This morning I woke up in the year 2014, listened to an album from 1998 that sounded like it was recorded in the 1960s. I think I’m going to need another cup of coffee to get my head around this… (Sip) Ahhh, that’s better.
Yep, that’s what the self-titled LP from The Resonars did to me and I loved every second of every track. Sans going into every song, tracks that are sonic and bombastic and harmonically terrific, this is the kind of record that defies time. Although The Resonars do have a very distinctive 60s psychedelic sound, it sounds like it “belongs” in that time period. Yet, at the same time, it has a place in today’s Spotify rotation. It’s crazy, really.
Throughout the record one can hear the bands that have influenced the Resonars: Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles, The Byrds, The Hollies, among others. Yet, there is a distinct thread of modern rock that is woven throughout their rhythms (I definitely heard Nirvana in one track – Good thing). And if “Dark On You Now” doesn’t have the jangle of early REM I don’t know what does (Good thing). I just love bands like The Resonars. Defying every convention. Finding inspiration in everything. And turning out songs that one can listen to over and over and over and over. At least, I could. I’m glad I discovered this record. Take a listen for yourself and maybe you will, too. Listen here.
It’s been six years since Tramps & Thieves released their last album, but once word reached me that the band has been in the studio finishing tracks for a new release due out later this month, I had to revisit Perennials. From the start of “Whole Lot Worse” I was ready to dance with the reckless abandon of a drunk twenty-something let loose on the world. Maybe that’s because when I first got my hands on this album, I was a drunk twenty-something. Or maybe it’s because the rustic roots sound of Tramps & Thieves’ bar-tested-and-proven Americana fosters this urge in all listeners.
Either way, by the time I hit “Ages” I was in full on jam-mode, constraints of my 30s be damned. Perennials was released back in 2008 and marked a third release for the band. It’s an album you can revisit years later (or discover for the very first time) without feeling its time has come and gone. Picking a favorite track might be beyond me. With two different vocalists sharing the task, Tramps & Thieves conveys two different voices, lyrically and sonic-ly. “Whiskey & Wine” pulls at the heartstrings in a much different way from the introspective tugging felt on “Washington Bullets”.
Perennials closes down with “Unfortunate Souls” – a bar ballad that must be experienced live for authenticity. When the crowd joins in, the energy instantly transforms any venue. You can stream songs from (and purchase) Perennialshere. And tune in next Wednesday (Aug. 6) to Rise! on Radio Phoenix where we’ll be joined by Tramps & Thieves to discuss their forthcoming album and maybe even preview a few new tracks!
Noisy, bluesy, rock-y, shoegaze-y, and just gritty as all get out, A. Rae Valkonen, aka White Dress, from Austin, Texas, is a terrific sound attack on not only the ears, but the soul. With help from Nathan Campbell, organ, Grant Van Amburgh, drums, Valkonen, who handles her guitar with the deft of an angel in some cases, and the virtuosity of the devil himself. In this case, herself.
The first track, “Light Hearted”, is both beautiful and airy, Cowboys Junkies even, and it, in my opinion, is the perfect track to lead this effort off because the music lulls you into a ethereal space and then before you know it the next track, “Wearing Red” busts you in the chops with it’s affected vocals, dark subject matter and gritty gritty gritty guitar. “Solid State” takes on a 60s vibe with organ taking the lead, softly leading us through the song allowing the lyrics and Valkonen’s black songbird voice to come shining through. And speaking of lyrics, the entire EP is a delight to those of us who appreciate great writing There are some wonderful lines like, “He doesn’t love me. He’s just in it for the kill. Careless on my shoulder. Confused me for his mother”, off the track, “The Kill”, which is terrifically frightening thanks to, oh that Fender Reverb, and a voice that conjures up the best of Patti Smith, and much more recently, Courtney Love.
While the first four songs are quite tidy bits of bombastic delights, “Five Feet of Road” finishes up the EP and is the longest of the tracks. And thankfully so. It’s here we see Valkonen’s gift for storytelling, and thank you thank you thank you for adding that solid steady beat to give me the blues/rockabilly this coming of age journey needed. You can listen to White Dress here. A. Rae Valkonen has since moved to NYC and started performing under the moniker Arum Rae. You can check out her latest single “Gold” from that new endeavor here.
Ashley Norton has come a long way since gracing the stages of Phoenix and the surrounding Valley. Her decision to relocate to Nashville has been not only career changing, but life changing as well. Her new project, a duo effort with Edward A. Williams, is a testament to that.
Norton, along with Williams, have created a very intimate, emotionally charged and gutty EP, Stardust. I hadn’t heard Norton perform in person for almost three years and I held zero expectations. After all, three years is a very long time, and performers, music, and life, changes.
For the good, in this case.
The opening track on this 6-song EP, “Tumbleweeds”, opens with a delicate cello melody and falls away only to be caught by Norton’s voice that, by the sound of it, has matured and been influenced by Nashville. I was taken by the interplay of both Norton’s and William’s vocals on this duet. Perfectly suited for each other, yet interestingly enough, juxtaposed just enough to create a tension that is haunting.
“Haunted By Me” is another terrific track that, well damn it if it doesn’t give me chills. Like, the Swell Season chills. The soft military drums, the delicate piano and the harmonies are fantastic. The writing, again Nashville influenced, is wonderful.
“Blinded By Paradise” and “Frequency” are sweet and gentle ballads. The former is sung by Williams, who holds his own against the songbird that is Norton, not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination, and on the latter, Norton sums up all of the melancholy in her being to make this track.
“Cold Dead Body” is straight-up country swing, including a terrific accordion bit supplied by Joe Bidewell. If I knew how to two-step, I would.
“Dream of Sleeping”, in my mind, is the perfect track to complete this EP. It’s moody, dreamy and has urgency, thanks to the pining guitar and a very good performance by Williams – then, for the overture, Norton takes the lead and takes this track to another level. The ending is hypnotic to say the least.
