In 2005 Austin, Texas was a vastly different place than it is today. Though the hipster thing was in full swing, the city was still mostly a college town whose coolness wasn’t widely known. You could still find slackers and hippies hanging out in laid back dive bars, and cheap rent still existed, meaning musicians could get by without a day job. Out of this environment came The Crack Pipes.
With their volatile mix of blues, soul, garage rock, psych and punk, The Crack Pipes were a quintessentially Austin band – the kind best enjoyed in a sweaty bar after one too many Lone Star beers. They were also the kind of band that didn’t nurse lofty ambitions to become a huge national act, content to get local gigs and enjoy the good times that came from playing rock and roll. To my knowledge, the band never actually broke up but eventually played fewer gigs and stopped making albums as the band members moved on to other projects or got day jobs.
The crowning achievement of The Crack Pipes was their 2005 album Beauty School, which finds the band in peak form as they unleash a collection of 13 raucous tracks brimming with funk, soul, and bluesy punk. Compared to the band’s previous album, Beauty School was perhaps their most fully realized and polished, no small feat for a band that had always flown fast and loose. At times the album is heavy, fast, and beautifully unhinged as vocalist Ray Colgan howls his ass off over snappy brass tracks and wild guitar. The songs feature themes of hardship, injustice, beauty, love and optimism, all of which feel just as relevant – for better or worse – today.
Now, twelve years later, Beauty School is being reissued on vinyl through Austin label Super Secret Records, and we’re excited to offer up an exclusive early listen ahead of the September 29th release date. Though Austin is a far cry today from 2005 with its homogenous glass condos and tech bros, Beauty School sounds stronger than ever and captures a moment in time that was truly special.
Listen to the album and read our chat with Ray Colgan of The Crack Pipes…
What made you feel like it was time to reissue this album and that the album was worthy?
We had always wanted our records to be on vinyl, but when we were originally releasing them CD’s were king. A few years back I had looked into releasing them ourselves, but it was just beyond our budget. So, this came about when John Wesley Coleman was putting out records on Super Secret Records and Richard had mentioned he was starting a sister-label called Sonic Surgery Records that was going to do reissues of albums that had only been on CD and put them out on vinyl, and Wes said, “Man, you got to put out The Crack Pipes”. And Richard brought it up to me one night and I said that sounds great, and then when I had to choose which one of our three full length albums, it seemed it should be Beauty School for two reasons. One was that I thought it was our best album, and two, it was the one that years after it came out people would say to me that they had just been listening to it. That happened a lot, so I felt that there would be some people out there looking to hear it as a real vinyl record.
Do you remember what the inspiration for the title was. Is there a story behind it?
When we started writing songs for this record, we didn’t have a lot of material that had already been worked out and played live, almost every song was written right before we went into the studio, and it got pretty frantic in the weeks leading up to our booked studio time. I had been keeping a list of song titles, often I would start with just a title and fill it out later. Beauty School was on that list, because I had a hat that said beauty school on it, and when it came time to write some words for it I thought I don’t actually want to write about real beauty schools. This was in 2004 and we were in two wars and still recovering from 9/11 and the economy was in bad shape and the news was just really bumming me out. I found myself wanting to write something hopeful instead of just pointing out all the horror and death and destruction, because that stuff is always going on and you can drown in despair if you’re not careful. So, the idea came to me, that while you don’t want to turn a blind eye to that stuff, maybe it would be positive thing if one could teach themselves or be taught to look for the beauty in the world so they can find a reason to get out of bed. And that sounded to me like a gospel song, so we kind of tried our hand at that with [the title track]..
It’s been said that the title track is based on a concept of teaching yourself beauty in a world filled with ugliness. Do you think that concept is even more important given our current social climate?
Like I said earlier, at any given time on the planet and back through the history of mankind, something horrible is happening to someone, somewhere…conversely, there are also always beautiful things happening; love, romance, children being born, kids laughing, good music, good books, films, art, people helping other people, good conversations…so much good going on. There are people who live lives never touched by tragedy or heartache (not me), but sometimes these things aren’t in balance, or a certain greater chaos erupts. Those are the times I believe you need to know how to keep your hopes up, keep moving towards a better world, you need the light the most in the dark. So, I don’t think it’s more important now, but after this last election I think there are many, many people that need some optimism, need some hope, need to know that there’s a chance that things can get better, so don’t give up and don’t forget the good times.
Given how much time has passed, do you still have the same reaction listening to this album now as you did when you made it?
