Let’s get this out of the way first: The defunct hard-rock trio Stella Rose, one of the most popular and longest-running bands in town, didn’t necessarily break up as much as dissolve. The beginning of the end was 2012, not long after bassist McKenna Madget had relocated to Austin for work and when drummer Matt Mabe was splitting time among a couple of bands, including Quaker City Night Hawks, a rollicking blues-based quintet that has since become one of the most recognizable and beloved outfits in North Texas. Frontman Stephen Beatty also had begun exploring more sonically dynamic, more stylistically nuanced, and less bombastic songwriting.
Stella Rose’s dissolution owes to “a lot of different things,” Beatty finally said, possibly even a performance hiatus –– Stella had taken some time away from the stage to record a new album but never got any further than some basic tracking. “It was a perfect storm, with me just deciding I wanted to do a new project,” he said.
Now known as Un Chien –– a gritty, rocking, psychedelic quintet –– his new project was nameless when it took root in 2010. Beatty had just started jamming with some other local musos, most notably drummer Austin Green (Telegraph Canyon, The Apache 5). Though the project quickly fizzled out, Beatty said, he had written “two or three” songs that Un Chien now performs, songs that he “wouldn’t have been able to do with a three-piece.”
Two years later, right before Stella Rose’s breakup became official, Beatty resurrected his project. Un Chien’s first show was in October 2012 as part of Lolaspalooza, a weekend-long festival of mostly North Texas bands at Lola’s Saloon. Stella Rose’s last show was that November.
Recording some songs was the logical next step. In early February, while still performing regularly, Un Chien squeezed in a few hours at Blue Smoke Studios in Fort Worth with producer/owner Nick Choate, who Beatty said always wanted to produce Stella Rose’s music. Released later that month, Un Chien’s eponymous two-track effort is grainy and raw like the best of Stella Rose but not nearly as wheels-off or thunderous. “It’s the same songwriter just five years later,” Beatty said. “Even if I [had] stayed with Stella, [the music] would have changed anyway. That’s just me evolving.”
With the exception of Beatty and keyboardist Kris Knight, who joined Un Chien after the EP was recorded and whose parts were added after the fact, Un Chien features a new lineup: Rachel Gollay on guitar, Jerrett Lyday on drums, and Taylor Craig Mills, a popular singer-songwriter in his own right, on bass. The former band members left on good terms, Beatty said. “They just had other shit going on,” he added, including a couple of newborns.
Un Chien continued writing and performing, getting tighter with every gig and rehearsal, and last summer the new version of the band recorded a tune for Fort Worth Weekly’s annual Music Awards charity compilation CD. Melancholy but propulsive, “The Dreamer,” driven by Beatty’s fraught incantatory vocals, got some airplay on The Paul Slavens Show (8-10 p.m. Sundays on KXT, 91.7-FM/KKXT).
Early last month, Un Chien went into the new Colleyville studio AudioStyles with producer Russell Jack, who produced Stella Rose’s debut album, Starving, Hysterical, Naked. Recorded mostly live, Un Chien’s 40-minute-long debut album, whose title is a graphic of the phonetic spelling of “un chien” (French for “a dog”), will be released on Friday, Dec. 6, when Beatty’s band headlines Queen City Music Hall downtown.
Un Chien also recently signed with Hand Drawn Records, a boutique label based in Denton and Oklahoma City. Band and label came together via a glowing review of the EP on On Tour Monthly, an independent national music blog. The piece was written by Dustin Blocker, frontman for Exit 380 and Hand Drawn co-owner and co-founder.
An informal conversation between Beatty and Blocker eventually led to the signing. “They’re great,” Beatty said. “It’s really cool being on a label, because I never had that. We’ve got a PR person now. Everything is planned with our release. They’re doing a really great job.”
Even better, Beatty said, the label has not imposed any “limitations” on the band.
Un Chien’s plan now is to go on a West Coast tour next summer. “Until then, I want to play out of town, little weekend runs,” Beatty said. “I love Fort Worth, but I just don’t want to play here all the time. … I don’t want it to get stale around here. I want it to be special.”
Thu w/ Night Riots, Driver Friendly, Slumberbuzz at Lola’s Saloon, 2736 W 6th St, FW. 817-877-0666