Backtracking

THE U WORD | Texan Camila Grey, left, teamed with ‘L Word’ star Leisha Hailey to form indie duo Uh Huh Her.

As they make their way to SXSW, queer duo Uh Huh Her scales back for sophomore release

The dream of most bands might be to find a label and release a well-produced debut album. Hustling to keep it afloat? Not so much. Job security is still a nice thing, even in the music industry.

Uh Huh Her sees things differently. You might even think they just took two steps back after a major leap forward.

“Yeah, we are weirdly going the other way,” laughs Camila Grey, half of the  indie duo. “Our success was immediate: We got picked up by a label right away and had this glossy pop album under our belts.” But despite that welcome mat, Grey and her music-making partner, Leisha Hailey, wanted to work for their success. So they did what any new band starting out would do. They dumped their label.

Uh Huh Her’s 2008 debut, Common Reaction, was a stellar disc of well-constructed songs that hinted at ’80s New Wave with alt-rock sensibilities. Recalling the likes of Ladytron and Le Tigre, UHH was poised to become the Next Big Indie Thing. They were far from hurt by the built-in audience brought in by Hailey, star of the lesbian drama The L Word.

“That was our core fan base because the audience did follow her,” Grey says. “That was also part of the immediate success. But we’ve been able to grow it from there. Now our audience is all over the place, from straight couples to gay kids. And it’s just widening.”

Having been off the radar for most of the past year, UHH is set to release their second full-length album, Nocturnes, later this spring. Grey promises a grittier, edgier, more personal sound.

“The beauty of this album is we did it all on our own,” she says. “I produced and we recorded it in our own studios. I think it’s bringing us back to our roots. We want to focus on this again and give it another go.”

With a liberated approach, Grey didn’t feel the pressures to sound a specific way as “encouraged” by her label.

“We have lives aside from the band and the realistic situation was knowing we can do this on our own terms,” she says.

Grey and Hailey produced an EP at breakneck speed and took it on the road. Six tracks made up Black and Blue, recorded and packaged in less than two weeks to use as a promotional tool for the tour. They have taken their musical destiny into their own hands.

“We work really well under pressure,” Grey laughs. “The whole thing has been labor of love and we put more care into these two things. There’s no pressure from The Man anymore.”

UHH is on the road now, and will play in Dallas after coming off gigs at Austin’s South By Southwest Festival, where they could easily be cited as the next It band if the right people see, blog and tweet them well. But Grey isn’t concerned about being that band; she’s a musician at heart and creating music is her primary goal.

UHH played SXSW two years ago, but Grey is throwing expectations out the window to just have fun. They have four days of gigs lined up before heading to Dallas, where she was born (she grew up in Austin). What surprises her most is the Dallas audience.

“Texas always gives us more love,” she says. “It’s so weird the markets that we’re popular in are more conservative ones. We’ve always had a packed audience with great energy in Dallas. Houston’s the same. You’d think that would be more so in a city like Austin.”

Guess Austin hasn’t cornered the market on knowing good music after all.

— Rich Lopez

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Beautiful day in the neighborhood • Defining Homes

Neighbors in Oak Cliff’s Kessler Park talk about why their ‘hood is the best ever

By Steven Lindsey

Stewart Street residents
Stewart Street residents from left to right Jerrett Morris, Alan Stolleis, Clyde Greenhouse, Michal Taylor, Darrell Ward and Linda Ronk come together often for neighborhood block parties, planned or impromptu, within their classic homes and lush greenery of Kessler Park. Photos courtesy of Jef Tingley.

There’s a little group of homes on Stewart Street in the Kessler Highlands neighborhood of Oak Cliff in Kessler Park that may be just about the gayest block in town — and not just the homosexual kind of gay; the happy kind, too. The neighbors who live here are closer than the pals on Friends, more into each other’s business than a season finale of Knots Landing and their parties have a higher production value than anything Bree’s ever done on Desperate Housewives.

