(L-R) Feliza Salazar, Zachary Applebaum, Dakota Applebaum
On a perfect, lazy Sunday afternoon, rock ‘n’ roll trio Verisimilitude sipped Topo Chicos in my tiny apartment in the Alta Vista neighborhood. We were chatting about San Antonio’s music scene and their latest, eponymously named album.
Made up of drummer Feliza Salazar (25), guitarist Zachary Applebaum (22) and bassist Dakota Applebaum (25), the three are, and have always been – at least since I’ve been following them – extraordinarily nice folks. Their vibe is laid back, personable and unabashedly goofy. They’re 100 percent comfortable with themselves.
“I met Dakota in fourth grade, and we started jamming,” Salazar said as she looked over and smiled at Dakota, who sat on the opposite side of the couch, with Zach between them. The brothers and Salazar grew up across a creek from each other in Inspiration Hills on the Northwest Side.
“They would come over, grab a piece of my drums and then we’d go walk over to the creek,” Salazar said. The three would jam and structure the beginnings of songs with drums and a karaoke machine. Then, when Dakota scored a bass guitar for his 10th birthday, the group started writing music with the Applebaum’s eldest brother, A.J., on guitar and Zach singing.
Following other Texas instrumental bands such as Explosions in the Sky and This Will Destroy You, Verisimilitude creates captivating movements of music that communicate a narrative without needing lyrics or even a vocalist. Theirs is a mix of psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll, math rock, and even groove-heavy ’90s alt rock. A listener’s gut instinct might be to put them in one genre or niche, but the high-caliber musicianship and dynamic songwriting prove Verisimilitude are creating art that’s not genre-bound.
(L-R) Feliza Salazar, Cody Stubblefield, Flaco Jiménez, Dakota Applebaum, Zach Applebaum, A.J. Applebaum
Adding a few more members to the mix, and still growing into their instrumental sound, the group played Rage Against the Machine covers in their early teens to small crowds during First Fridays in Southtown around 2006. Several years and many shows later – including a gig opening up for Flaco Jiménez in 2007 – the band entered the studio to record their first collection of music. After recording, the band lost their guitar player A.J., forcing the now-trio to get creative about playing live, including at their own CD release party.
As they adjusted to performing as a trio, Verisimilitude’s musical tastes began to change as well. Taking fewer cues from the likes of Mudvayne and Rage Against the Machine, they got lost in the mammoth musical landscapes of post-metal trio Russian Circles and the indie rock stylings of El Ten Eleven.
“I didn’t know how I was going to start contributing,” said Zach, who eventually stopped singing and took on guitar duties for the band. “I remember it was kind of a hard thing for me, I noticed, because I was singing still and I played guitar.” Since their older brother was already playing guitar, he said, he didn’t feel welcome as a second guitar player. “But I didn’t know how I was going to start contributing in this more experimental way. It was a clear kind of shift, where Dakota was starting to write these riffs that were more intricate, and [he and Feliza] wanted to do these weirder things.”
“The whole thing was that Zach didn’t want to sing anymore,” Feliza said. “None of us wanted to sing. Dakota got a loop pedal, which changed a lot of things for us because he was able to make it sound like a lot fuller band.”
Dakota added, “Plus, the new influences of music – none of us could sing, so instead of forcing ourselves to learn how to sing, we just did what we could with what we had.”
It’s hard to use one or two adjectives to describe Verisimilitude’s live performances. At moments, the band strikes these ascending, sparkly, ringing notes, and follows up with heavy plummeting beats matched by thick distortion and chaotic bass riffs. Then they bounce into moments of playful jazz fusion with weird time signatures. It’s not pop music at all, in fact. Sometimes it sounds ridiculous, but the music is smartly written and their musicianship is soaring. The first thing that comes to mind when you hear them is Verisimilitude.
“I remember running sound for them way back,” said Michael Carrillo, owner of the venue Ventura and frontman for the illustrious local indie-rock orchestra Deer Vibes. “They were babies, and I feel like, just from the very beginning when they started, they were always way ahead of the curve as far as the sound that they had. It’s been really cool to see them evolve and kind of do all the right things – especially for having started so young.”
Carrillo said he has also enjoyed seeing Zach incorporate some of Verisimilitude’s dynamics into his side project Dolphin Dilemma – a live-DJ dance project utilizing loop pedals and synths that has been gaining its own following.
“[It’s] taking that Verisimilitude experience and intelligence, and putting it into a different format that people can enjoy without having to understand it,” Carrillo said. “And I think that’s what they do – they give the people what they want while being true to who they are as musicians.”
“I really do love those dudes. I think, for a long time, they’ve just had one of the best sounds [in San Antonio], and you never feel bad for how much you love them.”
