Vroom vroom: Revvin’ up for LaB 5555 with headliners The Octanes, Texas rockabilly heroes

Austin-based rockers The Octanes have a rockabilly sound that earned them a Houston Press Music Awards nomination for Best Roots-Rock in 2010. The band is peeling through town on Friday night to rock the wheels off LaB 5555: Speed.

We sat down with lead guitarist and vocalist Adam Burchfield in advance of their performance to talk Museum memories, social experiments, and waving the geek flag high.

The Octanes - 2Photo by baldheretic via Flickr

HMNS: The theme for this month’s LaB 5555 is Speed. How did your band name come about, and what was the inspiration behind it?

Adam Burchfield: When I was first starting out, playing guitar and singing, I would sit down and write out what I thought were cool band names on a legal-size sheet of paper. Nothing ever really stuck out, though. One night after jamming with the guys that would form the band, I had a thought: Rockabilly music and hot rod cars seem to go hand in hand. The music that we play is fast, and usually when you want to go faster you want a “higher-octane” gas. High-octane gas is also high quality or “hi-test.” So, with that, I thought, “There’s the perfect band name: ‘The Octanes’.”  It was original, and would forever associate us with a high-performance, hot rod type of sound.

HMNS: Describe your sound and influences. How has the city of Houston influenced your music?

AB: Our sound would best be described as “roots-rock-rockabilly, with blues influences.”  I was born in Tennessee into a very musical family that recorded everything from bluegrass to rock and roll. My parents moved to Houston with me when I was 2 years old. I grew up here in the ’80s, through new wave and the dawn of MTV, and I always thought bands like the Stray Cats were very popular in Texas and here in Houston, especially. Stevie Ray Vaughan was also very popular in Houston throughout my childhood, as well as Albert Collins. Through the ’90s I became more involved in the blues scene. I would also go and see Ronnie Dawson and The Paladins quite a bit. They had a big influence on our sound.  Eventually, I started The Octanes full-time, earning many nominations for local awards through the 2000s. We’re based in Austin now, and are currently traveling doing shows all around the country.

HMNS: What’s your favorite memory of HMNS?

AB: This may sound like a strange answer, but I would have to say it would be from when I was a kid. The bottom floor, or what I always called, “The Basement,” had a series of displays behind glass that basically gave a history of scientists.There were different displays with the figures doing strange experiments, beakers boiling, and the figures looking very mysterious conjuring up their potions. It was dark down that hallway, too, which made it extra scary. There was also a space exploration display down there, with a capsule, moon rover and space suits. But nothing can beat the fascination I had with those strange static displays in “The Basement.” As a band, I would say our best memory is playing a wedding in the Gem Hall. To get to rock and roll in the exhibit hall among all those priceless stones in an amazing feeling!

HMNS: Do you have a geeky side? Do you wave the geek flag with pride or is it something you keep under wraps?

AB: I’d have to say I’m a little on the geeky side. I still love to research things that interest me. I’m into a little of everything: geology, archeology, space travel … Star Wars movies.  Our bass player, Drew Hays, is actually a bona fide scientist who will be publishing a paper later this year. She is also a registered dietician. We’re not afraid to let our geek flags fly.

HMNS: What’s the weirdest experiment — social or scientific — you’ve ever conducted?

AB: This is a tough one because I feel like playing music and doing shows is almost always an “experiment” to a certain extent. On a scientific note, I used to stay up all night with those build-your-own science experiment kits. In the kit they had a radio circuit you could build, and you could hear anything from a radio station to a trucker on a CB radio. I don’t really remember mine working quite right; I’d love to have that whole set now!

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Hear more from The Octanes this Friday night from 8 to 11 p.m. at LaB 5555. Hit the Grand Hall early for science hour from 8 to 9 p.m. and learn all about the science of speed from our expert staff. For more information or to purchase your tickets in advance online, click here.

Start your engines with a video of The Octanes’ single, “Flip Your Lid,” below:

The Tontons’ Asli Omar talks museum memories and first-ever HMNS performance — this Friday, Feb. 8!

Asli Omar, the charming lead singer of longtime local band The Tontons, grew up in the Museum District. After stints in Georgia and NYC, she’s glad to be back in her hometown performing full-time — and delighted to be headlining LaB 5555 this Friday, Feb. 8.

The Tontons rock LaB 5555 Feb. 8We caught up with Asli to ask about her childhood HMNS memories and what she anticipates performing at the science museum for the first time:

HMNS: You’re from Houston. You told visithoustontexas.com that one of the best things Houston has to offer is our museums. Do you have any early memories of the science museum?

Asli Omar: My parents used to take me all the time! I remember being really fascinated with the water globe. My friends and I used to go and try and stop it and move it again. I grew up in the area, so I used to go on free days and on holidays with my friends and family.

HMNS: Do you have a nerdy, geeky side?

AO: Most of me is nerdy/geeky! I had a rock collection when I was a little kid and used to buy rocks in the gift store.

HMNS: Is there anything in particular you’re excited about seeing when you’re here for LaB?

AO: I haven’t been in about a year, but I always loved the gem room. Every girl probably likes the gemstones. It’s honestly an honor to be a part of something like LaB. Houston has great museums and think it’s cool that so many are incorporating music and diversifying their audiences.

Catch Asli rock it out with The Tontons this Friday at LaB 5555: Tea, where Te House of Tea owner Connie Lacobie will be on-hand to discuss the culture of tea drinking and the historical and political impacts of the tea trade. Get your dancin’ pants on with this live performance of The Tontons’ single, “Sea and Stars”:

What: LaB 5555: TEA
When: Friday, Feb. 8 from 7 to 10 p.m.
Where: HMNS Main; 5555 Hermann Park Dr., 77030
How Much: $20
Tickets: HERE!

LaB 5555 this Friday: Steep yourself in culture, say oolong to the stress of the week and TEA off with The Tontons

Today’s blog comes to us from Te House of Tea owner Connie Lacobie in advance of our tea-themed LaB 5555 this Friday, Feb. 8, featuring musical guests The Tontons! Steep yourself in the culture of tea from 7 to 8 p.m. before you hit the dance floor by reserving tickets here.

Tea was first discovered in China about 4,000 years ago, but it was not until 400 to 600 A.D. that was tea heavily demanded and mass cultivation started to fit market demand. The Chinese used tea as a medicinal drink mixed with onion, orange, ginger and other spices.  It was considered a precious gift to the Emperor and nobles only.  Around 479 A.D., Turkish merchants began trading tea around the Mongolian borders.

In the 700s, tea was introduced to Japan by Lu Yu, who wrote the first definitive book about tea. This tome, The Classic of Tea, attracted the interest of Zen Buddhist monks in Japan, and tea began its journey to the East. From the 600s to the 900s, between the Tang Dynasty and Sung Dynasty, matcha green tea powder was the most commonly used and traded tea to India,Turkey and Russia and was transported via horse, donkey and camel caravans.

Steep yourself in the culture of tea at LaB 5555 this Feb. 8!

During the Yuan Dynasty under Mongolian Emperors, tea was a common drink. But even though Marco Polo had ample contact with the dynasty, he did not bring back tea to Italy and the country missed its chance to earn a fortune. After the Mongolian reign, whole leaf steeping was widely used in favor of matcha, and black tea and oolong tea processing began.

A few hundred years later, toward the end of the Ming Dynasty, European missionaries started to land in Asia to spread Christianity to the East. When they returned west, they brought back new knowledge about the benefit and pleasure of drinking tea.

It wasn’t the tea-loving Brits who first encountered the beverage, however. The first European known to encounter tea was the Portuguese Jesuit Father Jasper de Cruz, who documented his experience in 1560. Dutch traders became the first Europeans to bring tea back to the west, and they profited immensely from selling this exotic beverage. The Portuguese and the Dutch collaborated in the tea trade from China, carrying the valuable merchandise to other European countries.

In 1662, Charles II married Catherine Braganza of Portugal, who loved tea and made it the most common beverage drink in England — even above alcohol. As demand increased from the west, annual tea trade was recorded in British diplomat Harry Parkes’  Report on the Russian Caravan Trade from China. Russian Caravan Tea (lapsang souchong) was documented as having been exchanged for small furs, like squirrels. Teas began traveling annually through Kiakhta, Mongolia to Russia via the Silk Road, then from Russia to the west. The Dutch started to compete against the Portuguese in the tea trade, which motivated the English empire to join an alliance with the Portuguese.

Queen Elizabeth I appointed the East India Company to control all trading business with the East. The company used India as a base to extend its ambitious influence to China, where it introduced and encouraged opium sales. Not long afterward, the Qing government attempted to crack down on opium use and smuggling in Canton and other southern provinces. However, because China had less military prowess and technology at its disposal, China lost most struggles during these “Opium Wars,” and ultimately lost Hong Kong to the English in 1842. Following that, China was scrambled by eight different European countries, with each occupying one or more provinces.

Can you believe the tea trade could lead to the scramble for China and the collapse of the Qing Dynasty?

As the demand for tea continued to grow, the English spread tea plantations to their colony in India. Nearly every region touched by the English Empire was influenced by tea.

