Apartment Concert with The Happy Alright, Dallas

{Written at University Park, Dallas, Texas}

My ears are still ringing from an apartment concert I attended last night. That’s right: an apartment! Late one April night, four alternative rock bands took over SMU student Chris Thraikill’s apartment near McFarlin Blvd, and not even a brief police intervention could stop these musicians from jammin’ out at this unusual venue. With a line up starring Life Lessons, I Am Clark Kent, Live Again and The Happy Alright, the night was definitely one that explored varying subgenres of rock n’ roll.

Finding the apartment was unsurprisingly easy. Despite their best efforts to dull the noise, the unmistakable sound of drums and electric guitars thundered down the street like an auditory usher to the event. Quirky paper arrows guided me up the narrow stairs to find a friend-of-the-band who acted as the event’s bouncer – but he kindly allowed me in even though I discovered I didn’t have the necessary $5 to get into the show. The true meaning of an apartment rock concert hit me as soon as the crowd near the door was able to make enough way for me to slide in. Life Lessons, a pop punk band from Oklahoma, had already taken the living room stage and the sound of their amps hit me hard as the door instantly shut behind me. All the furniture of the two-bedroom apartment had been cleared away – except for a sofa – and fans gathered around what would have been the dining area while the kitchen served as a space for wires, speakers and various sundry band equipment.

“We actually try to play at in-house concerts because it’s an easy, intimate environment to play in,” said THA’s Mason Steeger and Sterling Gavinski. “It’s a lot easier to set up; sometimes it can be really difficult going through a promoter to get [a gig] downtown. We really like these spaces because the only real problem you gotta watch out for are the cops…like tonight.”

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The show was halfway through an intriguing set by I Am Clark Kent, whose sound I’d attempt to describe as jazz saxophones colliding beautifully with heavy rock bass and drums when a loud pounding at the door alerted everyone that something was amiss.

“We just got our first noise complaint of the evening guys!” yelled someone, as the music came to a clattering halt. “Well, it’s a bit more than a neighbor’s noise complaint, since the cops outside are wondering what on earth is going on.”

The crowd that had been all riled up in its surge towards the stage dissipated towards the kitchen for refreshments and lingered as quietly as they could towards the walls of the house to avoid any potential fire marshall from seeing the extent of populous we had crammed into Chris’ apartment. The human generated humidity felt oppressive and all our ears were ringing, when suddenly a most appreciated strong breeze graced through the room.

“Wait, has that window been open this entire time?” loudly whispered a band member.

“That’s a good thing right? So that we can breathe in this room?” asked his friend.

“Nah man that’s how everyone outside could hear and why the cops keep getting called on us every time!”

“Ah sh*t!” retorted the drummer, closing the window whilst the members of The Happy Alright and Chris negotiated a truce with the police officers on the street below. The rest of us waited in a sweaty silence until the door burst open, and they victoriously shouted, “THANK YOU FOR LETTING US PLAY COPS!”

And the show continued as the eagerly anticipated band took the living room stage. Since many of us in the crowd were SMU students, we knew Sterling Gavinski (’17) and Mason Steeger (’16), and were familiar with their band members, drummer Brad Barteau and new guitarist Gus Rives (’17). As they launched straight into their original songs, their audience pushed forward – creating that uniquely intimate concert space that the band enjoyed sharing with their fans. By that point in the night, my ears were ringing pretty hardcore and I couldn’t catch the lyrics, but I was impressed by the ferocity of Brad’s intricate drumming and Mason’s head-banging guitar skills. Luckily, I managed to catch up with the band on the brick patio after the show.

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Mason Steeger and Sterling Gavinski chatting with #nikitalyfe after their show

“Sterling and Mason have pretty much written all the lyrics to our songs,” said Barteau. “Their stuff is autobiographical for the most part, but it’s all [created by] them.”

When asked what inspires him, Steeger shared, “We like to write about what we’re going through right now, because we feel it’s really relatable the whole mid-twenties, late teenage years. That whole section of life can be confusing for a lot of people; you feel kind of directionless and you’re just really lost. We want to put that into words – just like so many of our favorite bands have done – in a way that people can relate to. We want to write lyrics that people can grasp onto, to know that they aren’t the only ones feeling that way, that they aren’t alone.”

Compared to the earlier performers of the night, The Happy Alright’s range boasts some more mellow songs like Flower to contrast against their headbanger pieces like Lost At Home.

Lead singer/songwriter Gavinski shed some light on the lyrics: “Flower is about feeling like someone was important in your life at one point in time, but how you might have messed that up by screwing them over – and many other people in the process – over, and you think to yourself, ‘Hmm maybe I was selfish, maybe I should have been more of a part of their lives.’ [Flower] is about realizing that it’s your own fault sometimes.”

Gavinski says that his drive to write lyrics stems from “the hope to write good songs, where the lyrics will mean something to someone else – be something they hear that that they identify with and like. I think the key to a ‘good ass’ song is making something that both you and a far away [listener] can hear and both instantly relate to. That would be a song to be proud of. That would be a good ass song.”

“Good ass?” repeats Rives.

“Good ass,” confirms Gavinski, in a solemnly sincere voice.

The Happy Alright attempt to characterize their band’s enigmatic sound included labels ranging from “pop, punk, emo, alternative punk,” though the humorous debate seemed almost immediately settled when I asked to narrow it to two words and Rives offered, “Rock and roll, there you have it.”

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Gus Rives and Brad Barteau hang out with #nikitalyfe post-show

Gavinski finally described the band’s sound as “a low-key pop punk band, but just sadder than most pop punk bands. That’s the genre we’re going with right now on our Facebook page.”