Over all, I truly loved this effort. Of course, I have my favorites, and an opinion. For my money, it’s “Haunted By Me” and “Blinded”. Give me “Tumbleweeds” and “Frequency” every day of the week. Those are special tracks and I really really really really hope these two performers keep going down that path, because I’d follow them. I would.
You can stream and purchase Stardust by Whitherward here. And you can catch the band live on August 8th at Kazimierz in Scottsdale!
“The story of my winding up in Tucson could fill up an entire article,” says Laura Kepner-Adney, and it may well someday. For now, here’s the story in a nutshell: she studied vocal performance at Oberlin Conservatory, and began living in Tucson in 2006 after courting southern Arizona for some time. Within a few short years, she had founded two of the city’s most visible female vocal groups of the last decade: the folk ensemble Silver Thread Trio and the rock band The Cordials.
Both groups are distinguished by the intricacy of their vocal writing, for which Kepner-Adney can claim much of the credit as she is responsible for writing or arranging many of their songs. But they each represent a very different musical world in Tucson – the city’s folk and rock communities rarely meet so closely. She represents an unusual figure, invested so deeply in both. Furthermore, she has collaborated with a broad segment of the musical “old guard” of Tucson (Howe Gelb, Calexico, Al Foul, Stuart Oliver), and recalls a time when the music community was quite a bit smaller and more integrated than it is now. Though her arrival on the scene was only a few years prior to Brittany Katter’s (from our first #TucsonPortrait-found here), many of her allegiances come from the previous generation of Tucson musicians.
SILVER THREAD TRIO: SWEET DESERT HARMONY
“Well, the person that really helped Silver Thread break [was] Al Foul, who still plays in Tucson, just not as much as he used to.” Silver Thread Trio was originally conceived as a wedding band, so Kepner-Adney and her compatriots Gabrielle Pietrangelo and Caroline Isaacs rehearsed madrigals, traditionals, and other such innocuous material. But Foul “used to do [a show], I think it was on Wednesday nights at The Hut – and this shows just how much Tucson has changed, that this was a thing at The Hut – I think it was called Al Foul’s Variety Show.”
Bands from the community were invited to play a few songs in between segments of Foul’s set. Silver Thread Trio began participating, singing their wedding music to a bar audience. And, according to Kepner-Adney, “We got this incredible response, something that we never expected, from the downtown crowd. We realized that we had something going on that wasn’t happening [elsewhere], that we were different, and people were responding to it. So that was kind of a fire under our asses.”
It does seem unlikely, but the trio’s exquisitely-tuned vocals quickly became a feature of the Tucson folk scene and beyond. They began writing more original songs, or changing elements of the traditional tunes they chose.“In some cases, we would rewrite the melody to make it more suited to the song. Like I took ‘Clementine’… which has this really obnoxious melody, and I rewrote it into something that I felt fit the lyrical story a little better. Because it’s really a dark tale if you hear the entire song!”
And they were discovered by Stuart Oliver of The Dusty Buskers. “[He] really just loved what we were doing, and basically said ‘I’m starting this record label, and I really want you guys to be on it, and I’ll record you for free… and make this thing that I think should happen, happen for you.’”
Oliver’s label, Old Bisbee Records, put out Silver Thread Trio’s debut album. The women recorded it at Oliver’s house, an old miner’s cabin in Bisbee. It took three sessions over three weekends. He did a lot of promotion through his channels at Old Bisbee, which helped put Silver Thread Trio on the map. But over time, they lost touch: “We were the second album on his label, and I don’t know what he’s been doing [since then].”
SUCCESS AND DISSOLUTION
Silver Thread Trio garnered a reputation for pristine harmonies and a dark musicality, which gained them lucrative shows across Arizona. They collaborated with Amos Lee when he came to Tucson, recording backing vocals for a song on his album Mission Bell. They were nationally televised on PBS’s program Live From The Artists’ Den, singing with Lee onstage at the historic Fox Theatre. They had support from Calexico, and members of that band can be heard on STT’s second album Trigger & Scythe.
The trio has recorded with Tucson legend Howe Gelb. Kepner-Adney and Pietrangelo also had the opportunity to play in Gelb’s backing band at one point. “That was really fun,” Kepner-Adney says, “because we got to step out of just being the backup singers for him and actually play instruments too. [That] always makes me happy, because I like to step out of the role of just being the girl singer… That can get a little old after a while.”
All this activity might have led to a stint on the national touring circuit. “We tried,” Kepner-Adney says with a wry smile, “but it wasn’t going to be able to be a reality because of the lives we were living outside of the band.” Isaacs, for example, is the program director of the Tucson branch of the American Friends Service Committee, doing vital work in reforming the private prison system and fighting the humanitarian abuses that occur within it. It’s difficult to keep up a touring schedule and maintain that kind of service. Others found it similarly problematic to make space for touring in their lives.
Silver Thread Trio is not playing any more shows for the time being. “There’s nothing on the books right now,” according to a post on their Facebook page, and Laura herself concurs. “Pretty much now we’re on a semipermanent hiatus… That was seven years of my life in Tucson. And we did a pretty good job, I think.” But it’s no longer her focus: “Now I’m kind of swimming in other projects.” One of these is The Cordials.
LOUD, LOOSE, CAREFREE AND FUN
“It’s been SO different in all the ways,” Kepner-Adney says of The Cordials. The ensemble, which she named and formed a few years after Silver Thread, has made a name for itself as a rock band with a sophisticated touch. Kepner-Adney’s signature vocal arrangements remain, with Courtney Robbins and Cristina Williams contributing this time around. (Drummer Winston Watson also chimes in.) But it’s definitely louder, playing a mixture of pop, surf and grunge that often gets audiences dancing.
“It’s a different kind of fun. Playing loud, loose rock and roll is so different than delicate 3-part harmonies… we have 4-part harmonies in The Cordials, but it’s a more carefree kind of fun.” Kepner-Adney put The Cordials together in order to explore this noisier side of music for herself, something Silver Thread Trio had no room for. “I started writing the songs because I wanted to teach myself to play guitar differently, so I started writing leads.” No longer limiting herself to a “girl singer” persona, Kepner-Adney is a full-on rock guitarist in this band. It’s a refreshing change. She seeks to correct the relative lack of female instrumentalists in rock – and she does a damn fine job of it.
