The Dead Links Are a Real Live Band, and a Good One
Imagine you're a new band all but starting from scratch: struggling to book gigs, pay for studio time, and get your music out to potential fans. Now imagine you're middle-aged, and there are dozens of bands in town jockeying for those same things, except with the advantage of being about ten to 20 years younger than you are.
Photo courtesy of the Dead Links
In a nutshell, that's the dilemma facing the Dead Links, the striking and relatively recent musical partnership between Ken Sheppard and Scott Ayers. Working in their favor are a pedigree that includes some of Houston's best-remembered alternative bands (those who do remember them, that is), a mysterious modern-rock sound quite unlike any other group in town, and an album Sheppard believes is good enough to win over any skeptics, if only he could figure out the best way for people to hear it.
The Links may have the longest gestation time in recent local-music memory. Sheppard and Ayers met a few years ago when a mutual friend introduced them at a party. Sheppard played Ayers a song from his old band, the INXS-ish Twenty Mondays, "and he thought it didn't suck," he reflects. Eventually Ayers sent over about ten musical sketches he thought might suit Sheppard's style; Sheppard turned that into a five-song demo, adding melodies, harmony, lyrics, everything but Ayers' rough guitar parts.
Ayers was satisfied with what Sheppard sent him, and the duo set about making their eponymous debut LP they self-released this past summer (featuring bassist Brett Needham and drummer Steve Bundrick), and now here they are. When they open for rebooted L.A. New Wave band Berlin of "The Metro" and "Take My Breath Away" fame tonight at Numbers (with an early start time of 7:30 p.m.; doors at 7), it will be the Dead Links' sixth proper gig.
"I'm writing hundreds of songs all the time," chuckles Ayers. "But they were really kind of crude and unfinished. They're just ideas. I'd give him a tape, and a few of those ideas were good. Some of those songs are on the album."
The guitarist is arguably best-known for his stint in industrial/punk group the Pain Teens, one of Houston's most popular underground bands of the '90s, but his credits extend to other groups like Anarchitex, Exterminating Angels, the Walking Time Bombs, and his solo project Geltab and collaborations with the Catastrophic Theatre company. Ayers says was raised on blues guitar closer to Jimi Hendrix, an element that definitely creeps into the album here and there.
Within The Dead Links, uptempo songs like "It's Not Safe," "High as It Goes" and "That Makes It Easy" swim in electronic effects and have the same kind of early-90s industrial drive of Stabbing Westward or the Jesus and Mary Chain. The ballads, meanwhile, are more varied but almost uniformly excellent: "Silver" is a hair away from being a country song (perhaps as played by Alice In Chains), "Not Good Times" resembles Nine Inch Nails without all the screaming, and "Missing & Repeating" is a not-too-distant cousin to Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." Unifying the album is a maturity that includes at times a palpable feeling that time may be running out.
Story continues on the next page.