Texas Is The Reason Interview with Norman Brannon

Grant Lawrence catches up with Texas Is The Reason founding member Norman Brannon to talk about the band's past, present and future.

So TITR is back, October 2012 saw the first shows since the last reunion in 2006, what brought this all about this time round and how were the shows for you guys?

The shows were great for us, but it was interesting to play three shows in a row and have them all feel so different. Like, the first one back — at the Music Hall of Williamsburg — was the total adrenaline rush. That show is a total blur to me, really. We just kind of ran out the gate and let a lot of things out, which is, I think, a really great thing. The second show, a secret show at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn, that one brought us back to the early shows we used to play. It reminded me a little bit of this club we used to play in Manhattan a lot called Brownies. Just us and a few hundred people and everyone was just present, you know? It felt like everyone in that room was so invested in what was happening. The third show, at Irving Plaza, was basically the show where all of that finally merged and we really found our rhythm. As for what it brought it all about, I guess technically it would have been that Revelation asked us to play their festival. But in reality, I think what really brought everything back around was the realization that this might be the last chance we'd ever have to record the two songs that never got recorded or released. Those two songs have just been so firmly planted in our memories — they're a part of our lives and our histories, and we just love them so much — we knew it had to happen. The band wouldn't be able to rest until everything was finally out there.

Going back to the beginning, how'd you guys all hook up to start TITR and who was the Misfits fan to come up with the name?

We didn't actually come up with the name! Our friend Chris Leo — Ted Leo's brother — had just finished naming his new band The Van Pelt and we didn't have one yet so Scott asked Chris what The Van Pelt would have been called if they hadn't chosen that name. He said the number-two choice was Texas is the Reason. Scott and Garrett called me right away and were like, "That's it." I think I resisted for a second — probably because of the Misfits reference actually — but I gave in when I started asking all these old school hardcore people what they thought of the name and absolutely none of them picked up the reference until I mentioned it. That was my main concern: I didn't want people to see our name and think of the Misfits first. But that's never happened. It's funny, but I think naming our band Texas is the Reason gave that lyric a lot of shine it maybe didn't have before.

Why did TITR call it a day originally and what is your most memorable show before the initial break up?

Honestly, we broke up more than once. We were kind of always on the verge of breaking up. All I can say about that is that this is an intense band to be in. We're intense people. All of us. So it makes it kind of difficult to exist unless we are all making a really concerted effort to keep it cool, and I think we're able to do that a lot better now that we're all adults. When we were younger, there was just a lot of loose cannon business in our group. As far as memorable shows go, that's tough. I don't know that I had a most memorable show in the sense that you're talking about, but I'd definitely say that our last two tours in America (with the Promise Ring) and then Europe were pretty full of incredible experiences. It was a time when everything was just peaking — the shows were bigger and better, the new songs we were writing were different and exciting, it just felt like everything was clicking on a band level. Unfortunately, we were having issues on a personal level, and I think when it all came down to it, we decided we'd rather be friends than bandmates. And we stayed true to that. The only reason we can do these shows now is because we're friends first.

I know you and Scott were playing in New End Original after the break up, what happened with NEO in the end? The NEO LP that was released was great. Has there been any other bands you, Scott, Garett or Chris have been involved with over the last few years that we might not know about?

New End didn't work out for a number of reasons. Honestly, that could be its own interview, but if I had to speak for myself, I'd say I was just in the headspace of realizing that I didn't really want to play in a touring band. I love writing music, I love playing music, I love playing shows — but when you have to get in a van or a bus and do it every night… I can't really do it. Being on tour like that means that if you're playing 30 shows in 40 nights, there are going to be nights where your 100% isn't going to be at full capacity. And maybe I'm idealistic, but I want to play at full capacity every single time. So that's probably why I stopped playing in bands. The other guys have all done different things — obviously, Chris played in Jets to Brazil, which was probably the biggest of the ex-Texas bands. But there was also Solea, Vs. Antelope, I Hate Our Freedom, and House & Parish. Garrett still plays solo as Zena Rd. And Chris also plays in Supertouch right now.


