When people today hear the word “emo,” they often aren’t thinking of what I’m thinking of. They aren’t thinking of what people I used to go to shows with, collect records with, and discover new bands with think of. Emo was a sound, a scene, a movement, and it had nothing to do with big hair, makeup, or Hot Topic. It was a post-hardcore sound, and few bands personified that sound like Texas Is the Reason.
What’s so interesting about Texas Is the Reason is that they became emo royalty with only one album and one EP, in addition to a few splits. Their debut self-titled EP, which is also sometimes called “If It’s Here When We Get Back It’s Ours,” set the underground scene on fire. People were drawn to the sound, which could be fast and heavy but also slow and melodic, capturing the best of both ends of the emo spectrum. The world was in a post-grunge place, and punk was mainstream thanks to the success of bands like Green Day. Record labels were looking for “the next big thing,” and after one EP, Texas Is the Reason were already turning heads.
The band would only release one full-length album, but it was enough to firmly entrench them in the hearts and minds of emo fans forever. “Do You Know Who You Are” was released on April 30, 1996 and featured such emo classics as “There’s No Way I Can Talk Myself Out Of This One Tonight” and “Johnny On The Spot.” The album clocked in at under 38 minutes, a perfect, filler-free, emo/indie rock album that gave you just enough but left you wanting more. Less pop than peers such as The Promise Ring yet not as slow and dreary as bands such as Mineral or Pedro the Lion, Texas Is the Reason fit more in the Sunny Day Real Estate lane, defying some emo stereotypes in favor of embracing the genre’s post-hardcore past. The album was favorably reviewed by most and considered an instant classic by those “in the scene.” Most notable perhaps was the wave of attention the album drew from major labels, which already had their eyes on the band after their debut EP.
The band was entertaining offers and, as the story goes, were on the verge of signing with Capitol Records, but on a European tour, tensions within the band over their future lead to the decision to go out on a high note and split up after the final show in Germany. There’s something inherently rock-and-roll about this decision, to “die young and leave a good-looking corpse” rather than continue on and perhaps become something different over time. The timing, while certainly puzzling, also cemented the band’s legacy. They were going out perfectly.
Looking at how the world has changed over the past 25 years, it’s hard to envision another story like that of Texas Is the Reason. It’s hard to envision a band gaining as much buzz as they did after one three-song EP. It’s hard to see a band release a follow-up full-length LP that is universally acclaimed and then end things before commercial success comes. With the way the music business is today, I don’t even know if that kind of underground meteoric rise, followed by a James Dean-like ending, is even possible. The band’s story, almost as much as their sound and their music, has led to the lasting nature of their impact and legacy.
Texas Is the Reason is a band that I firmly associate with my teen years, riding in cars with my friends, the windows down and the music loud. Discovering ourselves while discovering bands that would provide the anthems for our formative years. Songs like “If It’s Here When We Get Back It’s Ours” playing as loud as the cheap speakers could play it, while a car full of kids sang along, echoing the sentiment to not tell anyone. There’s an innocence to those memories, and Texas Is the Reason provided the soundtrack.
The fact that “Do You Know Who You Are” is now 25 years old brings up questions of aging and mortality—our youth and that movement, that scene, that era, is now a quarter-century removed in time. There’s a new meaning to “The Drinking Song,” which we once viewed through a melodramatic, teenage lens. The song, like us, has aged and matured and taken on a new context yet is just as poignant as ever. While I won’t go as far as to say that’s the sign of great art, perhaps it is. Some things we love don’t age well, and then other things we love age with us. Those are the loves that last. We’re back, and it’s still here, so I suppose it’s ours.
One thing I was struck by while listening to the album again is how distinctly “’90s” the guitar riffs and vocal patterns sound at times. “Johnny on the Spot” in particular really takes you back to a time and a place where this sound felt new and innovative but now feels comfortable and familiar. To call it dated almost implies a negative context, and that’s not the case at all here. This is more of a warm, fuzzy feeling, listening to a record that is stripped-down production-wise, allowing the music to speak for itself. Listening to “The Drinking Song” now, I’m still filled with that same urge to sing out loud, the same way I did all those years ago with my friends in the car. Only now, when I sing, I’m alone. I’m not that same person I was more than two decades ago, but I still feel moved by these tracks the same way I did then. And in some strange way, time isn’t defined while I’m singing along. It’s not then, it’s not now, it’s just me and a piece of art that does wonders for my soul.
Texas Is the Reason aren’t a band everyone knows. They aren’t a band everyone experienced, but if you did, it’s highly likely that they made an impact on you. They’re a band that if you put on their record today, you still get some of the same feelings that you did all those years ago. They’re a band that you wish would play one more show—which they have done on occasion over the years. They’re a band you won’t ever forget. Even if they asked us to not tell anyone, I will. Texas Is the Reason was emo at its finest, and 25 years later, that fact hasn’t changed.