Friday, June 23, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Hot From Austin, It's Sixteen Deluxe

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Sixteen Deluxe with Steel Wool and Impatiens, Tuesday night at Moe, 925 E. Pike, $5, 324-2406. -----------------------------------------------------------------

The city of Austin, Texas, has been so good to Sixteen Deluxe it's hard to imagine they'd want to leave.

The band, playing Tuesday night at Moe, is just over a year old, yet it has attained a reputation and following rivaling Austin's most established and revered acts. It has done that with a sound that takes basic pop structures and punk sensibilities, then coats them with layer after layer of blurry, swirly guitar effects. While the sound is similar to the late '80s British "shoegazer" movement - referring to the British equivalent of contemplating one's navel - it's not as self-absorbed, and the band's even gone so far as to parody the shoegazer sound on its first single.

Sixteen Deluxe's rise has made it the flagship band of Austin's growing "noise rock" movement. The group has had to develop quickly, or as guitarist/vocalist Chris Smith puts it, "We've had to cut our teeth in front of 500 people a night."

If the band members wanted, they could stay in Austin and continue playing well-attended weekend shows. "We could just hang out at Emo's and be really cool," said bassist Jeff Copas, referring to Austin's best-known alternative club. "But we all want something more."

So last week, the band started its first American tour, with Seattle included in a 39-city trail described by guitarist/vocalist Carrie Clark as a "heart-shaped" pattern across the nation. The tour is in support of the band's freshly-released debut, "Backfeedmagnetbabe," on Austin's Trance Syndicate Records. While the album doesn't fully deliver the wrap-around volume and velocity of Sixteen Deluxe's live show, it is a solid collection of the songs that allowed the band's quick rise to popularity.

The album includes Sixteen Deluxe's creative takes on artists who influenced its sound. The band's version of ambient-music pioneer Brian Eno's "Warm Jets" is a fast, furious, mudslide of melted notes, and its cover of Big Star's "Kangaroo" is slow and measured, with Smith's strangled electronics reined in until the end. Throughout the band's own songs, Smith's soloed notes run counterpoint to the rest of the band's concentrated wash of sound, punctuating it with flurries and stabs.

Although Sixteen Deluxe is a young band, Smith, Copas, Clark and drummer Casey Rhodes are veterans of the Austin scene. Their decision to join together and dip into psychedelia came out of a desire to have fun and to counter the grunge-inspired rock they'd all grown weary of. Smith says they're so upbeat that they're "the Shirley Temple of psychedelic rock."

The band never expected to become so popular so quickly.

"It's like we've been fishing," Copas said, "and a bunch of fish have just jumped into our net."

"I almost feel guilty," Clark said. "My punk rock ethos tells me that maybe we haven't paid our dues. But we have been working in the scene for years, as guitar techs, or selling T-shirts."

"And when the wave comes," Smith smirks, "you have to ride it."

Sixteen Deluxe's performance at March's South By Southwest Festival, an annual music-industry showcase in Austin, gave the band enough exposure for it to blip on radar screens outside the Lone Star State. In the latest edition of Spin magazine, Sixteen Deluxe's

live show and single are praised to the skies, and even British music magazines, such as NME, have taken notice.

Still, the band knows its tour will be a learning experience, if not an outright reality check. Some of Austin's most popular alternative bands do well in locales like Dallas and Houston, but have a harder time gaining a national fan base.

"It's like when they asked Adam Ant how he felt when Adam and the Ants hit No. 1 on the charts," Clark said. "He said, `Well, there's no place to go but down.' We're not on the same level, but I can identify."

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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