The quiet, tree-lined street is filled with quaint bungalow-style homes from the ’20s and ’30s and over recent years, several gays and lesbians have chosen to put down roots on this one particular block, one which throws out the welcome mat any time somebody new moves in.

“We first met all the gays and lesbians on our block the same way we met all of our neighbors — through a welcome party,” says Jef Tingley, an eight-year resident. “Who knew that years later so many of these people would not just be neighbors, but individuals that I consider dear friends.”

The neighbors gather for two major events a year: Blocktoberfest, a yearly bratwurst cookout held in a neighbor’s yard where everyone brings a dish to share; and a progressive holiday event, where everyone moves from house to house for food and drinks. Halloween is also quite a production with an estimated 1,500 trick-or-treaters each year snatching up 60 to 70 pounds of candy per house in the process.

“It turns out to be one of the most fun events of the year for me and my friends,” says Alan Stolleis, who’s lived on the street for nearly 13 years. “We do tend to go a little crazy with fog machines, huge spiders and scary music.”

But the neighbors on Stewart don’t need a bold-font holiday on the calendar to have reason to celebrate.

“One of the first things we learned when we moved on to the block is that if someone is on the porch, there’s a good chance that you can stop on by for a glass of wine. Many a dog walk has ended with an impromptu porch party,” Tingley says. In fact, everyone interviewed said the same thing about the frequent porch parties and how often they pop up.

Clyde Greenhouse and Michal Taylor, co-owners of the Oak-Cliff-based Kessler Cookie Company, have been on the block for 12 years and have the newest home in the neighborhood. It was built in 1942.

The character of the neighborhood is what initially interested Taylor and Greenhouse, as well as most other people who found Stewart by chance. But for at least one neighbor, buying a home here took a village.

“We had the opportunity to have our best friend buy the house next to us, and when the house went up for sale, while our friend was negotiating his contract for purchase, some of the neighbors would take the ‘for sale’ sign down every day,” says Jerrett Morris, Tingley’s partner. “And whenever a prospective buyer might even give the hint of interest, they would wander out in their boxer shorts and generally try to look like nightmare neighbors any way they could to drive the prospect away.”

It must’ve worked, because Keith Murray closed the deal, quite possibly not realizing the extent to which the neighborhood had helped make it happen.

“At the time I wasn’t looking to buy a home. It was by chance that the house next door to my best friends went up for sale.  It was in complete disrepair, but with the encouragement and help of friends and neighbors, I bought it and we collectively rehabbed it. It was a lot of work, but looking back on it now, it was completely worth it,” Murray says.

It’s just one of many examples of the ways neighbors here look out for one another.

“This neighborhood will definitely take it upon itself to investigate anything that seems suspicious,” Morris says. “It’s like a block full of good Gladys Kravitzes [the nosy neighbor from Bewitched].”

“We know almost everyone by name. It’s not uncommon to see a gay couple standing out in the front yard talking with a straight couple and their children. I even loaned a pair of cuff links to a neighbor’s daughter’s boyfriend for prom one year when he needed them in a pinch,” Tingley says.

Linda Ronk, who has lived on Stewart for 16 years, believe the neighborhood transcends any sort of labeling.

“To be honest there is no gay or non-gay. We are just Stewart Street folks,” she says. “We have keys to each other’s homes and we watch out for each other.”

“Not everyone believes me, but our street is like something out of Leave It To Beaver,” Tingley says. “All the neighbors are really vested in making it a great block, but it’s also not a creepy police state where you have no privacy. I tell everyone to move to Oak Cliff. It’s like a small city in a big town. And if you can find a place on Stewart, you’re even luckier.”

“We didn’t know it going in, but it would be impossible to recreate the mix of neighbors we have on our block,” Morris says. “They’re absolutely priceless and will keep us in our house for a very long time,” says Morris.

Or at least until the city starts requiring liquor licenses for these very busy porches.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of Defining Homes Magazine October 8, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas