Bands on Bands is a recurring feature on the 35 Denton blog that will highlight musician interviews written by none other than our own local musicians. Throughout this series we aspire to help you learn more about some of your favorite musicians playing the festival this year as well as introduce you to new and upcoming acts.
Words by Daniel Folmer || Images by Marcus Junius Laws
Paul Slavens is a cornerstone of the local music complex – from running a Sunday night radio show on 91.7 KXT to prostituting his improvisational songs at a weekly gig at Dan’s, his local music reservoir is deep. Paul’s band, Ten Hands, has been rejuvenated and reorganized for recent gigs, including selling out the Kessler Theater.
Paul and I discussed his nearly 30 year run in North Texas music as well as the changing landscapes of North Texas music culture.
DANIEL FOLMER: Tell me about Ten Hands – when did it begin and what sparked the resurrection?
We started around 1987. I met Steve Brand, the guitarist when he worked at Scholtzky’s with my friend Kelly. We had been in a band called the Gonemen. We needed a drummer and bassist and Kelly’s girlfriend knew Mike from the restaurant they worked at.
When the Gonemen broke up, Mike introduced us to Matt Chamberlain. Matt had just moved from L.A. with his friend Gary Muller. Gary played the stick and that was the coolest thing I had ever seen. We decided we had to start a band. Steve, Gary , Matt, Mike and I started Ten Hands.
We never really broke up I guess. We just quit playing regularly. There were lots of member replacements over the years. We started doing “reunion” gigs within a couple years of “quitting” throughout.
We hadn’t done a gig in a few years and some logistical things cleared up. We suddenly found a lot more opportunity to play. Gary moved back to Denton, Mike was interested in doing gigs in this region more regularly. Steve became his own boss and had more time and Big Al was in Denton and open for gigs. I sit in my underwear at home all day so it was a no brainer for me.
Everybody was in and we always got along pretty well. It was a great pleasure to start playing again and to get such a great response.
Who would you consider some of your present musical contemporaries in Denton?
The people who are of my generation , who have been involved in the scene for the same time I have are people like the Brave Combo guys, Steve Carter (Little Jack Melody). They are still here in Denton. There is a lot of Denton history in Dallas. So many musicians have done a stint in Lil D. And love it or hate it, I bet most would say it changed them in a fundamental way.
That’s what I think is great about Denton, so many amazing talents have come to Denton, been transformed by it, and then they take that Denton energy out into the world.
Can you describe some first favorite Denton bands?
Well, the first band I ever saw in Denton was Brave Combo. And it definitely changed me and my life. I had no idea that music could be like that. That fun, weird and well played.
Early on, I loved a band called Mr and Mrs Accident. There was Josho Misho. Corn Mo and John Freeman were doing seminal weirdness. Mushroom Groovy, GoodFoot – man, I’m getting misty.
What is your favorite music related memory in Denton?
I can’t explain what the Fry Street Fair used to be or what it meant to us back then, but for a few years it was magical.
Ten Hands played on Fry Street, Between the Corkscrew and the Sammie House (the real one). On a stage the Sammie’s built the night before. There is a picture of it on the inside of our album.
It was fuckin’ packed all the way back to Hickory Street. Andy Timmons used to set up a booth where he sat and would play any request for money. I saw Corn Mo and for the first time saw a weird guitar player who turned out to be Chris Flemmons from Baptist Generals.
You got the feeling there were lots of people tripping. The cops were there, but they weren’t invited.
For a few golden years the Fry Street Fair was Denton to me. It was the essential event. It captured what I thought was the spirit of Denton.
Do you feel like festivals have changed the musical landscape of North Texas as a whole?
I don’t know that I am qualified to say. I think that I miss things like what the Fry Street Fair used to be, not to beat that horse again, but FSF was as close to a festival as Denton had back then.
The thing is, I don’t think the Sammie’s really put that thing on to make money or build booking cred or put Denton on the map or tap into the metroplex touring machine. I think they wanted to party and have something weird and weirdly arty.
The problem I have with a lot of festival type stuff is that if it succeeds then it wants to expand. And it seems that the expansion becomes the undoing of the thing, in many cases.
I like the festivals just fine – it is an exciting time. But I guess I would wonder what 5 smaller, more local-centric festivals spread throughout the year might be like.
What is your favorite venue in Denton – past or present?
Well, I hope no one will be offended if I say Dan’s Silverleaf. Places like that are more than just venues. Dan’s is the beating heart of my music career. Dan [Mojica] lets me have that stage a lot. I have made up a thousand songs there. I love Dan’s although I will admit I loved the music room in the old Dan’s on Elm.
The old Library, which is now Cool Beans, was the site of the most insanely packed crazed sweaty gigs I will ever do. If there is somewhere that gigs are going on that is like that now, I would like to know so I could go and feel it again.
What was Denton culture like when you arrived and how has it changed?
I could write a book. But that book would be from my perspective and so pretty limited.
I got to Denton in 1984 and it was the first time I had ever lived away from my home in Nebraska. UNT didn’t exist, it was called NTSU. We used to play frisbee golf on the campus at night, and no one cared. The music department at NTSU and the local music scene seemed to be much more intertwined back then. Lots of jazz people starting weird bands. That’s kind of still happening although now I see the composition people in the noise-art-rock scene.
Denton was a real small town back then and it was before the digital revolution so people behaved very differently. It was not uncommon for crowds of 300 or more to be packed into Ricks Place every weekend for live local and regional music. I am not sure that this is still happening in Denton.
It has a lot to do with Fry Street having been in close proximity to UNT and the Square, which is the new music central area, being a short but significant distance from campus. I feel like the music scene does not have as much to do with the college kids as it used to.
Are there any parts of Denton culture that you feel have changed for the better or worse? Why?
Oh, I don’t know – you can always pine for the way things were. They were great, no doubt – they will not be like that again, no doubt. But things are interesting now. The city is being transformed and the old structures are being replaced with new ones.
It remains to be seen how much of the old Denton vibe will transcend into the future and how much will recede into the past.
As long as there are young people who want to use their brains and their hearts to make something interesting and weird then Denton will be fine.
What are your hopes for the cultural future of Denton?
My hope is that Denton does not kill the goose that laid the freaky egg, that it stays more interested in the party then the ticket receipts.
That it can handle the pressures of having 2 growing Universities and a double metropolis impinging on it and remain uniquely Denton.
Daniel Rush Folmer is an artist from Denton, Texas. He has performed songs as Danny Rush and The Designated Drivers, most recently Danny Diamonds, as well as a touring member of Dallas-schizo-rock outfit thepAper chAse.
This interview series focuses on the shifting cultural landscape of Denton and the effect it has had on the musical landscape.