Q&A: Local instrumental band Balmorhea discusses local music scene and upcoming album

Katie Walsh

It’s been two years since Michael Muller and alumnus Rob Lowe joined their four bandmates on a stage in their hometown. But the local six-piece instrumental group Balmorhea is back and will perform on their home turf Thursday at Empire Control Room & Garage. The Daily Texan spoke to co-founder Muller about the band’s early days, its ties to West Texas and their upcoming album.


The Daily Texan: You and Rob met here in Austin while he was at UT. What was it like in those early days when you guys were first starting to mess around with music together?

Michael Muller: We were both so young, I don’t think we had any clue as to the scene or the industry or business side [of music.] We just had some song ideas and started playing together and realized we had a mutual connection and fondness for the same style of music. We were pretty naive to everything … Now here we are 10 years later.


DT: What about the city of Balmorhea, Texas spoke to you, or was it more of West Texas in general?

MM: It was mainly the San Solomon Springs [in Balmorhea, Texas.] Rob grew up going there as a kid during the summers and before we started the band, we were there together. We were just playing music together not with any intention, and we were like ‘I guess we should call this something.’


DT: The songs y’all write “reflect motifs of the American Southwest,” according to the band’s website. Why is that landscape so important to you guys?

MM: It just sort of made sense. When we were thinking of a narrative for what the songs felt like, it felt like that landscape — the starkness of it. It’s extremely beautiful, but also intense in a way, and almost frightening because it’s so open and you don’t know what’s out there.

If you listen to our records and drive around out there, you get a sense of what we were thinking about. The music is totally open to interpretation, which is also what we like — anyone in the world can put their own emotions or feelings to go along with it.


DT: There is so much discussion of how it’s nearly impossible to support yourself as a full-time musician in this city today. Was that not the case back when you guys were starting out? 

MM: We only recently started making money. The first eight tours we did we lost money, and the only way we were making any sort of profit was from getting songs placed in advertisements, films and
television shows. 

It’s totally a passion thing — playing and making music. We both had other jobs and still had to pay the bills. 

DT: What can we expect of y’all’s upcoming show Thursday?

MM: This is the first full-band show in over two years. We are going to draw from our whole catalog and will also perform two new songs that we just finished writing for our next record. We are going to be recording that next month here in Austin [and it will be out in] late spring at
the earliest.


DT: What is different about this record?

MM: In the past, we have always collaborated with everyone to come up with the full structure of each song. But with this record, we were sort of on a hiatus as a full band, so Rob and I just went into our rehearsal space with a bunch of riffs and loops, and since last March [we’ve] fleshed out each song, spending countless hours on
each one. 

On the last 7-inch record and Stranger, there was a little more experimentation and contemporary synthesizers and electronic components, and with the new one it’s even more so. It’s a little more sparse. It’s more akin to the Constellations record, which was more classical and dark.


DT: What are you listening to right now?

MM: Our violinist plays with local band Adam Torres who just released an album two weeks ago that is pretty great. Our labelmate Christopher Tignor just released a record which is absolutely fantastic. There is also a minimal composer named William Basinksi. And a mix of all sorts of weird old stuff, like Brian Eno and John Cage. 


Balmorhea will play a show at Empire Control Room & Garage Thursday at 7 p.m.