As rosy as it is, there is one small problem for The Cordials: everyone is in other bands. It’s a common issue in a community as tightly-knit as Tucson’s. Robbins is half of Proper Operator; Williams is in The Modeens; Watson is in practically every band in Tucson (most prominently Chicha Dust). Kepner-Adney didn’t realize it when she put the band together, but juggling musical responsibilities has made things a little hard for this group too. Even so, “it [feels] a lot more relaxed.”
THE TUCSON SCENE ADRIFT
Kepner-Adney gets excited talking about the old Red Room-centered scene. “I’ve always felt like the downtown music scene had… this community aspect to it. It happened more so when there were free shows all the time at a place with affordable drinks, which is so rare now, on Congress Street, when the Red Room was open, where you would just go and hang out and meet people.” It was an emotional center, and something of a central pivot around which Tucson musicians would revolve.
“And it felt like a community,” she continues, “the Red Room was a community. For better or for worse! That is gone … I’m still friends with, and engage in musical dialogue with, and booking with, all the bands that I met in that era, and bands that were formed from the same people in those bands… I realize that there’s a whole new generation of Tucson bands that I’m not super familiar with.”
It’s worth noting that the Red Room only closed three years ago, but for many people – not just Kepner-Adney – it marked the end of something like a golden age. “The Tucson scene kind of consisted of the Red Room, Congress, Plush, Solar Culture… through those venues, any given night, you’d find a really great local band playing.”
Kepner-Adney mourns the loss of two more of these mainstays: “Plush isn’t the same place it used to be” without former booker Kris Kerry, who now buys national talent for the Rialto Theatre (Plush is now under new ownership and has changed its name to The Flycatcher). And as for Solar Culture, “It’s more of a public art space” than an active venue. In its rock heyday, it hosted Arcade Fire, Final Fantasy, Man Man, and Animal Collective, to name just a few. It now hosts bands less frequently, and they represent more of the avant-garde, free jazz, world music, “Kirtan [chant]… which is great for people in that community who wanted a space.” But it’s no longer a go-to for local album release parties or touring rock bands.
NEW (AND OLD) ANCHORS
Through all this talk of what has died, Kepner-Adney maintains positivity about the future. The scene is not dead; it has merely undergone a shift.
“It’s cool to see, though I’ve never been there, 191 Toole.” Kepner-Adney respects the all-ages venue’s hard work. “I know that they’ve been booking bigger and bigger shows, and it’s really exciting.” And she is aware of the rise of Topaz, but “there’s no overlap here… I only know who I talk to and who they talk to,” which does not include many in that community. She sees hope for more live music on Congress: “R Bar is trying to maintain a little bit of the Red Room’s aesthetic.”
I asked her about the musicians who make Tucson what it is, and she gave me a list of performers both old and new, and across the spectrum of rock and folk in this city.
Howe Gelb, Calexico, and Katterwaul made her list (Kepner-Adney met Brittany Katter through the Red Room scene). So did Loveland: “Dave Bryan I think is one of the best writers in Tucson. He’s just got this incredible knack for writing the sweetest love songs … [but] never steps over the ‘adorable’ line. And his voice is just so excellent… Whenever he says he’s having trouble, I still think he sounds like a million bucks.”
She praised Run Boy Run, who are probably Tucson’s preeminent folk ensemble today. “They are one of those bands that just kind of exploded… Silver Thread booked them to play our last CD release in 2012, and when we came on stage after they played, I said ‘You know what, this band is gonna put us out of business.’ And they did.”
She laughed after that last remark. “They didn’t really, but we stopped and they’ve just escalated so fast, and they’re doing great… I really hope they get to do it for a long, long time.”
A NOTE ON THE SERIES
I am writing this series, Tucson Portraits, to paint a picture of what Tucson’s music community is today and how it got here. My plan is to write one in-depth profile, accompanied by photographs, every week for a year. Enormous changes will take place even in that span; the scene will be very different between the beginning and the end of this project. But it’s the best I can do.
My interviews are with some of the people who drive Tucson music: people who are the most visible, the most ambitious, the most knowledgeable, the most representative of our town. I aim to cover a broad spectrum – this week’s featured artist occupies a very different musical space than last week’s does, and I am making it a point to talk to people from the hardcore/metal, DIY/punk, and rap/hiphop communities a little further down the line.
Laura Kepner-Adney is a unique resource when talking about the scene. Her local career started right at the heyday of Tucson’s last musical generation, and she is continuing her work as the city ushers in its next. And she is a bridge between the rock and folk spheres in Tucson.
She has other projects going forward, though I can’t talk about them in this space. Suffice it to say, she too is worth watching.
Bob Hanshaw is a writer and musician based in Tucson. He plays bass for Sun Bones. You can follow #TucsonPortraits on Facebook here.
We at YabYum are all about cooperative artistic efforts so when I heard one of my favorite bands was teaming up with one of my favorite visual artists for a collaboration that would yield the album art for their latest release, I was nearly giddy. Well, as giddy as I get. Of course, the band I speak of is Andrew Jackson Jihad who is known for returning to their home turf here in the desert when it comes time to make a new album. Knife Man, their last studio full-length, was recorded at none other than Audioconfusion back in 2011. For Christmas Island, Andrew Jackson Jihad came back to Phoenix for the artwork that would grace not only the album cover but the extensive merchandising (including skateboard decks) that accompanied the release – their first with SideOneDummy Records.
And what Valley artist would be better suited to the wry humor and dark undertones of the music of Andrew Jackson Jihad than Suzanne Falk? Answer: NO ONE. Both AJJ and Falk possess the rare ability to freeze certain moments, to crystallize them so they might be observed from a variety of angles in spite of the separation time and distance might create.
