Text: Daniel Salas
A veteran rocker and poet in the El Paso music scene, Robert Shawn is back at it again with new music and a new band—Robert Shawn and the Sways. Fusion caught up with Robert recently to talk about the past and his current projects.
You were born in El Paso?
Yeah until I turned 21 then I went to a school in New York City called the Institute of Audio Research. That was in late fall of 79’. I’d been there very briefly when I was 11, but this was the first time I’d ever really lived outside of El Paso.
You went to school here?
I went to Mesita, then Coronado and then UTEP one year in mass communication.
And you went to shows?
Especially when I was about 15, I used to go to shows almost every weekend that I could. It was great, they mainly focused on the Coliseum at that time; the Civic Center was new. I saw a couple of really great concerts at the Civic Center—Free with Traffic and John Martin… in 74’ I saw King Crimson and Ten Years After. Ten Years After was great.
Any local shows?
Oh yeah, there was a good scene down at the river, the levy—it used to be real open. Every weekend you could see groups like Kite and Rio in 73’ or 74’? They played a lot of ZZ Top styled stuff; Neil Young and Crazy Horse was very big at that time.
There was a great band that I was very close friends with in the late 70’s early 80’s called Dark Heart. They were really great; they could play flawless Judas Priest, vocally as well. They used to play at a club called…I think it was the One Ten Club, or something like that. I’m pretty sure too it was also where Lowbrow and some of those other clubs are now.
I heard there was a punk rock club where Black Market is.
I think that’s actually where it was. That might have replaced it.
You went to New York in 79’?
In New York I had a personal, Cultural Revolution really. Before I moved to New York, I was sort of like an early throwback hippy. Except for bands like the Police and a few others at that time, I mainly stuck with a retro attitude. I was really into late 60’s music early 70’s music more than the oncoming new-wave, until the last couple of months before I left and I noticed it was really getting good. I didn’t really quite understand exactly where it was coming from—it all clicked for me the last couple of months in 79’. When I moved to New York, I was ready for the change that was coming.
So there was a transition?
A major one—especially with new-wave. As soon as I got there this guy Philipe, he introduced me to the punk scene; he took me to CBGBs, the Mud Club, the Ritz…
Then you came back to El Paso in 1981?
Yeah I met this guy named John Remy who was an incredible keyboardist—he was really good. He would warm up by playing “Take a Pebble” by Emerson Lake and Palmer. I think at that time though, I was pretty disappointed by how at least “Underground Fame” (a 7” record by The Noys, Shawn and Remy’s new-wave band in El Paso) came out, like a game show theme or something, more than a rock tune, but it ended up doing very well. I was actually happy with the b-side track.
How did you come about making that record?
We had a lot of luck. My sister and my brother-in-law (they lived in Los Angeles) were good friends with Missing Persons and X. He worked with Chuck Wild which was one of the members in Missing Persons. So they gave us an endorsement of sorts. They said, “We really like you guys,” and they invited us out to Los Angeles to their New Year’s Eve show and we got to go back stage. Chuck Wild took special interest in us. At that time, when I was living in El Paso, Missing Persons came here and I would go backstage and talk to him for couple of hours on what I should improve, what I should stop doing.
How did you start the band The Noys?
After we talked to him (Chuck Wild) he convinced us that our best route was to go ahead and form a band instead of a studio group which was what we basically were at that time. I had a couple of faulty starts with the band situation and we only did a couple of shows before we broke up. We got a good amount of airplay too. There was this station here in El Paso called X Rock 80 which was a huge AM station. They played our 45 record.
Where did you play shows?
There was a primary punk club at The Mesa Inn. I know Rod Crosby (of the El Paso 60’s band The Intruders) was handling a lot of PA work and promo work. Ed Ivey and the Rhythm Pigs were just starting.
Was the music scene starting to grow in El Paso?
It was bigger by like 83’ or 84’. It was very hard to find a steady venue. The Mesa Inn closed around that time. They had a floating club kind of situation called Sound Seas. They would bring in a lot of more of an alternative sound. At that time, instead of alternative, “new-music” was the name for it.
Do you remember any other El Paso bands back in the 80s’?
I (then) moved to Los Angeles to follow up with the connections through Chuck Wild, and One Second Zero (another 80’s El Paso band) I had just heard of them but never saw them, they got a lot a good response. I knew the drummer really well in Teenage Popeye in fact, when we were in the 7th grade at Saint Clements (school) we kept calling ourselves a rock band, I think we had one practice, we were about 12 years old—John Evans on drums, me on keyboards and a guy named Mark Deutrom (Mark D) who later became a member of the Melvins (from 1993-1998). It was a joke of a band. We would just walk around saying, “Yeah, we’re in a band.” It’s funny because the name I gave the band was The The.
You made a book when you were here in El Paso called Twilight Skin?
Oh yeah, poetry and short stories, yeah in 2001. I was still writing a lot when I was putting that book together. A lot of the short stories were experiments and surrealistic topics, but the writing is pretty straight ahead. The poetry has to do with a lot of aspects of the human condition. I kinda put it (music) in the backburner for a while. It was pretty ironic because at that time I felt like I was getting too old—but now here I am at 55.
Then you started playing music again?
After this band broke up (his band Mad Canvas from Albuquerque in the mid 90’s) I was disillusioned with bands for a while so I decided, well I’m just going to back myself up, so I started learning to play. By the time I moved back here in 97’ I was getting the hang of it. Tried recording some stuff but it was just kind of a little too solo-ish, just me and a guitar, so I decided to start incorporating some other people. At that time I was going to UTEP and getting a degree in creative writing and I met up with Greg Gonzalez (local musician—Inex Truence, The Tonights, Cigarettes After Sex) who had just broken up his band. So we tried to get something going together, but he had too much material he wanted to do on his own and I had my stuff so we just backed each other up. On Seven Songs (Shawns solo album released 2012 recorded in 2008-2009) before the parkinson came around is the last recording of me playing—is like my coffee house set (recorded) over at Greg’s place, he plays everything else. On Hallway Hotel (second album released also in 2012 recorded in 2010-2011) he plays all the instruments. It was mainly done in-between projects and gigs with The Tonights and Cigarettes After Sex.
You started playing live again with a new band?
Yes we play at Lowbrow, Sumatra, Monarch, and Black Market. We are called Robert Shawn and the Sways—its bass, drums guitars and I’m on vocals. It would be good to get a couple of videos and get a nice promo package together, hopefully a little touring. We’re also getting some merchandise together too that isn’t quite ready yet, some CDs. I still have those 2 solo CDs that are still available on bandcamp.com and reverbnation.com. Those could be downloaded for free or if they want to leave a contribution.
You can find this content and more in our print publication #68