Beyond The Bullet Points

An Ovrld Cover Story

Words & Photos by Laura Roberts

Their album Pedals drops on June 24. They figured it was as good of a time as any to


• Four-piece Austin, TX electronic pop band
• 2009-2014 Official SXSW Showcase Artist
• 2012 Opening band for Tegan and Sara tour dates
• 2011 Fun Fun Fun Festival Artist
• 2010 Austin City Limits Music Festival and Voodoo Festival Artist

Somewhere around the time you drag a cursor over the little orange Microsoft "P" for the first time, bullet points become equivalent to what's deemed important.

A bullet point acts as a "check-this-out" tactic in a sixth grade PowerPoint slideshow.

And in a band's EPK-slung at booking agents, talent managers and anyone with C3 on their LinkedIn profile.

But it's everything a bullet point lacks that humanizes a subject.

This is the band Speak.

Their bullet points are listed above.

And this is their humanness.

Speak Austin


"My mom signed her record deal on her [pregnant] belly."

It's the eve of Thanksgiving Eve and Troupe's thin frame is seated in a wooden chair at the very well-lit, very noisy Riverside bar that masquerades as a coffee shop. His eyeballs are the size of the Geico lizard and peer straight ahead.

Troupe's mom is Christine Albert, a local Austin singer-songwriter. Albert played Austin City Limits in 1994, back when it used to be on UT's campus, in the I-look-bigger on-TV Studio 6A.

Troupe, 25, is the frontman (vocals/keys) for the band known as Speak. He and his band have played ACL, too, but it was the ACL with the words "Music Festival" tacked behind it.

The one where 200,000 wristbands gather each year in Zilker Park.

"I went to the first five ACL's," Joey, 28, beams proudly as his brown eyes blink behind his thick, dark-brown glasses. The Speak bass player wears a grey sweatshirt with the words "Punk Newman" stamped across the chest.

"Yeah, they interviewed me on the news."

Anchorman voice.

"'The guy who's gone five years in a row!'"

Both Troupe and Joey are always-lived-in-512-area-code folk. As are Jake Stewart, 25 (drums), and Nick Hurt, 25 (guitar/vocals), the other two Speak members. Nick's visiting LA, and Jake's in Europe at the moment, and thus can't be here for the late night, pre-Turkey Day rendezvous.

And while Joey is very much present, pulling up David Foster Wallace quotes about fish and how they feel about water when it's all they've known, his bullet point and all that comes along with it isn't until later in the slideshow.

So it's just Troupe and his black dot for now.

The Video Game That Fell for the Six-String

Like all the good boys who grow up in Austin, Troupe spent his early years banging drums and pulling on guitar threads. Both his parents were/are musicians by trade, so Troupe naturally grew up hanging around artists.

One became his best friend.

And the best friend happened to make video games.

"So," Troupe's face is looming and large. "We started making games together when I was eleven."

Troupe scored the video games, and electronic music soon became his medium. He landed a couple of game-related internships in high school. Got his first paid, video-game-composing gig at sixteen. By the time he was trekking off to the University of Southern California in 2006, Troupe's declared major was wrapped up in film composing, but it was the short, pinging, somehow addicting gaming noises that his ears had learned to crave; like Mario to his Princess Peach.

But Troupe also had rock n' roll-the Austin, eyes-glazed-over-at-Antone's kind-branded on those eardrums.

So Troupe pummeled his drums in jazz band. And he dabbled at his electric six-string in his high school rock band. And he kept his soft-glow gaming world separate from his Stevie-Ray-reigning world.

Until he didn't.

"I wanted to do more of what I was doing with my electronic music..." he starts. "I want[ed] to incorporate that into the band, rather than just being like, we play Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin and that's what the band music is..."

And somewhere around the time his synth and his electric guitar were in the let's-get-to-know-each-other phase, Troupe decided to write some words to go along with his beats.

Then he picked up a mic.

Was it hard to start singing?

"It's still hard," Troupe lets his eyes shift a bit. His voice stays at the same intense level that continuously seems to spout from him, but the tone drops just a notch.

"My parents were both great singers, and so I was intimidated by that."

Troupe does this thing where he wears a button-up shirt and every single button, right to the very top one, is buttoned. Everyone knows you don't button the top button of a button-up shirt. Makes you look like you're getting choked by your own shirt.

But Troupe doesn't give a fuck. His top button is buttoned.

And you can also tell it is hard for Troupe, the video game composer, to wrap his mind around the fact that the title "singer" also belongs to him.

But the thing is, Troupe's vocals are good.

Really. Damn. Good.

Troupe's chords can hit the drag-your-ribcage-through-the-dirt lows of The National's frontman Matt Berniger. Troupe's voice can also slide over to spew the high sirens streaming from the tortured mouth of Passion Pit's Michael Angelakos.

Maybe there's something to Troupe's top button.

Nick and Jake Chime In


Jake's pointed elbows are leaning into the wooden table on Troupe's patio. Jake has on a neutral shirt and a guarded expression. Joey and his thick glasses sit to one side, while Troupe and Nick surround the other half of the oval. Tall, dark-brown bamboo fencing surrounds the group on three sides, giving the feel of a cardboard box with one side ripped off.