On the cover of Christmas Island, the viewer is confronted by a lunar landscape encapsulated in the cardboard confines of a grade school style diorama. A landscape as envisioned by children complete with monsters and glitter and skies of teeth in which the depth and precision of delivery is disguised by the vibrant colors and candy-coated nostalgia. The album art clearly speaks of the artist who created it. Falk’s distinctive visual sense and iconic approach to the still life bustle out of the painting so that anyone familiar with her work will immediately recognize one of her progeny when they look upon it. A strange amalgamation of altar and dream.
The painting, however, does not stand alone. I received my pre-ordered, early-arrival digital copy of Christmas Island and began to hear the conversation between artists unfold visually and musically. Some connections could be easily drawn if you looked and listened together, the “blood-collector” collected blood and sky “full of teeth,” for example. To further my own understanding, and my personal obsessions, I decided to go to the source and discuss the creation of the artwork for Christmas Island.
Suzanne Falk works from her home studio, punctuating the central role her art plays in her everyday life. I could identify her house from the moment I saw the front door even though I’ve never been there before and have only had brief exchanges with Falk in person, but I knew. If you also know who lurks inside, coming upon her residence might be a thrilling discovery. If not, the little altars of knicknacks long abandoned throughout other childhoods might seem a bit strange. “Lurks” might also be the wrong word, one cannot sincerely lurk in such a cheerful (and well-lit) home. But if strange and unusual creatures can be said to lurk than it is aptly applied to Falk. She possesses a mystical presence, a certain otherness, that makes her seem as if she’d be perfectly happy in the eerie lunar world she imagined for Christmas Island as long as Starflash (dog and lifemate) was at her side.
Suzanne grew up surrounded by artists and she found herself in Tempe after she landed a graphic design job designing t-shirts for fraternities and sororities. After some ups and down, Falk moved toward painting as a means of escaping the difficulties surrounding her and discovered her true calling. It was some years later (but many moons ago) that she met Sean Bonnette and Ben Gallaty of AJJ before AJJ at the now-defunct Willow House in downtown Phoenix.
Little did she know that their meeting would eventually result in an artistic collaboration until last September when Sean contacted Suzanne by email to let her know that they would like like her to paint an original work for the cover of the forthcoming full-length set for release through SideOneDummy Records. She received an early version of the album to delve into while brainstorming and began arranging her diorama.
“The album changed for me the whole way through,” Falk recounted during our conversation. Christmas Island – like most albums to emerge from the AJJ oeuvre – is nuanced, ornately detailed, and runs an emotional gamut that oscillates from blithely optimistic to a stiff drink away from suicide. Everything from inside jokes to highly specific cultural references wind through the album like a labyrinth inviting the listeners to always think about what they’re listening to even if they don’t always understand. (Is Bad Lieutenant 2 really the greatest movie ever?)
Around Thanksgiving, Sean came to visit Suzanne and take a look at what she had underway for the album. During their conversation, Bonnette asked if he could “mess with it,” a suggestion Falk initially felt some internal resistance to, but she gave in. This was the first collaboration of this nature she had embarked upon and, unlike musicians who frequently work with others in their craft, painters are often the jealous gods of their own creations. But Suzanne permitted the exchange to continue and Sean added a few items to her still life from around her house. The tiny altars and relics that cover nearly every available space in Falk’s home provide a rich hunting ground for novelty items vibrating with personal symbolism, for each and every person. Sean added a few items including the mice and a die from a game the band plays while on the road. Then Suzanne set to work transposing her diorama into oil on canvas.
Christmas Island, the album and the artwork, both demonstrate a wavering sense of love and beauty. We see darkness and despair, but never too far from the brightness of hope. “Find a nicer way to kill it,” is a recurring sentiment throughout the album (not surprising considering not one but two songs are named for Temple Grandin, an advocate for animal rights and autistic activist who supports humane treatment of animals in the meat industry). A more pleasant way to die might be considered a morbid fixation but there is something somber about the acceptance of it all. Maybe even comforting. Both album and artwork, dare us to laugh at our deepest fears.
Of course, with anything, if you stare too long you might begin to imagine things that are not there. The girl entangled in to the lower right of the painting, for me, called to mind Temple Grandin’s squeezebox referenced in the song “Temple Grandin Too” in the line “A hug without a human is alright.” Falk maintained that the figure was added to convey a sense of friendship and was her own addition.
“[Andrew Jackson Jihad] stayed close to their roots,” Suzanne asserts. The band frequently returns to Phoenix for shows or to work on projects, recording or otherwise, but they go a step beyond all that. They have managed to remain present in the continuing dialogue that is the Phoenix art scene. They have remained aware and involved despite their successes beyond our dusty desert.
When an album begins with “Open up your murder eyes and see the ugly world that spat you out,” but, you know, with a beat you can dance to joyously, you’re in for the distinctive cocktail that few can properly concoct: one part hope, two parts melancholy, and enough humor to make it sweet going down. Suzanne Falk knows the recipe as do those behind Andrew Jackson Jihad and you find its matched expression in Christmas Island – the painting and the recording.
Get your hands on a copy of the album on vinyl while it lasts from SideOneDummy here. You can steam the album (and purchase digitially) here. Perhaps even more exciting than all of that is the fact that Andrew Jackson Jihad is on tour right now, this very minute, and they’ll be closing down their summer run in Phoenix this week on August 1st at the Crescent Ballroom. And that very next day, Suzanne Falk will be joining John Tuomisto-Bell for a Two-Person / Two-Day Show on August 2 & 3, also in Phoenix. For more information about the art show, please head here.
Cup O’ Karma is not your average cup o’ joe and not your average coffee shop.
Located in Mesa across from Mesa Community College, this “Community Café for a Cause” truly lives up to its name. Cup o’ Karma was donated by Louis Prado, the owner of Into the Bean for one dollar to the National Advocacy and Training Network, founded in part by Monalou Callery. In the summer of 2008, the public was welcomed to Cup o’ Karma and they have been a big part of the community ever since.
