Even though they’ve been around for a while, Morningside Drive has been one of the more under-appreciated local bands. If you ask around, it seems like lots of local musicians are passingly familiar with them – the kind of band you know because you’ve seen their name on a door down the hall from your band’s rehearsal space, maybe hearing their practice leak out from the crack under the door. But now that they have their debut album out, the quartet hopes to make a bigger noise.
Currently available on digital channels like Spotify and iTunes and on Friday in CD format, Morningside Drive’s 11-song debut is a collection of rollicking throwback alt-rock, harking back to the days of flannel shirts, Cowboys Super Bowl wins, and (Bill) Clinton scandals. Sipping on cocktails at a table on a local bar patio, the band reflected on the road that lead to Jordan. Apparently, it was fraught with lineup changes, said guitarist/singer Ric Smith.
“It’s been a revolving door with members quitting or retiring or moving on for personal reasons,” he said.
The band recorded Jordan at Strong Sound in Waxahachie with engineer Matt Broder. Smith said the process was fun but not without its hiccups.
“This album has been stressful, trying to get it done, wanting to get it as close to perfect as possible,” he said. “That’s why I only want to do [an album] every two or three years.”
Like most other bands, the members of Morningside Drive have day jobs. Bassist Renzo Franco is a supervisor at a company in Dallas that manufactures medical equipment, lead singer Dante Sanchez bartends at Uno Pizzeria downtown, Smith runs the Red Goose’s karaoke nights, and drummer Victor “Tones” Vasquez is a network technician.
Sanchez sang in a short-lived industrial band called Those Lying Eyes, but when they folded, he still craved the mic.
“I thought, ‘Well, I’m not doing anything, so I guess I’ll just do karaoke,’ ” he said. That led him to Smith, who asked Sanchez to be in Morningside Drive.
Around the same time as that chance meeting, Vasquez and Franco played in a Latin rock band, first called Equilibrio and then Dialectos, that played at the long-shuttered Embargo downtown. The band folded after that club closed in 2014. Vasquez and Franco tried to keep the band going, but their drummer kept flaking, they said.
“I thought, ‘You know what? I’m gonna buy a drum set, and I’m gonna start playing drums,’ ” Vasquez said.
He eventually got better at drums and decided to audition for bands, which led him to a Craigslist ad Smith had placed. After one rehearsal, Smith and Sanchez offered him the job.
Franco joined shortly after. Having immigrated to the United States from Peru about 14 years ago, he said he spent time playing with lots of musicians.
“I just jammed with different people until I found” Vasquez, he said. With Vasquez, Franco drew from his background of Latin-influenced funk. Franco said, “I’m from the ’90s, and I like Led Zeppelin and all those classic bands.”
The band was finally a cohesive unit – at least until Vasquez was forced to quit due to his work situation. Born in Mexico, he came to America when he was 5 years old, and as such, it’s made keeping a job complicated.
“I’m part of the Dreamers,” he said. “I had to find work out of town because work was hard to find around here back then.”
He would drive to network installation jobs in West Texas and return on weekends for shows, but that travel was too much, so he quit the band. But then President Obama’s DACA plan enabled him to obtain a work permit, which made keeping a job a lot easier. With his work situation stabilized, Vasquez texted Smith and told him he was ready and able to rejoin the band. The problem was that Morningside Drive had already replaced him with Chris Rayburne.
“But that day, Chris decided to retire,” Smith said. “I’m sitting there while Chris is saying he’s gotta quit, and I’m texting [Vasquez] and going, ‘You ready to go?’ ”
Vasquez has been back in the band for almost a year.
“I thank all the musicians who made up Morningside Drive because their grains of sand helped make what we are now,” he said.
Sanchez agrees. “If those other guys hadn’t been there, too, Morningside Drive might not still be a thing,” nor would they be hitting the stage with a CD to sell this weekend. But with their lineup shored up and having crossed “release first album” off their list, Morningside Drive is ready to roll big and loud.
9pm Fri w/Mañana Cowboy and Trials at The Grotto, 517 University Dr, FW. $10. 817-882-9331.