Houstonian Tales: Bucky Thuerwachter
Houston was once known, for a long time, as a place where cover bands thrived and touring acts feared to appear. It doesn’t seem that way now, but in my lifetime I’ve seen it shift dramatically from those dark days that lead us into the mid-’90s. You see, the music back then was nothing short of lackluster, minus a handful of bands. Today that’s pretty much changed and bands don’t skip Houston as often as they once did. While there are plenty of names who helped make that possible, the best bearer of the flame is possibly Bucky Thuerwachter, formerly of booking collective Hands Up Houston. The guys behind the collective changed how agents looked at Houston and helped pave the way for the thriving scene we have here today. While Thuerwachter has moved on to multiple projects since the collective parted ways, his place in the city’s history should never be overshadowed. Free Press Houston caught up with him to talk about all he’s done and what he’s up to now with his new shop, Wired Up.
FPH: How do you pronounce your last name and is your birth name Bucky?
Bucky Thuerwachter: Full name is William Buckley Thuerwachter. It’s pronounced Thuer-walk-ter.
FPH: How long have you been like you are with music, meaning that you’re involved with bringing in bands and interested in bands that aren’t popular when you discover them?
Thuerwachter: Ha, I’ve been into music since I was a wee skate rat at the tender age of thirteen. I was always looking and digging and discovering more and more bands, reading lyric sheets and interviews and notating bands thanked and name checked. That can send you down a rabbit hole pretty quick. The popularity or not of a band doesn’t really matter to me. It’s just that thirst for the next band that i’m going to be completely excited about. It’s really more like a drug. You’re always looking for that high (says the straight edge kid).
In terms of booking, my first show I set up was in, I believe, June of 1995. I lived in Augusta, Georgia and my friend and I were massive ska fans. He had just received a record order in the mail from Far Out records from Florida and there was a flyer in there asking for help booking Against All Authority (ska punk) and Hudson (NOFX-style jams) on an East Coast tour. Well, duh, of course I was down to set that up. Got the venue, set up the gig, and then Less Than Jake called and asked if they could jump on the bill with their friends. Hell yes! Another touring band called Peepshow rounded out the show and there you had it. Less Than Jake, Against All Authority, Hudson, and Peepshow. I remember being so nervous that no one would show up, but it ended up a resounding success. Shortly after that, the guys that owned the venue where I had done the show were working on opening another venture and asked me to take over for them. So for a year or so, after my actual job (clerk in a mall music store), I ran the Capri Cinema in scenic downtown Augusta, Georgia, one of the first places James Brown ever performed at. That lasted until I moved back to Houston in December of 1996. In the interim, the Capri hosted performances by Archers Of Loaf, Wax, Letters To Cleo, AFI, Blanks 77, Scofflaws, Mephiskapheles, Sunbrain (Dave Dondero’s punk band), Pond, and a bunch more I can’t even remember now.
FPH: How did Hands Up Houston begin and what was your role within it?
Thuerwachter: Settle in for a bedtime story kids… The germ for Hands Up started probably sometime in late 1999/early 2000. Russell Etchen and I had talked about starting a music zine. We had both done previous ones — me in Georgia and Russell had a couple of great ones called Velvet Comics and Rumpshaker — but we really wanted a music zine for our scene/city. However, there really weren’t that many shows happening at that point in time. The scene of kids that had come up and done shows primarily at DIY places like Fonde Community Center (Inner Loop), Tamina Hall (Woodlands), Jasmine Hall (Lake Jackson), and Wade Road Skatepark (Baytown) had started to die down as kids graduated and/or moved to Austin or away. There were still quite a few larger shows happening at Fitzgerald’s and an occasional Numbers gig, and the local scene was thriving with bands, but there didn’t seem to be as many touring acts putting Houston on their routing so much anymore. Part of that was due to many of the venues at the time giving these bands a raw deal payment-wise or just general poor promotion making for poor shows. Not that I blame a band for skipping a bad town.
