Until recently, Fort Worth’s noisy blues-rock trio The Frisky Disco was having a rough go at it. They had been floundering, really, for the past few years, playing only a handful of gigs at the few local venues brave (stupid?) enough to book three underagers.
Then, about eight months ago, one by one, the band’s three members began reaching drinking age, and their fortunes changed.
“Bars don’t really want to book bands unless they can bring everybody out,” said bassist Jonnie Mansfield. “But once we started turning 21, and our group of friends did, that’s when it started exploding.”
That’s why you might want to get used to The Frisky Disco. Their momentum is certainly gaining. They’re about to release an album and a long-lost EP that has inexplicably resurfaced. Night after night, they’re also booking shows on stages from here to Dallas, finally bringing along thirsty crowds of friends.
But expect to see The Frisky Disco mostly on this side of the Tarrant County line, where the Arlington natives feel most at home, especially at original-band-first joints like Lola’s Saloon, The Grotto, and The Basement Bar. The band also has played in Austin — but didn’t find much charm there. And while they will continue to play Dallas, the Disco guys –– to borrow guitarist Tyler Vela’s description –– are a little concerned that Big-D audiences seem more interested in ecstasy-driven techno than gritty rock.
Fort Worth, apart from being these guys’ adopted home, is by far their favorite place to crank out their style of raspy, bluesy, crunch-bass-driven rock, music that’s not unlike that of The White Stripes, a favorite of all three members. The Disco-ites are also flirting with the idea of a regional tour, but in the meantime they’re savoring the local scene that has acted as their incubator.
In 2009, fresh out of Arlington’s Martin High School, Vela picked up his guitar –– he hadn’t touched it in a few years. The last time he played it was with classmate Hayden Miller in a short-lived pop-rock band called The Guppies that dissolved in the mid-oughts. Unlike a lot of Vela’s other musically inclined classmates, Miller did not decamp for college but stayed in the area and kept playing.
The two reunited, and with Miller on drums and vocals, they gradually became something a bit more formal. Discussions soon turned to recording. Mansfield, a former bandmate of Miller’s in a psych-rock group called The Holy Mothership, joined. A brother of The Breakfast Machine’s Chris Mansfield, Jonnie still ran in musical circles with Vela and Miller, whom he’d known since childhood.
The addition of the bass, Miller said, gave Vela the ability to solo every now and again without “that drop-out sound, which is always a pain in the ass.”
Vela agreed. “Having Jonnie in the band really pushed us forward,” the guitarist said. “We’re a blues band. We’ve always wanted to be a blues band. And now that we have Jonnie on the bass, we have a bottom to groove on.”
By the time Mansfield joined them, Vela and Miller had assembled a handful of two-piece songs to be performed at whatever gigs could be booked in Arlington, which, thanks to the bandmembers’ youth, were few and far between.
But a move to Fort Worth in 2010 helped remedy their anemic schedules, at least somewhat. With borderline awe, the guys all recalled their first show in the Fort: an impromptu lineup of themselves, Dallas’ Red 100s, and, from the Fort, Quaker City Night Hawks and The Hanna Barbarians — in other words, two of the local scene’s premier unhyphenated rock bands.
“My mind was just blown,” Vela said. “I was in rock ’n’ roll heaven.
From that point on, The Frisky Disco guys kept a close eye on their more experienced and more popular local colleagues, almost as a pupil might look up to a mentor, though the trio now acknowledges that Quaker City and the Barbs may not have realized the role they were playing for the younger musos.
“The musicians in this town are so helpful,” Vela said. “I like to think they like our band. They always give advice and help us out. It feels like everyone wants everyone to succeed.”
So they kept “studying,” and last fall, at long last, the Disco guys all hit 21. The bookings started flowing in.
Vela, Miller, and Mansfield are excited about their first full-length album. Tentatively self-titled and 10 tracks long, it’s being recorded in the living room that the guys share in a house off North Hulen Street. They describe their digs as pretty much what you would expect for three twentysomething indie musicians under one roof: towering stacks of amps where the dining table is supposed to go, random instruments lying around, musician friends sleeping (or sleeping it off) on the couch.
“Our neighborhood is full of old, retired white people,” Mansfield said.
“They hate us,” Vela added.
With their first album, the three guys intend to release a copy of that long-thought-lost recording. The four-track EP Tough Shit was recorded back when the Disco was still mostly a two-piece outfit. Vela and Miller lost the digital files about a year ago but recently learned that The Breakfast Machine vocalist Meghann Moore, oddly enough, had copies buried in the depths of her laptop. The Disco guys say it’ll be something like a B-side.
Plans are already under way for a second album, likely to feature a new drummer: Panic Volcanic’s Zack Tucker. The expanded roster is intended to free Miller to play other instruments, including the keys, and to focus more on his vocals and stage presence.
Drumming, he said, is something he now does out of necessity, not by choice.
“It’s not the musical instrument that I’m most comfortable with,” he said. “I’m a vocalist. I’m a songwriter. I like to write songs. I like to sing them. That’s what I do.”
The Frisky Disco
Thu w/Foxtrot Uniform at The Grotto, 517 University Dr, FW. $5. 817-882-9331.