Aside from great drinks, this quaint little shop offers eclectic merchandise including hand-made jewelry, books and organic soaps. The National Advocacy and Training Network (NATN) runs the SEEDs program which stands for Support, Education, Empowerment and Directions. This local program owns four homes in the east valley, two in Chandler and two in Mesa, where women can find help in escaping domestic violence situations as well as help in maintaining recovery from substance abuse. 100% of everything purchased at Cup o’ Karma goes to support the homes that support some pretty remarkable women.
At any given time at Cup o’ Karma, you will find cheerful barista’s who come from these homes as well as local volunteers. The walls of the shop are adorned with local artwork and most nights of the week you will find the stage set for open mic night or scheduled with musicians, poets, and comics working on their craft. Cup o’ Karma Mesa is managed by Judy Baker and their Chandler location, located inside the Chandler Public Library, is co-managed by Andrea Cobb and Madison Gibbons.
In 2011, Cup O’ Karma came on the radar of businessman Jay Deutsch and through his strong desire to bring a voice to domestic violence victims everywhere, he donated the funds through his organization to allow NATN to purchase another home for women. His generous gift was televised on The Secret Millionaire in 2013.
The coffee shop has some of the best coffees and teas in the valley. This reviewer normally gets the mocha frappucino which is sublime but today, the dirty chai frappucino was the choice to combat the stifling Arizona heat. When I asked trainer and barista Samantha Payson what she had to say about what she loves most about her job, she said “I really enjoy what I do because I get to socialize with the women and the customers and see their lives change.”
Cup O’ Karma isn’t just a coffee house, it’s a home away from home for many local residents. It’s where creativity flows, where crafts are practiced and perfected, where friends are made and hearts are healed. You can find their hours on their Facebook page or at the National Advocacy and Training Network’s website. You can also reach them at 480-890-0579. Located in Mesa at 1710 W. Southern Ave. and in Chandler at 22 S Delaware St.
Copyrighting your music is as easy as going to the library (of Congress).
Let’s say you wake up one morning, fire up Spotify, iTunes or your local Internet radio station like radiophoenix.org, and while listening to Rise! you hear a song that is on your brand spanking new EP.
And you’re like, “Hey that’s cool! I’m on the radio!” And when the silky smooth voiced host announces that it’s a new song from a punk band called “The Douche Hags” (yeah, I just made that up), you’re like, “Wait, what? That’s not me. That’s not my band!” And then you’re like, “Hey, wait! They can’t do that!”
Um, yes they can, because you didn’t register it. Dummy.
Registering your work is one of the most important things you can do to protect your musical rights. If you don’t, no lawyer in the country will be able to get your case in front of a judge. If you do happen to have your day in court, and win, you are not eligible to receive any damages. Sucks, huh?
Now, there has been a lot of talk on how to go about this process. And it’s way easier than writing the song itself. But first, let’s look at ways you shouldn’t protect your goods. And, no genius, mailing it to yourself doesn’t work. No matter what you’ve heard. Sure, it will give you a sense of comfort and prove your work was done on a certain date but it’s a rookie mistake and generally won’t hold up in court.
The basics: There are two kinds of copyrights when it comes to music: Composition and sound recording.
Here’s what a sound recording means: A work resulting from the fixation of a series of musical or other sounds, but not including the sounds accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work (Basically, you had words and music and you recorded them).
Here’s what a composition means: Musical compositions are original music, including any accompanying lyrics; also, original arrangements or other derivative versions of earlier musical compositions to which new copyrightable authorship has been added. Music is generally defined as a succession of pitches or rhythms, or both, usually in some definite pattern. Musical works are registrable without regard to aesthetic standards. (Basically, you wrote words and music).
Why can’t they fucking say that?
Here’s a little story to illustrate the difference. Once upon a time…
Let’s say you just wrote and recorded a song. Better yet, let’s make this a little more complicated. Let’s say you wrote the words and music to a song and you rehearsed with a guitar player and drummer. You play the bass. Why bass? Because bass players get the chicks. No matter if you’re a guy or a girl, bass players get chicks.
So, you present the song to the band. You rehearse it and then you record it. You have a couple options. (Yes, you have to register it, sheesh.)
You put your name on the “composition” (leaving the band members off) and put your name on the “sound recording”, after all you wrote it and recorded it – but you include the band members on the sound recording, because they played on the record.
The above, but you place the band members on the “composition” – because well, even though you wrote the words and music, the drummer came up with a nasty drum part that made the song better, and the guitar player came up with a great lead riff that made the song better (which means your song really sucked), and put them on the “sound recording” because they played on the record.
In the above example, everyone gets a fair share of the pie. (Your .00000000000001 cent royalty from Spotify – don’t spend it all in one place.)
With me so far? Good. (Really, dude in the back? Put your hand down…)
Lastly, you can be a complete dick and put your name on the “composition” and “sound recording” and leave the band off of each. (I don’t recommend this tact, just sayin’).
This is the U.S. Electronic Copyright Office. Sign up, and then look for “Musical compositions” and “Sound recordings” and begin filling-out the forms. Don’t get me wrong, it’s kind of a pain in the ass (aren’t all forms), but it is worth it.
Here’s what you’ll need:
All of your vital information (I’m assuming you got this one).
The name of the album/song(s).
The name of the band members and their addresses and vital information.
You’re going have to decide how to split the copyright by percentages so be ready with that answer.
You’re also going to have to upload the music – so make sure you have a decent connection.
If you can’t finish it in one sitting, there’s a “save” mechanism so you can return from your oh-so-important thing you have to get done other than protect your music.
After filing your music, you’ll receive an email stating that you began the process of copyrighting your music (this works in court even if someone steals your music before your paperwork is approved), and by all means, be patient. It’s the government, nothing happens quickly. After a couple of weeks have gone by, you will receive your final documents and then your music will be protected. For real.
