanie Franciotti, who makes music as Sleep ∞ Over, and the three other roommates have lately been referring to the house as The Real World because of the supposed inter-house drama. But for all their talk of infighting, life seems idyllic. There are plenty of trips for fresh juice, and more than enough homemade hummus to go around. Everyone acts like they’re in love with each other. Maybe it’s because they’re all obsessed with the same things: conspiracies, UFOs and Tarot readings are hugely popular topics of conversation.

Franciotti, who is short and barbed but warm, downplays her own Tarot skills, but on a 103-degree day, lounging in the grass near Barton Springs, she maps out the inner lives of those around her with eerie accuracy, before blowing the whole thing off casually with an “I dunno, I’m not that good at it,” deferring to housemate Christine Aprile, who spent some time trying to operate her own psychic hotline. “I tried to get onto the good hotlines, but I wasn’t accepted,” Aprile says. “If I was someone who had a flourishing psychic business, I guess it would have worked out. I like to do it for free. I think anything spiritual will take you on a lot of different paths. It’s definitely made me think about trying to create my own reality, instead of feeling like a victim of fate and circumstance.” Like most of the housemates, Aprile, who performs as Silent Diane, more or less found herself in Austin by chance, and before she knew it, decided to stay. “I got this reading from this woman, and she was like, I see you moving to Texas and I don’t know why,” Aprile says. “My dad was living here at the time. I just called him up and he was like, Oh I was about to ask you to come down here and house sit for me. So I packed up and drove down, and I’ve been here ever since.” It’s like the city has a mysterious hold on its residents, keeping them swaddled in a warm blanket of cheap rent and loose vibes. Destiny is serious business out here, even if everyone seems like they’ve settled comfortably into life’s natural flow.


Squinting into her windshield on a trip to pick up Jenkins from his office job, Franciotti confirms Austin’s strange pull. “When you’re in college, you’re like, I’m going to live in New York! I’m going to do all of this shit!” Franciotti says. “Living out here is so cool and easy. You just get real comfortable. I don’t have any real motivation to go anywhere. I guess nobody else does either.” Franciotti is the Twin Peaks-obsessed, sole member of Sleep ∞ Over, her darkly New Age project. She’s hyper alert and knows how to raise eyebrows. “I’m not just trying to be some bitch with a guitar, like, Look at me! I’m in a band, I’m so cool!” she says. “I’m doing this because I really care about it, and I feel like there are a lot of bands out there that are just the cliché…” Then she stops herself. Over half of what Franciotti says is prefaced by an impulsive “this is off the record,” even when nothing is being recorded. But she drops her guard when it comes to talking about the nanny work she does out of the house. While her roommates are sleeping or at their day jobs, Franciotti is in the living room, reading to the kids and talking to them about their dreams. She makes cassette recordings of brief interviews with the children sleepily narrating the dreams they just had, which she plans to eventually hand back to them, a hazy time capsule of their unformed minds. Sleep ∞ Over’s music, droning and fuzzed out songs with Franciotti’s elongated, sweet vocals atop is reminiscent of the childlike murk of those dreams. While her earlier work sounded like brief sketches of songs, the material on her first full length, Forever, is more focused and clear, like she was able to pull abstractions from the darkest parts of her mind and wed them to gorgeous melody and twinkling synths. “I became less interested in regular pop structure formula,” Franciotti says. “But there’s part of me that still really likes that. I feel like everybody should just create whatever moves them at the time anyway.”

