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MESSAGES: Bringing positive energy and music to America (and beyond)

Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report
MESSAGES: (l-r) Declan Murtagh, Jonathan Horstmann, Lexi Cardenas and Chris Hausler.
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OKLAHOMA CITY  -- It was a little after 7 a.m. on a Sunday. I was zipping along at a nice clip on the tollway east of Austin, Texas.  It was warm and a hazy mist hung over the countryside as I took in the sun-dappled scene. Playing in my car’s CD player was the EP by Messages – …and we go on - 18-minutes of anthemic roots-rock, complete with a distinctly positive vibe.

The first track, “I’m Gonna Die in the Country,” is a perfect example of their infectious style.

Singer-guitarist Jonathan Horstmann, really puts his whole voice into the song. And he has help from fiddle player and singer Lexi Cardenas, who later reminded me of singer Ceci Bastida, formerly of the old Mexican ska band Tijuana No! That’s particularly the case on the EP’s beautiful title track, where the lovely fiddle player really has a chance to shine.

Drummer Chris Hausler keeps a steady, marching beat through the song as Cardenas saws away, adding a rustic sweetness to “I’m Gonna Die in the Country.”

I took this all in as I rode along, my son still asleep in the backseat as I headed north. I smiled, listening to Messages, pleased to have discovered an interesting, thoughtful, melodic and talented band, particularly one that has emerged from Austin’s undeniably competitive and oversaturated music scene.

GETTING THE MESSAGE(S)

Just a few days earlier, Messages, along with Penny Loafer PR manager and promoter Rob Pascolo, a native of Melbourne, Australia, graciously took time out of their busy schedule to meet the Red Dirt Report staff and talk to us about their tour and music. In addition, they even gave us an impromptu, acoustic performance of three new Messages songs. Oh, and because Pascolo's company tries to get Australian bands to play in America and vice versa, an Australian tour may be in Messages' very near future, we were told.

Jonathan Horstmann of Messages. (Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report)

Horstmann, clearly the leader, spoke the most during our sit-down interview. A California native who moved to Austin, Texas nearly a decade ago, he has been giving the music bag a try for sometime and with Messages seems to be getting the attention he has been working so hard to garner.

Horstmann acknowledges that it is hard to get gigs in Austin, particularly when some venues offer free shows. It forces bands like Messages to hit the road, as they have on their summer tour across America.

“The competition (in Austin) really inspires you to stay on top of your game,” Horstmann said.

Declan Murtagh, the quiet bassist and only native Austinite in the band, explained that he was originally a percussionist but as a teen discovered the stoner-rock band Sleep and soon realized that he really dug the bass, which is a key instrument in that band.

Declan Murtagh of Messages. (Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report)

He noted that he works at a youth hostel as a day job. His bass work on the EP is quite appealing. And like so many bassists before him – The Who’s John Entwistle and The Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman come to mind – Murtagh is a “thinking man’s bassist.” I detect it in the music and when meeting him in person.

The other half of Messages’ rhythm section, Hausler, gives credit to his drummer father, who played him Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Cream for him in his early years, and helped cultivate his love of the drums.

Chris Hausler of Messages. (Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report)

“It’s lots of fun but it’s a little scary,” Hausler said of playing and touring with Messages. “It’s chaotic but it’s a blast.”

Ever-smiling and cheerful, classically-trained violinist and El Paso, Texas native Lexi Cardenas (“born in the most dangerous place ever,” Juarez, Mexico), adds much to the Messages sound with both her beautiful backing vocals and top-notch fiddle playing.

“When I was in high school, I joined a Texas fiddle group and that’s when I started playing outside of classical music and I got to travel and do that,” Cardenas said. “Then, I went to Texas State and got a degree in violin performance and while I was there I was right near Austin and with its live music I went there and fell in love with it.”

Lexi Cardenas of Messages. (Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report)

The fetching fiddle player cites everyone from Itzhak Perlman to Mark O’Connor as influences. But it wasn’t until she heard the violin used on a Yellowcard song that she realized the violin could be considered “cool.”

Being the only woman in the band, Red Dirt Report asked Cardenas how that dynamic affected things, if at all. Laughing, as she did a lot during our interview, she said that while the guys can “roll out of bed and they’re ready to go,” she takes a little longer to get prepared.

“I need time,” she said with an infectious chuckle. “I need more showers.”

