Hey, what happened? An interview with Norman Brannon of Texas is the Reason

Norman Brannon played guitar in Texas Is The Reason as well as Shelter and New End Original.

The author of Anti-Matter zine, you might also remember him as Norm Arenas. Texas is the Reason was a pivotal band for me in my early college years (late 90s). Their transition of members who were formerly in hardcore bands and were now making more heartfelt and emotional music mirrored the shift that much of my taste in music was taking. I can recall listening to them as I drove around Indiana in the summer. Their debut (and only full-length release) Do You Know Who You Are? makes for great music to blast in your car while barreling along country roads and highways as the sun sets.

Texas is the Reason broke up before I ever had a chance to see them, which bummed me out excessively. When they reformed in New York City in 2006 for two shows, I missed them because I had to go celebrate my parents’ wedding anniversary at Disney World. I know, right?

Besides their one full-length release, Texas is the Reason (whose name was taken from the Misfits song, “Bullet”) also put out an EP and splits with Samiam, Samuel and The Promise Ring. I wrote the review of their full-length for the All Music Guide and ten years later (give or take) I still think it seems like a pretty fair take on Do You Know Who You Are?

Commonly referred to as one of the standards for the emo-core movement of the 90s, Texas Is the Reason’s Do You Know Who You Are?—which was the last thing said to John Lennon before he died—is the bedrock to this New York City four-piece’s short-lived career. Produced by the very talented J. Robbins, the vocal style of singer Garrett Klahn sounds something akin to Richard Marx doing indie-rock. Whether that view is received with smiling nods or disapproving stares, the fact remains that Klahn’s unique angle of nasally sung vocals was warm enough to draw one in, while not being overbearing to the point of annoyance. With a musical background in various hardcore acts, the guitars break between melodic beauty and low-end chugga-chugga while the drums drive along with blasting consistency and precision. Stark phrases about life’s loneliness and the dissonance between friends and lovers create a lyrical atmosphere that invites tremendous one-liners and memorable songs. The title track shows Texas Is the Reason in an abyss of harmonic composure, providing a chance for the listener to catch his or her breath before plunging back into the melodic, enthusiastic rush of ”Back and to the Left”. While neither as harsh as many of their hardcore predecessors, nor as technical as their Washington DC counterparts nor as poppy as many of the emo bands to come after them, but instead taking a bit from each, Texas Is the Reason provided the indie-rock scene with a combination of all the elements that it took to produce a quality indie-rock record. For these reasons, Do You Know Who You Are? stands as one of the necessary albums for fans of emo-core.  

Texas is the Reason in the 90s, with Norman on the right

Where do you currently live?

I live in a very young neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Which gives me an aging complex.

What do you do to pay the bills?

I still work as a freelance music writer, which I’ve been doing on and off since 1993, but I’ve also been going to school full-time since 2008 — which gives me access to loans, grants, scholarships, and other random money. I also still make some extra money from residuals and licensing for Texas is the Reason and New End Original music, which also helps. But that said, I live on a budget.

Are you still involved with music in any way (work for a label, play in a band, do press for a band, book shows, etc.) or any of the other arts (performing, visual, literary)?

I’ll probably always be involved with music in some way, but — as dickish as this might sound to someone who has never done it — I think making music for a living was the worst possible thing for me. I was a really miserable career musician, and I’m not sure I ever want to do that again. So while I do still make music, at this point it’s something I do when I have the time and inspiration: I’ve done a bunch of different electronic and house tracks as Zodiac Social, which you can get for free from my SoundCloud page, and I still have a stack of pop songs that I don’t know what to do with. My main focus has really shifted towards academia and writing; I’m really interested in literary criticism and contemporary rhetoric. I’m hoping to publish my second book, a book of essays, at the end of this year.

Texas is the Reason in 2006. Norman on left

At what point did you decide to “give up” the touring and band life and why? Was there a sudden realization that you wanted to live in the “real world” or was it gradual?

It was gradual. I think I ended every tour I’ve ever been on by saying, “This is the last time I’ll ever tour again!” But the real last time I ever toured was in 2006, I think, when I went on tour with this band called Gratitude. It was kind of incredible to go out there and play songs I didn’t write, and just be totally detached from the whole thing and experience touring through that lens. But at the end, I really felt like if I never did that again, that would be fantastic. Whether or not I live in the “real world,” that’s hard to say. Once you’ve lived like a working musician for so long your perception about a lot of things get skewed — sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. It really becomes an inextricable part of your worldview.

Do you still speak with the other members of the band (Texas is the Reason)?

All the time. Nobody believed us when we said we broke up because our friendships were more important than our band, but we did and they are. Those guys will always be my family.

Are you content with not living the “rock and roll” lifestyle of your past or do you miss it? (Please note: I use the phrase “rock and roll lifestyle” loosely.) 

Yeah. I mean, my rock and roll lifestyle — aside from the nomadic travel — wasn’t all that different from my lifestyle now. I read a lot, I listen to a lot of music, and I hang out with my friends. That’s pretty much all I remember doing back then. But also, I’ve been lucky enough to live outside of the rigid day-job construct for pretty much my entire adult life, and I suppose my answer might be different if I needed to report to work every morning. Either way, I don’t miss the life too much — except for the actual writing and practicing part — and I definitely don’t miss the part about not being able to keep a relationship because I was never home. I’ve been with my partner for over five years now, happier than I’ve ever been, and this would simply not have been possible if I were still in a band. He also used to play in a touring indie rock band back then, so it’s pretty clear that our relationship would have been totally impossible in 1997. So basically, fuck 1997.

Do you feel as though you can still relate to the person you were when you were in a band and touring? Why or why not?

Honestly, I was really depressed when I was in bands. I spent a lot of my time drinking coffee and being depressed. Straight up. I lost friends over it. I can’t explain what it was that I was going through back then, but staying in one place for a while finally gave me a stable environment from which I could explore and examine my issues, and more importantly, fix them as best as I could. I do think I’m a better and smarter person than I was back then — still kind of fucked up, but maybe in a more endearing or lovable or people-still-root-for-me kind of way — but I know I’ve still got a lot of growing up to do, even at 37. At the very least, I’m much more of a self-aware fuck-up now. Which, if you’re being honest, is probably the most that anyone can ask of themselves.

Here is a great Texas is the Reason tune titled “Blue Boy” from their split 7″ with The Promise Ring.

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2 responses to “Hey, what happened? An interview with Norman Brannon of Texas is the Reason

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