Get to know We The Sea Lions.
Super-tight and prolific, the dark indie-rock quintet has been around for two-plus years but still seems to run under the radar. Most of the major press the band has received has come from one publication. (You’re reading it.) More importantly, the Fort Worth dudes have received no local radio airplay and are still playing, with some exceptions, pretty low-profile gigs. WTSL’s next show, this Saturday at The Grotto, will find them headlining, but the two openers –– underground F-Dub rappers Fort Nox and a brand new Arlington outfit called Jude the Innocent –– aren’t exactly known commodities. Plus, an underground rap group opening for a dramatic, brooding indie-rock band? Say wha-?!
“It’s been difficult to get shows,” said WTSL frontman Jon Badillo. “I’m not very smooth or convincing.”
Part of the problem, Badillo believes, might be his and his bandmembers’ reluctance to fraternize with their peers. “A lot of [getting primo gigs] is who you know,” said Badillo, a married father of two young boys and full-time employee at Guitar Center. “I’m never out. I never socialize. It’s sad. It is.”
The band has just released a stellar debut album, one that may take a few listens to really sink in but that is well worth the time. Produced by Dallas’ Stuart Sikes (The White Stripes, Modest Mouse, Cat Power), Consequence in Sequence is simple yet complex, sturdy yet brittle. The songs unwind in logical fashion and catchy, crunchy riffs abound, with the occasional country-tinged passage. The melodies, though, are subtle and intricate, emphasizing Badillo’s deeply personal lyrics about love, sour relationships, addiction, anger, and family. “All the songs are real to me,” he said. “They are from somewhere. That’s why I think I like the album so much. It’s not lollipops and bubblegum. Everything I say is true. Everything means something on that album.”
The goal now is to get onstage and in front of people. Texas, Arkansas, and Colorado, where the band recently played a couple of shows, are on the tour agenda. To get in front of not just big crowds but the right kinds of crowds, WTSL have hooked up with Blackbox, a Fort Worth-based booking agency and artist/tour management company. One of the first pieces of advice that Blackbox co-founder and -owner Aaron Knight gave to Badillo is: Man, you gotta get out and see more local shows.
On the flip side, maybe more local bands need to get out and see more We The Sea Lions. Though the album is a marvelous representation of the band’s sound, onstage is where Badillo, drummer Trevor Maher, bassist Brian McKittrick, keyboardist Ben Rodriguez, and guitarist (and Jon’s younger brother) Joshua Badillo really captivate, reflecting their music’s various mood changes, shifts in tempo, and ranges in volume charismatically and energetically. Badillo doesn’t do things small. The band, built around songs that Badillo and McKittrick had written together, held its first few rehearsals way the hell out in Grand Prairie. “It was expensive and a helluva commute, but [the rehearsal space] was the best,” Badillo said. “I wanted to think of it as a job. At that time I needed more than a bedroom. I wanted to look at it as, I’m going here for a reason and I’m paying this for a reason, to get something done.”
Badillo also worked two jobs, including at Guitar Center, to be able to buy specific pieces of (not-cheap) equipment and instruments. A little more than a year ago, he found a house in the Hospital District with an extra-large bedroom. Now he and his bandmates rehearse there, using the gear that Badillo had painstakingly amassed. “I hate settling,” he said. “That’s why I drove to Grand Prairie, and that’s why I waited so long to do this album.”
We The Sea Lions’ first recording is a five-song EP that came out in May 2011. Also produced by Sikes, the disc captures a band with a lot of heart but not much direction. Consequence in Sequence, however, is finely wrought. The band may sound like other bands but it’s got its own thing going on, perhaps due in part to Badillo’s rich, odd baritone –– he jokes that he’s tried to replace himself as singer twice.
The second-oldest of five boys, the 30-year-old Badillo developed his punctiliousness early. Growing up in Wise County –– Badillo didn’t move to the Fort until he was 20 –– the Badillo boys fought over the only guitar in the house, an old steel-stringed acoustic that belonged to their father, who was (and still is) in the Air Force. Young Jon, who frequently snuck into The Wreck Room to see Baboon and Slow Roosevelt and once into Club Nowhere to see Flickerstick, moved to Fort Worth for one primary reason: “I wanted to play, and there were no clubs to play out in Wise.”
We The Sea Lions’ next show is a homecoming of sorts –– their first show, more than two years ago, was at The Grotto. The band has shared stages with some huge and mid-tier local bands, including Quaker City Night Hawks, Fate Lions, and Jefferson Colby, and has played Lola’s Saloon and The Aardvark. But those magical bills are still elusive — though maybe not for much longer.
We The Sea Lions
Sat w/Fort Nox and Jude the Innocent at The Grotto, 517 University Dr, FW. $5. 817-882-9331.