There’s a family dynamic that extends beyond just the residents of the house, and it seems to be about comfort as much as survival. A couple of times a year, for SXSW and Austin City Limits, the city, known as the live music capital of the world, turns into a hellhole for locals. So when the entire entertainment industry streams through downtown, wasted and yelling, it’s an excuse to hibernate. “[Living in Austin] has really given me the chance to not be quite so influenced by what is going on around me. It’s a really supportive community that gives you the chance to explore more and not feel so caught up in anything—except during SXSW,” Aprile says. During the rest of the year, though, it’s unfailingly serene, easy to walk multiple downtown blocks without seeing a single person, and even easier to fall into a pattern of perpetual hang sessions, which Franciotti, Aprile, the members of Pure X and other housemates and friends who play in bands like Troller, Survive and a billion others are more than happy to do. Rent is cheap, weed is limitless and the circle of friends is so large and well worn that it’s easy to grab whoever isn’t working that day and get them in a room to record or play a show. “That’s why we don’t really play Austin that much,” says Pure X drummer Austin Youngblood of the insular scene. “There’s no point in playing with anybody except the people that we like playing with. I think the last time we played some random show, it was like, Why the fuck are we here?”


That “here” may often be anywhere that isn’t the house, although there are a couple satellite spots, like the vintage synthesizer store Switched On, where Michael Stein, member of the synth-obsessed Survive, works. Although Survive has only released a single record, they’re the under-the-radar backbone of the entire crew. Stein’s bedroom is piled floor-to-ceiling with vintage synthesizers, his house a lab for anyone who wants to stop by and mess around with the gear, even if he’s not there. “We learn from each other,” Franciotti says of the communal benefits. “It’s not like any of us woke up having it.” Survive creates a pure distillation of the music that everyone else takes cues from. It’s excitingly retro, bombastic and buzzing. While others might incorporate these sounds into their projects, it is only Survive that makes it their entire mission statement.

The enormity of their mysticism-obsessed world becomes clear when the house throws a barbecue. Jenkins, a perpetual father figure, is manning the beer-can-stuffed chickens that Grace got at a discount from his job at the natural grocery store. Youngblood leans back in a lawn chair, beer and joint in hand, talking through his Druid-thick beard about how he loves to play drums so, so slowly. Inside, the members of Survive, who have known each other since elementary school, are standing in a circle, cipher-style, doing a cappella versions of minimal techno tracks. Sometimes, Grace mentions, they have electronic drum circles. More people in other bands arrive with more food in tow. There’s a dog that wasn’t there before running around. When the food is ready, no one bothers with plates, unselfconsciously digging at salmon, pork and chicken with their hands.

Soon the beer runs out and everyone heads to Cheer-Up Charlie’s, a bar downtown with a backyard. Eli Welbourne, Aprile’s other half in Silent Diane, is video DJing, mostly playing bizarre music videos that are so eye-catching that people stop mid-conversation and stare at the screen, glazed over. Just about everyone in the yard knows everyone else. Stein is posted against a wall talking to a girl that everyone agrees is super hot.

By the time last call hits, Youngblood and Grace are some of the only people left. The remaining patrons have trickled off. Grace sits with a mostly-empty beer tilted, legs splayed out, staring just past the projector. Youngblood is in the corner talking to a couple late-night stragglers. On the walk back to the car, they stop inside an old house that’s been gutted and turned into a restaurant to see what’s going on. It’s not officially open yet, but there’s an attractive all-American blonde standing guard over a piano that’s just sitting there. Before she can shepherd them out, Youngblood is plunking at the keys, laughing boisterously through his beard. Charmed, she has a change of heart, and gives the pair a tour of the place, strong-arming them into coming back for the official opening on Saturday. They promise that they will, before heading home to watch documentaries on Netflix.


There’s so much traffic in and out, so many guests and friends dropping by, that being inside the house can be overwhelming. It’s a miracle that anyone gets anything done. So it’s no surprise that Grace, the most social person in the house, has a hard time writing there. It’s why much of Pleasure, his first real album as Pure X with longtime friends Youngblood and Jenkins, was written solitarily. A lot of people distance themselves from their regular lives to make art, but rarely does it actually seem so necessary to writing such lush and lonely music. “Nobody’s singing the blues,” Grace says. “Right now, there’s a complete vacuum of people writing decently… I don’t want to say depressed…but morose music. I don’t think we’re necessarily all morose, either.” Jenkins agrees. “I think we’re all just so tired of people forcing things down our throats. I want to hear shit that’s really smooth and sexy and relaxed. It takes its time. You’re doing what you’re doing instead of trying to show someone what you’re doing.” The album is gorgeous, steeped in pain much deeper than you want anyone in their late twenties to feel, but it’s also controlled and steady, like that pain is so familiar that it almost ceases to hurt. Grace has grown from being a rebellious kid obsessed with hardcore to a portrait of stoner calm, his voice all Texan laze, sloping down into a relaxed lilt at the end of every thought.

