For the past 20 years, the South By Southwest Music Conference has been a launching pad for bands. While many of the 1,400 bands performing in 2006 were good, The Flairz is the band that got many people talking.
With a combined age of only 37, you might think the Australian trio The Flairz were out of place at South By, but the 12 and 13-year-old musicians won the hearts of critics and record executives by playing rock music the way it should be played: loud.
"Rock and Roll Ain't Evil," written and sung by Dion Mariani, is one of the four songs on The Flairz self-titled debut EP . The group is made up of drummer and singer Scarlett Stevens, and two guitar playing singing cousins, John and Dion Mariani. The Flairz began playing together in 2003, but each member started playing before then.
Thirteen-year-old Scarlett has been a drummer for four years. So what made her decide to pick up a set of sticks?
"I guess I liked the instrument, and I thought there wasn't enough girl drummers," she said. "And I thought being a girl drummer would be pretty cool!"
Twelve-year-old John Mariani is the son of Australian guitar player Dom Mariani, probably best know worldwide for this 1980s band The Stems. John, who also writes songs and sings, has been playing guitar for seven years. His cousin Dion has been playing even longer, for eight years.
Playing guitar is not something most five-year-olds want to do. So what made Dion start playing?
"I suppose [it was] because I loved listening to music, and I liked watching bands," he said. "Dad played me all this music, and I remember I used to get these plastic electric guitars that I used to play around with. Half of them are broken, but now I've got some good ones that I wouldn't want to break! I got my first guitar on my fifth birthday, and I wanted lessons straight away!"
And what about the practicing?
"Oh, that's easy," he said. "John, and me we practically practice every day. There's probably one or two days where we haven't practiced. Everyday we practice for at least maybe an hour, or so. We don't really have session practices. We just pick up the guitar whenever we feel like playing."
The trio wrote and played all the music on their debut. It should come as no surprise to learn that they credit bands like Cream, The Who, and fellow Australians AC/DC as inspirations. Who else?
"A band called 'Dallas Crane.' They're always really interesting to watch," Dion said. "They're always really cool. And 'The Living End,' they're pretty good to watch. They put on a good show, too."
"Well, sometimes we go to see bands when my dad plays with them," said John Mariani. "John Fogarty and Bob Dylan are really good inspirations, too."
Despite days busy with schoolwork and practicing, The Flairz are getting ready to go back into the studio to produce a full-length album of original material. Dion Mariani says several of the songs from the EP are being re-worked for the new disc, one with some major changes.
"Three of the songs off there are going on the album," he said. "'Rock and Roll Ain't Evil,' that has already been recorded properly, so that's no change. 'Sidewalk Surfer,' that's done properly. And 'Black Fox,' that's going on too, but we've rerecorded that. And writing the songs for this new album has been pretty exciting! We've got some really interesting riffs out there now!"
VOA had the honor of conducting The Flairz first U.S. interview at South By Southwest, but expect to hear a lot more from this band in the coming years. The group was one of the breakout bands of this year's conference, and left Austin with offers from several U.S. record labels, positive reviews in newspapers including The New York Times, and The Washington Post, and stories on several television news programs. Not to mention this story, broadcast around the world, on the Voice of America.