We quickly realized, no bands meant not much for a zine. Our solution? Why not bring the bands ourselves. Our mutual friend, Jason Colburn, had been bugging me about booking shows again with him so he was quickly brought into the fold. We three met and discussed it and really liked the idea of a collective of folks that bought all their own contacts and talents into the mix. Strength in numbers, right? Besides, we were tired of shows being halfway promoted and our friends not getting paid. We reached out to Lance Scott Walker, Ryan Chavez, and Anthony Calleo (of Pi Pizza) because they had all been bringing shows to Houston in the meantime. An advantage we had early on was that we had similar tastes, but definitely diverged from the core into different genres, guaranteeing us a wide variety of acts. So at the first gathering of us all we worked out some basic tenets that stayed with the group through its duration: good promotion, payment of local openers (as often as possible), and mostly importantly, if you’re not having fun, you’re free to leave the group at anytime. Next up, we needed a name. Luckily, we had the name from our stillborn zine “Hands Up, Who Wants To Die?,” which was the opening line of Sonny’s Burning off the Birthday Party’s Bad Seed EP. Lance suggested, very democratically, that the name sounded rather negative and perhaps we shorten it to just Hands Up. Houston was quickly added for regional pride and voila, Hands Up Houston. Lance, Ryan, and Anthony were the initial contacts with agents and bands since they were already doing that and Russell and Jason both worked at Copy.com, providing us a steady avenue to make and print high quality, full color posters and enabled them to have near constant online presence via Friendster (ha!), then Myspace and our message board. I was the indie buyer at Soundwaves which kept me in contact with labels and I could spread the word that there was a new group of kids booking shows in town. It was also a great place to disseminate show info and turn folks onto touring bands. I am also a bit of a control freak, so I’d help do production and logistics on a lot of the shows, get hospitality, and was also responsible for most of the postering and flyering. But in the end, we all did a little of everything.
It was decided that any show already set up by any of us would fall under our banner, so thusly, on Friday, March 10, 2000, Hands Up Houston put on it’s inaugural show which was Port Vale (Lance’s band), Freedom Sold, and Modulator at the Oven (later Mangos). Within the next three months we had put on shows by Alkaline Trio, Honor System (pre-Rise Against), American Steel, Elizabeth Elmore (Sarge), Aloha, Sean Na Na (aka Har Mar Superstar), Good Clean Fun, Planes Mistaken For Stars, The Casket Lottery, The Paper Chase, 90 Day Men, Orchid, and the first of many Lightning Bolt shows. And from there this just really started to take off.
FPH: Was the plan for it to grow as big as it did and what was your favorite show that you guys booked?
Thuerwachter: Not really. We didn’t have any set rules for it. I mean, it started off as a group of friends that wanted to set up shows for our out of town friends and other bands we liked. To put Houston back on the map, so to speak. And to do so ethically. Make sure we can pay the bands. Houston had had a long history of promoters more than happy to turn tail with the box office and run, even with larger promoters. And any profit went into savings to pay for maybe a show that doesn’t do as well or for better PA equipment. We wanted to be able to provide a good live experience. And we also grew with a lot of the bands. It just so happened that a lot of what we liked and booked kinda blew up. Our first Alkaline Trio show had maybe 40 to 60 folks. Right place, right time possibly. By around a year in we had done shows with Blood Brothers, The Faint, Leatherface, Samiam, At The Drive-In, The Locust, Murder City Devils, Botch, Radio 4, Le Shok, New Found Glory, Dashboard Confessional, Ted Leo, Poison The Well, and a ton more. It was crazy how fast it picked up, but we didn’t really think about it. We just plowed ahead.
As far as a favorite show? That’s tough, there’s so many favorite shows. So many different kinds of bands. The biggest and most intense was doing Fugazi during their final tour. 2,000 kids came out. We lobbied to put a little known band called Explosions In the Sky on as direct support. It was their ever first Houston show. Hmm, the only Le Shok show in Texas ever. At the end of the set, the crowd attacked the band (playfully). Ted Leo playing his first show in Houston ever solo in my friend’s living room, him getting a bit tipsy and ending up playing random covers we called out long after he’d exhausted all his originals (he’s a musical savant!). Dancing to Vue, The Faint, and Camera Obscura at the Metropol. The Gold Standard Labs showcase where The Locust almost collapsed the floor of the venue. Clinic playing Mary Jane’s. The Braid reunion show. The Convocation Of/Get Hustle/Love Life show where only six people showed up. I literally went around the corner and cried I was so upset. These were bands I championed hard. But from the moment Love Life went on (lit only by 200-plus tea candles all around them), they all played with such abandon it is easily one of the most awesome shows I’ve ever seen. There are lots of other memorable ones as well. Poison The Well in the old tiny Student Video Network studio at UH and cramming 200-plus kids in. New Found Glory and Dashboard Confessional at the Oven and packing literally over 350 people in there (this was when they still had 2 pool tables inside). Alkaline Trio in the commons area of the towers at UH. Thursday being super humble and saying they would be thrilled if a handful of people came to their first gig in Houston and later that night selling out Mary Jane’s. Broken Social Scene at The Proletariat. Godspeed You! Black Emperor at the Engine Room. The Locust/Good Clean Fun/Flying Luttenbachers/Soophie Nun Squad show in the Grand Ballroom at Rice. Death Cab For Cutie’s first show at Notsuoh. Just about any show at Notsuoh was memorable actually. Sometimes they’re memorable for the bands, other times for what we had to go through to actually pull some of these off.
