By Jon Schroeder
Killeen Daily Herald
Whether it's ghetto rock, Texas country or metal, there's music in the Central Texas air – but area bands say it might be drying up.
While a few bands from the area are becoming established, with stores selling their CDs alongside national names, some are still trying to break into national markets.
Three of those bands share aspirations of growth and business instincts.
All are located in nearby cities and play in the area regularly, but their messages vary widely. The Zach Huckabee band, Downsiid and KriticKill each have a role to play in maintaining – and, to some extent, rebuilding–- the Central Texas music scene. All three are in the process of rolling out new labels, shows or albums, and when it comes to music, they're ready to rock.
Playing music that's part Texas county, part old-style blues and rock, part genre-defying original material, Huckabee, 22, is an up-and-coming artist from Lampasas. Even though Huckabee is a student shooting for graduation in December, he says the band is a full-time commitment.
"We're on the road a lot," Huckabee said.
The band, which also includes brothers Jacob and Jason Rivera on bass and drums, respectively, is committed to growing in a specific way. The regional taste in music, particularly for the mix of genres that is Huckabee's music, isn't the national norm, so jumping to the top of a few particular charts in the country underground radio scene can help determine the success of a band.
For now, Huckabee's newest album, titled "Tequila Angel," is available at some Hastings locations, and several tracks, including "Can't Stop the Rain," have neared stations' top 40 lists.
Despite the hard work, all three band members stay relaxed – between jokes and laughs, Huckabee admits "this is a full-time job."
But it isn't just a job.
"Life is so serious, all the time," Huckabee said, adding that his brand of music is the sort of thing that should get listeners "sitting down, (having) a beer and forgetting all your problems." At shows, he's typically a high-energy act, interacting with the crowd both on-stage and off.
Although Huckabee plays a mix of covers and his own material, his own sound doesn't derive from them. As he said, old country musicians "spoke the truth." Huckabee's lyrics aim at doing the same.
"Music's just about real life," he said. As a songwriter producing messages more country than the musical style he sets them to, Huckabee primarily takes his inspiration from life experience.
One of Huckabee's favorite lyrics, which will likely debut in a future song, goes, "I can't hear a thing/'Cause my dreams are screaming/I'm too young to die." Like lines in several of the other original songs he sings, that phrase rings with his band's hope for a bright future.
All it might take to bring that dream to reality, as bass player and backup vocalist Jacob Rivera says, is for people to "just hear us once."
With a combination of hip-hop, R&B and soul, Downsiid band members say they stay true to all three genres. They call their music "ghetto rock," sometimes terming the genre "nouveau."
The group's sound falls somewhere between Linkin Park, Sevendust and Korn, but as drummer and founder Rich Burgos (known as B.Rich) said, "We didn't really fall into any of those categories."
Downsiid's newest CD, "The Evolution of Ghetto Rock," is available online and in some regional Best Buy stores.
The band is in the process of filming its newest video, for the song "More Pain."
With recent coverage in Guitar World and Revolver magazines, the band might be on the cusp of jumping to the next level.
"We're not a garage band anymore," Burgos said, understating the band's tremendous growth over the last few years.
Over the last couple of years, the band has been trying to find a label. Ultimately, Downsiid started its own, keeping the rights to original music – Inner Global Records, which is different from other small labels because it handles distribution as well as publicity.
The band doesn't just play music, though. Burgos said everything its members do deals with Downsiid, but there's more to the band than music.
"It's not a glamorous thing," said DJ Akira MC, who provides backup vocals and works two turntables for the band. "But we're doing what we love."
He said the band is a business: "This is how we want to make the money to send the kids through college," and manager Pete Massey even spends a great deal of time on the road talking to investors.
He's not the only one working to promote the band. Burgos said every member of the band has dedicated many hours to working, whether it's practicing four days a week, spending time working with online promotions or booking future shows.
"It's nonstop," Akira said. "All of us dedicate ... more (time working) than a full-time job."
Despite all the work, the band "makes shows into events," said Alex Fuentes, who plays guitar and provides hard-edge backup vocals. "We've got something for y'all. Don't worry about it."
Downsiid's next big show is the Siid Show, a "rock-and-roll circus" slated for Feb. 2.
For a band with an ominous-sounding name, KriticKill (and yes, it's based on their dislike for critics) presents a friendly front.
"They do numerous benefits for the community and soldiers," said manager Cliff Dyer, saying that the band, a longtime mainstay in the Central Texas music scene, loves playing music for good causes.
While the band's roots are in metal and hard rock – KriticKill sounds like a cross between Killswitch Engage and Sevendust, according to fans –- the band's most recent effort, "Nothing Time Can't Heal," has more religious overtones and a more positive spin on their hard-rock message. Dyer said KriticKill's focus has matured with the band, and what was once an angry message on "Trust" and "Psalms" has become more complicated.
Now the band's music focuses on lyrics like those to "Another Chance at Life" on the newest album, which tells the story of an older, experienced person counseling a younger one against suicide.
"Take a step or two away from the edge, and let's talk about this," the song says.
The band is a five-piece affair, with Dave Irons singing, Donny "Trainwreck" Morse playing guitar and providing background vocals, Bryan "Deno Casino" Koestens on the bass, Todd Gardner on drums and Justin "Dynomite" Vernon on guitar.
The band has turned down multiple contracts from various labels, largely finding them unfriendly toward bands.
"The band doesn't want to give up the rights to (its) music," Dyer said. "The music industry these days is really, really jacked up."
Dyer said KriticKill will be rolling out its own label sometime in the near future, which he believes will be successful because the band has already produced three successful albums, available at Hastings and Renaissance Tapes and CDs in Killeen.
Like both Zach Huckabee and Downsiid, Dyer said each band member puts in more than 40 hours weekly, practicing several times, putting on several shows and working on self-promotion. Unlike each of the other bands, KriticKill's members each have other jobs on the side. They've been around longer than most bands in the area, playing to crowds of 400 to 600 for almost 10 years.
The music scene is much different in Central Texas than when they started playing – Dyer said crowds used to be comprised of 30 to 50 percent soldiers, and there used to be more bands completing in the area.
And what's changed?
Dyer points to the lack of a central location for area bands to play at – many local clubs, particularly those that were staples for live music fans, have gone under in the recent past, and without good places to play which will draw crowds, Central Texas music is steadily going downhill.
Putting on a show takes a great deal of work, to which all three bands can attest. To keep music in Central Texas, Dyer says its vital that its residents support local artists.
"Bands are a big part of the community," he said. "People in the Central Texas area need to make sure they go (support) all the bands."
Of his particular band, Dyer said it's important not to be afraid of the band's name or of the genre.
"Everybody comes out of the show happy," he said, noting that after a two-hour show, KriticKill usually spends another two hours hanging out with their fans. "People pay $10 to get in the show, and they get way more than that from the music."
Contact Jon Schroeder at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 547-0428