One late afternoon, after a full day of swimming, Tarot reading and fresh juice drinking, Franciotti, Grace and Jenkins head to their secret skate spot. They call it The Ditch, but it’s so secret that’s not even its real name. A hidden concrete alcove right next to the highway, it’s normally lorded over by a bunch of old crusty dudes that make you sweep up after every session. This evening, though, it’s quiet and completely empty. They crack some beers in the corner and Grace plays a tape of Jesus and Mary Chain b-sides in a nearby tunnel, the sound reverberating crystal clear. The sky blends purple, orange and baby blue. No one really does any tricks, instead choosing to surf the cement on wide boards with big wheels. There’s a different kind of noise those wheels make. It’s gummy and smooth, and the gravel clicks. Franciotti takes a breather next to the gradually rising pile of beer cans. Grace is doing runs over and over again, and Jenkins is off in the distance, right on the horizon line, his body a single, calming totem guarding the ditch from the wild nothing that stretches out behind him.

Next
POSTED August 24, 2011 10:03AM IN FEATURES Comments (34) TAGS: , , , ,

POPULAR

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

COMMENTS

  1. Cat says:

    I’m not quite sure I understand Franciotti’s implied assumption a lot of other female musicians are disingenuous about their art, that they don’t “really care about it” as she does. Shitting on other female musicians doesn’t really make your music any better, does it? No, not at all. And it sure isn’t helping the many other talented girls who want to be taken seriously.

  2. Sam, by far some of my favorite writing from you. Thanks for doing justice to this small corner of the scene in Austin, Texas. You really captured some atmosphere and dialogue that sounded really natural. Good read.

  3. shabu says:

    @Cat: She doesn’t say anything about female artists, she said people in general who are just in a band to be cool. there are plenty and many that are just interested in being in a band photo and telling people they are on tour and not interested in the art itself. it can be an ego thing and that’s what it seemed she was talking about. I agree, It wouldn’t be cool if she was shitting on females, but she was just shitting on superficiality.

    “I’m not just trying to be some bitch with a guitar, like, Look at me! I’m in a band, I’m so cool!” she says. “I’m doing this because I really care about it, and I feel like there are a lot of bands out there that are just the cliché

    Read more: http://www.thefader.com/2011/08/24/austin-texas-the-city-that-always-sleeps/#ixzz1VybXSK3X

  4. saga says:

    Tarot and aliens. Austin! You got it. But what about astrology?

  5. Cat says:

    @shabu I’m pretty sure “bitches with guitars” is referring to specifically female musicians. Perhaps a poor choice of words to open a rant about insincerity.

    Anyway, Austin has a lot of really creative, sincere, talented female musicians (including you, Shabs). It’s high time they get the credit they deserve.

  6. trevor says:

    this is interesting, but doesn’t feel like austin all that much to me. maybe one little part of it, but not the vibe of the city in general.

  7. Shabs says:

    @Cat, oh i see what you’re saying now about the indirect thing! I love the sincere part of the creative scene in Austin. really, it’s unlike anywhere else.

  8. Sam Hockley-Smith says:

    @Trevor, it’s only supposed to be about one part of it

  9. yeah yeah yeah says:

    @cat Put a couple of cat pictures on a blog, sing a lalala about your boyfriend and there you have it! A compressed image of all the weaksauce, cutsy girl projects that are all too willing to buy into their own blog generated ego trips. Lets get REAL, those woman deserve all of our contempt because they are willing to play into a disgusting, dark facet of the music industry that knows what garners a mass responce. Cuteness.