Because of their youth and longevity in the scene, the trio has, perhaps unbeknownst to themselves, become leaders in SA’s musical DIY community. In 2011, Dakota began staging shows and booking other local bands from San Antonio and Austin, and helping form a tighter-knit community. While still searching for and booking more instrumental indie bands in Texas and the Southwest in 2015, Dakota founded Austin Instrumental Music Fest, which last year secured Los Angeles-based post-rock giants El Ten Eleven. Dakota said this year, in place of the fest (which will happen in again in 2019), there will be preliminaries to play the fest next year – a sort of battle of the bands, with groups playing for a slot in the 2019 event.
“They’ve created a lot of opportunities [for bands],” said Edwin Stephens, who’s played in several successful indie projects, including Blowing Trees and Fishermen, and helped produce and mentor Verisimilitude for nearly a decade. “You take Verisimilitude out of the equation in San Antonio, and the whole DIY landscape changes drastically. They’re one of the best live shows in the city. They’re progressive but there’s something punk rock about them.”
The band can get weird and focused in the studio, and have strong opinions about how the recordings should sound. That could make other producers uncomfortable, but not Stephens.
“He’s one of the producers that can sit with us and deal with our shenanigans,” Feliza said. “I feel like, we can really be ourselves around Edwin.”
As the band built a following in South Texas, Verisimilitude got connected with Timewheel, an artist collective turned record label that works with bands such as Femina-X and Pop Pistol. In 2014, the label released Verisimilitude’s four-track EP Hippy Eyes.
A few years later, and with growing demand for their performances, the band looked for a manager and found Jeannette Muñiz, host of KRTU 91.7 FM’s Live and Local segment.
Muñiz, who worked with the group from mid-2016 to late 2017, said she noticed them back in 2010. They stood out because they were so young, but also because they had such a tight sound.
“They were playing a lot of shows,” Muñiz said, “and I thought it was awesome because they were the youngest people in the room. They’ve always been such a tight, well-rehearsed band. That’s something that, even when they were teenagers, they had nailed.”
Talk to almost anyone who’s interacted with the group or its individual members, and you’re guaranteed to hear some variation of “These folks are nice.” Though it’d be easy to have swollen egos – considering how long they’ve been at it, and the high musical standard they’ve achieved – their vibe is warm and inviting, which undoubtedly has contributed to their role as leaders of the scene.
“That’s why people love them so much,” Muñiz said. “They’re easy to talk to after a show, or while they’re setting up. They bring a lot of energy and love to all of their performances. They’re still at an interesting age. I can’t wait to see what they do in the next 10 years.”
The band released their self-titled album in March, followed by a nine-day tour in which they sold out of copies of Verisimilitude.
“I feel like it’s getting more complicated as we go,” Feliza said of the new record. “We’re writing more complicated riffs. We’re trying to really push ourselves.”
Verisimilitude is an amalgamation of all their sounds, past, present and future. It’s heavy, psychedelic, epic and playful at the same time, and the opening track “Melting Marshmallows” shows how much these folks have grown. The song launches with an almost Rage Against the Machine-like heaviness, with an ascending four-note blues scale riding on the last note before folding into shimmery electric guitar transitions and galloping toms-driven corridors. The track then takes a breath, slowing down to float through fields of reverb before rocketing into a plane of heavy, distorted guitar and bass. “Melting Marshmallows” pulls listeners backward through the bouncing transitions before catapulting them into the Rage-esque outro. The rest of the EP follows suit, wrapping listeners in spirals of weaving melodies and technical transitions that dance into grooving rhythms.
“I was listening to both [albums] this last month, and I like what we did with it,” Dakota said. “There’s a very cohesive sound, and I think [the band’s previous album] Bexar Hugs has a slightly slower, slightly cleaner sound. And then this one is slightly more sped up and raw and power punchy. So, the writing is more elaborate, but the sound and production stay pretty true.”
“A lot of our older songs, I can see where a lot of people can get frustrated ’cause there could be a space for lyrics,” added Zach, “and Bexar Hugs, for the most part, it really stands alone as an instrumental album. It’s like the first time we really started to get our sound as a band, and then this album, it’s just confirming it even more. It’s more energetic, a little more intense and saturated.”
As far as the future, the band says they’re going to focus on writing a full-length album, which they’re planning to release and tour on in summer 2019. They hope to transition then to only working part-time or to quit their day jobs all together. In the meantime, the trio wants to limit their appearances in San Antonio, focus on playing more out-of-town shows and building more online content such as music videos for the band’s website and Zach Loves Art, which Zach describes as “an original mini-series from Timewheel exploring art through a lighthearted comedic lens.” (We haven’t seen any episodes, but from the previews, it looks like something that could have been on late-night MTV in the early ’90s.)
Dusk was peeking through my living-room window blinds when I wrapped up the interview with the trio – some of the most talented 20-year-olds I’ve ever met. The interview had felt more like a casual hang sesh with long-time friends.
Regardless of how young Verisimilitude are, or how many projects they’ve been involved in, Feliza, Zach and Dakota know exactly who they are and what they want to achieve. And as San Antonio continues to push into the next generation of live music and rock ‘n’ roll, Verisimilitude undoubtedly will be part of the story.
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