This included the New World, where the English, being envious of Dutch success in the  area, decided to try to monopolize the tea market in New England. They passed The Tea Act in 1773, which led to Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution.

Imperialism in the 1900s even brought tea to Africa, where plantations were established in Uganda, Kenya and Malawi. Even today, tea is the second-most common beverage, second only to water, because of its history and reputed benefits.

The Tontons
LaB 5555’s featured musical guests, The Tontons

Learn all the political and social implications of the tea trade at LaB 5555 this Friday and then dance it out to the music of local favorites The Tontons — and be sure to check out their new single, out this month!

Glow on, get happy! Join HMNS this Friday for a fun-filled night of light at LaB 5555: GLOW

Whether they’re toys that shine in the night, black lights, glow sticks or fireflies, things that produce an eerie glow are fascinating. Give a kid a glow-in-the-dark toy or paper her ceiling in dimly shining plastic stars, and she will be occupied forever. She’ll find ever brighter lights to charge them up, ever darker places to view them for maximum glow effect, and generally love exploring how it all works.

You know this; you were that kid. So what’s the deal with the glow?

Enjoy a sip of the galaxy -- learn how to make this glow-in-the-dark cocktail at Neatorama

Learn how to make this amazing looking glow-in-the-dark cocktail over at Neatorama

It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your electrons are?

While there are several “flavors” of things that glow, they all have something in common: Things glow because photons are emitted when “excited” (at a higher energy state) electrons drop back to a lower, more stable state. Aside from promising them a pony or a tour of CERN, there are several ways to get your electrons excited.

In chemical glow sticks, a chemical reaction excites the electrons. This process is called chemiluminescence. Glow sticks are an excellent way to experiment with reaction rates and temperature. If you want the reaction to last longer, follow a kid’s advice and put the glow stick in the freezer or in ice water so the reaction slows down; it’ll take longer to use up the chemicals in the glow stick. The trade-off is that because the production of photons is also slower, a cold glow stick is dimmer than a warm one.

Fluorescence is like light recycling. Fluorescent rocks, laundry detergent additives, paint, and even some animals can re-emit light after something shines on them. Usually we’re talking about things getting hit with ultraviolet or ‘black’ light and re-emitting within the visible spectrum. This makes sense because as you progress along the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation, visible light is a bit lower in energy than ultraviolet light — you can’t expose something to lower energy red light and get it to fluoresce in UV, for example. Fluorescent things certainly fluoresce in daylight, but not enough to outshine the ambient light, so they’re most noticeable under a black light in an otherwise dark space.

Phosphorescence is a lot like fluorescence but stretched out over time — a slow glow. So you can shine light (visible or UV) on a glow-in-the-dark star and it re-emits light, too, but over a lot more time, so the glow continues for minutes or hours before it completely dies out. If you have a glow-in-the-dark toy or T-shirt, try “charging it up” with lights of different colors or intensities and checking out the glow that results.

Nature glows

Fireflies produce and use their own chemicals, luciferin and luciferase, to dazzle and attract potential mates — and sometimes to lure prey. A surprising number of marine critters are bioluminescent, too, like dinoflagellates (plankton) that glow when disturbed, the angler fish, and some squid (perhaps they are blending in with starlight from above). Headlines occasionally announce a new genetically engineered “glowing” kitten, rabbit, plant, sheep, etc., but they are almost always talking about fluorescence instead of bioluminescence, so the light is only seen when the animal is placed under ultraviolet light. (One useful application of this is the ability to track a protein related to a certain disease by getting the introduced gene for Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) to link to the gene for the protein of interest). Some animals like scorpions and jellyfish (the original source of GFP) fluoresce naturally.

Cheap thrills

Sugar and adhesives can exhibit triboluminescence, in which friction or fracturing produces the light. This one is great to try out at home; you just need Wint-O-Green Lifesavers®, transparent tape and a very dark room (a buddy or a room with a mirror is helpful for the Lifesavers portion). Dr. Sweeting (that’s her real name) has more detailed instructions and explanation, but the big idea is that a tiny, but visible, amount of light is emitted when you peel tape off the roll and when you bite into the candy, crushing sugar crystals against each other. The wintergreen oil even improves the effect by fluorescing!

Are there any other kinds of luminescence? Yes! Incandescence, piezoluminescence, radioluminescence, etc. But that’s enough fun for one post. Go try out triboluminescence!

Just can’t get enough? Make sure to come early for the educational portion of HMNS’ LaB 5555 this Friday for more GLOW fun, and learn all about the science of what gives things light. I’ll be there doing demos to light up your night. For tickets and more info, click here!