  10. Alice says:

    @yeah yeah yeah

    you’re basically calling Best Coast a bitch with a guitar. I find her music to be really shitty, but that makes her a bitch how? Bethany probably really likes what she’s doing and thinks she’s taking it seriously. Who are you or anyone to tell her she’s not? Just because sleep over is into mysticism and you can’t ever hear what the fuck she’s singing, somehow that makes her a more legitimate artist who takes things more seriously than others? And if a girl wants to be cutesy, what the fuck is wrong with that? The beauty of feminism is that it supports a wide range of representations of girl and femininity. Why should someone be condemned for that? The system is already set up against us yet we should take the blame for doing what’s popular or “dark”? Fuck that and (excuse my french) fuck you. God forbid someone wants to be successful. No one in this article is being particularly revolutionary. Sorry you hate cupcakes or whatever.

    With that said I’m willing to give Stefanie the benefit of the doubt. Internalized misogyny is hard to beat anyway.

  11. yeah yeah yeah says:

    Cuteness should be condemned because it’s incredibly surface and easy to achieve. And yeah, Best Coast is a terrible band that has rose to fame on the basis of something that was interesting and sold it out to a mass cute appeal FOR MONEY. Yet again, you guys are jumping on an incredibly trite and boring feminist rant about something that most people with taste and sense wouldn’t hesitate to admit. That yeah, some girls know how to play the system. And they do it. # Realtalk, # Duh They’re allowed to, but it doesn’t mean that other feminist have to appreciate it or like it. But you can! You obviously have really wonderful, refined taste in music and cupcakes.

  12. yeah yeah yeah says:

    PS I don’t think sleep over is a “dark” or “revolutionary” band.

  13. no no no says:

    @yeah yeah yeah

    no woman “deserve[s] all our contempt”. especially not for something as benign as making mediocre music. if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it.

    being an asshole is unnecessary and next time you should probably use spell check.

  14. yeah yeah yeah says:

    PPS I’m simply saying that you’re an idiot if you claim to be a feminist and feel accepting of all types of women and how they represent themselves, because fuck, some girls sleep with their bosses and some girls play up on embarrassing internet trends and work the blog world using the power of the vag. It’s not something that anyone should defend when they see it, especially feminists. Especially if it’s transparent, tweeny and sucks.

  15. LYKKI MI DYKKI says:

    Isn’t it clear that female artists that capitalize on their cuteness — I am thinking specifically of sugar-neuter acts like Lykke Li, Oh Land, Au Revoir Simone, Florence+the machine, Marina+thediamonds, all the way on up to the mainstream shit-female-artist pantheon (may Katy Perry burn in hell for declaring to the world that it is a right and good thing for little girls to want to be violated and abducted in that alien song) — only truly appeal to girls who feel the necessity to accentuate their cuteness because for their entire lives they have eaten advertisements and language that tell them they are lesser and are only worthwhile if they are cute. The very fucking language denies the ability for women to be innately strong, powerful, hardhitting creatures — these are attributes that are inculcated into boys from a young age, not girls. Girls grow up with the understanding that they should be cute in order to be appreciated, and then as adults suffer from a lack of being taken seriously because of their desire to be cute — women are only seen as arbiters of power in mother situations, otherwise their power has to be earned through years of hard work. There are plenty of amazing successful talented women on the earth so it’s not a doom and gloom situation, its just that there are a bunch of idiotic chickenheads on the planet that listen to this garbage, and equally a ton of meatheads who would love to paperbag those fucking idiots and tear their cute pussies a new one.

    That kind of music is for girls to feel cute and it stops there. This music is so fucking basic math. Cute girl + cute songs (glockenspiel, lalala, ohohoh) = cute vibe + mass marketing towards insecure teenage/college-age girls = $$$ . It’s really not so bad because there are artists like Sleepover who are defining themselves primarily through sound and not image, and it’s great that her and fellow artists would get due exposure.

