Houston Chronicle: Wild For Bandmates

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If chemistry - the harmonious interaction, not the science - came with a soundtrack, it would be supplied by Wild Moccasins.

The Houston band, one of the city's most vibrant, makes irresistible indie-pop anthems built on mutual respect, trust and admiration. All five members - Zahira Gutierrez (vocals/keyboards), Cody Swann (guitar/vocals), Andrew Lee (guitar), Nicholas Cody (bass) and John Baldwin (drums) - seem to genuinely like each other.

"I think there is just a natural chemistry between all of us. I really look forward to playing with everybody every night," Swann says. "Sometimes we get in a moody vibe together, but that still works. We feed off each other, and it makes it fun to perform with them.

"Just being a band for six years now, naturally, we're gonna learn how to work with each other better and be in the moment together."

Onstage, the songs seem to ebb and flow continuously from member to member, led by Gutierrez's beguiling vocals and quirky presence.

"I think we all got pretty lucky. We met through shows and through music," she says. "We're fortunate in that we keep evolving together because we're around each other so much. We tour a lot of the year, and I think that helps us with our chemistry. Even though we don't agree all the time, it definitely helps that we really do like being around each other."

That energy is funneled into new album "88 92," released this week on New West Records (home to fellow Houston acts Robert Ellis, Buxton and Grandfather Child along with Rodney Crowell, Dwight Yoakam, Patty Griffin and Steve Earle). It's a uniformly terrific listen, drawing on everything from disco to New Wave to rock.

"88 92" was recorded at SugarHill Recording Studios and produced by local Beatles expert Kevin Ryan.

Longtime couple Gutierrez and Swann effortlessly play off each other on several songs.

"I really wanted to try to capture what we have going on live. I think there's a spirit to that, an energy," Swann says. "You have to find little ways to capture that. One thing we did was we tried to be very spontaneous in the studio. Rather than trying to beat something to death and keep trying again to get a perfect take, once we felt a good one, we kept that."

Indeed, some of the album's best tracks capture a raw kind of energy and zippy moments of personality, including simmering opener "Open Sesames," Blondie-influenced "Eye Makeup" and "Painless Mouth," jangly Gutierrez-Swann duet "Emergency Broadcast" and the Spanish-language "Real."

"While we were writing all the material for the record, I was kind of going through an obsessive, early-disco phase," Baldwin says. "I feel like Nick and I made a conscious effort to make a lot of the songs more dance oriented and give them a little bit of a different groove that maybe hasn't been there before."

Despite a considerable amount of sunshine, some songs focus on darker themes. The ominous title track describes Swann's visits to his mother at a mental institution. The numbers "88 92" were the passwords to enter her room. ("Go see my mother on the seventh floor/Another night in psychiatric ward/Visiting hours from six to eight/Never thought it'd turn into a date.")

"Zahira and I, lyrically on this album, compared to the last record, made more of an effort to write songs about our reactions, how other people affect us, rather than an introspective take on things," Swann says. "That song best summed it up. It's the most reactionary song out of all of them."

Early indicators suggest that "88 92," and 2014 in general, will be breakout numbers for Wild Moccasins. The band spent January on the road with trippy rock band Of Montreal, and the album occupies prime space at Cactus Music via a mammoth window display. Saturday's free show at Numbers should draw a capacity crowd.

"I think the key to our momentum is just being open to trying new things and being open to everybody's suggestions," Swann says. "I think in doing that, we open ourselves up to learning from each other. Everybody's voice is heard, and I think that makes a big difference.

"It certainly keeps it fun for everybody. And if you're not making it fun for everybody, what would be the reason to stay in a band?"

Editor's note: A previous version of this story identified Kevin Ryan has having worked with Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. That was a different Kevin Ryan. 


Wild Moccasins

With: Young Mammals, Young Girls and Bagheera

When: 9 p.m. Saturday

Where: Numbers, 300 Westheimer

Admission: Free; 713-521-1121 or wildmoccasins.net


More Moccasins

Touring with Of Montreal: "I've learned more about being a better band, just watching them from the side of the stage and seeing how well they perform," Nicholas Cody says. "I don't know if it's chemistry or if they're just that good."

Missing Mexican food: What I miss on the road … is Taqueria Del Sol off (interstate) 45 and Broadway," Swann says. "I miss the museums, too … I go to the Menil four to five times a week. I miss having that tranquility."

Unique road challenges: "Trying to get one cheap hotel room with two beds and then sneaking six people past the cameras into one room," Swann says. "We have a whole script just completely down. 'We're just a two-piece Christian band comin' through, spreading the good news, ma'am.' "

Messiest van passenger: "I tend to buy a lot of stuff on tour," Zahira Gutierrez says. "I have one set corner in the van where I sit the whole time. The floor kind of starts building up - clothes, makeup, books, knick-knacks."