The photo above was taken by Daniel Klein (R.I.P) at the first show back at the Music Hall Of Williamsburg, Brooklyn New York 10/10/12. Grant met Daniel and his girlfriend outside in the line for the show. Six weeks after meeting Daniel, Grant learnt from his girlfriend that he had passed away. At a recent Philly show TITR played the quiet intro to "Back And To The Left" in Daniel's honour as that was the last piece of music he listened to as he passed away.

In your eyes, what sort of legacy do you think the band left?

I don't like the notion of a "legacy" and I actively resist that because I think it's a construct that people make up to feed our need to fit reality into a tidy little narrative — and I just don't think real life works that way. We left a lot of memories — I think people feel like we did our thing with integrity, that we left a small but impactful number of songs in the world, that we never phoned it in and that we were honest, even when it sucked to be honest. But a "legacy" implies something sacred, or something we need to protect, and I don't feel that way about this. Texas is the Reason played a massive role in who we became as human beings; it was a major formative moment for all four of us. That's enough for me.
Does it surprise you that today there is still a lot of interest in TITR?

I guess I tend to see those things as kind of random, right? Like, we used to play with this band Samuel a lot, who were just one of the best bands ever, and it kills us that no one really knows who they are anymore. But I don't know if I'd say we're as surprised as we just are grateful. I know so many people who play music, who would just kill for anyone to listen to their records — it's not easy. So to know that thousands of people continue to buy our records every year, even though we broke up 15 years ago, that's just astonishing in the best way.
With song titles such as "Back and To The Left" and "The Magic Bullet Theory" one would presume you guys were a little obsessed with JFK. Would this be the case?

I think we are obsessed with concepts and ideas in general. Our lyrics and artwork and t-shirts are all somehow interconnected with references and ideas that come from different places — some more obvious than others — so yeah, those song titles clearly reference something that is connected to our name. ("Texas is the reason that the president's dead," so goes the lyric.) But there were other things sprinkled throughout the records, things that might only even be obvious to us. We liked to keep things interesting like that.

There was major label interest before ending, but around the same time, there was a lot of debate in the hardcore scene about "selling out". Despite the fact you guys had moved away from that NYHC sound, did you still feel anchored to the ethics of the scene?

That's tough to answer because I'm not sure there was any singular idea of "ethics" in hardcore at that time, and especially not in New York. We had our own ethics as a band, I think — influenced more by the DC way of thinking, I'd say — and we definitely expressed that in how we did things. We were always completely involved in every aspect of our world and we were insanely protective of what we were making. So if that meant we'd play a basement in Minneapolis instead of the big club on tour, then that's what we did — much to the chagrin of our booking agent! In other words, we felt very connected with DIY and with independent modes of being.
The thing is this: We actually had major label interest from our first show. We could have signed at literally any point in our career, but we kept staving it off. We signed a two-album deal with Revelation thinking the majors would back off, but then they basically started trying to make offers to buy Revelation. It was seriously an insane time, and I don't think a lot of people really remember that about our story unless they were in the industry. People don't realize that we turned down a deal that was worth more than 3 million dollars. Literally. That said, it wasn't like we were trying to be Fugazi. We just wanted to make the right decision for us, and none of those offers fit the bill. So that there is our ethic, really. We were influenced by punk idealism, for sure, but we weren't interested in outright adopting anyone's dogma.
After releasing the first EP, what made you guys stay with Revelation for the LP that followed?

I think we just knew we didn't want to do what Quicksand and Orange 9mm and so many of our friends were doing — the one EP and then go to a major thing. It felt like everything was just happening so fast for the band and I think we made a conscious decision to try to slow things down as much as we could. Doing an album with Revelation and having total control of where we were going musically without the outside influence of a commercial industry was important to us. We figured that if we were eventually going to sign to a major that we wanted to be as fully-realized a band as we could possibly be. That was going to take time. If the majors couldn't wait, we didn't care. We went on our own timeline.

TITR released 3 splits also, Samuel, The Promise Ring and the live one with Samiam, why these bands?

