Let’s not call El Pathos a punk/underground supergroup or all star band, okay? Even if those who’ve had their itchy trigger fingers on the pulse of the potent scene in, around and passing through Austin, Texas since the 1980s will no doubt find the group’s line-up an enticing and exciting prospect.
Rather, El Pathos is a musical quantity that coalesced as a result of fate, fortune, friendship and muses that organically aligned. Some in the know might consider its members stars of some sort from their stints in such cutting-edge bands as The Dicks, Offenders, SubPop moto-rockers Catbutt and other notable acts that rock of recent decades. Hell yeah it’s a group that’s super: David Duet on vocals, Rob Buford and Rich Wiley on guitars, Buxf Parrot on bass, Pat Doyle on drums and Mark Kenyon on slide and lap steel guitars. Just listen to their debut album, Love & Hate, for full-throttle confirmation of that fact. And play it loud, okay?
From the blend of soaring, snarling and searing strains of the very first track, “Election Day,” it’s dead obvious that something both gloriously and dangerously timeless is at work on Love & Hate. “Straight Into The Sun” follows to reach back to the era of garage rock and early psychedelia and then drop kick it into the chaos and fury of the 21st Century. Their punk roots power such pummeling tracks as “Ghost,” “Of Days,” “Sundown” and “Rockets Red Glare” that the band takes beyond the genre strictures while remaining true to . Heartbreak becomes a haunting slice of driving rock on “End Of The World” (it’s not; it’s just the end of the girl), a Bukowski street scene meets echoes of The Doors on “Eyes” (check Wiley’s mind-bending solo on the track), “No Blood Of Mine” and “Gypsy Minor” swirl themes of dysfunction within desert rock panoramas, “Little Black Drops” references hard rock from a new vector, and “Suffering Kind” takes its cue from legendary Texas songsmith Townes Van Zandt and fashions the inspiration into a slinky moonlit march. By the time the disc wraps up with the languid hangover of “Yesterday’s Mourning” (with harmonica on that track on others by special guest and Austin twisted bluesman Walter Daniels), it’s dead obvious that the 13 numbers add up to a definitive 2012 rock disc that stands on the shoulders of giants to cast its own long shadow.
Even prior to the release of Love & Hate, Rank and Revue raved how El Pathos “may have nailed their very own Exile on Main St. on the first try.” That’s what happens when wise and well-traveled veterans come together to play music with full commitment and no bullshit – classic and timeless rock’n’roll.
The origins of El Pathos are found in the thriving edgy Austin underground scene of the 1980s. Bassist Buxf Parrot was playing with The Dicks, the legendary second wave punk band whose 1980 song “Dicks Hate The Police” won them international attention (and was later covered by Mudhoney). Drummer Pat Doyle slammed the skins in the Offenders and guitarist Rob Buford was a member of teenaged local punk protégés Crotch Rot. Singer David Duet arrived in town from the swamps of Louisiana via Houston to get to know them all before heading on to Seattle where he formed Catbutt and sang for Girl Trouble and Bottle of Smoke. Over the following years all their paths would continue to cross.
Fast forward to 2009. Buford and Doyle had been playing together in Rogers Porn Collection. Parrot was picking banjo in Shooting Pains with Mark Kenyon and doing Dicks reunion shows and tours. Duet was living in Los Angeles, working in the film business, and fronted a band there, Hot For Chocolate. His sister decided to move back to Austin and asked Duet to help her drive the rental truck with her belongings.
At that same time, Buford was hoping to put together a band with the musical quality and commitment he’d always strived to find. He had been introduced to guitarist Rich Wiley, who had moved to Austin from Chicago, by another Austin scene vet, Chris Gates. (In a footnote to the circularity of connections swirling around El Pathos, Gates played in the Big Boys, who in 1980 recorded a two-band album, Live at Raul’s Club, with The Dicks. And did so on the night when a teenaged Duet first arrived in Austin) The two guitarists started collaborating.
Buford heard that Duet was back in town, called him, and mentioned that he was looking for a singer. “He gave me a couple of things he had written and I wrote lyrics to them,” explains Duet. “He started laying down tracks and sending them to me and we came up with three or four great songs, bam bam bam. That’s when it hit me: You know what? I am feeling more creative and more alive in Austin than I have in LA in three or four years. So I went back to L.A., worked for a month and saved up all my money and came back to Austin.” Doyle signed on as drummer and the nascent band recorded a five-song demo. Parrot heard it and let them know he was interested in joining, and brought along Kenyon. As soon as the six musicians played together, there was an undeniably obvious chemistry and magic that they all knew from their many years in other bands was rare and exceptional.
When El Pathos hit the studio in mid-2011 during the hottest and driest summer in Texas history, the fact that this band was something very special was confirmed as they laid down the basic tracks for 13 songs in a day. “It was very organic,” enthuses Buford.
“It’s a very special line up,” Duet confirms. “Just the writing, the way the stuff rolls out, it’s painless and effortless. My lyrics have been all very organic and natural. I haven’t even had to write them down. They appear and I remember them.”
Although Buford and Duet are the primary songwriters, what happens after they bring the material to the group is just as important. “We can kind of throw it all in the pot and everybody adds something in,” notes Buford.
And what goes into that pot is a diversity of music that reflects what all six have done before and what they have heard and found inspiring: Everything from The Zombies to Nick Cave, Tom Waits, The Gun Club, Iggy and The Stooges, Chocolate Watchband, Robert Johnson, AC/DC, Thirteenth Floor Elevators, The Rolling Stones… to name but a few, the list goes on and on. As Rank and Revue observes, “El Pathos has managed to pull from the finest of influences and infuse them in their sound.”
“We’re open to anything and everything musical that we’ve been touched by,” says Buford.
As for the lyrical themes, “There’s passion, strength and rebellion in our songs,” Duet observes. “Can’t deny that there’s loss and broken hearts in there too, but also a lot of hope and redemption. And retribution.”
And El Pathos is just getting started. “The talent level is so high,” says Duet. “We’ve got new songs just stacked up. We have a hard time finding time to develop all of them. It’s a very special line up. The level of maturity and lack of bullshit in this band is really good. We’re all friends and we all know what we’re in it for. There’s not a big ego thing. It’s all pure and natural.”
And what it all adds up to is six seasoned musical talents finding one another to create a group whose whole is far greater than the sum of its parts and their collective history. “We’re trying to do the best we can, and everyone brings something to the table,” concludes Buford. The result is music that is as hard edged and soulful as any rock’n’roll classic, no frills stuff with gripping moments both down’n’dirty and grand’n’glorious, just as the best rock music always has been and should be. And will continue to do so in the capable hands of El Pathos.