"Fifth grade, sixth grade Christmas...My brother got a keyboard, my sister got a guitar, and I got a snare drum," Jake states slowly as the list rolls out of his mouth. Following Jake's little-drummer-boy Christmas gift, he took some drum lessons and joined a band. Which he was "promptly kicked out of."

"I was plotting with the other members to replace our singer. Turns out that I was also replaced," Jake scoffs.

"I was so burned by that experience," Jake's voice hovers for a minute in Austin's 65-degree December air. "I didn't go back to the rock band for awhile, until Speak-Jupiter-4 at the time." The rejected drummer did, however, join his school's jazz band (not to be confused with marching band or orchestra band-"Dear God. Not regular band"), and beat out his frustrations to tunes allied with bow ties and brass instruments.

Around the same time in another residence in the Live Music Capitol, Nick was dutifully taking piano lessons. And logging in guitar lesson hours. And by the ripe-old age of eleven, joined a rock-and-roll band.

Nick didn't get kicked out of his band.


The four-piece "From surf instrumentals to Nirvana!" kids known as Misspent Youth, spent their nights on stage venues that normally housed band members twice their age. Antone's, Stubb's, La Zona Rosa, and Gruene Hall soon became regular recurring ink marks in their music venue passports. Between the years of 2003 and 2005, the quartet also nabbed three "Best Kid Band" wins from the Austin Chronicle's "Best of Austin" edition.

"But then," Nick's voice flexes down a notch. His dark round glasses are a stark contrast to his fair skin. His pupils gaze from behind the frames in a Yoko-Ono-poker-face sort of way. He continues. "I just kind of got tired of it-we played a lot of covers..."

"I met Nick in the rock camp, or whatever, on the way to high school," Troupe interjects, his white hands grasping his skinny jean knees.

Nick turns to Troupe.

"I remember you came up and said, ' Hey, I've got this synth.'...You pretty much just said, 'Let's start a band, just do a different vibe'."


And so it was: the child rock-star guitarist, the video gamer with his synthesizer and newly-found pipes, and the scorned jazz band drummer friend, lured back to the world of garage practices with battered heads and amp blitzing. Jupiter-4 was born.

Take away the 4. Make it 4.

The three gentlemen of Jupiter-4-named for one of the first crafted synths-jammed and gigged together throughout high school and into their college years. Troupe left for USC in 2006, but came back before the school year was out-the City of Angels' halo didn't quite sit right with him.

The ring of Jupiter-4, however, fit quite nicely.

The group played many a late-night college house party. They also recorded nearly an album-eight songs-that talked about San Francisco and dancing and reading someone's past by watching their feet. Their music resembled echoes of the band Train mixed with a heavy three liter of pop. And there was plenty of fizz in the boys' pop.

"I remember being a freshman in college," Jake stretches his neck forward. "And we were talking to some Canadian label, and it's like, 'We're going on tour this summer, and we're going to be mega famous in the fall.'"

Slight pause and a smirk.

"First in a series of incorrect forecasts of our future."

"Weatherman Jake!" Troupe exclaims from his seat, amused grin across his bush baby eyes.

While the Canadian label deal never did come through, someone else did.

Music man Kevin Wommack-whose resume is crammed with bullet points, most notably, managing the "How far is heeaaven" Los Lonely Boys-caught wind of a late 2007 Jupiter-4 set at the legendary (and now defunct) Austin venue Momo's.

The sound from the dreamy-synthy-Radiohead worshipers struck a chord with Kevin.


Enough of a chord for him to respond with a note of his own.

Might the guys be interested in being managed by Wommack?


Be managed by a man who had managed a Grammy award-winning band.


Yes, Jupiter-4 was okay with that.

Kevin had two conditions for his new trio:

1. Get a bass player 2. And change your band name

Jupiter-4 became Speak-"We just made a million lists," tells Troupe. "We liked the idea of a single word."

And Nick happened to have a good friend at the University of Texas in Austin who was classically trained in guitar. "I'll play bass in your band," spouted the sweatshirt-over-a-button-up Joey. Joey had not so much as plucked at a bass chord before.

But fuck. Don't basses have two fewer strings than a guitar?

Joey and his thicker chorded instrument soon became joined at the fret.

And during the years of 2008 and 2009, Kevin made sure to place his newly re-minted quartet into the rock n' roll hands of Grammy-nominated producer Chris "Frenchie" Smith-JET and The Toadies are some of his bullet points.

And then.

2010 happened.

2 to the 0 to the 1 to the 0

The Beatles had the pleading of Please Please Me and 1963. Elvis had "Heartbreak Hotel" and 1956 at his blue-suede feet.

And Speak had the EP Hear Here and 2010.

The Austin Chronicle pinned four stars to the review of the quartet's first ever EP-which includes the catchy-as-chewing-gum-in-a-third-grader's-hair single "Carrie"-and proclaimed, "The future just got a lot brighter".