I hope this has been helpful. Do it because it’s important. Do it because if you ever want to make money from your music, you’ll need to do it at some point. Do it so The Douche Hags don’t make a boatload of money off of your song.
Woody Guthrie should be required listening for all aspiring musicians or, better yet, every young American. On this tribute to Guthrie, Would he?, we find many charming ditties from the Guthrie songbook that you won’t find on any “Best of” album. One of the aspects I like most about Would he? is the sense of community found within its collected voices. There is a real sense of community, of present-ness, when Dan of Field Tripp fame decides to invite his friends to record a tribute album. There are vocal performances from an array of local talent including Anamieke Quinn (Treasurefruit), Tim Allyn (Bad Neighbors/Echolalia), and Danger Paul Balazs (Danger Paul… obviously). “Pastures of Plenty” has a stand-out performance from Carol Pacey, the Valley’s own Americana sweetheart, but “Hobo’s Lullaby” is a personal favorite on this collection. Anthony Fama adds his own vocal flair, not just delivering his best Guthrie impression, which is bold (because how can you do it better than Woody?) but successful. I was surprised to see a couple of names from the local music community that are usually on my side of the line. Of course, I’m speaking of Mitchell Hillman and Jeff Moses which only goes to confirm my belief that every music critic should keep a place for Woody in their hearts. Sink into 17-tracks of Guthrie goodness with Would he? here.
In my experience, bands are often hesitant to identify influences when discussing their work. Whether from concern of being readily identified as derivative or at simply having far too many merging influences to name, they shy away from naming names. A cover album is, in a way, an affront to this notion. Embracing musical influences and even going so far as to reinterpret the music that speaks to them. Owl & Penny does this beautifully on Songs from Other Humans. “Moonbeams” is a stunning number originally written and recorded by Phoenix’s Sareena Dominguez. I was a fan of the song to begin with but this new rendition captured it in a whole new light and reinvented my adoration. “Let Go” is another favortie from Songs from Other Humans, the humans in this case being Frou Frou. And, of course, I love cover of The Smiths’ B-side track, “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want”. The album also introduced me to new artists like Jónsi and his song “Hengilás”. Listen to Songs from Other Humans here.
I don’t know what wins out on this album. My appreciation for all things 90s, the era I came of age, or my deep-seated love of kitsch. Both elements come heavily into play on Related Records’ tribute to “Hole’s Best Album” featuring an electric assembly of artists brought together by the Phoenix label. Opening (of course) with “Violet” by Fancy Pants, I was thrown into a minimalist, Casio-accompanied version of the growling 90s anthem every fourteen year old girl I knew could (and probably still can) belt out the lyrics too. The theme continues throughout all 12 original tracks re-envisioned through Related Records’ distorted glasses. The album has some genuine moments worth remembering, (i.e. Andy Warpigs performing “Asking For It”) as well as some best forgotten. Some local all-stars from the Related Records camp make an appearance like Treasure Mammal who performs “Doll Parts”, one of the original singles from the album. Hi My Name is Ryan closes the album with “Olympia” in an abrasive manner true to Hi My Name is Ryan style. If Hole’s Live Through This heard through a contemporary, experimental filter of strange sounds up your alley, then this album is for you. Others enter tentatively warned. I, for one, will be sending it to everyone I went to middle school with – Go Wildcats! Listen here. P.S. I’m all about the Live Through This alter assembled on the cover of the album.
The Birdhouse EP from Albuquerque-based Good Old Shoulder sounds a lot like what you might imagine a birdhouse would sound like, if it were a five song EP. It’s lovingly, if crudely crafted from rustic materials. It’s something I could picture small birds lighting into for shelter and pecking at flax seeds before flitting away for something more interesting. Also, the album art looks like wood.
The opening track of this five song EP is actually called “Little Birdie,” and it begins, appropriately, with a recording of (presumably) little birds singing. What follows is a very typical and traditional folk ditty that begins with an old-timey filter on the vocals and lapses into a drawl when pronouncing the word “hollow” as “holler.” It wasn’t until the second verse that I realized this song might not literally be about an actual bird.
“Smaller Things,” to quote its own lyrics, sounds like it could be “rearranged by steadier hands.” The melody and lyrics are unsure of themselves. They finally find their focus when the chorus rolls around. Unfortunately they’re wrapped around the four oldest chords in history.
On “Down By the Salley Gardens” the EP starts to get its footing thanks to a lush, lo-fi electric guitar tone that explores the scale and underpins the melody nicely. Lyrically it suffers from a Yoda-esque, awkwardly-striving dedication to its rhyming meter.
It’s not until the best song on the EP, “Trips,” that I began to see the potential in the band’s songwriting. The production brings some depth to the record that’s missing on this overly mid-rangey EP. The chorus plays to vocalist Jonathan Mouchet’s strengths as he lets his voice do the heavy lifting. He sounds more confident in his melody than he does on some of the other tracks. The open-hearted sincerity that runs through the EP wears this song well, whereas it’s at odds with the determined folksiness of the rest of the album. The album should end here.
Sadly, we’re treated to a painfully unfunny ode to bacon in the form of a banjo hoedown, complete with a fake hillbilly affect. It’s called (and I sigh) “The Name of This Song Is So Long You’d Think We Were in a Pop Punk Band But We’re Not.” To the credit of this song, it ditches its strict rhyme scheme at one point to use the words “sumptuous eggs.” That’s clever compared to the opening line: “There once was a boy in the land of Nantucket/Who had a nice frame, and of money had buckets/One day he met Sally, sweet as could be/And they settled down and stuff.” I have no beef with funny songs, but humor is harder than it looks. A little wit goes a long way. This song is not worth the time it took to record, which probably wasn’t much. I bet it’s popular live.
The title of the last song actually counterpoints the main problem with The Birdhouse EP: it might as well be titled “The Name of This Album Is So Precious and Folksy You’d Think We Were in a Precious, Folksy Band And We Are.” It gives exactly what you would expect at almost every given moment. At a few points it manages to fulfill those expectations in a pleasing way, but then I’m let down again, wondering what this birdhouse would look like in the hands of a seasoned pro.