FPH: What caused Hands Up to end, and would you start another booking collective again?
Thuerwachter: Hands Up ultimately ended because it became not fun anymore. You have to remember, this was all volunteer. Nobody got paid. It was a complete and total labor of love. There were mandatory weekly meeting, in addition to days spent designing and disseminating flyers and posters. That’s not including actual process of producing the show. That’s a lot of time to devote. By the end, we were doing an average of one show every three days. We’d had plenty of people go through our ranks, and once someone left, we’d bring others in. But in the end, it became too much of a strain. For everyone. We used to joke that you didn’t have a job, or a significant other, or a life; you had Hands Up. So when we decided no one was having fun, we wound things down. The last show was Wednesday, February 9, 2005. High On Fire, Planes Mistaken For Stars, and Kylesa. Hands Up was officially put to bed on March 10 of that year, 5 years, to the day, after it started.
As far as doing it again? Never say never. And that didn’t mean I stopped doing shows. I’ll still set up and occasional show here or there for bands I’d really like to see. Lightning Bolt on Khon’s rooftop in midtown, Masshysteri from Sweden, Casiotone For The Painfully Alone, Youth Code.
FPH: Was it strange doing Domy with Russell from Hands Up?
Thuerwachter: Not at all. Russell and I never stopped being friends and I loved what Domy was about. I was very honored to be asked to take over the Houston location while he set up and ran the Austin store. Our tastes were similar enough and we’re both obsessive, so we just built on our strengths.
FPH: Was opening an Austin location what caused Domy to close up?
Thuerwachter: No. Russell and I just worked for the owner. Domy was really his baby. He just trusted us enough to leave us with the keys to the candyshop. He eventually envisioned other plans for the spaces. Namely, returning the Houston store to a full fledged art gallery, The Brandon.
FPH: After all you’ve been through with booking shows and a retail location that closed up, what made you want to do it again with Wired Up?
Thuerwachter: I’ve always wanted to own a record store and after working at Domy I wanted to add books and cultural things into the mix as well. Just kind of noticing a void and filling it. Plus all of those things tie into and influences each other more than most folks know. Ryan Taylor of East End Barber had a space available next to him, was a fan of Domy, and shared the inclination of having a music, so he invited me to join him and our mutual friend, Toby Taylor (no relation) in opening a store. And now here we are.
FPH: Do you ever feel like with Hands Up and with Domy and Wired Up that the city isn’t ready for things as progressive and forward as it is in places like Brooklyn?
Thuerwachter: Not at all. Lots of people picked up the torch after Hands Up. You had Super Unison, Hate Tank, and Pegstar all bringing shows to town. Domy was definitely supported and well-loved by the community. Sometimes it’s just boils down to circumstance. These places didn’t close down for lack of support, it was just their time. Some of it may be that Houston is just now really becoming a city that people move to instead if away from. You always need new blood. New inspiration. That’s kinda the message maybe. If there’s something you like in your town or any other you happen to be in, then help keep it alive and support it. Because behind most of those places, events, whatever somebody is pouring their time and effort into and making their town great.
You can definitely learn a lot about someone in how they choose to spend their free time, especially when they’re doing it for love or love of the game. I’ve always kind of felt like Bucky has been ahead of the curve, and always doing things in Houston that make this vast swamp feel a lot closer to LA or Brooklyn. You can catch up with Bucky daily at Wired Up Modern Conveniences, usually in the afternoon, and ask his opinion on what you should purchase. Because when you ask someone who makes a living off of what they love, their opinion is almost always the best indicator.