THINKING GLOBALLY, ROCKING LOCALLY

Talking to Horstmann and the other members of Messages, one comes away with a sense that they are offering listeners and their growing legions of fans that they are inclusive and community-minded.

In fact, while talking to them, that old punk song, “Attitude” by Bad Brains, where singer H.R. lifts Napoleon Hill’s tried-and-true self-help philosophy about having a “positive mental attitude” or “P.M.A.,” comes to mind. That is very true while listening to Messages’s very uplifting and socially-conscious sound.

Lexi and Jonathan with their instruments in the Red Dirt Report library and music room. (Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report)

And while they do have a rootsy, somewhat Americana sound, the aforementioned punk attitude and approach comes across quite clearly on “Floating and Fading and Falling.”

But on the EP, they slow things down again with “Until You Find Someone New.”

SUNSHINE

Earlier this year, Messages recorded the uptempo and smile-inducing single “Sunshine,” which even included a video of a child riding a bicycle and playing in a forest. A terrific song with real radio potential, that process took a lot of cash. It put recording a full album on hold for a bit and prevented them from being as prepared as they’d hoped before embarking on the current tour.

“We started working on this album over a year ago, we evolved and changed,” Horstmann said. “We had all of this booked and not having the recording ready. We did a home recording and everyone had to learn songs in the van so we can play them on the road.”

Added Horstmann: “It’s really DIY, for sure.”

ON THE ROAD

When Red Dirt Report asked Messages about touring America and what they are learning as they drive past purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain, Horstmann replies, “I think it’s much more interesting than I thought. It’s a really special place.”

Horstmann, who works as a barista when not playing with Messages, explained growing up in a religious household where music was a key component to family life. He took to the guitar at 15 and decided music was for him – something he has pursued ever since.

But out on the road, between cities, he said, a lot of ideas come about and a lot of inspiration, mixed with soul-searching is inevitable. It all helps pass the time.

Said Horstmann: “I think we’re learning a lot about ourselves. Not necessarily having open-up-about-our-childhood pow-wows or anything, but with so much time in the van, you can distract yourself from the reality of what your life. This country is beautiful. You have to sit there with what is. When you are in that van, you’re in that van. It’s almost less about the shows than it is about getting it done.”

And with Murtagh said the venues on this tour have been “hit and miss,” Horstmann said this tour is also about “recon for when we do it again.”

And on a positive note, Cardenas says, “We’ve made it work. We haven’t had any stage disasters.”

Lexi prepares for an impromptu photo shoot in OKC's Mesta Park. (Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report)

Hausler, meanwhile, told Red Dirt Report he ditched a day job a while back and is doing music full time and loving playing with Messages. He also noted how much he likes seeing the country, either from a stage or through the window of the band’s van.

“I think America is huge and there’s room for everybody,” pipes up Hausler to chuckles from his bandmates. “When you look out and see green, beautiful crops growing, it’s beautiful and sprawling … America the beautiful.”

Chris utilizes this writer's drum kit for a little percussion action on a few Messages songs. (Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report)

Well-read (he was leafing through a copy of Manly P. Hall’s esoteric masterpiece The Secret Teachings of All Ages in the RDR library, as Murtagh noted he is more readable than, say, Aleister Crowley), Hausler, a McKinney, Texas native, has a decidedly laid-back style, while being an ace timekeeper when needed.

On the evening after our interview, RDR’s Sarah Hussain took her sister Sophia to Norman to see the Messages show at The Deli, and she noted that while they both had seen their fair share of “dive bar shows,” Messages had a “great stage presence,” as echoed by Hussain’s sister.

Messages drummer Chris Hausler sports an RDR T-shirt, while RDR's Sarah Hussain sports a Messages T-shirt after The Deli gig in Norman. (Photo by Sophia Hussain)

And when Hussain talked to the friendly Hausler, he exclaimed how loves Norman. Horstmann would later Instagram a picture, including the caption: “Left my heart in Norman. NEVER thought I would say that.”

Back to the messages of Messages, Horstmann said the band’s inclusive, communal approach is reflected by their philosophy of being a positive force, while giving back.

“I think that goes back to the name, too, (Messages).You can be very self-serving, like how you decide to use your talents. I think that the world could look a lot differently if the world took what they love to do and instead of doing it for themselves did it for others or for the greater good,” Horstmann said. “This is the one time we have on this planet to make it better. We don’t get another shot.”

Jonathan always seems up for anything. (Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report)

To learn more about Messages, go to www.messagesband.com or to www.facebook.com/msgsband

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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