I don’t recommend this EP, but I am curious to see which way the band develops. The more effort this trio spends on fashioning their front-porch aesthetic, the poorer they’ll be. Hopefully their next record will build itself around strong, singable melodies, solid production and audacious moments. Also, you’re not fooling anyone with your slang, boys: we know you’re not from 1920’s Appalachia.
The Birdhouse EP is available on Bandcamp. Good Old Shoulder is offering a “pay-what-you-want” deal on the EP. You can find out more about the band, including show dates on their Facebook page.
Despite being relatively new on the Tucson scene, Brittany Katter is helping to define its look and style – and her band, Katterwaul, is one of the defining bands of its generation in the city.
“I’m definitely way more comfortable as a performer,” she said, relaxing after shooting some photos in a graffiti-covered alleyway. “I just thought that music and theatre could be so powerful together.” Katter, 27, has been involved in ballet and theatre throughout her life, but only recently came into full confidence as a singer. Katterwaul is the culmination of that change. With a reputation for intense and cathartic performances, it’s no surprise that the band’s frontwoman comes from a background in those expressive arts.
An Oregon transplant, Katter moved to Tucson in 2008 on the recommendation of a friend. She had done her share of singing and jamming on porches up to then, but had never performed with any bands – and certainly had never fronted any. All that changed when, after a stint with Gabriel Sullivan’s project Fell City Shouts, she was invited to share lead vocals with Emily Marchand in Kiss and the Tells.
That band was formed as a one-off ensemble to play for TAMHA’s Great Cover-Up in 2010. (Tucson Artists’ and Musicians’ Healthcare Alliance raises funds yearly at this event, where local musicians perform songs by their favorite bands.) But after covering The Exciters that year, they had so much fun that they decided to keep it up. “I want to say that Tucson is the only place where something like that could come together,” Katter said, grinning at the thought. Tucson, for her, has an urgency and spontaneity that even Portland lacks.
She cites Kiss and the Tells as a nurturing bridge from singing backup with Sullivan to working on her own. “I always kind of had a hangup as a musician. Because I started as a singer, and I always wanted to be a guitar woman, you know, I always wanted to just wield the axe! […] Being surrounded by a lot of amazing guitar players [in Fell City Shouts], it was hard to start from ground zero and not get frustrated fast… I just know what good guitar players can sound like.”
But there was no such pressure as a member of Kiss and the Tells. “They showed me how much I adore that kind of [soul] singing.” They also took her as she came, recognizing her soulful and expressive voice and requiring nothing of her but that she use it. After the band dissolved – 9 members being difficult, at best, to keep together – Katter felt supported enough to sing her own music, and started Katterwaul as a one-woman band.
“I honestly wanted to see more women in rock and roll… There were just not any women in the scene!” she said animatedly, citing one of the main reasons she started her project. By this time, she was armed with the means to make it happen. “I’ve been playing guitar for 3 years… I know the 5 golden chords and I just work ’em to death.”
She draws inspiration from the San Francisco garage scene, and a variety of artists such as Jack White, stating, “I bought a Fender Strat when I was in Eugene after hearing Jack White for the first time.” Ty Segall, and local Tucson acts like Amy Rude and Acorn Bcorn, also make the list. “That kind of music just made me feel so alive… I also just loved the simplicity. It seemed approachable to me, it seemed doable.”
Katter took Katterwaul on the road early, moving to North Carolina in 2012 immediately after she started the band. She picked up a drummer there and moved back to Tucson a year later. At that point, the band began to pick up some serious steam. Katterwaul became a fixture of the nascent indie/garage/noise scene in Tucson, mostly by virtue of frequent and intense shows at the epicenter of that scene, a venue called Topaz Tundra. (Topaz has since ceased holding shows regularly.)
THE MUSIC: OLD INFLUENCES AND A NEW ALBUM
Katter has a big voice and a versatile one. Her first album, Gimmie Fever, features lusty blues, teasing little whoops, tantalizing whispers, and all kinds of strange unhinged inflections that leave you imagining her lunging all over the stage. It’s clearly an early effort, with all the honesty and rawness that entails. “I played them as fast and as loud as I could,” she said. That was enough to garner some very positive press and a following in Tucson, which has propelled her forward.
She names gospel music among her influences for Katterwaul, acts like Sister Rosetta Tharpe and others like Etta James and Patsy Cline. “I really love big voices.” She jokes about how she and her friends wish “death to the indie white girl voice,” meaning that performers like CocoRosie and Cat Power.
“Women’s voices that are held back,” though they have a style and a niche of their own, have no place in Katter’s oeuvre. “That’s NOT the kind of music I want to play.”
Katter wants musicians with “a certain kind of urgency, a certain kind of desperation to their songs… it’s just gotta have that [feeling of] ‘If I don’t sing these songs, I’m gonna die!’”
She tempered that brutal attitude with a little more nuance in her next release, Desert Kats, in April 2014. Enlisting the services of Lori LeChien on bass and harmony vocals, Ben Sol Schneider on drums, and Jeff Lownsbury on guitar, she fleshed out and slightly mellowed some tracks from her debut album. She also added another, “Sweetie Pie,” a track verging on doo-wop parody, which demonstrates a much more toned-down and flippant approach than any of her other material. It’s a short glimpse of what’s to come: a new full-length album is in the works.
“I put pressure on myself to write an album,” Katter remarked, “but I don’t have to.” She thrives in the atmosphere of total freedom that being a DIY artist entails – nobody’s telling her to write more, so she takes pleasure in being prolific anyway. “I want to create a rich dynamic [this time]… more contemplative, capture something that’s real.” Hardly a soul would accuse Gimmie Fever of being fake, but it will really be something to see where Katter takes her sound as it matures.
