There’s no glitter left at 617 East Seventh Street, the space formerly occupied by Beauty Bar. The beehive-clad silhouettes and Neapolitan painted walls have been replaced with richly colored reclaimed wood, bare concrete floors and dark brick accents. The subtly sexy, rustic Americana vibe of bar and music venue Holy Mountain fills the void that its previous retro-kitch occupant left behind.
Manager and co-owner James Taylor said he and his business partners were going for a classic American heritage feel, “like drinking whiskey in your grandfather’s basement in the Midwest,” making Holy Mountain an ideal location for Austin’s self-described “sweaty, whiskey rock” band, The Couch, to hold its upcoming album release show on Dec. 1.
“We had previously set it up at another place but ended up deciding to do it here,” guitarist Taylor Wilkins said, sipping a Lone Star at an iron patio table, one of the few relics left behind from Beauty Bar. “We found that this place best catered to our timeline, size and sound. It’s a brand new venue here. And we’re not a new band, but we have a new sound, a new direction. We’ve done a lot of good things in the past but this is almost like starting all over again for us.”
The band has been around, in various incarnations, since about 2007, when Wilkins and drummer Jud Johnson met up and played shows in the San Marcos area. After cycling through several bass players, Kyle Robarge stuck around and, most recently, Sara Houser joined in on keyboard and vocals, rounding out the band’s current lineup.
“We’re kind of all over the board in terms of our sound,” Johnson said. “We aren’t very genre-specific. Our sound is melodic and accessible, but we definitely keep that foundation of rock.”
Wilkins said this album is a marked change for the group, graduating from what he calls a straightforward three-piece rock n’ roll feel to more complex melodies and a collaborative song writing process.
“The Couch has recorded several albums before, but this is the first one as a four-piece and the first album that we all decided, ‘Hey, lets write and record this album together,” Wilkins said. “There’s really not a part of this album that anyone’s been left out.”
One of the most noticeable changes on the new album is Houser’s contribution with vocals. The addition of the female singer to The Couch about a year ago has added a new facet to the band’s sound.
“I guess I kind of threw a wrench into the whole dynamic of the band, but the full length is half of me singing lead, which is a pretty big change for The Couch,” Houser said. “And it probably wouldn’t be as big of a deal if I wasn’t a chick, but it will probably catch a few people off guard. I didn’t think when I joined the band last year that this would come to fruition, but I’m definitely glad that Taylor was willing to share the songwriting duties and let me bring a couple of things to the table.”
Robarge agreed, mostly, with Houser.
“I don’t think [she] threw a wrench in things,” Robarge said. “The dynamic has changed for sure, but we just kind of took a different turn and that’s cool. We have kind of a one-two punch now that we have a girl and guy singer in the band, and all four of us can sing now and do a whole different sound.”
The band is on the upswing now, but when the group relocated to Austin from San Marcos, things weren’t working out quite as well.
“We did the opposite of taking off, we actually got to our lowest point when we got here,” Wilkins said. “We thought, ‘Maybe we should change our name, or quit, or try something else.’ When our second bass player quit it was a blow to the chest and out of the blue. We kind of had to rebuild the band.”
It was a slow climb back to recognition after the band’s move. A steady diet of practice and smaller shows helped build the band’s image in its new city.
“We were always under the philosophy of practice a lot then play really well for the five or six or however many people were at the shows,” Wilkins said. “Slowly we’d win over sound guys and bartenders who would invite us back to play on better nights. It’s about going out there and kicking ass in front of the crowd that you do have and just developing a live show that would make them want to have you come back and play again.”
“We’re expecting a great turnout,” said James Taylor, manager and co-owner of Holy Mountain and friend of the band. “Featherface and Royal Forest are both excellent, and I know The Couch will bring a lot of people out. And it helps that we have 101X behind it.”
Though its sound has evolved with its new album, The Couch retains its rock roots.
“We’ve brought in a general direction of change with bringing in these new pop elements,” Wilkins said. “I mean, I love pop music, but I hate it at the same time. It’s gotta have some rock behind it — it’s gotta have that foundation. It’s gotta have balls.”
Students who would like to join the audience can pick up wristbands from the business office located on the ground floor of the Hearst Student Media Building all day Friday.