Much has changed in the past few years for the Last Place You Look, now closing in on a decade of rattling Houston’s music scene.
The band’s hard core/screamo sound has given way to a more diverse, more accessible rock framework. Drummer Mikey Garcia joined the lineup two years ago. And now, the band has graduated from local gigs to a national tour with Ten Years and the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus.
“There are times when you’re tired. There are times when you’re hungry. There are times when you’re sweaty and you’re dirty,” Garcia said. “But at such a low level, where we’re at is where so many other people want to be.”
But really, it’s about the beards. And a few epic mustaches.
“We all grew a lot of facial hair,” says singer Justin Nava with a laugh. “We all have (beards) these days. Mine is just the longest-running one and recognizable. That and my girlfriend really likes it.”
A clever logo twists the band’s name into the shape of both, and a recent Kickstarter campaign promised Nava would “shave his beard off and mail it to you” for a $10,000 individual donation. No one bit, but the band did surpass its $7,000 goal, collecting almost $11,000 to use for hotels, gas, food and a van on the road.
Kickstarter’s crowd-funding platform has proved particularly successful in Houston. Several acts — including Craig Kinsey, Miss Leslie, Sheila Marshall, Savannah Berry and the 71’s — have used it to support new projects.
“Kickstarter kind of gives legitimacy to it. People don’t feel like they’re just dumping their money down a well to some band that’s gonna run out there and spend all their money,” Nava says. “I think we could have set it a little higher and been OK. But we reached the high goal, anyway. We’re doing OK.”
The current tour is the latest building block in the band’s quest to fully break through the city limits. They recently secured Don Jantzen, program director at 94.5 FM the Buzz, as a manager, which gives them access to key people and opportunities. (It is, after all, to a large extent about who you know.) They’re about halfway through the trek and come home this week for a Texas leg and “to get a little bit of time with our ladies,” says guitarist Richard Sherwood. You can almost hear him smiling.
“Early on, we did some DIY tours, just driving across the country. We realized that financially, it was going to be horrible. Monday through Thursday, nobody’s out and about, really, unless you’re famous,” he says. “We kind of started this relationship with (Ten Years) two years ago. They really like us and offered to take us out on this tour.
“We’re so hard-wired DIY. We’re playing in some of these larger venues where there are people that load your gear. We’re always in their way, trying to load our own gear. It feels so weird.”
Houston, like any city with an expansive music scene, can be a comfortable spot for a struggling artist just looking to book a gig. Many a talented band often gets stuck in the immediate glory of the same bars, the same love, the same fans. TLPYL spent time building its base throughout Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma, and not over saturating the local market with too many shows.
“My suggestion to a lot of bands that find themselves kind of stuck just playing Houston is start to branch out. Get out there as much as you can,” says guitarist Derek Young. “It’s a whole different experience being a band that goes out on the road. You’re not playing for your friends and your family anymore.”
To prove their commitment, every band member quit his day job to go on tour, with hopes of turning music into its own full-time commitment. Things seem to be paying off. The shows are drawing 500-1,200 people a night, and the band is selling 50-100 copies of 2009 disc “See the Light Inside You” per gig. (Three EPs preceded that effort, which earned the band radio play throughout the region.) Not quite platinum, but far beyond what many bands are doing.
“It’s scary and exciting, but we’ve been working toward this point,” Sherwood says. “This band has always been a goal-driven band and a pressure-driven band. We have to create our own deadlines. We always push hard to try to do something big.”
“It’s been a childhood dream of mine to be on the road, to be on national tours,” adds Young. “There was no way I was going to let this opportunity pass me by.”
A new album is in the works, but the band is taking its time. (The current lineup also includes bassist Kevin Pool.) They’ve cut a trio of promising demos with Matt Noveskey of Blue October, each wildly different from the next. “Sexytime” is most similar to past works, all growling vocals and thundering instrumentation. “Rip it Out” is tailored for mainstream rock radio, complete with rousing chorus. “Ebb & Flo” is the biggest surprise, a gentle ballad carried by strumming guitar and featuring Ryan Delahoussaye of Blue October.
“We don’t want to get stuck,” Nava says. “We’ve always ridden this line, even back in the old screamo days. We were too indie-rock for the hard-core kids and too hard-core for the indie-rock kids. That’s why we do a little bit of everything.
“I don’t even really listen to rock bands anymore. You look at my iPod and it’s like Jessie J and Kanye (West). I grew up playing trombone in a funk band. It doesn’t matter to me what style
of music it is as long as I’m enjoying it, and I think it serves the song.”
After this weekend’s BuzzFest performance on the main stage,the band is back on the road. But even with so much momentum, and the promise of success beyond the city limits, there are no plans to move the beards out of here.
“We don’t plan on leaving Houston. We just can’t exist solely in Houston,” Nava says. “If I’m going to live somewhere, it’s going to be where I know everybody and it’s cheap. The whole idea that you have to move away — screw that. I don’t understand that at all.”
The Last Place You Look
Performing at BuzzFest 29
With: Three Days Grace, the Toadies, 10 Years, Dead Sara, Tremonti, Hanni El Khatib, Stone Foxes, Atlas Genius, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Saving Abel, Lit, Hollywood Undead and Silversun Pickups
When: Noon Saturday
Where: The Woodlands Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Drive
Tickets: $30-$175; 281-363-3300 or ticketmaster.com