Rock Stars that Call Austin Home

Gary Clark, Jr. is an emerging artist from Austin who has been compared to both Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. [PHOTO CREDIT: Warner Bros Records]

We wouldn’t be the “Live Music Capital of the World” if we didn’t push out a few rock stars here and there. Here is a look into just a few successes from the last decade of Austin music. This shortlist is indeed, very short, but local bands extend much, much further. There are simply too many to list. Consider this the warm up.

Gary Clark, Jr.

Austin is a breeding ground for good blues music. The proof of that most recently resides in the riffs and voice of Gary Clark, Jr., an emerging artist who has been compared to both Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Clark has gained major acclaim from his 2012 album, Blak and Blu. It’s a debut album that sounds far from juvenile; this guy has the chops of a seasoned rock star. It makes sense when you learn that Clark’s been playing since he was 12, and spent his teens playing gigs around Austin. Clark’s talent was pushed into the spotlight thanks to Clifford Antone, former promoter and owner of Antone’s on Fifth Street. Then, a referral from Eric Clapton to perform at the Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2010 really set things in motion.

Since those early days, Clark has played major festivals such as ACL and Coachella, collecting praise like a magnet — “the savior of blues” and “a guitar virtuoso” are just a few. It’s also nice to know that in interviews, Clark stays grounded, humbly citing influence from artists like Jimmie Vaughan and Albert King. Stay tuned for his second album, which is likely to be as arresting as the first. It looks like Texas blues is back to stay.

“When you’re playing blues, the spaces between the notes can say as much as the notes themselves.” - Gary Clark, Jr.

Spoon

Here’s an irrefutable gem of Austin, Texas. With an unassuming blend of grit and pop-rock, Spoon — especially lead singer and writer, Britt Daniel — has picked up unprecedented acclaim and fame.

But like most major bands, Spoon wasn’t in the limelight from the get-go. Devised in Austin around 1993, the group had modest beginnings. Ironically enough, it took an appearance on “The O.C.” soundtrack in 2003 for the nation to really lean in and listen. Now, more than a decade later, Spoon has numerous accolades and a full discography to flaunt.

Yet from seven full-fledged albums, it’s hard to pick a favorite. SPIN magazine called Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga “endlessly compelling,” while The Guardian frequently referenced Gimme Fiction when it crowned Spoon the “best band in the past 10 years.” Interestingly, it was around this time that Daniel formed his indie super-troupe side-project, Divine Fits.

Regardless of Spoon’s future, any Austinite should tip their ear buds to the band’s versatility and influence at the turn of the millennium. These guys play the kind of stuff that fits any afternoon, melancholy morning or apartment pre-game. Check out some of their earlier tracks and you’ll hear that Austin spark. “Believing Is Art” from “Girls Can Tell” are good examples. It just feels like Sixth Street.

Ghostland Observatory

Here’s an Austin music alumnus that won’t be put in a box. Not even on a track-by-track basis. In just one song, Ghostland Observatory might fall through electro, psychedelia, rock, funk and soulful genres.

Surprisingly, the band’s origin is as odd as their sound. Its two members, Thomas Ross tuner and Aaron Behrens, met over an ad in the Austin Chronicle in 2002. Behrens posted for a “sound escapist,” Ross replied and voilà. “We made music babies right way,” Behrens recalled.

Unsurprisingly, Ghostland’s confidence has worked for the better. Since their conception, they’ve headlined major festivals such as Lollapalooza, Bonaroo and Coachella with mind-splattering laser shows and dance-y sets that last for hours. If you haven’t heard Ghostland, you should. Flip to “Give Me the Beat” next time you’re walking to class. You’ll lose your composure and love it.

Explosions In The Sky

Have you ever found yourself in a pit of existential thought? If so, Explosions In The Sky will be your post-rock saving grace. They’re loaded with mini-symphonies. They might even draw tears without a single line of lyrics.

Most of Explosions hails form Midland, Texas, but they found outbreak success in Austin in 1999. They were initially named “Breaker Morant” before a performance on KVRX in 2000 inspired the new name “Explosions in The Sky.” The name change proved important — Explosions released two successful half-albums, How Strange, Innocence and The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place, around 2002, then wrote and produced the soundtrack to the film “Friday Night Lights” in 2004. They’ve played countless live shows, including a very memorable set at Auditorium Shores in 2009, which included actual explosions in the sky, aka fireworks.

More recently, the group has returned to the soundtrack sandbox. This year they produced the score for “Prince Avalanche,” a film about Bastrop’s recovery from the wildfires in 2011, starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch. The score called for a less dramatic tone from Explosions, but was easily inspired. Drummer Chris Hrasky elaborated in an interview with Pitchfork.

“When we’ve done film work … writing goes so much quicker because we have the emotional map in front of us — we just have to find something to accentuate,” he said.

Listen for more of Explosions In the Sky in the film “Lone Survivor,” a true war story starring Mark Wahlberg. It’ll be interesting to see how these films have altered Explosions’ style, if at all, in upcoming studio tracks.