We played our first show with Samuel. They were our first real comrades in this whole thing, and we really wanted to do something with them to cement that relationship. We met the Promise Ring on our first U.S. tour and the way we hit it off as people… it was just instant. We knew that our bands sounded different from one another and I think that's what drew us to each other. Because we all liked the same things, we made the same references, we listened to the same bands — but that translated into two very different bands. That record is one of my favorites, I think, because we each went in writing a song that we thought would sound great with the other band's music. We influenced each other directly on those songs, and it shows. The Samiam split is more complicated. We went on tour with them and recorded that record on purpose, but the label ultimately put it out without our final permission. That was the hitch: We needed a final say on everything. Your Choice Records just disappeared for a year and then, out of the blue, it was released. So ultimately, lawyers were called and things got a little ugly and now it's out of print. We're still great friends with Samiam, and we love them as a band, so it's a shame that Your Choice had to make that experience a negative one.

Is playing with the other guys in TITR something you've missed over the years? How was it for you to reunite with them back in 2006 and again now?

It's weird. I don't know that I miss being in a band in general — it's a lot of fucking work! But I do miss the making music part, the part when everything clicks, the part when it feels like you're in a gang and your gang is awesome. So there's that. The thing about our band, though, is that even when it was happening, I knew this was the last band I'd ever really want to be in. I tried with other people, but this particular chemistry just works when we play. If you put the four of us in a room it just makes sense.
Did you guys struggle to remember any of the songs at all for both reunions?

Not at all. These songs are total muscle memory for us. They're the songs we go to when we pick up our instruments. It's kind of crazy how these songs are going to outlast us.

Getting the chance to finally record the 2 last songs you guys wrote, you all must be pretty stoked on that? Was it fun working with J Robbins for it?

The studio is never "fun," as it were, but recording with J. is as close as it gets. He's absolutely like the fifth member of this band, but he's also the member without any baggage attached to him. We just love and respect him so much, and the thing about our relationship is that J. goes out of his way to make us know that it's a mutual thing. When J. is excited about something we're doing, we're excited, because we think he's got a flawless taste level.
So from what we've seen, the double LP and CD re-issue coming out in Feb looks to be amazing, making for a sweet complete discography all packaged nicely together for the 1st time. Was this TITR's idea or Revelations? Is there going to be a DVD release of either of the two latest reunion shows?

The Complete Collection was sort of a creature of circumstance, basically. Revelation told us they'd be ceasing production on the CD version of our first 7-inch, and really, I kind of wonder how it took this long. Three songs on a CD always felt weird to me. But yeah, once that was in the cards, we knew we were going to have to start merging the catalog — and a discography CD was something that we'd talked about before. Again, it all came down to recording the new songs. If we could do that, then we knew we could release something really special and complete — and that's what we did. At this point, if you're going to make a physical product, it really needs to be something worthwhile, so we went out of our way to add as much value to the record as possible. We're really proud of it.
There are no plans for a DVD, but we're not completely finished yet. I don't think there's a market for DVDs much anymore, but maybe we'll do something else. It's tough to say without making promises or closing doors, so I'll leave it at that.

Are these upcoming shows the final last call for TITR or are more being planned? What do us Aussies fans have to do to get you guys down here to play some shows for us too? lol

We're finishing up the American dates now — the last U.S. show will be the show in Los Angeles. We're playing in Europe in April, at the Groezrock festival, but right now that's the only confirmed date. All I can say about that is that when we are finally going to play the last show ever, we'll say so.
As for Australia, really, we wanted to come! But scheduling is a problem for our families and careers and going down under is a real commitment. It's pretty much impossible for us, unfortunately.
Any last words you'd like to share?

It's generic, but obviously, I wanted to thank everyone for keeping this band alive for so long and for allowing me to do something that I love to do one more time. I know we won't get to play everywhere to everyone, and that's a drag, but to know that we've already made thousands of new folks happy by doing this — that's pretty priceless. It's also amazing to feel like this band really is as special as I always thought it was, that I wasn't just living inside of a delusion. It's a privilege to be able to be here at all almost twenty years later, and we know that.

Check out a full set from the first show live at the Music Hall Of Williamsburg, Brooklyn New York 10/10/12 filmed by Grant.

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