    In short: the world is mostly made of dumb cute bitches and dumb meatheads who want to fuck them. Mass marketed music appeals to the lowest common denominator. Being a person of integrity of any gender takes hard work because society doesn’t really like anyone who challenges the world views it provides on a mass scale. and FUCK KATY PERRY.

  16. Jessica Collins says:

    As someone who lives in Austin, and has been here for years, I’m not sure I quite understand the angle or overall point of this story.

  17. Cat says:

    @ all yall

    I should clarify something: I’m not talking about artists in general, because yeah, there are plenty (too many!) of examples of mass market-appealing grossness – both female and male! I’m talking specifically about the Austin music scene, which is what this article is about I guess (or a little corner of the Austin music scene), even more specifically about female artists within that scene.

    I should also clarify something else: I’m not talking about the ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of musicians, more so the sincerity. I think the “she’s just doing this because she wants a facebook profile photo and some dude to eat her artistic pussy” bit is sooo tired. It’s so easy to write someone off without knowing anything about them, and I think this is especially true of a lot of female acts. Obviously you’re totally free to hate whatever music you want, but if a girl really wants to hit some drums or play a guitar or a synth or fucking bang a xylophone and it makes her happy, then no matter how ‘bad’ or ‘good’ the product, I think it’s worth acknowledging? Not adulated, but acknowledged? God, I don’t know.

    All this line-drawing and generalization-making is moronic. This ain’t black and white. There is some really fucking shitty music out there, there is some medium shitty music out there. There is some ok, good, great, wonderful music out there, too. There is an equally vast range of shitty – wonderful motivations behind making this music, which, a lot of times, are unclear.

    I just don’t think anyone should paint themselves as an arbiter of ‘worthy’ music culture. It’s discouraging.

  18. Chris Riley says:

    @Jessica Collins,
    nice try, but everyone knows Austin doesn’t have any black people.

  19. Stefanie Franciotti says:

    LOL y’all. I was driving in downtown construction Austin when I was being interviewed, it’s not like I was in a pensive and articulate mindset at the time. @cat I would take you seriously, but I just don’t. sorry!

  20. Pingback: Music News – Fader on Austin, The ND, TV Torso : Austin Apartment Locators

  21. Pingback: Music News | :: musicexplore.net ::

  22. spec says:

    speaking in super general terms always makes you sound like an idiot

  23. Someone's sister says:

    Is this the whole thing? When I came to the end, I looked for the link to the next page for several minutes until I realized it wasn’t there. There were some nice character sketches and images, but the article didn’t feel finished. Is there more in the print version?

    And to those of you who think this isn’t the Austin vibe- you need to get away from 6th St and/or the Warehouse district.

  24. Pingback: Music News | ATX Post

  25. Sheila says:

    “Uhh, just so you know, we’re making music not because we want someone to lick our creative pussies. Oh, no. We’re pure of heart, and our musical missions are assigned to us by the gods.”

    Give me a break. You want us to be punk rock nuns? Keep your stereotypes and save that tired madonna-whore complex for a time machine journey back to the olden days when women weren’t allowed to do cool shit, like start a band and sleep with whomever they pleased.

    Do guys have to make the the same clarification before they pick up a guitar? Lots of guy rockers joined bands to induce women to sleep with them, and lots of those bands actually turned out to be great, regardless of their motives. Besides, what’s so wrong with not only flashing your musical pussy but getting someone to like it enough to lick it?

  26. Gettum says:

    @Sheila

    YES!

    @Stefanie Franciotti

    the lady doth protest too much

  27. NVV says:

    @sheila
    WORD! i want to listen to YOUR band!

  28. Pingback: Austin for The FADER at News

  29. sade says:

    if you’re reading this and feel like moving to Austin, Texas – please don’t. we obviously have enough cool people here

  30. Pingback: Austin X at Bryan Derballa | Lovebryan

  31. Pingback: I’d Rather Stay Awake: A Response and a Treatise | ATX Post

  32. Pingback: Stereogum’s 40 Best New Bands of 2011 - Stereogum