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Finding a Balance 

Voxtrot battles to maintain their enthusiasm in order to reach their goals

Wrestling with demons such as self-pity and ennui, the perfect, chiming pop songs of Austin, Texas, rock band Voxtrot also maintain a spin of sweet hopefulness in the face of depression.

On the group's recently released debut album, Voxtrot, frontman Ramesh Srivastava, who also writes the songs, can sing, "Cheer me up, I'm a miserable fuck" ("Kid Gloves") or "I'll be the one to let this roof cave in on me" ("Ghost"), but he also admits that the affection of another represents "something that I can rely on ... It's some kind of future that I can be sure of" ("Every Day").

"Well, yeah, there are extremes, but I think life is about acknowledging them and finding a balance," Srivastava said earlier this week as he and his bandmates rolled in their van toward a gig in Houston, opening up for the British buzz band Arctic Monkeys.

The tour will bring both bands to Tucson for a concert Saturday, Sept. 22, at the Rialto Theatre.

Voxtrot came off the road a few weeks ago to find out that they had been added to the bill for a few weeks of the current leg of the Arctic Monkeys tour.

"The other band that was opening for them (The Coral) apparently dropped out, so we were sort of the last-minute replacement," Srivastava said.

He said being paired with the Arctic Monkeys is "strange."

"If you played our albums side by side, it wouldn't seem that out of the ordinary, but those guys are in a completely different world than us. They travel in, like, two tour buses, and we have to keep up with them. But we have to ride in our Ford Club Wagon and get there overnight."

Since forming in Austin five years ago, Voxtrot has always accomplished its tasks in do-it-yourself fashion. Although Voxtrot is the group's full-length debut, they have previously released three EPs that through word of mouth and the blogosphere have earned the band increasing attention and praise.

The independent route is more and more becoming the way to go for struggling bands, while getting signed to a major label is little more than a lottery against which the odds of success are astronomical, Srivastava said.

"With only a few exceptions, that's the way you have to go. If you get signed to a major label, and that works for you, it works out really, really well. But most of the time, for most bands, it doesn't work out, and then it's really bad for your career."

Some of the word-of-mouth attention, though, has been limiting, especially when Voxtrot has been compared to other bands, especially Brit-pop groups of the 1980s and '90s such as The Smiths, Housemartins, Pulp and Belle and Sebastian.

But those acts didn't necessarily influence the Austin group, proving what short memories some listeners have. Voxtrot's roots go deeper, as they share musical values and attitudes with such bands as The Kinks, early David Bowie, and even Tin Pan Alley and cabaret music. Srivastava concurred.

"Yeah, that's the sort of music we actually liked before all other music, before we even started playing. I probably haven't listened very much to anything that has come out in the last 20 years."

Although Voxtrot is his first band, Srivastava has been writing songs since he was 12 years old, a time at which he first met Matt Simon, the band's drummer. Srivastava took singing, piano and guitar lessons as a child, sensing that these skills would come in handy as music more and more dominated his life.

And compared to lots of lackadaisical independent bands today, Voxtrot actually has ambitions beyond the next song or the next gig.

"For me, I agree with the theory that you should start with some sort of goal in mind. I think it would be nice to accomplish something in terms of the period of music you are in, to be a part of a movement in time that is pushing the music forward in terms of progress. I hope we can be part of that."

Srivastava already is looking forward to the next album, he said.

"Completely and utterly. As much as I like touring, and I really appreciate being there to share the songs with the people who come out the shows, we've been playing for so long, it's hard to maintain a consistent enthusiasm. We need to get back to the recording studio."

Even for a band in which the ages of the members range from 22 to 25, it's easy to get burned out, he said.

"I always used to think we were a really young band, but it's not as much the case anymore."

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