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Interview with astragal

By Iliana Ramirez
Music Journalist

This photo of the band features the band posing in a room decorated with wall art and lit by a lamp
Houston-based band, astragal. Photo courtesy of astragal.

Just before the release of their new EP, EP II, I got to chat with Houston-based band, astragal. The band is comprised of Jimmy (vocals and guitar), David (bass guitar) and Sam (drums). Through each single and EP the band has released, they have explored genres of shoe-gaze, dream-pop and post-punk. In an over the phone interview, the trio discusses their new EP, the current state of the Houston music scene, and the way in the which the band came about.

Iliana Ramirez: To jump right into it, can you guys give me some details about the new EP?

Jimmy: It’s called EP II. Originally, we weren’t going to write an EP. We went up to Denton to record a single with our friends, Sad Cops. We ended liking recording with them so much that we ended up with an EP of songs. We felt like the songs related to our first EP which is why the artwork is similar to it. It’s basically the photo of our first EP but instead at night time. It also carries some similar themes, but we’ve grown a lot as a band. I’ve grown a lot in my lyrics and in my singing. It’s a representation of who we are now.

IR: Do you guys think you’ll carry on this theme with similar album art?

J: We’re always looking for new things artistically. I personally like similar themes and a band having that kind of aesthetic or brand. We’ve been thinking about something more abstract for our new album art. We’ve been into more paintings and illustrations lately rather than photographs. We see this EP as the last of graphic art in a way. We like using the band to showcase other artists as much we can. We’re always looking to support our friends who make art and other mediums besides music.

IR: Going off of supporting local artists, how would you guys describe the Houston music scene?

J: It’s always influx in my opinion. I think that’s just music in general. You can get down on your favorite Houston bands calling it quits or your favorite venue closing. At the end of the day, it’s good to be sentimental. You have to realize that things change. I like to use change as a way to move forward. We’ve had a lot of venues close and it’s hit us pretty hard honestly. Especially a lot of all ages venues, which were stomping grounds for a lot of the bands here.

Sam: I would say it’s a pretty random scene and definitely spontaneous.

J: There’s always lots of new bands popping up and also ending all of the time. Everyone is always learning from each other. It’s also not very elitist.

David: It’s really spread out which can be hard to get people to come to shows and to get bands to know that there are other bands like them in the scene. It’s not a set-in stone scene, which is not a bad thing. It’s not like the same bands are playing with each other every night to the same crowd. It’s different every time.

J: It’s a city that’s small enough to grow and develop in but its big enough to humble you in a way.

S: I see a lot of different people at the same shows. It’s crazy how small the local music scene actually is compared to the size of the city.

J: Its massive! I think you have to work harder in Houston. You have to seek creativity and beauty harder. You have to go out of your way to look for things that are cool rather than them being presented to you. I think that gives everyone a chip on their shoulder in Houston.

IR: Do you guys have any bands from Houston that are your favorite?

D: El Lago is amazing as well as Small Chair.

S: There’s this really great band here called Ruiners.

J: I really like this artist called Limb. He does electronic stuff and does really spontaneous shows. He does scores for plays around Houston.

IR: What are some improvements or things you would like to see from the scene in the future?

S: I would like to see a variety of openers, not the same locals that are opening up for other bands. I would also like to see more younger bands get some more recognition.

J: There’s a lot of bands younger than us that are just total rippers. There’s this band called Pike Dream. They have a lot of one-minute songs that are really sick! They’re all about 15, 16, and 17. It would also be nice to have another all ages venue that cater to local bands. Some venues in Houston definitely monopolize music in an industry way but I guess that’s true for any city.

S: I think overall, I would just like to see more people be inclusive and come out to shows. I’ve noticed a lot of people go and see their friends’ bands and not really stick around for the rest of the bands. If you’re sticking around to see one band, I think it’s worth it to stick around for the rest of them because odds are the other bands are just as good as the first one.

D: People just love free stuff. If we play any kind of show that’s free, they’re always packed.

IR: Do you guys have any advice for those wanting to start their own band?

J: Don’t be afraid to reach out to the older bands for advice. Any time I ever reached out to someone that I looked up to, they’ve always guided me and would even have me in their band. Don’t worry about financial difficulties as well, just give what you can. I think a really good musician will be able to play on anything.

