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String Theory 

Talking With The Twinemen

The Twinemen Billy Conway - along with most everyone else who's in a band, wants to be in a band, or wants to manage or sign a band - is in Austin, Texas. The occasion, of course, is the annual SXSW music conference, the music industry clusterfuck-slash-behemoth that has become less and less of the independent music festival it was initially conceived as and more and more of a slick-handed, drive-by meet-and-greet. Conway's not looking to join a band, nor is he looking to showcase his wares for a record label. He's here, simply, to play drums with his buddy Dana Colley and companion Laurie Sargent, who together comprise the band Twinemen. Having been here years before with his and Colley's former band, Morphine, he ruminates on how a thing can start one way and make a life of its own, and turn out in a way you'd never imagine. He then says there is really no other way.

"Austin, TX, the land of the music vendor! It's overwhelming. Having been around long enough to have been here in the early days when it was a truly independent event, I can't keep from longing for that a little bit. It's a whole different event now. The whole music business is setting up shop. It is what it is, but in the earlier days it was people who were independent getting together and helping each other out and figuring out how to do things. It's a whole different ballgame now. That's what happens when something is good, I guess."

When something is good, like Morphine was and Twinemen is now, you either ride the wave and see where it takes you or else you fall prey to the undertow of expectations and self-doubts and sink to the bottom with the other skeletal galleons of Good Intention. Billy Conway prefers to swim, thank you very much.

"I think we knew at the time we had to do something on our own, and that it was essential musically and spiritually to move forward after (former Morphine frontman Mark) Sandman died. I think when we started Twinemen, the only 'rule' was to make music that we had neither made nor heard before. Of course, it's impossible — the music comes from somewhere and it's all in how you combine it — but at least you can make music that's difficult to describe. That was really our goal, and always is. We always think the litmus test is when someone says 'Well, what kind of music do you make?' and you scratch your head and begin to stutter. We think that's a good sign."

The creative process for Conway, Colley and Sargent? Let it roll. Tape, ideas, what have you. Don't waste time polishing a turd, as the drummer says. First thought might not always equal best thought, but life's full of second chances, right? You can't dance if you're not on the floor.

"We're very improvisational with how we work. When we put things on tape, it's to get ideas down that maybe we'll work on a little later. The idea is to get the music down and follow the music and not your preconceived notions of what you think it should be. It's like a piece of clay. You get a chunk, and you hand it around a little bit and share ideas and keep letting it come into shape. And I say 'letting it' more prominently than 'forcing it.' It just fills us with joy to get in the studio. We feel like we're chasing (the music) more than forming it. It's like a conversation. You don't know where it's going to go — you just listen and respond."

The response to the listening? Opinions=A-holes. "It's not Morphine!" "It sounds too much like Morphine!" "It doesn't sound enough like Morphine!" "Enter Sandman!"

"I think we knew all along that we'd be 'those guys who were in Morphine.' And proud of it, mind you. It's kind of why we named the band what we did. Twinemen was a comic strip Sandman did over the years, a three-headed twine ball that represented in a visual way what it was like to be in a band. And so we decided to literally animate it, I guess. For those of us who know, it's a tribute and a nod to the past, but it's also a new start. We knew some people would like it because it sounds like Morphine, and some people wouldn't like it because it sounded like Morphine. But the truth of the matter is that Dana plays saxophone and I play drums. That's what we sound like when we play together. You know?"

You do what you do, say what you say, think how you think, and trust the fates with the rest of it. Change is good. Sometimes a snake needs a sharp object in order to shed its skin. Life would be pretty boring if it was the same as 10, 15, 20 years ago, so why should music be any different? That's right! It shouldn't. "The only thing that permits a man to live is the act," said Sartre.

"Music kind of is evolution, and it's got to move forward. We all come from a musical place where the right that you gain from being an artist to be able to do what you want musically is also a responsibility. We really believe in that. You have to turn the wheel every time, you know? Sometimes you go too far, and sometimes you don't go far enough. It's all about the process, you know?

The Twinemen play Amos' SouthEnd on Thursday, March 24. Admission is $8 ($10 for those under 21). For more information, call 704-377-6874.

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