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Almost Too Famous

Too much fame too soon can hurt -- kind of like sucking down too many Jägermeister shots. To avoid a hangover, Schatzi guitarist/vocalist Chris Kyle plans to pace his party. "I wanted to build the band by playing shows and turning people on to the band that way, instead of trying to skip over playing-the-shitty-rock-club stage," he says. "If you go too far too fast, you're going down fast. If you don't have the group of people who liked you before you made it big, you're done."

On Schatzi's debut full-length, Fifty Reasons to Explode (Mammoth), Kyle, guitarist/vocalist Monte Williams and the similarly named rhythm section of drummer Mark Ford and bassist Marc Fort, stick to a hand-me-down recipe of pop-rock anthems. On the Ramonesesque "We Might Collide" and "Guitars Vs. Humans," punk-fueled guitars prance around shifting tempos. The quartet leans its collective head on the comfy crying pillow of emo during "The Spider Smells Disaster" and "Song for Stephanie," which feature melodies evolving from trickles of chiming guitar licks. "Sucked into Something" swoops through Foo Fighter airspace, while the album's title track loafs in a garage where indie rock hooks hang like tools on the walls.

"Songwriting is a very personal thing for me," Kyle explains. "It's my weird brain looking at patterns and regurgitating all the music that it's heard in the past into something that, hopefully, you can't read the influences right away." (Hope all you want, dude: It's been hard to find reviews of Fifty Reasons to Explode that don't mention Weezer in the first few sentences.)

While Schatzi calls Austin home now, it all began in Oklahoma City in the early 1990s, when Kyle, raised on '80s metal and MTV, found himself stuck with cock-rockers Brave New World. Williams later joined, but the two soon bailed to start Blunderwheel, where they hit upon the idea of sharing vocal duties.

"Monte and I write songs, but we write them separately," Kyle explains. "So instead of getting Monte to try to sing my songs, we would sing our own. Plus, Monte can balls-out scream, and I can't. If I try, it's all over: I'm spraying blood out of my mouth." The two decided to change Blunderwheel to Schatzi, a name old German ladies love to bestow on pet schnauzers -- a thought that leaves the band cringing at the notion of touring Deutschland. After concluding that remaining in Oklahoma City would stunt the band's growth, they moved to Austin in 1992.

"We were just bored," Kyle remembers. "We lived there for a long time, and we were ready to try something new. In Austin, there were hundreds of clubs and tons of local bands. It was definitely a good move."

The relocation went as planned, but the band went through a revolving-door lineup of drummers and bassists before stabilizing with the Ford/Fort combination, which rejoined after an earlier stint. "We've always had trouble keeping a solid lineup," Kyle says. "Right now, we're best friends, and we play well together. This is the lineup we should have had years ago."

The band released Joanie Loves Schatzi on its own Humongous Fungus label in 1998, then Death of the Alphabet two years later with Dynamite Hack frontman Mark Morris, who helped with the costs of the recording. "We were completely broke," Kyle recalls. "We didn't even have money to burn CD-R's." The band found a home at Austin's legendary venue Emo's, where opening for Jimmy Eat World helped it secure more fans. But landing regular airplay of the Death of the Alphabet's title track on mainstream station KROQ-FM (106.7) in Los Angeles both helped and hurt their cause.

"It exposed us to a lot of young kids who can't go to clubs and didn't really know us until they heard us on the radio," Kyle explains. "We attracted a lot of curiosity, [including from] people who just like what's on the radio. Those people went away as soon as radio stopped playing us, so that was cool. But we also got a lot of new fans." Unimpressed, Austin's college radio outlets left the band out to dry. "We were blacklisted because we were played on a commercial station," Kyle muses with a hint of disbelief. "It's not like we're a Matchbox 20."

While the band's success was still on a local level, Mammoth Records took note after catching a set at the South by Southwest Music Conference and signed the group, rereleasing Death of the Alphabet as an EP that included songs from Fifty Reasons to Explode.

"We were scared to sign to a big label and get marketed down people's throats," Kyle says. "You see it all the time: bands that come out of nowhere and get on the radio and it looks like they're huge. Look at a band like At the Drive-In. I want to build the band by playing shows and turning people on to the band that way. Then the radio song goes away and the label [stops supporting them]. If you don't sell enough records, you're done."

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Omar Perez

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