On a hot March afternoon, Close to Modern plays for — we’re not exaggerating — five people. Two are there for them specifically. Two are sound guys. One is Carson Daly. They’re all sweating profusely. There’s no shade on the brick courtyard nestled between more prominent venues reserved for official South By Southwest showcases, and the effort the band put into suiting up in black, of all things, goes largely unnoticed. But they don’t show the sun sickness, or the disappointment, or the expenses that went into traveling from Las Vegas to Austin for no more than two fairly unattended shows. Because if nothing else, Close to Modern is a live band.
Fast-forward six months. Miguel Martinez, Danny Rodriguez, Fernando Lara and Kyle “Howie” Howell are rehearsing for upcoming gigs, in which they’ll play songs from their upcoming debut EP, Union, which they recorded at Brian Garth’s Chrome Werewolf studio, the perfect environment for a band like Close to Modern. “Dude, that shit is live,” Garth says. “It’s so nice to get a band that is good enough to release a live recording.”
Without insulting you, here’s what he means. Union sounds in headphones the way it sounds onstage. The band recorded everything in one big room instead of piecing things together track by track. “It feels more raw live,” Howell says. “You play with more feeling.” It’s an entirely punk rock concept, which only sort of describes Close to Modern, and even then, it’s mostly Howell’s four-four boom-clackery. A better reference might be Interpol. Or Joy Division. Or Latino Morrissey. The latter of which I kept coming back to as they lit up the rehearsal room with half of the new EP.
Listening to each song, there’s an overwhelming feeling of “This is some really sad shit.” By Martinez’s explanation, everything is about love. But not fuzzy, feel-good, everyone-hug-a-puppy love. They first played “Hacienda”: “I brace myself for stormy weather/the only kind I’ve known/they say in life nothing lasts forever/but I’ll love you ’til I’m gone.” It’s about falling in love with someone. But not being sure the relationship is going to last. And that love is a toss-up and you have to brace for a crappy situation. And it’s a total bummer. I ask if it’s about something he’s going through.
“Some of my songs only talk about me for a line,” Martinez says. “Then, based on that line, I build the whole song. But the rest of the song doesn’t have to be about me. I tend to like songs for one line. Whatever that line says, if I think it’s touching, I don’t care about the whole song.”
He clearly has someone in mind, and the rest of the band grins while he sort of dances around the subject before answering on the nose. “Morrissey to me is the ultimate songwriter,” he says. “I like all of his songs.”
You’d think, what with Daly taking phone shots of them, there might be new fans. Or even some random A&R guy needing to fill a quota and green-lighting a band of docile faux New Agers (here’s where the Close to Modern name gains meaning) who don’t tell jokes and act like rock stars the way Robert Downey Jr. acts like a trappist monk. But there’s nothing like that. “There’s so many bands there,” Martinez says. “I don’t think it would be worth it to go again without being on an official showcase.” But the point is that they should. The formula is there: good songs, heartfelt content, neckties. All it needs is a push, a package they can use as a launching point. And maybe with Union coming out next month, they’ll get the notice they deserve. And the sweat will be worth it.