It’s different, kind of, from song to song. Some of them have a real personal meaning to me (and they mean something else for each other member in the band, I’m sure), but others I might have forgotten exactly what i was thinking when we first wrote it. So, now instead of going oh, this is the song about that one thing, I might now just appreciate a cool part one of the guys is playing. One thing that hasn’t changed was that when we set out to make Beauty School I wanted it to be an album I could listen from beginning to end and not regret a single thing on it, and that hasn’t changed, for me it’s our most fully realized record.
Who were some of the acts that were inspiring you at the time when you made this album?
I can only speak for myself (Ray Colgan), but here’s a quick list of ones i can remember: Taj Mahal, The Animals, James Brown, John Lee Hooker, Oblivians, Freddy Fender, Roky Erikson, Joe Cocker, Johnnie Taylor, Biz Markie, Les McCann, Bill Withers, Jimi Hendrix, Ike & Tina Turner, The Make Up, Small Faces, The Who, Spaceman 3, The Stanley Brothers, The Golden Boys, and many more I’m sure.
Do you recall who did the bulk of the writing for this album?
We have a kind of weird way of writing, I usually come with the words and a basic structure and then get with one of the real musicians in the band. For a long time it had started to become mainly me and Billy Steve, the guitarist, and then we’d make a rough demo to take that to the whole band and then fill out the song until we thought, that’s pretty good, let’s play it live. But, for Beauty School I know we wanted to do something grander than our last two records, something more evolved, and I felt that one of the best ways to do that was to mix up the song writing process, so more of these songs were written with different members of the band…which also led us to racing against the clock to get these things done before we went into the studio, and some were still pretty raw when we laid down the basic tracks, like maybe we only practiced that version once before recording it.
Were the songs inspired by your experiences in Austin?
Yeah, the love and broken heart songs came from love and broken hearts in Austin, but some songs do maybe have more to do with the time I spent on Red River and other Slacker elements of the city. “Reflections In A Bad Light” is about someone who has partied a little too hard and is confronted in different mirrors by a reflection he doesn’t want to see. On a lighter note, “Guerrilla Haircuts” was inspired by a stylist friend of mine that gave haircuts to people at parties or at bars or all kinds of weird places, and she called those guerrilla haircuts, and I was like, that’s a term that has to get out into the lexicon!
I purchased this album at Waterloo Records when it came out and still have the CD today. I distinctly remember feeling like it was a true embodiment of the Austin music scene and lifestyle. A lot has changed since then in Austin. Do you think a band like The Crack Pipes could come around now in Austin and still resonate with the same audiences?
I’m going to say yes, because even though this city has changed so much, and our scene has changed so much, I know there are still bands out there that are up and coming out of little slacker scenes that love to rock the house party and there’s beer whipping around and people are dancing and laughing and somebody is going to break a window or the cops are going to come and shut it down. These bands love sweaty, high energy rock and roll, and then one day they’re going to write a pretty love song and stick that into their set and then they’re going to keep doing weird things and never make any money, but they’ll have done it for as long as they can and they’ll be the next link in the chain of underground, freaknik garage noise that never goes away.
Going off of the last question. Do you feel the same way about Austin as you did when this album came out considering all of the changes that have happened since then?
Again I’m going to say yes, because at the time I thought Austin had got too big too fast and it was too expensive and it was getting Dallas-fied, and now I know it’s too big and too expensive and it looks a lot more like Dallas, but I loved the city then and I still love the city now and I especially love the weirdos and lifers that populate my side of town.
Are the members of the band currently working on any projects? I read that you are working on a new Crack Pipes album. Will it be in a similar vein to Beauty School?
Me and Mike Corwin aren’t doing anything else musically, but Billy Steve is in Churchwood and around Christmas he plays in The Blitzens, keyboard player Coby Cardosa is actually one of the best drummers in town and he plays drums with The Damn Times and Attic Ted. Nick Moulos has been in a lot of different acts like Attack Formation and Total Sound Group Direct Action Committee, but currently his other band is mainly BossEye who are great – go get their debut album and treat yourself.
We are working on a new album, almost all of the songs have been written and some even played live for years now, we’re going into the studio with Chico Jones in December for a projected release in the fall of 2018. It’s going to be shorter than Beauty School and it’ll be its own thing, I can tell you there’s a lot more references to wild animals, Greek mythology, and the moon on the new one…
You can score The Crack Pipes’ Beauty School on vinyl HERE.