Authenticity is, perhaps, the characteristic held in highest regard by musicians and critics alike. So, it may seem counterintuitive for authentic expression to be derived from well-worn influences. Yet the genres and sounds of the past are often reimagined and retooled to blaze new sonic trails in the present. Such is the case for Texas-based dark-wave outfit Don’t Get Lemon, whose moody tones and compositions borrow liberally from British post-punk and synth-pop bands of the 1980s.
This month the trio, who are now split between Houston, Austin, and Fort Worth, released their 2020 EP, Forward Not Forgetting, in a limited-edition, cassette tape format through West Coast indie label à La Carte Records. The project’s physical release speaks to the band’s steadfast devotion to their era-specific influences, in both their sound and overall aesthetic choices.
Like so many bands, this particular grouping was birthed from the ashes of a previous project. Houston and Austin natives and former members of dark metal outfit Funeralbloom, Austin Curtis (vocals), Bryan Walters (bass), and Nick Ross (synth and drum programming) leaned on their shared love of UK new-wave and cockney hooligan culture to form their trio. Don’t Get Lemon, its name borrowed from the cockney slang term, is an homage to a place and time as foreign to its founding members as it was formative.
The group released their second EP, Forward Not Forgetting, in October of last year following the rollout of the project's two singles, "Futures Lost" and "S.I." The five-track tape is marked by Curtis’s apparently time-transported vocals, which are at once deeply emotive and robotic, as well as Ross’s combination of nostalgic synth melody with futuristic electronic drum compositions. An unpolished, lo-fi production only adds to an already reminiscent sound.
Despite their obvious era-specific UK influence, the band derives sonic and creative inspiration from home as well.
“We also take inspiration from Houston’s lingering ’80s club culture, as seen in mainstays like Numbers and Etro and newer places like Barbarella,” says Curtis. “Every weekend (pre-pandemic), Houstonians dance the night away to songs from 1985 to forget the work week, and that energy and love for that era of music has burnt itself into our psyche. We want to create a modern version of those great bands that play at these clubs.”
Houston nightlife is not the only local influence on Forward Not Forgetting. The EP’s cover art features a photo of a fountain taken at a nearly abandoned Montrose shopping center. Much of the project is a commentary on the city’s rampant gentrification, specifically in areas like the historic Third Ward. “You can see the changing of the area,” explains Curtis. “A lot of the lyrics on our album are looking at late-stage capitalism and how we’re losing culture by sanitizing all of our communities and all of our neighborhoods.”
Don’t Get Lemon recently joined the roster of LA- and DC-based indie collective à La Carte Records, sister label to the more established Death of A Modernist imprint. Through their new partnership, the trio is releasing the initially digital EP in limited numbers on cassette tape. While inventory is available for purchase online through deathofamodernist.com, the band is also offering a limited number of tapes for sale in local record stores Vinal Edge Records and Cactus Music.
The group is now working remotely on new music, which is set to release sometime in mid-2021. A new single is in the works and is likely to prelude a third multi-track release. When asked if their signature ’80s synth-pop sound will prevail, the three agreed that it’s “too early to tell.” While their first two projects leave us craving more dark-wave mid-eighties nostalgia, their work certainly earns them the credibility to explore new avenues. Whatever comes next, we trust the outcome will be authentic.