Friday, November 03, 2006

More new life for Deep Ellum

"There is a new wind blowing down the historic alleys of Deep Ellum. It whispers lightly in every new drum beat and distant vocal behind closed doors. It takes its pride in its name as it rolls off everyone's tongue. It whispers ... Copasectic Ballyhoo."

The press kit of a music movement in the old Last Beat Studio building waxes poetic, but behind the silver doors on Commerce Street is something as exciting as its prose is overblown. The gutted recording studio has new life inside. ProTools is once again running in the sound stage, the old production rooms are being converted into offices, design studios, and a bedroom. A bedroom? Copasectic Ballyhoo and co-founder Mat Timmons both live in the rooms that once recorded the Burden Brothers, Pinkston, and Vibrolux. He's planted grass on the tiny urban patio out back to remind him of the green of Arkansas, his birthplace. Timmons, unassuming, tall, and just a bit grunge, slouches casually through the facility, showing off what the rooms will be, soon. "Right now, it's an all-volunteer effort," he explains, opening the door to the bare graphics room. "It was set up a couple of weeks ago. We did have a designer, but he left," he says without animousity. Clearly, the future of Deep Ellum is not yet installed.

"The Movement" of Copasectic Ballyhoo is a collective of musicians and artists pioneering the newest genre-breaking music and art media, by their own definition. Their "kingdom of minds" promotes music the masses would never know existed. "We chose artists who have a unique sound or thought that can truely impact the world. I mean, you could teach me to be a guitar master of one song, but I couldn't expand beyond that," says Timmons. "These are artists that never play the same song twice; true musicians." Copasectic records extraordinary fusions unlikely to be fostered on any corporate label. So far, one project has been completed. The New Sounds of Deep Ellum, nicknamed S.O.D.E, is a compilation of exciting artists on the Dallas scene, and one reunited group, Jones. Jones had drifted apart, with members living in New York and LA.. They returned to Texas and began to work in the old Last Beat rehersal rooms. Two of their jazz songs are on S.O.D.E.. Saxmanran, inventor of the Rake, is on the compilation; Blunt Force Crew raps over a bluesy, lazy nearly alt-country melody; White Lotus Society brings on the experimental dance mixes. Juxtaposition and jumbling of musical styles in the rule, even within songs. Culture- and genre-blending experiences are Copasectic's grail.

The business of Copasectic Ballyhoo is a record label (the paperwork is in progress) along the lines of Virgin or Capital Records. Bands on the Copasectic roster can walk in with music and walk out with a fully produced, ready-to-market CD. Recording, graphics, photography, and video are done in-house. While the physical space isn't ready - isolation booth doors are still on order, couches and wet bars are just plans, the reception area needs serious drywall work and a desk - Timmons and his associates are laying a foundation. He and his friends, and his friends of friends, have set out to revive Deep Ellum and bring good music to the masses. "That calls my taste into question, doesn't it?" he jokes. Copasetic began with 150 core members; college friends of Timmons and co-founders Selvin deLeon and Chad Bruce. "We gave everyone five tickets to give out, then we gave those people five tickets, and so on and so on," laughs Timmons,"until we had a Christmas tree of associations. When we reached 600 members, we stopped. Now, we only invite in people who have been refered to us, and we've only grown by about 150 additional members since January."

Copasectic Ballyhoo isn't trying for exclusively by keeping close tabs on its membership list, but rather to gather like minds together. Its melting pot of cultures, races, and genres feels unique in Dallas. Its focus on positivity and inclusivity is refreshing and comes directly from the trauma of Timmon's own life. Sophomore year in college, his parents divorced, his health failed badly, and his true love cheated on him. Timmons' whole life collapsed. Standing on the ledge of his third-floor dorm room's window, aiming for his own car's roof below, he remembered his mother waking him with a song and smiled. It was enough to keep him alive. "One smile saved me, and my entire life's purpose is to produce genuine smiles because they have the power to change the world." Timmons, with his friends, wants to get Dallas smiling. Copasectic Ballyhoo is how he's gonna do that.

"We want to take the grassroots and plant them really solid," says Timmons. Not that there haven't been a couple of booking mistakes. For one of the earlier rooftop events, Timmons brought in Glass Intrepid to play. As soon as they went on stage, he realized his error. His friends made it clear that a mainstream, corporate band wasn't the right direction for Copasectic. Now he searches for artists with drive, those who work to fuel their creativity. "No trust fund babies are here," he says. To be welcomed into the collective, bands tryout on Thursday night rooftop parties, not only to showcase their music, but also to see if they fit into the family. The Artbar's rooftop is a perfect location, and the music flows out over Deep Ellum and draws in walk-up traffic. "Our first winter we lost the rooftop - it was too cold - then we were allowed to take over the stage at Clearview, but only after midnight. We finally opened the doors of the Blind Lemon. We were down to about twenty or thirty people, but the Movement survived." Copasectic hopes to not only pioneer genre-bending music, but to breathe new life into Deep Ellum by bringing back culture-loving crowds. Worried that crime will seep back into the district with the upcoming end of the recent police saturation, Timmons thinks "the crowds will be either be herds of cows or lions. Give me cows."

Timmons envisions spreading the smiles past Dallas, to Austin and Houston. He wants to take the music on the road for college tours in the sping and fall. And he wants univeristies to pay for it. "Imagine the students receiving free tickets; the good feelings, the smiles. We would come on campus, a cultural experience, sponsored by the college." If his dream sounds a bit Sixties-inspired, Timmons thinks that's fine. "Copasectic Ballyhoo is something so beautiful and non-conforming that it takes over your mind and soul."

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