When people think of music, they may think of places such as Nashville, Tennessee, Austin, Texas or Los Angeles — not necessarily Waco. However, during my time here, I’ve had the privilege to see first-hand how the music scene has grown. From revamped venues to new, up-and-coming talent, Waco is slowly, but surely, solidifying its musical presence in Central Texas. Luckily for us, nestled deep in the heart of Texas is a place that not only harbors rising talent but also nurtures dreams into reality. That place is Common Grounds.
Common Grounds is a local coffee house and music venue in Waco. As a coffee shop, Common Grounds has multiple locations in the Waco area, however, their 8th Street location is also a well-known live music venue. From popular indie-rock bands such as Colony House to ethereal voices like Fleurie, the coffee house has featured numerous big-name acts throughout the years.
However, alongside that, Common Grounds has also opened their stage up as a haven for up-and-coming artists. Thanks to the work of venue manager Evan Graves, the shop has become an important setting where emerging musicians can showcase and refine their sounds. Now, Waco gets to embrace unique, rising talent, like local act Fooligan.
Fooligan is a local, five-man band that recently, on Nov. 30th, closed out Common Grounds as its last show of the year. The band consists of lead vocalist Michael Thornton, guitarist Xander Gentzel, guitarist Brando Lezzana (also known by his solo name Cordoba), drummer Phillip Whaley and bassist Luke Garza (also known by his solo name Little Cat). According to the band, the name “Fooligan” is a quick and catchy mix of the words “fool” and “hooligan”. Thornton felt that the title would be a thoughtful and fun way to introduce themselves to the world.
“We just wanted something that was thoughtful and funny,” Thornton said. “We’re having fun. That’s the whole goal.”
Inspired by musical acts such as Queens of the Stone Age, Alabama Shakes and Post Animal, the band dishes out a unique sound that they call ‘Alternative Groove Rock’.
“It’s not nerd rock,” Thornton said. “I think it’s just all rock, so it gets noisy and loud, but it’s also alternative rock so the sound makes bolder, complex decisions. The main thing that we want to circle our songs around is people being able to bob their head, and that’s where the groove comes in.”
For many artists like Fooligan, music is so much more than playing an instrument or singing a song. Music is a means of communication and a way to connect with others. To Lezzana specifically, music is a form of self-expression that allows him to break out of his shell.
“It’s a good way to express myself,” Lezzana said. “I feel like I’m usually really reserved, even with friends and family. I’m not direct. I feel like music helps me to express those feelings in a way that isn’t awkward.”
To Whaley, music is a core part of his life and a driving force that has helped shape him and his passions.
“Music is everything to me,” Whaley said. “It sounds a little bit corny, but it’s true. I relate to music in so many different ways. I don’t think I would be the person I am today without playing music.”
To my disbelief, the band had only been together for a total of three months. After playing together for two years, the original Fooligan lineup had gone their separate ways this past August, leaving Thornton as the remaining member. With that said, despite having only played together for such a short time, the band displayed impressive synergy and skill on stage. With songs such as “Captain” and “Hello Donald”, the band energized the crowd with high-tempo beats and riffs that had everyone on their feet. With others, such as “Further From”, they set a slower, more sultry pace that listeners could groove and sway to. The band also played their newest release, “No Clue”, a song written by Thornton to help mourn the ending of his old band and welcome new beginnings with the current lineup.
“So this is the song that I wrote because I was trying to process my old band transitioning to this new band,” Thornton said. “It’s just a description of that and how I feel about that, and how difficult the transition was. You play with people for two years, and you see each other so regularly, and now we’re all very spread out. It’s difficult to process, especially because you share something so intimate, like music, where there’s so much trust needed.”
Throughout the rest of their performance, their momentum never swayed, and their versatility, heart and dedication to their craft successfully showed through. Even with such little time together, the band has quickly proved themselves to be an air-tight unit, one that Gentzel feels has helped him with his own personal growth in his craft.
“There’s this saying that goes ‘You want to find yourself in a room where you feel like you’re the worst at something because then you’ll get better,’” Gentzel said. “We’ve all talked about this. It’s probably the first time for most of us that we feel that we’re the worst person in the band in terms of technical ability. I can say that I’ve gotten so much better at my instrument because I’m playing in this band.”
Most of the band met and currently work at Common Grounds. For Gentzel, this venue serves as an anchor or central meeting point for their group.
“But this is just kind of the meeting ground. I actually met Evan, Brando, Philip and Michael, all of these guys, through Common Grounds open mic night, which is the first place I ever played live my freshman year of college,” Gentzel said. “Common Grounds open mic nights, and the culture surrounding that uplifting of amateur musicians, sort of crafted me and introduced me to a world of people I wouldn’t have gotten to know otherwise.”
In the future, the band hopes to continue playing at venues like Common Grounds, and further their music journey.
“This is the first band that I’ve been in where I feel that there’s something tangibly special here,” Gentzel said. “I do see this going somewhere. I think that the effort, the passion, and the drive is all there. It’s been really special.”