In the music industry’s continually cratering economy, having a label completely fold on you is about as much of a rite of passage as getting signed in the first place. At least it makes for a better story, though Austin trio Mirror Travel can tell you how both of those situations feel. Their debut LP Mexico was more or less finished when Tiffanie Lanmon and Lauren Green were known as Follow That Bird, a band that checked off every box on an ascendant indie band’s to-do list in 2010 — cultivate online buzz, grab some plum opening spots, get their hometown talking, lo and behold, Matador comes around kicking the tires. What’s left to do? Well, perhaps actually releasing their debut album, but that’s where the story of Follow That Bird ends and Mirror Travel begins. Consider Mexico a breakup record only in the sense that Mirror Travel is a rebound band.
The good thing about said cratered economy is that when everything falls apart, there’s less to lose. Lanmon explains what happened with the deadpan expression of someone who merely got laid off from a gig that wasn’t really worth having: “Things came up — finances, health and the label wasn’t around anymore. We were grateful because we had a full record, and then we went a-courtin’ with it.” Besides, it’s not like they had blown stacks upon stacks of advance money and quit their jobs. “I was and still am working at the American Cancer Society, that wasn’t really changing. Paul’s been at Room Service for a while, which is a vintage store in Austin,” Lanmon says. Meanwhile, Green “worked for the city, which I absolutely hated because I had to wear slacks.”
Choice of pants aside, they decided to think more seriously about the future. Lanmon puts it bluntly: “Well, we gotta move on…what’s our band name?” The change was indicative of Mirror Travel’s increased focus, self-reliance and the realization that they’ve progressed as unit since their earliest days as an instrumental act influenced by At the Drive-In. And while Follow That Bird came about by the band literally “just walking around and saying things out loud,” Mirror Travel is taken from a critical discourse by Robert Smithson; the album’s title, Mexico, signifies a constant in Mirror Travel’s journey: It takes its name from a song the group had been kicking around for a while, and also references the members’ inspirational experiences in the Yucatan prior to recording.
The Yucatan is one of the two locations that inspired the simultaneously far-out and earthy aura of Mexico. The trio decamped to Marfa, Texas, to hook up with local producer Gory Smelley (YACHT, Grouper) and Mexico takes its sonic character from its home environs-a bustling artistic oasis in an otherwise desolate flatland about an hour away from the border. It’s alternately dreamy and driving, almost mirage-like at times during the title track and the mesmerizing motorik “Parties.” It’s granted them plenty of dream-pop/garage-rock hybrid comparisons and they joke that their favorite one thus far is “Neil Young at the bottom of a well.”
They promise to call me when they hear better (or worse) comparisons.
On the silliness of band photos:
We figured we were getting some buzz because people want to take your pictures. We had some really bad ones. There was one where we the three of us were on a couch, and the photographer wanted us to be all over each other, like we’re just digging each other. It didn’t make any sense…we’re not in a polygamous relationship. I don’t understand, unless it’s a polygamy trade magazine. It was for [Austin Arts magazine] TRIBEZA, so I guess it’s kinda one of those. It’s out there somewhere. There’s another one where I’m holding Lauren’s bra strap. That was the worst.
On opening up for both Bill Callahan and …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead in Austin:
Opening up for Bill was exciting, but it’s pretty terrifying because everyone’s there to see something we’re not going to give them. And they have to listen to it before they get what they really came for. A lot of people didn’t know there was an opening band, so that was a fun reaction. But I think there was good feedback. As far as after the shows, Bill kinda retreated to his hotel. Unlike Trail of Dead — they like to hang out. If the Holiday Inn is a rockin’… Trail of Dead is there.
On no longer being a “female band”
It’s not “good” or “bad,” but it is different. Other people make you more aware you’re an all-female band. They don’t when you have a guy. That’s a fact. You’re not trying to be booked strictly with other bands with a woman in it. We stopped being picked for those shows solely because we were women. But it helps sometimes. Working with female energy is natural, because you are one. You understand each other in a different way. But Paul is always complementary. We were touring with Jess Williamson and we asked what it was like for him, and he said, “What’s better than being surrounded by three beautiful women?”
On keeping Marfa weird:
Recording there was really amazing. We’ve visited Marfa Recording Company on tour and fell in love with the idea of not trying to do anything besides just recording. But Marfa’s changed really quickly. The rent is almost parallel to Austin, which is interesting because the job market is much different. You gotta get creative — either you have a lot of money, or you’re one of the many writers doing online work. There’s a few restaurants where you’ll see everyone in town working at during some point, and you can do sound work for the festivals. A lot of people do maintenance work at this camp site named El Cosmico, because in exchange, you get free housing. It’s not a huge city, but when things get too stressful, you can come up here. It’s good if you’re a spiritually quiet person.
On working at a girls’ rock camp:
There’s a lot of magic. [The girls] are between nine and 18, and either they’ve never played before or they have been for years and they’re awesome. They’re showing the spirit they’re experiencing, and you can relate as a musician. They’re very large characters within tiny people. The questions they have are amazing. You can learn a lot from them — especially the fact that some things that never change. That’s reassuring, to know their fears are still yours, and their struggles are still yours.
On Paul Brinkley’s “makeout statues”:
Paul has a lot of yard sales, it’s like Room Service (his vintage clothing store in Austin), Part 2 — it’s cheaper. I’ve bought all sorts of nice little trinkets, he gives us a lot of nice clothes. He’s got an eye for style and he’s got a closet full of statues, he calls ‘em “makeout statues.” He has about 30.