Mike McCoy — Vocals
Other Bands: Cher U.K., The American People, The Black Rabbits, Wood Roses and The Yardpups
Day Jobs: Wood chopper, crocodile cage cleaner, waterproofer, wheat field roguer
Julie Lowery — Vocals
Other Bands: Bohemian Holiday, Uranium Savages, The Diamond Smugglers, Slim Richey’s Dream Band, Fire Marshals of Bethlehem, The Doe-Nuts, Mike Hall's Savage Trip
Day Jobs: Window washer, waitress, wedding band singer, film set craft services worker
Hunter Darby — Vocals/Bass/Guitar
Other Bands: Wannabes, The American People, The Diamond Smugglers, Dumptruck, The Dung Beatles, Cher U.K., Bigfoot Chester, Shoulders, Rockland Eagles, Fire Marshals of Bethlehem, The Doe-Nuts and T. Tex Edwards (and a good few more), as well as guest stints with The Minus Five, Spoon, Meat Puppets, Peter Case and The Magnolias
Day Jobs: Pharmacy delivery boy, hotel newsstand clerk, nightclub doorman, bar back, road manager
Andy Thomas – Guitar/Vocals
Other Bands: Rockland Eagles, Dum Dum Boys, Gay Sportcasters
Day Jobs: Plumber’s assistant, dishwasher, prep cook, liquor store clerk
Robbie Araiza — Guitar/Mandolin
Other Bands: The Wayouts, The Technicolor Yawns, Fire Marshals of Bethlehem and The Doe-Nuts.
Day Jobs: Auto parts salesman, record store clerk, bartender
Travis Garaffa — Drums/Vocals/Percussion
Other Bands: Picket Line Coyotes, The Tinys and Til We’re Blue or Destroy
Day Jobs: Shoe department stock boy, telephone solicitor, busser, dishwasher and restaurant kitchen slave
The Service Industry welds together the maxims “Don’t Give Up Your Day Job,” “When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade” and “Write What You Know.” Then mashes them together in a meat grinder, slaps it all on the griddle, tops it off with lettuce, tomato and onion, and serves it up with a side of fries through the drive-thru window. Then they sweep and mop up afterwards.
And as you listen to their delectably witty, slyly subversive and catchy as all get out latest concoction, Calm Down, you’ll likely hear your life or that of someone if not many folks you know. And certainly the sights and sounds of today’s America, at least as it is for most of us.
The Service Industry are those all too common musicians — and also uncommonly talented, sharp and observant musicians — who live just like everyday people after leaving the stage and tiredly crawling out of the tour van. And on what is now four albums, they report on the true state of the nation from the viewpoint of those hard-working folks who keep it running and humming for far too measly a wage, and at the same time swallow heaping helpings of rudeness, arrogance, abuse and downright meanness from those they work for and serve. Because as pop singin’ populist John Cougar Mellencamp observes, “Ain’t that America….”
Sure, The Service Industry hasn’t left its initial topic of shit jobs behind, as touched on within “Heart Repair,” the majestic rocker for the troops that opens their latest just off the griddle slab o’ music. But this time out, their beleaguered yet unbowed everyman (and woman) ‘tude also takes on where (or wherever) we live, from the urban sprawl and gall on “This Town Makes My Skin Crawl” to the governmental grief and ice cream relief to a punk beat in “Paint Creek” to the Cormac McCarthy on shrooms neo-Wastern pyschedelic spiral of “Loudon Wainwright, AZ.” You’ll hear everything from crunchy Heartland rawk on the mantra title tune to classic chartbound pop out of the garage that rocks on “Honey Sprayed Hair” to a big-beat electrified folkie wave bye-bye on “Windows.”
A trip to the pawnshop never sounded so ironically glorious as on “We Buy Broken Gold.” We feel the thumping heart of dumb lust on “Conflict Resoultion,” get lost in the great TV wasteland to guitar chime’n’roar on “I Suppose So,” and meet the enemy that is some of us on “Socialite.” But as the notion Calm Down promises, by the last song you will hopefully be here now just like its title, “Walking Down the Street, Looking Like a Flower,” even if The Service Industry do summon up such bliss with a hard chord closing one-two punch.
All told, the disc is rich with hooks galore (even if lyrically barbed), rock solid comic relief for the working, drinking and thinking class, and beats that’ll shake your butt and make the mind follow into some great as well as not so cool revelations ‘bout these times we live in. Sure, you could call it political music, but truth be told it’s really all just the organic result of a natural empathy and solidarity that comes from truly being among we the people.
“It's high time a band coalesced around the plight of beleaguered day-jobbers,” observed the group’s local weekly rag, The Austin Chronicle, when this merry and roguish band first punched their musical timecards together. That’s just what hard-toiling veteran musicians and songwriters Mike McCoy, Hunter Darby and Andy Thomas were thinking when they decided to create The Service Industry.
“Hunter and I sat around for years over drinks making up songs about our shitty day jobs, mainly to humor ourselves, and also to vent,” explains Thomas. When McCoy started chiming in on the notion, they realized it had deadly serious lyrical and musical potential indeed. After all, here was an idea for a band that millions of poor souls could relate to. Hence was born what the Houston Press dubs “Austin's most left-leaning, pro-labor, middle-finger-in-the-air band.” And one offering “a little night music about too many day jobs,” as put by Robert Christgau, the Dean of American rock critics.
