interview: Xetas

xetas live 1
xetas live 1

Xetas are a punk three-piece from Austin, Texas. By turns ferocious and melodic, they create songs that are both catchy and surprisingly unpredictable, but their recordings—good as they are—convey just a slice of the raw power and freewheeling energy that the band exhibits on stage. Although all three members are well known in Austin's punk scene, they maintain anonymity by keeping their names off their releases and scratching their eyes out of their photographs. In keeping with the spirit, we will refer to them by their initials: DP plays guitar, KH plays bass, and MB plays drums. They spoke to us one night between sets at Austin's Beerland, cluing us in to the origins of their name, their love for Kate Bush, and how bands from the '90s got it right.

How long have you been playing together?

DP: When was our first show, February? Our first show was in February of this year.

How long were you together before that show?

DP: A couple months. And Matt and I played for a year in a band called Debt. So we’ve been playing together for about two years.

KH: I actually saw their last show, and I was like this band is really good! And then they broke up.

How’d you guys come together, then?

DP: I’ve known Kana basically since I moved here, and Matt and I met through that.

KH: I’m from here, but I moved away for a year or two, and I came back and was trying to meet people in music again. I met David through my old bandmate, in my previous band, and we just kind of hit it off, but never played music or hung out that much. And then we reconnected. Their bass player for Debt had moved away, and my previous band, Foreign Mothers, was kind of falling apart, and we were just wondering what to do, and so I was depressed. And they asked me to come play with them. So we did that for awhile.

DP: The timing just worked out.

I saw Debt once or twice, but I don’t really remember their sound. Was it similar?

DP: Yeah, the same sort of stuff. A little more emotional. I had more emotions back then.

So it’s less emotional now?

KH: We’re old now.

DP: I’m more of a shell of a man than I was then. [laughing]

I’m sorry to hear that, although in some ways that’s not a bad thing.

DP: I think I wear it well.

So why the name Xetas? Were you just sitting around one day and someone was like it would be cool if we just switched the letters in Texas?

DP: No, actually, we didn’t even realize that until after—

MB: No, we did. I threw a fit about “Xetas” with a Z, because I didn’t want to get our heads chopped off.

KH: David was like “Let’s call ourselves after the Mexican drug cartel gang that’s super violent!” and I was like that sounds really cool, but they’re really violent and they’ve kidnapped bands and stuff, so maybe not!

MB: So we just spelled it with an X, and then it was like—oh! Texas! That’s kind of neat!

KH: It’s also a letter in some languages, a xeta, or a symbol. So now it’s more ambiguous, hopefully they won’t target us.

MB: It’s also a sweet sorority!

KH: Yeah. And if you look up the hashtag on Instagram, there’s a Hispanic or some based-in-Mexico youth group called the Xetas, and they take all these smiling, happy teenage pictures, hashtag Xetas.

And that’s you guys, right?

DP: Yeah!

KH: We’re a girl group from Mexico.

DP: It’s a lot of very fun hashtag confusion about what’s us and what’s a bunch of smiling happy children.

That’s how you get your name out there.

DP: What better way, really.

KH: Inundate the youth of the church.

I’m going to say, speaking of the name of your band, it’s a weird association that I make with it—it’s not the similarity of the music, but it might be the male/female vocals and the strong melodic sense that you guys have going on, but I always think of X. And of course, you have the X on your record and on all your stuff.

DP: That, and in record stores, there aren’t that many X bands.

I’ve heard of other bands doing that when trying to think of a name, so they can be near other bands that they like.

DP: It’s a perk, but we didn’t intend on it.

KH: Yeah, I don’t really listen to that much X or anything. But I think that Exene’s YouTube videos are phenomenal.

Really? I haven’t seen them.

KH: She’s like a 9/11 truther now, and she gets on YouTube and talks about all these crazy conspiracy theories.

DP: No way!

KH: It’s fucked up. Did you also hear about Lydia Lunch’s YouTube video where she asks Louis CK to be bang buddies?

MB:Bang buddies?

KH: Lydia Lunch has a boner for Louis CK. But yeah, Exene’s YouTube videos are a really big inspiration for Xetas.

DP: But that didn’t factor at all, it’s just kind of a happy coincidence.

Xetas copy
Xetas copy

Then what are some of the bands that you would consider influences?

KH: Honestly, I think we all like different shit, and it just kind of triangulates.

Ok, then you each have to name one band.

DP: There are a lot of bands. I think Matt and I started playing music in the first place because I saw him wearing a Drive Like Jehu shirt, and I was like I’ve always wanted to rip that band off! And then we realized once we started playing that we can’t really rip them off. But that was definitely an influence. And I think that everything I do is Wipers influenced. But Kana and I are obsessed with Kate Bush, so in some weird way, subconsciously, we were coming up with melodies and there’s probably some Kate Bush in there.

KH: I think we’re both drawn to really unique songwriting styles, be it whatever kind of music. So with David it was always connecting over weird shit that nobody else would really listen to, and with Matt it was like we like Jawbreaker and Drive Like Jehu and all these bands. And they would tell me about stuff and it was like oh, I haven’t heard this, but it was kind of what I always wanted to hear.

DP: Yeah, we turned Kana on to the San Diego scene.

KH: Leatherface!

DP: Leatherface’s Mush is definitely one of my top five records of all time.

I haven’t heard it.

DP: Oh, it’s phenomenal. It’s like if Lemmy from Motörhead sang for Bad Religion.

KH: It’s so good. And so perfectly executed and delicate at the same time.

DP: It’s really harsh, but every song is catchy as hell.

That’s kind of how I would describe your music, so it doesn’t surprise me.

KH: If we get compared to Leatherface, then we will have done our job.

DP: I am so cool with that.

KH: What do you like, Matt?

MB: I do like ’90s stuff. I was always influenced in the way I play drums, I would like to think, by Dischord bands and Fugazi and all that kind of stuff. You can tell that I’m not a Marked Men-style, fast sixteenths drummer guy. I got all my influences from seeing those kind of bands, that kind of—not off-kilter, but taking a different kind of approach, a little bit. More nuanced.

It’s great to watch you play, because it’s like how many hits can you fit into that fill? I love that.

DP: It’s funny to me, because I’ve heard people compare Matt’s drumming to Big Black, who don’t have a drummer. [laughing] It’s a drum machine, but it’s very much the same; calculated, and every hit is just massive.

MB: I like bands—going back to the ’90s—but today, bands have rotating members, and I think back 15, 20 years ago, everyone was an integral part of the band, and it just didn’t sound the same if somebody left.

DP: Yeah, everybody mattered.

MB: So I kind of keep that in mind when I play, too, it’s going to be three different, strong people. But if you look at old Dinosaur Jr. or any of those kinds of bands, it’s like three specific fucking people, not just one guy who runs the show and fires everybody else and gets new people and nobody even notices. So I always try to avoid that.

KH: I think that’s a big part of our sound, and why it’s hard to say what we’re influenced by or whatever, because it’s not so much that we got together and agreed that we like this, this, and this, it’s like I listen to ESG and Pylon and minimal shit, and for whatever reason that type of playing, for what I do, complements what they do well, which is influenced by them. And it wouldn’t happen if we all liked the same stuff.

The rest of this interview can be found in issue 3.

Interview by Sean Redmond. Photography by Steven Ruud.