D: We used to play on horrible instruments, but we did it. We worked with what he had. People in the crowd don’t care, they don’t know what kind of pedals you’re using. Stage presence is also important because if you’re reclusive on stage, it’s the kind of energy you’re putting out into the crowd. We have pretty energetic sets now, which we always get a lot of comments on. Don’t be scared to loosen up a little bit!

J: Yeah. If you mess, up then you mess up. We mess up when we play all of the time. You just have to look at each other, smile and move on. To younger bands, come play a show with us!

S: We’re just as nervous as those younger bands!

IR: Jumping off of that, do you guys prefer to play house shows or bigger venues?

J: I like it all! When I was younger, I always expected a bigger rock show and for people to care. The older I get, the more I realize that people don’t have to care what I do. I just have to care about it. I put in the energy I want, and I have a good time regardless of where we play. Even if we have a bad show, we’ll always hang out after the show as a band.

S: I would say my favorite is mid-size music venues. I’m a big fan of a good dive bar that has a good sound system and a good sound guy. Any place with a monitor I’m a fan of especially as a drummer.

D: I like the huge stadiums that Beyonce plays in. I love a good mid-size venue. We played a festival last year, and it felt amazing to be on that stage!

S: It was so wild to hear our stuff projecting a mile outward.

D: House shows are super good, especially the ones in Denton. They have it down to a T. They have real PA systems, they know how to mix their rooms, and they just know how to handle everything overall. House shows just really let you interact with everyone.

J: Denton is our second home town basically. We really love it.

IR: Do you guys have any dream venues you would like to play?

S: I want to play at this festival called Pickathon! As well as the masquerade in Atlanta and the Orange peel in Nashville.

J: Yeah! Definitely a lot of east coast places like Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn.

IR: As for the new EP, I saw on Instagram that you guys were taking a new direction. Could you elaborate on that?

J: We’ve really honed in on what our sound is as a band. We took this trip to North Carolina to my parent’s cabin and just kind of secluded ourselves out there. We sat down and just figured out what kind of band we were. We figured out what kind of genres we liked and what sounds we liked for each instrument. The music is a lot more introspective lyrically on this EP. My lyrics were always based off of memories I was really fond of; nostalgic, dreamy, and about scenery. The lyrics on this EP are more about what’s currently happening in my life. We really like our sound on this EP compared to our last EP. I’m really proud of us!

IR: How did you guys all come together to form the band?

S: Me and Jimmy originally met at a Beach House show. He was wearing a nice button-down shirt and I was wearing an Animal Collective t-shirt which we both complimented each other on. I ran into him again a couple weeks later at a DIIV show and we acknowledged the fact that we were seeing some of our favorite band’s shows. We decided that we wanted to jam with each other just because we obviously have some of the same inspiration. I met this guy on craigslist who knew David and we all met up. Overall just mutual relations and random occurrences.

IR: What are your guys’ favorite part of the process in regard to releasing new music?

D: I love recording. But Jimmy is a PR master!

J: I like connecting the audio to the visual and then learning how to promote it. I’m so interested in marketing and art so combining the two is interesting.

S: I would say recording as well just because the people that we record with are a match made in heaven for us.

J: We recorded this EP in Denton and it was written in about a two-three-month span.

IR: What do you guys want listeners to get out of this EP?

D: I want people to feel things but not necessarily the things that we feel. I want them to feel like whatever they’re feeling is happening. I just really want them to relate to the music.

S: I would say I just want people to get hungry because we have a lot of things in the future that we’re planning on doing. I want them to get ready and understand that we’re here to take over the world.

J: I don’t have anything I’m trying to push on anyone with my music. There’s no real purpose of the things I write for anyone else. It’s more of something for myself. I don’t mean it in a selfish way but the first reason I make music is for myself and the second reason is to show other people. I don’t think there’s anything in particular that I want anyone to feel. If they do respond, I think that’s interesting.

IR: To end things off, are there any artists or bands you guys are currently listening to at the moment?

S: Right now, I’m really into this band called Mourn and Men I Trust. I’ve also just been recycling some of the old favorites like Elliot Smith and Nick Drake.

J: I like this band called Choir Boy a lot and also these band called Lithics and Corridor. I’m always listening to this band called the Clientele, they’re my all-time favorite. My girlfriend showed me an Aly and AJ song that was really good.

IR: Lastly, what can listeners expect from you guys in the next few months?

S: Huge things!

J: Money moves. We’re gonna demo out this new album that we have, get it done, and send it out to some people.

Check out astragal’s new EP down below as well as on Apple music and on their Bandcamp!

Featured image by Jonathan Mazaltov.

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