Feature: The Couch making a career out of rock ‘n’ roll

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Taylor Wilkins and Jud Johnson sit beside each other, drinking dark brewed beers, glowing in the florescent lighting of the Whole Foods rooftop. They laugh and effortlessly finish each other’s sentences—a byproduct from rehearsing music together every Tuesday and Thursday for the last five years. “Jud is definitely the longest relationship I’ve ever had,” Wilkins says with a hint of charming coyness embedded in his dry humor.

Wilkins and Johnson play guitar and drums, respectively, for The Couch, and they have since they were undergrads at Texas State University in 2007.

When you walk the streets of downtown and East Austin, you hear sounds of soft indie voices bleeding into a mix of lo-fi rock. Punk pummels you from one venue while something folkish, bluesy or post-rocky soothes you from the bar next door. But if you walk past a venue while The Couch is playing, you’ll hear rock ‘n’ roll—rock as solid as stone, in its sound and in its frequency.

This organic and classic style of rock ‘n’ roll is palpable in their recently released debut album, Old & Touchin’ Blue. The process of getting that sound on an album, however, was years in the making.

The Couch began on Aug. 27, 2007, when Wilkins and the band’s original bassist, Matt Adams, moved from San Antonio to San Marcos. At the time Johnson, a childhood friend of Adams’, had two spare rooms available. With a bassist, a percussionist and a guitarist/vocalist beneath the same roof, collaboration naturally occurred.

“We started working on the first three songs together, some of which we still play versions of today,” Johnson said. The band began playing shows in their adopted home of San Marcos, with occasional trips up I-35 to Austin. After finishing their undergraduate studies, the band made the move the Live Music Capital of the World.

“The music scene in San Marcos is transient,” said Wilkins. “As great as a town it is, you can only go so far. You got to get out.”

Upon arriving in Austin a year and a half ago, Wilkins and Johnson began working with a new bassist, Kyle Robarge. The band added multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Sara Houser to fill out their sound, shorty after completing the album—a process that wasn’t always easy.

“I think bands naturally have a lot of tension, in the sense that every member has what they think they should do,” Wilkins said. “I think that with us, negotiating those roles is always complex.” The band can’t always predict when they’ll be cohesive, he said. “Some songs we just write; they come right out on the table. Other songs, we just sit on for weeks.”

But, Johnson added, “Everyone trusts each other with abilities; everyone likes where everyone is coming in their musical interpretation, so it is a constructive kind of project. Once you get that full picture of the agreement, then you can definitely expand from there.”

The band started recording in March 2011, working closely with Lars Goransson with Sounds OUTrageous Studio. Goransson helped the band tailor their style, and mix and master three of their EPs—what eventually became their full-length album.

“Our goal was to do an ‘X’ amount of songs and at the end of the year say, ‘Look, this is what we’ve done our first year in Austin,’” said Johnson.

Originally, the band intended for each recording session to be released as an EP. The first two sessions produced New Roman Buffalo and Close To You, but after recording the last four tracks, The Couch decided to gather the best songs from their three EPs and produce a full-length album.

“We wanted a big rock record; we wanted a lot of punch and in-your-face,” said Wilkins. “A lot of bands these days sell themselves short by wanting to sound like it was recorded out of their ass holes. And I like that, some of my favorite bands have that sound—The Walkmen, National—but I didn’t want to do that.”

Though the band only spent seven days in the recording studio, the process spanned over the course of six months.

“The process was two-thirds great, one-third shit,” Wilkins said. “What I mean by that is that we did it in three separate sessions. The one in the middle, New Roman Buffalo—it is not something you can identify, but there was a weird feeling; it was a weird time for everyone.”

After finalizing their album, The Couch collaborated with Eye in the Sky Collective, or EITS Collective, to optimize their success through a collective, community effort. The organization presents artists with a new, innovative business model, helping them connect with album artists, studios, and public relations coordinators.

Through EITS Collective, The Couch was connected with MusicBox Media, who now manages their public relations; their album artist, Elizabeth Fox Roseberry; and Anthony Erickson who helped coordinate nationwide orders for their CDs.

Since coming to Austin, the local media has shined a light on the band. In May 2011, a few months after their move from Austin to San Marcos, KUT featured their track, “Close To You”, on KUT’s Song of the Day. The track was originally recorded on their first EP, Close To You.

“It came out of nowhere, this girl we knew from San-Marcos, Haley Howle, now works at KUT. She showed the song to Dave Brown and Laurie Gallardo and they liked it, so it was song of the day the following Monday,” said Wilkins.

A few days after the release of their first album, KUT also reviewed the band’s album, describing their style as, “the perfect riff-laden melodic hybrid of rock, pop and a touch of blues.”

Earlier this year, The Good Music Club hosted a live performance taping with The Couch on the bill. The cinematic recordings showcased the band’s liveliness and rock ‘n’ roll essence with traces of an endearing, optimistic blues style in a studio setting.

In regards to their future plans, The Couch hopes to continue booking gigs regionally—Austin, Denton, Dallas, San Antonio, San Marcos, Houston and Corpus—aspiring to perform in front of fans as opposed to empty venues in distant cities. And the hard work shows in the tightness of their sound and in the quality of the bills they’re booked to play.

“For us, it is a longitudinal thing, and laying down the groundwork for a career as opposed to just success,” said Wilkins. “We would love to be playing rock ‘n’ roll until we die.”

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