Pinkish Black Lights Up
Teague is vaguely recognizable to just about anyone who’s ever watched a show at Lola’s or at the since-demolished Wreck Room, assuming said show-goer glanced at the sound booth. Teague has been running sound in this town for more than 10 years.
In his late 30s, usually clad in some variation of black band t-shirt and black jeans, Teague is a self-taught drummer who says, without a hint of irony, that his first musical inspiration came from one of the wildest traps players of all time.
“Animal,” he said. “Animal from The Muppets.”
The world’s most famous puppet drummer motivated Teague to cobble together a ramshackle kit in his early teens. He stuck with a punk band long enough to convince his mom to lend him the money to buy a respectable (and matching) set of drums. From there he developed his craft, a style as punishing as it is precise. Even when his beat is swinging, it carries an undercurrent of menace, like a sinister, rickety roller coaster that has been foolishly grandfathered to slide past modern safety standards.
“What Jon does, he does with a lot of economy,” Shimamoto said. “He’s very heavy, but he’s still very, very tight. He does a lot with a little.”
According to Forest Ward, it was Ferguson’s influence that led Teague to more complicated rhythmic forms. “Jon hated jazz at first, but Doug brought him around,” said Ward, now a sound engineer who also builds custom drum sets.
Beck’s interest in music also drew from Electric Mayhem, The Muppets’ house band.
“Zoot made me want to play music,” he said, referring to the blue-haired, shades-wearing, sax-playing Muppet. However, where Teague’s album collection was heavy on punk and metal, Beck’s was filled with fluff like Foreigner, Air Supply, and Journey. It’s not exactly what you’d expect from a guy who dresses a little bit like a vampire — black suit coat over black t-shirt, black pants over black cowboy boots, with an ever-present leather satchel.
As a kid, “I was really into all those death-rock bands — Misfits, TSOL, The Cramps — because that stuff sounded like it belonged on a horror movie soundtrack,” Beck said. “But my first real influence was Fleetwood Mac,” particularly the songs sung by Stevie Nicks. “Her songs always had this mystical, creepy feeling. It’s as close to goth as you can get when you’re eight.”
A multi-instrumentalist, Beck does keyboard work that tends to reflect every other instrument except maybe the piano. “I play keys kind of weird, like I think of them the way a Black Sabbath song sounds,” he said. “I’ve played guitar and drums in bands before, and I understand the logistics of bass; I really try to keep that in mind when I’m coming up with songs.”
Teague and Beck’s friendship goes back to the late ’90s, but they’d unwittingly wandered through the same musical territory years earlier, showing up at the same punk and industrial shows as teenagers. “It’s funny, because we both went to the same Chumbawumba show in 1992 when I was 16 and Jon was 17, and we both saw Skinny Puppy and Godflesh at the same time,” Beck said.
“We had a lot of mutual friends,” said Teague. “It’s hard to believe we didn’t run into each other sooner.”
Their orbits intersected more directly around 1998, when Beck’s band, a spacey, synth- and sample-centric outfit called The Pointy Shoe Factory, played its second show at The Wreck Room with Yeti. Beck knew of Yeti, having seen Ferguson’s many other projects in Denton, where Beck spent much of his 20s.
“I knew Doug before I knew Jon, because Ohm was playing in Denton a lot, and I was a big fan of his stuff,” Beck said. “Pointy Shoe’s second show was opening for Yeti. We didn’t know what it was going to be like, but we knew it was going to be awesome just because Doug was in it.”
Beck and his bandmates ate some mushrooms before going onstage that night. “We had like a 20-minute set, and the ’shrooms kicked in right in time for Yeti,” he said. “My head pretty much exploded. They were an incredible band.”
By the time Yeti had given up the ghost, Pointy Shoe Factory had also fizzled out — but not before PSF had decamped to Los Angeles, trying to reach the fabled next level.
“I’d moved to L.A. for Pointy Shoe Factory while Doug was still alive,” Beck said. “Then 9/11 happened, and I figured if we were all gonna die, I wanted to be back home. We played one more show with Yeti before he passed away.
“Then Pointy Shoe broke up for some stupid reasons — too many people, too many egos. Someone told me that Yeti was breaking up and Jon was going to move to Austin, so I thought I’d ask if he wanted to play in a band before he moved. He was doing sound at The Wreck Room then, so I went up there one night and asked him and he said, ‘Sure.’ ”
Beck was thinking of a duo with Teague, but it was the addition of Atkins that turned the group into what would become The Great Tyrant, a behemoth of shrieking, pummeling doom, a band unlike any other, as strange as it was heavy. Teague and Atkins took what they’d learned from being in a band with Ferguson and grafted it onto Beck’s own interpretation of sonic darkness.
“When we first started, it was almost like scary circus music,” Beck said. “Our first songs were kind of rough because I’d never played anything totally heavy, and I didn’t know how to sing with stuff that was that loud, so I had to change the way I sang.”
“It was weird for me and Tommy too,” said Teague, “because of all the stuff that had happened with us in Yeti. Doug’s passing was really fucked up, and then shit devolved on its own. But trying to play with the stuff Daron was writing, I was like, ‘What am I supposed to do here?’ I’d gotten used to Yeti, which, at the end, had just crumbled into droning, angry soundscapes.”
Before long, Teague, Atkins, and Beck parsed the secret of The Great Tyrant’s infernal puzzle, unleashing colossal, visceral performances across North Texas. Occasionally opening for notoriously loud bands like Georgia’s Harvey Milk, The Great Tyrant built a devoted following of fans eager for sonic obliteration. You didn’t just hear The Great Tyrant, you felt them. Atkins’ solemn, megalithic presence accentuated his brutal onslaught against Teague’s relentless attack on his cymbals, and together they formed a rhythmic engine that seemed to magnify the gravity in the room, trapping listeners within the nightmarish miasma of Beck’s screams, growls, and creepy keyboard runs. Experienced live, the darkness of The Great Tyrant’s music was palpable.
Music that bleak and terrifying usually has some personal darkness at its roots. After years of battling depression, Tommy Atkins took his own life in February 2010.
“That night, we’d cancelled and then we’d uncancelled practice,” Beck recalled. “Texts went back and forth, but Tommy didn’t show up, and we figured he’d missed the second text — we figured he was sleeping or something.”
Teague and Beck rehearsed anyway, jamming on some song ideas that would work if they had to play the next gig as a duo. “And then we got the call the next morning when he didn’t show up for work, which is something he wouldn’t have done,” Beck said.
Teague had spent his entire musical career playing with Atkins, and Beck’s approach to playing keyboards was heavily informed by Atkins’ bass lines. But more than the collaborative energy cut short by the suicide, the two were devastated by the loss of a close friend, one whose intelligence, humor, and heart were irreplaceable.
Shimamoto’s tribute to Atkins, published in Fort Worth Weekly in March 2010, mentioned that Teague and Beck would continue playing together but that The Great Tyrant was no more.
“This isn’t the kind of band where anybody can be replaced,” Beck said then. The two dealt with their friend’s untimely death the best way they knew how: About three weeks after Atkins’ memorial service, Pinkish Black was born.
“Great Tyrant had a show at the Kessler and another one at the Moon; we cancelled the Kessler show and played the Moon as Pinkish Black,” said Teague. “That whole time was pretty blurry, honestly.”