Band: White Animals
Date: Friday, Sept. 18, doors at 8 p.m.
Venue: Spring Hill Swim Club,
736 Museum Drive, 251-753-6395
Tickets: $20/$40 VIP available from
Riley Copeland at [email protected].
The Nashville indie culture has become the darling of today’s music industry, although it has been around since the ‘80s. Before the term “indie rock” was coined, White Animals were already a force. Kevin Gray (rhythm guitar/vocals), Rich Parks (lead guitar/vocals), Steve Boyd (bass/vocals) and Ray Crabtree (drums/vocals) traversed the nation and performed before thousands of adoring fans, many of them from Mobile and elsewhere in the Southeast. Those same fans are bringing them back for a small tour, including a BYOB evening of music, fun and memories in Mobile.
The Lumberyard (where Island Wing Co. now sits) was a local venue once frequented by White Animals. This locale was also the setting for one of Crabtree’s fondest memories from the road.
“I walked up to the front door, and the bouncer said, ‘You can’t get in,’” Crabtree said. “I told him that I was the drummer for White Animals. He chuckled and said, ‘I don’t care if you’re Jesus Christ. You can’t get in. There’s too many people.’ We went around to the back of the building, and they had to lift us up to play.”
In those days, scenes like this were common for the quartet. White Animals, R.E.M. and The B-52’s were drawing more focus to the alternative sounds emanating from the Southeast. While most of the focus was centered on Athens, Georgia, Crabtree described the Nashville indie scene at that time as “bubbling” and “fertile.” Besides White Animals, Nashville bands such as Jason & the Scorchers, Royal Court of China and The Questionnaires were steadily gaining popularity.
As bands they once shared the bill with steadily disappeared, White Animals maintained a rigorous work ethic. In addition to playing at least 250 shows a year, the band took a DIY approach to their music. They released and distributed albums such as “Nashville Babylon,” “Lost Weekend” and “Ecstasy” on their Dread Beat label, which truly made them an indie rock band.
“There were a lot of bands that had the ‘indie’ label, but they had distribution deals,” Crabtree said. “We had our own label and did our own distribution. It’s been said that at that point, the indie rock scene really started to take off with all of the indie record stores and clubs that were playing more indie stuff and radio that was more open to indie material. It was a good time.”
The peak of White Animals’ popularity came courtesy of MTV. During the music-centered glory days of the young cable network, MTV filled its programming with hours of music videos, including those of White Animals. In fact, the group was one of a few truly independent bands to have music videos enter steady rotation on MTV. Those for “Don’t Care” and “This Girl of Mine” introduced the world to White Animals. The exposure these videos brought the band became evident for Crabtree one night at a gas station in southern Mississippi.
“Working at the store was a father and his daughter, who was probably 15 or 16 years old,” Crabtree explained. “She recognized Richie, our guitar player, from the video on MTV. She went nuts. It hit me at that point, and I was like, ‘Whoa! This is a pretty good tool.’”
Eventually, White Animals decided to concentrate on individual goals and parted ways. Gray became Dr. Kevin Gray and currently practices medicine in Dallas. Boyd also made his way to Dallas and works in the music industry. Parks and Crabtree remain in the Nashville area. Parks still plays guitar and even gives lessons, calling himself is a proud “home dad.” Even though they eventually disbanded, the creative and social bond formed during their heyday remained. In 1999, White Animals reunited and have been playing five or six shows a year ever since.
“There’s something about the combination of the four of us when we play together,” Crabtree said. “It’s a bunch of fun, and it’s real raw. It’s a great way for us to keep up with each other and see old friends and old fans and get up there and do it again.”
When they reunite at the Spring Hill Swim Club Friday, they plan to bring a tidal wave of memories with them. Crabtree admitted the band feeds off the crowd’s energy. With the excitement this local show has been generating, the band should be pleased. Crabtree also said the crowd should be prepared to sing along to “songs they sang along to in college.” In addition to their greatest hits, White Animals will be sprinkling their set with covers.
The indie rock scene still thrives not only in Nashville but around the world. Over the years, members of the White Animals have watched as the musical niche they helped create has spread. As far as Crabtree is concerned, the indie rock scene’s growth has left him with more questions than answers. His number one question is fundamental: What is indie rock?
With Crabtree still residing in the Music City, he has watched Americana-influenced music become the new indie focus. Americana is a far cry from the ‘80s Southern alt. rock music of his own band and peer groups. So for Crabtree, the question of the nature of the indie scene remains unanswered.
“Things that are indie or alternative, as soon as you put a label on them, they become mainstream,” Crabtree said. “A lot of the stuff that I would consider indie rock … my daughter, who is 16, has turned me on to some really cool stuff. So … what is indie rock? Is indie rock now that Americana niche? I don’t know. It’s an interesting question.”