Chasca will be at the Gray Horse Saloon tonight. Photo by Sarah Beal.
By HAP MANSFIELD
On any given night in San Marcos, you can hear some really fine country music. There’s a chance you can find a punk band playing some amalgamation of punk and contemporary rock. Rap music and hip-hop have their place here, as do ambient and jam bands.
But the only band keeping the glam alive is Chasca. If country music is the barbecue brisket of Texas, then Chasca is the bottle of Big Red, albeit a bottle with a couple of shots of moonshine in it. You can taste that Big Red for yourself Friday night, when Chasca appears at the Gray Horse Saloon, 1904 RR 12.
While Chasca doesn’t fit the generic Texas profile for musicians, the players are, indeed, all Texans. The band is composed of Sean Hannon on guitar, Kelley Higgins on bass and vocals, Scott Long on drums and vocals and J.T. Martin on vocals, piano, percussion and flute.
Hannon and Martin grew up right here in San Marcos, playing in bands throughout their high school and college years.
“Everyone in the band is a native Texan except Sean, who was born in Ohio. Since he’s lived in Texas for over 20 years, we consider him at least an honorary Texan,” said Martin.
So one can’t explain away Chasca’s differences from most Texas music by thinking they are out-of-staters. The band’s sparkle comes from the Texas stars at night. Well, that, and some glittery eye shadow. Chasca’s website at chascamusic.com describes the band as “cerebral glam power pop.” You can see a bit of the band’s work on the site. Prepare to be slightly abashed.
Even the name, Chasca, has an effervescence and that’s actually not a coincidence.
“We are named after the Incan goddess of Dawn and Twilight,” Martin said. “Sean discovered the name when he went to Peru. We liked the name because it was one word and the sound had a refreshing zip to it, kind of like the name of a soda. Chasca is also the protector of virgins which is certainly consistent with the band’s ethos.”
Freddy Mercury, the multi-talented lead singer-songwriter for everybody’s favorite sports anthem band, Queen, once said, “A concert is not a live rendition of our album. It’s a theatrical event.”
Chasca also is a theatrical event. Like Queen, the band has something for everybody. You want anthems? Got ‘em. You want theater? It’s in there. Feather boas, masks and costumes? Oh, yes. Chasca is more than just modern rock with a glam slant. It is an event as refreshing as a fizzy pop. Glam rock, when it’s done right, is more than just posing and posturing. It’s tragedy and comedy, the surreal and the serendipitous. Chasca is a band that knows this.
Of course, a band with a flutist immediately puts one in mind of Jethro Tull. Not surprisingly, Chasca counts Jethro Tull among its influences.
“Well, there’s a whole slew of ’60s and ’70s bands that have influenced us,” said Martin. ” Obviously, Jethro Tull and Queen have had an impact on our sound and attitude. We have also been influenced by musical theater and the Aesthetic Movement of the late 19th century. Basically, anything with chutzpah and wry moxie motivates us to get off our duffs and get to work.”
The group’s music is original, and the writing of it is mostly collaborative.
“There are no ‘Napoleons’ in this group,” Martin said. “Perhaps there are a couple of Caligulas, but no artistic dictators.”
Hannon points out, though, that “J.T. writes about 99 percent of the lyrics.”
While the band obviously enjoys rock music, the differing musical tastes of the players contribute to the pastiche of the band’s sound. Higgins and Long lean towards jazz. Hannon enjoys classical music, and Martin has enthusiasm for show tunes. All of this blends into the experience that is Chasca.
“Our feeling is that a performance of any kind should be a bit of a spectacle with liberal doses of felicity and self-deprecation,” said Martin. “There’s no shortage of super cool cats making hip music for hip people in this area. And let me just say that is a-okay, if that’s your thing. The experience we want to create for an audience and ourselves more closely resembles Jack Kerouac’s ‘mad ones’.”
Referencing Kerouac, Martin continued, “You know, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ How’s that for pretension?”
The Keroac quotation is a pretty apt description of a Chasca show. One sees a burning desire to shake up the ordinary and shoot off a few fireworks in the band’s work. The band has a regular gig at the Gray Horse Saloon the first Friday of each month, although the gigs are hardly what anybody would term regular or commonplace.
As both music and theater, a lot of work and forethought seems to go into each gig. The costumery alone takes original effort.
“J.T. has certain costumes and persona that he dons for particular numbers such as ‘The Beast’ and ‘Nick the Dickens,’” said Hannon.
Martin adds, “Most of the stage show has evolved as a result of gross improvisation or divine accident. That said, if a gesture or quip or costume piece seems to work it remains as a part of the act. Nothing has really been specifically preconceived. And, of course, we do our own wardrobes! … that’s half the fun for some of us.”
Hannon and Martin also worked on the music for the Forum Productions presentation of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” which has two remaining performances at the Price Seniors Center, 222 West San Antonio Street, tonight and Saturday night.
“J.T. is a part of Forum Productions and they produced the show,” Hannon said. “He volunteered to contribute the music,. It was a lot of fun to step into an entire new musical genre, and we were extremely pleased with the results.”
The San Marcos music scene is a lively one, and even Chasca has a few favorite local bands.
“San Marcos is in full bloom with excellent local music,” said Martin. ”I think Austin could take a few cues from the energy and talent that is budding in the local San Marcos music scene. Some of our favorites include Buzz-n-Bangs, Robbie and the Robots, The Standouts, The Organics, Helix, The River Hymn, Firewater Sermon, Caravan Go, Van Sanchez … the list goes on.”
An actor, a musician, and even a person working an office job has a sort of double life. We asked what is real, the persona or the person at the day job?
“Being onstage, you get to exaggerate your passions and create a kind of hyperbolic extension of your personality,” Martin said. “At work, you have to be a regular shmoe who minds their manners and goes with the flow. Both are performances of a kind. Being on stage is more fun and that persona is less stifling. I’m not sure that makes it anymore ‘real,’ but it’s definitely more superstenstial.”
Contemporary purveyors of glam rock are few and far between. Since the days of the Sweet, T. Rex, Jobriath and Queen, one can see only a handful of bands who understand and can add to the genre. The Darkness has a glimpse of it, Lady Gaga tries, Goldfrapp and Kasabian have a touch of it. Chasca, though, makes the genre its own. Not surprisingly, the band also does a startling rendition, with guest musicians, of Rocky Horror Picture Show on Halloween that has received much acclaim.
Chasca’s music and performance is not mere buffoonery or high camp. It’s art. You’ll never see another band exactly like it.
Left to right: J.T. Martin, Sean Hannon, Kelley Higgins, Scott Long. Photo by Sarah Beal.