Until a few months ago, followers of local music who still haven’t lived through a 30th birthday might not have recognized Ryan Higgs as the smoky-voiced, pop-laced rocker that those of us on the wrong side of that milestone can recall. It’s possible, however, that they knew his name. As a veteran club owner in town, Higgs has had a stake in some of the most important spots to local music over the last 20-plus years. From the short-lived – but no less impactful – The Impala in the ’90s to West 7th-area staple Lola’s Saloon, Near Southside gem the Chat Room Pub, and now the ascending MASS, Higgs has been a part of some significant landmarks.
“There are times when you’re watching a show, and a band just gets you,” Higgs said of being a club owner. “And you’re just happy to give them a place to do that, to show you what they do. It’s not a good way to get rich, but I just love it. I can’t get away from it.”
Now with The Daybreak Hits, Higgs’ first musical project in nearly 10 years, the former frontman for Yellabelly and High School Assembly is finally stepping back on the same stages he’s spent the last few decades providing for others.
Higgs chose his homefield venue of MASS to celebrate the release of the Hits’ debut album In Lieu of Flowers on Friday. Supported by wunderkinds Ting Tang Tina and wall of sound masons The Deluxe, The Daybreak Hits performed for just the third time as a live band. To a packed room, Higgs and guitarist Jon Carney (Chastity), drummer Austin Green (Telegraph Canyon, The Cush), keyboardist Robert “Maui” Miller (Kevin Aldridge & The Appraisers), lead guitarist Jonathan “Bones” Pointer, and bassist Jack “Jackdaw” Russell (Whiskey Folk Ramblers) took the stage.
Musically, the Daybreak Hits are rooted in Higgs’ signature sing-along rock, which harks back to the late ’90s and early 2000s, when bands like The Deathray Davies, Flickerstick, and Funland were tearing up North Texas clubs. The Hits’ material is more than a mere nostalgia trip to a Fort Worth music scene in its infancy, however. The anthemic choruses and foot-stomping guitar parts will certainly have fans reliving their favorite nights at The Aardvark, but there’s a maturity to Higgs’ songwriting that has come with age and experience –– the sort of calm and confidence that accompany being comfortable with exactly where you are in life.
“Something’s different this time around,” Higgs said. “I think the songs are a little bit better. There’s some perspective that maybe I didn’t have before, but it’s still just self-indulgent rock ’n’ roll.”
Work on what would become In Lieu of Flowers originally began almost three years ago. That’s when Higgs went into Eagle Audio Recording Studio with famed local singer-songwriter Brandin Lea (Flickerstick, The February Chorus) and recorded a track called “The Fall,” with studio co-owner Jeff Ward engineering. A few months later, Higgs went back to Eagle to lay down another song, using a handful of local musicians to help fill it out, a process he would employ for a good part of the album.
“The idea behind the record was for me to just keep borrowing friends to play the guitar or bass, piano, or whatever I needed” on a song, said Higgs. “Then I’d move on to the next song and use a whole new set of people, but then life always seemed to get in the way, and I was struggling to get it done that way. My impatience forced me to put a [proper] band together to finish it.”
Before the eventual permanent lineup was settled and the album finished, Flowers featured contributions from several local notables like Brenton Carney of The Unlikely Candidates (who is also the son of Hits’ guitarist John Carney); Jordan Richardson (Son of Stan, White Denim), who also mixed and mastered the album; Mathew T. Forrest Barton (Duell, The Phuss); and veteran roots rocker Carey Wolff, plus almost a dozen others.
Now that the record is finally out, Higgs looks forward to writing and playing more.
“It’s easy from here,” Higgs said. “We’re just going to have fun with it. The hard part is over. Now we can just focus on playing, getting the word out, and writing and working on the next record. I’m sure by then, we’ll be giving this one away.”