The group’s collective decades of wage slavery informed its 2006 debut album, the aptly and observantly titled Ranch is the New French. Texas Music magazine hailed its “11 casually cool pop-rock tunes [that] would work nicely on any topic. Bits of punk, splashes of glam and touches of country provide color and variety to the smartly rocking vibe on this disc, but ultimately it’s the keen, sly and pointed yet always understated observations on life as a working service industry stiff who also rocks that make this set a very tasty serving that deserves a generous tip.”
They followed it up with Limited Coverage, on which TSI offered “a leaner, meaner, Middle American music machine fueled by a more generalized brand of occupational dread,” observed The Austin Chronicle. It also noted that the disc offered “the pitch-perfect soundtrack for your next union potluck.”
But for all the rib poking and incisive glee this sextet finds in the downside of the things they’ve done not for love but to keep the rent paid and food in the pantry and fridge, the music is no joke. “Limited Coverage is a college rock record in the best possible sense of the term,” notes Cultural Senescence. “Hearing a straight up honest to God hard pop album in the midst of all the current post-postmodern crap or whatever they’re calling it is damn refreshing. The songs are rock solid and hooky, and the concept of the band is timely and justifiably self-righteous without losing its sense of humor.”
By album three, Keep the Babies Warm, The Service Industry further opened its focus and “transcended their delightfully wicked take on day jobs that musicians unfortunately can’t give up for a sharp’n’smart pop-rock rumination with everything from punk to psychedelic strains on being an American working-class peasant,” said longtime music critic and rock writer drudge Rob Patterson when he named the disc one of 2008’s Top Five CDs in Texas Music. “A perfect soundtrack for these tough economic times.”
Yep, the band offers listeners what Rock’n’Reel hails as “shimmering power-pop loaded with sing-along melodies” as spoonfuls of musical sugar to help our slog though our workdays and the rest of existence go down… and not come back up. So it’s really no surprise that Rocktober notes of Babies, “Their album actually has commercial potential.”
That would stand to reason, given that critics have compared The Service Industry to so many other acts that the group is a virtual rock Rorschach (inkblot) test: Cheap Trick, Ween, Pavement, The Replacements, The Lemonheads, Urge Overkill, Apples in Stereo and such other diverse acts as The Traveling Wilburys, Frank Zappa, The Byrds, Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne, even Cliff Richard and Neil Diamond. And Pink Floyd (okay… rather consciously spoofed on the Babies artwork). Plus, vocally, the John Doe/Exene blend of X and R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. It’s music that obviously many people can and should enjoy along with songs that don’t just speak to the masses but for them.
As McCoy explains, the group finds both themselves and many others in looking at life dead-on from the level of hardly average but certainly everyday people. Or as Citzine puts it, offer “a higher-minded yet somewhat snarky approach to the daily grind, and in a blissfully melodic manner.”
“There’s a little bit of self-recognition there, and wanting to craft some songs around the camaraderie and commiseration that goes with it,” McCoy explains of their topical approaches. “I do believe that there are several Americas, but economically, there’s the people that have money and the people that don’t have it. And if you don’t have it, you’ve got to get out there and slug. You could say it’s a tribute to the working class, but that’s oversimplifying.” What they try to offer is “something uplifting. Call it ‘dude betterment.’”
Of course, some people just don’t get it. “In this reviewer’s estimation, the primary difficulty with a band pushing their ideologies through their songs is that they run the risk of pissing off people who are simply out to hear good music that doesn't have any deeper meaning to it,” complains the revealingly named glossy Texas celebutante magazine Envy. Uh, maybe ticking off some folks that deserve it is one of the group’s salient aims? “No matter how good the music might be, bands have to realize that they just might be automatically excluding people who disagree with you.” Given the demographics of modern America, the numbers are clearly on the side of The Service Industry in that equation.
And who among us hasn’t at too many times felt just like Darby? “You get to be like an exposed nerve in dealing with people,” he notes. “Plus there’s a smugness you have to deal with all the time in middle and upper class people.” So why not make music that reminds the hoi polloi and more importantly those that think they’re better than everyone else that there are such time-honored notions as right and wrong as well as basic manners and a little class, especially here in an era when too many are consumed by the sparkling cheap sequins of greed and celebrity?
And in a musical run that (as should be obvious here) is studded with that good ol’ music biz buzz signal known as “critical acclaim,” The Service Industry is also seeping its way into the wider world by its song “Bookstores and Restaurants” as well as talk about the band finding their way into the ABC TV series “Cupid.” And hey, maybe people should listen closely to what’s going on here, as prescience seems to be at work. The song that closed Babies, “Seaworld,” all but predicted the disgruntled worker whale at the actual Sea World who finally told its trainer in no uncertain terms that enough is enough.
“What is delightful to me is that TSI has found a way with excellent results to create lush (and at times) meaty arrangements as the underpinnings to their concept and message: we’re screwed,” says Zippidy Doo Da. “Keep making records, guys — you’re good at it.”
Oh don’t worry, they will. “We like putting the records out,” says Darby. “I really have a good time doing this. And it’s definitely the best band I’ve ever been in.”
“There’s one thing about The Service Industry,” Thomas asserts. “We’re all serious about what we do as musicians, and we really care about the music.”
As dour as matters at large and of course in the modern workplace may be today, one reviewer happily notes that with this group and their sardonic take on matters, the glass is still always half full… with beer, whiskey, whatever you want to order. Just, please, ask nicely. And don’t forget to leave a hefty tip.
And you don’t even need to fill out an application to work alongside The Service Industry at this proletarian gig you can dance to and happily hum along with. Just put on that apron, and be ready to rock.