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Interview: Scott Ayers

Interview: Scott Ayers
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Leon casino, teenpainScott Ayers’ musical career lives on in new band, The Dead Links
By Jack Betz
Illustration by Blake Jones

Scott Ayers is, to say the least, an important figure in Houston rock history. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Ayers was the driving creative force behind experimental rock act Pain Teens. The band combined the sultry singing of female vocalist Bliss Blood with Ayers’ scorching math-rock guitar riffs (and his handmade tape loops). The noisy echoes of Ayers’ influence are easy to hear in many contemporary local bands, like Indian Jewelry and Balaclavas.

In November, the band played their first reunion show in years -presumably their first official date since the Pain Teens’ 1995 breakup. They headlined the first half of a two-night Axiom reunion extravaganza, joined by the likes of Houston veterans Toto Ehio, Poor Dumb Bastards, and Anarchitex (of which Ayers is also founding member). They followed this performance up with another date in Austin, playing with former Trance Syndicate labelmates Ed Hall and Crust; and fortunately, there have been a few dates added since, and it looks like there are more to come.

I met Scott at Antidote a few weeks ago to discuss his legacy, what he’s working on now, and what the future holds for the Pain Teens and his other musical endeavors.

Really it was seeing all The Dead Links shows on Space City Rock that inspired me to interview you and ask you what you’ve been doing lately. Can you talk about The Dead Links a little?

It’s just something that started off with this me and this singer. Basically, I’m making all these demos with no vocals. Some of them are rock songs, some of them are ambient, and some of them are noise- or whatever. But I met this guy – my ex-wife’s roommate – and he had been on a major label a few years back with this band called Twenty Mondays. So I gave him some tracks and he picked the ones he liked and wrote words for some of them.

From what I’ve read, it appears you’ve only played a couple of shows so far. Where do you see it going?

I don’t know exactly where it’s going to go. We’ve been wanting to put this album out and it’s really… refined. It’s different than what I’ve done before. There’s singing and harmonies and it’s something that sounds kind of like Pink Floyd or something.

That’s good because last time you guys played, at the Axiom reunion show, I feel like not enough people knew about it. A lot of people I spoke to said they had no idea. Do you see yourselves doing more reunion shows or is this more of a one-off thing that just happened a second time?

Well, I would like to do a few shows a year if people can come through with the money.

Yeah, because Bliss lives in another part of the country now, right?

Yeah, she has to fly in from New York and that’s an extra 500 bucks.

What is it about Houston that makes it such a fertile place for bands such as Balaclavas, Indian Jewelry, and Pain Teens to write songs with so much darkness? Pain Teens wasn’t all doom and gloom but there was definitely that dark depth to it. Do you think it’s something about the city?

For us, it was more of a rebellion against any kind of sing-songy pop. And then later, we were doing some self-parody and stuff. But yeah, it was a rebellion against the “alternative” band where everything was all singer/songwriter. We were very independent-minded.

You did some pretty progressive stuff during Pain Teens, as far as tape manipulation and loops, without, I would imagine, a lot of computers or digital equipment. Was that a lot of work to get it to sound that way -compared to what it would be like now?

Yeah maybe, but tape is kind of forgiving in a way. We definitely didn’t do anything according to any rules. Stuff would get recorded badly, like really badly, but we’d make it work.

Some of the tape stuff you did kind of reminded me of that guy from Mission of Burma, you know, Marvin Swope, with the tape effects. They came to Fitzgerald’s a few months ago and they were good but that guy wasn’t there and that was a little disappointing.

Yeah, I mean I would even tape sections of tape together to create a loop. The part where they, met you can hear it slip.