FASHION: “STAY GOLD, TUCSON”
“I love fashion.” Another draw to rock and roll, for her, was the outrageous and iconic style that a great performer can adopt. It’s also something that helped her identify with Tucson, even in absentia: “This is the only place I’ve been recognized as an artist, and that’s very powerful to me, so I feel very connected to this aesthetic here, and this look, and this style… I’ve done so much growing here.”
Katter’s music video for “No Free Meals” stands as a testament to her keen eye for style, and her love for her adopted hometown.
“I wanted to capture the women of Tucson specifically. Their rad style! They are just so rad! And it never gets wholly documented in one place.” The video features Katter and a group of “babely babes” slamming Tecates, driving in the back of an ancient Chevy, and grilling Sonoran dogs in the yard. “That was my backyard. It’s very legit; that’s my life.”
Aside from being a fitting accompaniment to the slow-burning garage tune, the video does indeed document a very specific look that is native to the young women of Tucson. Katter throws out adjectives: dusty, Western, punk, durable, rock and roll, Mexican, hostile, sun-exposed, sexy, trashy, plenty of leather, plenty of color. But fashion is notoriously slippery to describe, and the most accurate depiction is in the look and feel of her video itself.
Whether she knew it or not, setting out to document a phenomenon means, in part, defining its boundaries. And in that sense, Katter is among those defining Tucson fashion for her generation. Popular response to her video very often included phrases like “it’s so Tucson, it hurts” – so she’s clearly getting it right.
TOPAZ, LIGHTNING, YOUTH ROCK – THE TUCSON SCENE
Katter came from Eugene, Oregon six years ago. Up to then, she had seen plenty of opportunities to join the Portland scene, but had always held back. “All the niches are full [in Portland]… You’d have to schmooze it for at least a year” before being able to play any good shows. She sighs, “It just takes them so long to start anything!”
But her experience in Tucson was precisely the opposite. For Katter, something here fosters growth unlike anywhere else. “I didn’t have any experience singing [with a group], and I had a show within a month… I definitely feel like I’ve been on the fast track to being a musician here, because of that nurturing feeling.” She sums it up: “It feels like a land of opportunity for me.”
Part of it is the cost of living – people here live very cheaply, so the art flourishes. Part of it is the brutal sun, the atmosphere so different than the murky and overcast Northwest. “You kind of have to be a little crazy to stay here through the summer,” she says, implying that such craziness feeds the creative ferment in this town. But a lot of it, the bulk of it, is in the people and places that have dedicated themselves to furthering Tucson’s homegrown art – those who saw a moment of opportunity and seized it.
“As far as youth music has been here… there was kind of a death of the scene, and kind of a strange resurrection,” Katter remarked. All this happened between her entry on the scene in 2008 and the present day. Some of the casualties were the notorious Red Room, for so long an incubator of Tucson’s underground scene: Mr. Free and the Satellite Freakout, who relocated to New York; Mostly Bears, who slowly faded as Brian Lopez went solo. Regarding the Red Room, Katter says its closure was “a huge devastation to the scene.”
But there are new players in the Tucson game. Katter named Prom Body, Burning Palms, Night Collectors, Sex Prisoner (though the latter tends toward hardcore, and that scene is usually more closed-off from the rest of Tucson music). She named Katterwaul as well, acknowledging her own participation in this musical renaissance. “There’s a lot of ambition in the air,” she said. “It’s like, whoah! We can do this on our own! […] A lot of things have happened in the last five years in terms of how to promote yourself.”
According to Katter, though, the most important thing is the entry of Topaz Tundra on the scene. The venue (and fashion retailer, and art gallery, and record label) brought a new aesthetic to town. “It cracked the outside world and funneled it into Tucson,” she said, noting its connection to a sister venue in Seattle called Cairo. The owners, Joel and Krysta Leshefka, have been diligent in bringing a certain type of act into Tucson, and fostering connections between local musicians and the touring bands that come through. Katter credits Joel with much of the musical rebirth of the last few years: “[It’s] a scene that’s so much bigger than Tucson, and so much more diverse. And he’s created a taste for it.”
Topaz, and Leshefka in particular, have also been busy promoting a small roster of bands as a record label. Prom Body is the most prominent of these, with coverage on Stereogum, Spin, NPR, Noisey, KEXP, and counting. Topaz has also released a mini-LP by Sutcliffe Catering Co., with at least a few more acts presumably to follow. In general, they support a tight-knit cluster of bands that seems to be the nucleus of the most visible – and most ambitious – scene in Tucson.
There are other institutions here that promote a similar strand of music, an overlapping community. Lightning Records deserves a mention. It’s a boutique label conceived by Seth Olinsky of Akron/Family, and his partner Ali Belectic, when they were living in Tucson. Algae and Tentacles singer and guitarist John Melillo, along with Ryne Warner of Ohioan, also became involved with the label early on. Lightning has put out records, magazines, miscellaneous items (surfboards, flags) and even organized a music festival in the desert. But Katter sees something missing. “If the scene needed anything, it would be a label, and a wide-ranging label like Burger Records in Fullerton.”
Burger does have its own devoted national (and international) fan base, and a huge roster of bands from many genres. It’s too soon to tell whether Topaz and Lightning will follow anything like the same trajectory. Though a model might be found closer to home in Rubber Brother Records, which has exploded in the Phoenix Valley over the last year.
This is an article on Brittany Katter, on her experiences, her music, and the lens through which she sees Tucson’s music scene. It will be followed by other articles on other people – and ideally, eventually, some sort of coherent picture might emerge from the mess. For now, let’s close with this thought, which I would like to quote in its entirety:
“I also have a theory that there is no such thing as bad art or bad music, you just haven’t found the right audience. It might be a small audience, but you never know. For each person it’s about how much you want to work for it. How much you want to find your audience. How much you want to find those people who like your music. However much time you want to put into it.”
There are many artists in Tucson now who want to work for it, find those people, put in the time. Brittany Katter is one of those. It’s a good time to live in this town.
Bob Hanshaw is a writer and musician based in Tucson. He plays bass for Sun Bones. You can follow #TucsonPortraits on Facebook here.