The conversation then turned back to their repertoire itself. With three albums launched, multiple tours across the U.S. and an upcoming tour in June 2016, The Happy Alright indeed have a lot to be happy about.

But interestingly, the band does not cite the number of their recorded songs as measures of their success. “We have about seven or eight songs that we actually play,” said Barteau.

“A lot of our songs are dead now,” added Steeger. “We have like a whole EP that we can’t play anymore.”

“We killed them off, yeah,” nodded Gavinski.

“Like, we just won’t even talk about them,” finishes Barteau.

Sensing my confusion at the notion of “dead songs,” Gavinski explained, “We’ve written and recorded a lot of songs, but we look back at them and think ‘we can do better now.'”

“See, we’ve been a band for five years, and we’ve changed our sound a lot – especially since Mason joined. So we kind of have a rolling discography of 11 songs, but – oh wow here’s Johnathan,” pauses Barteau, as former band member Johnathan Ballew walked past in search of a missing aux-cord. “We still love him but he’s not in The Happy Alright anymore. He’s got a new band [Live Again.]”

“They played first tonight; Live Again – they’ve got a solid band,” said Steeger.

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This led me to ask about the origins of The Happy Alright and how it all came together, to which Gavinski joked, “Well Brad and I met at a strip club, when I was in the crowd and Brad was obviously the one taking off his clothes on stage back in 2011,“ he chuckled. “Nah, basically we took guitar and drum lessons, respectively, at the same place and so we got to know each other through that; started doing some fun gigs together… and then we just started playing a lot of shows and soon met Mason and Gus [at SMU] becoming what you saw tonight.”

Rives joined the conversation here adding, “I joined pretty recently so I couldn’t tell you much about the band’s history. My first show was March 15th, so that makes tonight my 3rd show with The Happy Alright. They needed someone who could go on tour with them.”

“We also needed someone with a car,” laughed Barteau.

“The main reason that Johnathan left the band was because there weren’t enough funds for him to tour with both his band and ours. We chose Gus Rives because we love him and because he was willing to spend a month out on the road with us, sleeping in Walmart parking lots,” explained Steeger.

“Before I joined [as a guitarist] I was the one driving these guys around, during their last tour with Keeper,” said Rives.

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The quirky name, “The Happy Alright” too had a fun origin story.

“I was waiting for you to ask that,” said Gavinski.

“It’s a great story, takes like, 20 minutes to tell,” agreed Barteau.

“We were coming up with names one day, and we had this list in front of us, but all of [the potential names] pretty much sucked, but this one sucked the least so that’s how we ended up with it,” summarized Gavinski, upon insistence from the others.

“My favorite part – that Sterling left out – was that “The Happy Alright” was everyone’s second favorite choice,” offered Steeger.

Gavinski continued, “We had this whole points system worked out – the one you liked best got the highest, next best next higher et cetera – but no one’s points matched up! But we figured that if we creatively added everyone’s points up, then technically this name had sort of the highest number of points.

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Gavinski & Steeger at the Apartment Concert

In regards to going out on tour, The Happy Alright responded: “It’s tough!”

“You don’t get to shower much,” admitted Rives.

“You have to pay $12 a shower at Flying J or whatever. We showered at Planet Fitness finally. This band from Pennsylvania called Post Season told us how to go about it. Their lead vocalist told us to just get a Gold Membership at Planet Fitness; it lets you shower at any of their branches across America,” said Steeger.

“Exactly! You get the membership right before going on tour and cancel the second you get home,” grinned Gavinski.

He continued, “the longest tour we’ve been on has been a week of shows straight. We drove to the West Coast and back, so it was a lot for us. In June we’re going out for a whole three weeks – which is something we’ve never done, so that’s going to be super worthwhile!“

“Mason’s even got a new van, a 1994 GMC Ventura for the tour! That’s probably the most important thing to come out of all of this,” joked Rives.

We chatted for a couple minutes about their favorite memories on their tours to California, Oklahoma and across Texas. Gavinski remembered driving their friend Gavin Pham back to California in their tour van, though their friend was convinced he had dreamt of an omen that a bear would attack them in Arizona and so remained petrified throughout their rest stops through the camping grounds en route to the California shows. Steeger enjoyed the insane views of the Grand Canyon, finding them only second best to the joys of actually performing on stage. Rives fondly remembered his first garage show as part of the DIY scene of their Oklahoma tour, where sixty people crammed into a tiny garage to watch The Happy Alright’s show.

“I dropped my bass every freaking day that we played till I got these new strap locks, so now my guitar straps are actually drilled into my bass so that they can’t get undone any more. You probably saw me thrashing about on stage today; I need my guitar to stay on!” said Steeger.

“For being three shows in, I still get nervous, but I try and focus on the music. I’m feeling more comfortable with each show though and I’ll get to Mason’s level soon,” said Rives, leaning against the wall.

“Just wait till you get to playing 24 shows in 26 days and you’ll be just fine,” laughed Steeger, clapping Rives on his back.

The Happy Alright goes on their biggest tour yet this summer in June 2016 with Keeper. Get all the latest information on the band at https://www.facebook.com/TheHappyAlright/

“You can get our EP Vacancies for free – or if you wanna pay more so we can do more tours that’s cool too. There’s merchandise online. Like us, Follow us. Let’s hangout soon, come party with us,” invited Gavinski.

*This article was originally published on SMU Odyssey at: https://beta.theodysseyonline.com/the-happy-alright-rocks-apartment-concert

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Author: Nikita Taimni

A Dubai-based blogger, I write about travel, theatre and lifestyle in the cities I explore around the world. Follow me on Instagram @nikitalyfe and follow via email if you enjoy reading my posts!

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