Speak did indeed seem to be holding one hell of a lantern.

They lit up their hometown stages in March as an official SXSW Showcase Artist. They hoisted the Austin Music Awards' "Best New Band" plaque over their winning heads the same month. They blazed through their set on the BMI Stage at Zilker Park at Austin City Limits Music Festival that fall. And they decided to spread the fire to the Cajun city of New Orleans with a road trip and an appearance on the scaffolds at VooDoo Fest.

And then there was that other trip.

"We went to New York and signed a major label deal."

Troupe lets the words roll off his tongue as if he's talking about grabbing a pack of American Spirits on a Friday night gas station run.

The run had actually started in January of the pivot fire year of 2010. The four-piece, skinny-jean-cuffed band was playing the old Emo's on Red River during Austin's "Free Week." Kevin had made sure to get some A&R suits down to Emo's; a representative from Atlantic Records being one of them.

"We liked them and they liked us." Troupe tells the story simply.

The band was flown to New York. Dinner was bought. Drinks were had.

You in?

We're in.

Enter lawyers and legal documents with tiny font.

When the ink had finally seeped onto the appropriate dotted lines, the band Speak was signed with the Atlantic Records imprint label Modern Art.

SPEAK - Carrie

Kids On the Playground


The years following 2010 were a bit of a see-saw balance for Speak-up in the air one minute, hands and guitar strap tails flapping in the breeze; down in the dirt the next. The band continued to gig their hometown SXSW as Official Showcase Artists, and also took to the popular, color-coded stages of Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest-blue being Speak's shade of turf in 2011. But many a tour night show had more band members on stage than audience members in the venue.

"We played to Sky and Megan [in] Arkansas...We played to two-people rooms." Joey says, emotion gone from his vocals.

There were also growing pains with Modern Art.

Within a few short weeks of the guys joining the label, the A&R rep that signed Speak was no longer on the company's payroll.

"You're going to some random guy, who, instead of being your best friend ever that you signed this band with, is now replaced with [a guy] we've never talked to," Troupe explains.

The band put out their first full-length, album I Believe In Everything-in 2011 with Modern Art, but by the end of the year had amicably parted ways with the label.

Troupe and his band members walked away realizing, "We should be our own machine," when it comes to their music.

And so the see-saw continued: Down-gut-punched with low album sales. Up-sharing the stage with "Walking With A Ghost" sister duo Tegan and Sara in cities like Vancouver and Seattle. And bam! Straight back down again-sleeping-or not sleeping-in a white van in 28-degree weather in the middle of St. Louis.

But like every ball cap on a playground and every persistent artist knows, the thing about see-sawing is if you hang in there long enough, calluses start forming on hands that used to be soft.


The traffic in Austin is crawling on Oltorf as I head to the cafe off South First that doesn't serve meat.

It's June and 2014. Over six months since I first began interviewing the band called Speak, who I know now as the charismatic individuals Troupe, Nick, Jake and Joey.

Up the walkway. Through the wooden door. Into the back dining room.

Three out of the four white chairs are filled with neutral-colored shirts.




"Joey's at work."

I sit down at the square table and glance at the faces.

The guard's gone from Jake's eyes. Troupe's arms hang at his side. No poker in Nick's face.

Gluten-free pasta and Pearl Snaps are ordered.

We talk Tom Hanks sightings in LA ("Guys! That was Tom Hanks! They're like, 'Yeah. He walked by awhile ago.'")

And we talk CD collections left in the backseats of cars by siblings ("...all her CD's...all her Beatles albums.")

And we talk moments where something makes sense.

Pedals (released through Wommack's label Playing In Traffic Records) will be out June 24.

Pedals single "Gates" is already out. And already making a dent in the digital world while racking up some impressive bullet points:

The poppy/techno/Raconteurs drum-heavy little-single-that-could has over 300,000 plays on SoundCloud. It's got a thumbs-up blurb in the popular, you-wanna-be-reviewed-here music blog Pigeons and Planes. And Ellie Goulding-yep, that Ellie Goulding-recently slapped the song on her Instagram feed with the words "This is a good song".

Her three million followers are now aware.

"[We've] been writing that song ["Gates"] for five years," Troupe says nonchalantly, head tilted. "Pretty actively, too."

Wait. What? Why did it take five years?

Troupe pauses before he starts.

"I have a little thing of thoughts that I come up with when I go jogging..."

He fumbles.

"Basically songs are like archeological digs. In archeology, you only do as much as you can excavate without damaging the rest of the site. Because you anticipate that tools will evolve throughout time."

He's gathered his thoughts now.

"In the same way with this song...As soon as we came up with the chord progression, it was like 'This is going to be special', so we had to come back when we had the tools to truly excavate the whole song."

Makes sense.

Tabs are paid. Everyone stands to their feet. They're meeting up with Joey. He's off work now. And they're got work to do on a new cover song the band's learning-top secret.

And who knows.

Maybe they'll start tonight on the words of another song that'll be the beginnings of a new archeological dig.

It is after all, as good of a time as any to