Still Going Apey
Everyone knows Baboon. The local rockers have been around for nearly 16 years, and they’ve toured with The Toadies, experienced some national success, and, surely to the envy of every other North Texas band, appeared on an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the Baboon sound. As different musical fads have come and gone, the quintet has done its damnedest to stay true to loud, indie, poppy rock. Their fourth studio album walks that line.
For the five guys in Baboon, remaining committed — to both a signature sound and each other — isn’t easy. “It takes a lot of compromising,” said singer Andrew Huffstetler. Just for some perspective: When Huffstetler and guitarist Michael Rudnicki started Baboon, “my space” was what you called your parking spot. Rudnicki remembers the days when Huffstetler would draw fliers for every show. “Now,” the guitarist said, “we just send out a bulletin on MySpace.”
Maybe realistic expectations explain the band’s longevity. Despite their radio-ready songs, Huffstetler said, Baboon never set out to be an MTV or a Rolling Stone darling. “For me, it’s doing what we’ve been doing,” he said. “We’ve attained everything we set out to do.” The eponymous new album, he said, is just “icing on the cake.
“Music has been awesome,” he continued. “It’s been a great life and a great experience.”
Rudnicki calls Baboon’s music “emotions in motion.” The energy is decidedly visceral, but the punk propulsiveness is kept in check by drummer Steven Barnett, who staggers the tempo just a tad. (Trivia: Barnett replaced Will Johnson, the mastermind behind Denton-based indie gods Centro-matic.) Bassist Mark Hughes completes the rhythm section, and James Henderson plays guitar and provides what would be an invaluable addition to any band: He owns a studio and is an expert producer.
Without a label, bands usually have a hard time finding the money to record an album as they envision it. At his Dallas digs, Juniper Studios, Henderson tweaked Baboon’s sound into what Huffstetler and Rudnicki consider its ultimate evolutionary state. A lack of pressure also helped. “With no clock running, we weren’t worried about studio time,” Henderson said. “We had all the time in the world.”
Barnett said, “We raised the bar. It’s the best album we’ve ever made. I’d like to see other local bands try to make gutsy, great albums.”
Having played together for so long, the musicians have developed a solid, successful approach to songwriting: Henderson and Barnett lay down most of the music, and Huffstetler handles the vocal melodies and lyrics. A lot of his sentiments have a political bent to them, but Huffstetler said he isn’t proselytizing as much as relaying “common life experiences with universal themes.”
All of the guys have day jobs, which may explain how the band seems to mature with every new album. Baboon, with its sharper musicianship and more complex yet easy to digest progressions, is a definite step up from 2002’s nonetheless impressive Something Good Is Going to Happen to You. The band’s enthusiasm has actually increased with age. “Our heart is in it as much as always, but our expectations are more realistic,” Huffstetler said. “We know what we’re doing. It is not a money-making adventure.” Rather, he said, it’s about “entertainment and enjoyment.”
To new listeners, Baboon may seem to be just arriving. But to folks who’ve taken the time to pay attention, the band is doing something that a lot of other famous and non-famous bands haven’t been able to accomplish: surviving.
Sat w/The Hourly Radio at the Gypsy Tea Room, 2548 Elm St, Dallas. 214-741-9663.