OffBeat Magazine - November, 2008

Before The Fall
Months in Austin led the Iguanas back for Hard Times

By John Swenson

Like virtually all of their New Orleans peers, the Iguanas lost their homes and possessions in the federal flood of 2005. They also lost a key member, splitting with saxophonist Derek Huston. But through luck, the generous help from friends, and a determination to keep the band going at all costs, the Iguanas regrouped and emerged stronger than ever. While many New Orleans musicians made a hard choice between coming home as quickly as possible and putting down roots in new environments, the Iguanas lingered in Austin, Texas before returning to New Orleans, where they are gradually reestablishing their local presence.

“We were very fortunate in that immediately after the hurricane, literally about a week later, Steve Wertheimer, who owns the Continental Club, wanted us to come to Austin,” says guitarist, vocalist and principal songwriter Rod Hodges. “He found apartments for us to live in and offered to help enroll all of our children in school. He was key in keeping the band going. We were scattered. Doug was in Memphis. René's kids had already gone to a few days of school in Atlanta. At that point, there was a day or so where I thought I didn't know how this was going to end up. But when we got this offer for the whole band to come to Austin, things were set up for us so everybody jumped on that.”

“We were in the Northeast when the hurricane made landfall,” adds drummer Doug Garrison. “We were supposed to fly back into New Orleans the day Katrina hit, so we all had to fly into different places where our families had evacuated. Then there was that whole week of incredible disappointment watching all that stuff on CNN. But the very next weekend, we had a gig in Milwaukee so we met there. Our lives were in complete upheaval, but the band grounded us. We would come together every week and play these jobs. We played music and we played it strong and it helped rebuild us. I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't had that - the sense of community that the band had together. We didn't have much, but at least we had this.”

At best, rock 'n' roll gives you a reason to laugh off disaster. But only the best rock moments achieve this power, and only a few bands ever live in those moments. The Iguanas have purchased a lease on that elusive terrain with their new album, If You Should Ever Fall On Hard Times, which reflects the band's zigzagging excursion through the minefields of every New Orleans musician's post-Katrina identity crisis.

The band played some gigs at the Continental Club as the Iguanas, but it also formed the nucleus of a loose aggregate of displaced New Orleans musicians including Ed Volker of the Radiators, saxophonist Tim Green and bassist Nick Daniels. Iguanas' bassist René Coman nicknamed the group the Texiles, and they played at the Continental on Wednesday nights.

“It was a good opportunity because we had so many friends in town who were just biding their time as much as we were, so we turned that into something positive and it turned out to be a pretty cool thing,” says Garrison. “The personnel changed depending on who was in town or who was available, and we worked a few Austin artists in there too so it was really a nice little match-up of different people that we knew. It felt right, and it gave us an opportunity to get our mind off problems. For a few months, the whole Katrina thing was very unsettling. We were all upset and confused, and this was a way of coming together and rooting ourselves.”

“Austin has kind of been a second home to us for a while,” Garrison says. “We've had this relationship with the Continental Club for 15 years, but something happened while we were there. I had a chance to work with a lot of different artists in Austin in addition to the Iguanas, so it had an influence on me and collectively on the band as well. I think it was more the life experience that changed us, the experience of living in Austin, than the musical influences. We're pretty different from most of the stuff that's coming out of Austin, but we really feel an affinity with the people there and the music there.”


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