by Bob Hanshaw
“I see everyone taking a more serious, professional approach to things, and I hope that the shit that’s happening for Prom Body does make everyone a little hungrier. Because any of us could have it.” Matt Baquet sips his coffee on the top-floor patio of Hotel Congress, musing on all the talent he is doing his best to promote. And you get the sense that he really is Tucson’s biggest fan.
Baquet wants you to know that Tucson is fucking great. As the drummer and de facto manager of Prom Body, he has been a crucial part of that band’s recent rise to prominence. And as a booker at Club Congress (often helping out at other venues as well), he has also played a significant part in making Tucson’s music scene blow up as it has over the last few years. He brings in excellent touring bands—some of which he has discovered while on tour with Prom Body— and books a huge range of Tucson talent to support them while forging connections wherever he can.
That’s what it’s all about, this Tucson thing. “This scene is fucking good… It’s a tight-knit group. Basically it’s a community.” And you can’t have a community without real friendships.
FROM BULLSHIT TEENAGER TO POWER PLAYER
Baquet has been slowly building these friendships since he was a kid. He was born in Tucson, moved to Houston as a young child, came back when he began grade school. “I got started in music in Tucson, going to the Living Room and Skrappy’s. My sister’s ex… brought me into it, because he was in a band when I was 11 or so.” This would be Corey Ferrugia, the founder of MyTown Music. “He taught me how to play drums. I traded him an iPod for the drum set I still use today.”
Even so young, Baquet was lucky enough to get tuned in to what would become some of Tucson’s most relevant music. “I would go out and watch… Gabe Sullivan’s old bands. I grew up watching those dudes, wanted to be playing music like them.” Baquet played in some hardcore bands, some instrumental bands, played at DoradoStock at Canyon del Oro High School (though he actually went to Pusch Ridge across the street), and “started with Gilbert [Flores] and all those guys I play with today, playing in my room at my mom’s house.” He also started booking out-of-town bands at the DIY venues he frequented. He recalls his mother driving him out to Living Room to go to shows he had booked before he got his license.
At around this age was when Baquet picked up the moniker Jalph, which is more or less his stage name even now. The origin of the name is not worth its longevity. “A couple of my friends got into tagging when we were like 15, so I made Jalph up so I could tag over them… it was that kind of joke,” he says with a self-deprecating smile. It doesn’t get any better. “I was really into the word ‘jive’, and I was really into the show A.L.F…. and I just threw a ‘ph’ on there, and literally came up with it that fast. While like drinking for … one of my first times. Smoking my friend’s mom’s Virginia Slim that we stole… it was stupid. It was at that stage of my life.”
For all that it was invented by a punk-ass Northwest-side teenager playing at being bad, “I like the way it sounds.” And Baquet wants it to be something of a brand for learning about the Tucson scene. He started Jalph.net a few years ago as an omnibus concert calendar and show-highlights page, and has ambitions to develop it into a database of bands and venues that touring acts can use to have successful shows in Tucson.
“Being on the road, I’ve realized that the best way to have a good show in another town is to get in with the locals and let them figure it out for you… then you come in next time and [the audience] will already know you because of that.” He wants to make that process easier for you, because it ultimately benefits the whole city.
PROM BODY: THRIVING BEHIND THE SCENES
“Mike [Fay, the creative force behind Prom Body] has been around for a while, but I didn’t know him until like two years ago… [We] played a show together doing double drums for Jess [Matsen]’s band at a Heap [Collective] show. Ever since then, I felt like we just hit it off and wanted to collaborate somehow.” And after Fay released Prom Body’s first album, Creep The Strange, Baquet was a natural choice to play drums in the live band.
He is also a huge asset to the project, on the business side. “I do all the emails and social media and booking and promotion… Mike can be totally creative and only focus on that, and not have to worry about politics or anything… and I’m already doing that shit every day, so it’s kind of perfect.”
Baquet is completely comfortable limiting his involvement to the live show and the business side – no creative tensions or ego battles here. He believes in the people as much as in the project. “Mike’s such a good dude… He’s humble, he’s the kind of guy I want to push. I’d love to see him gain some credibility and national respect… Being around him makes me a better drummer, a better person.”And Baquet doesn’t mind Ryan Chavira and Gilbert Flores’ duties limited to just “vibing” as the rest of the backing band – after all, they’ve been playing together since they were all horrible teenagers (and we were all horrible teenagers).
In short, Prom Body is “exactly what I’d want to play in and what I see Tucson is. It’s like dirty and poppy and catchy… it encapsulates the Tucson scene in a way, [the Tucson] aesthetic.”
ORGANIZE YOUR SHIT
Prior to joining Prom Body, Baquet drummed for another excellent (and, in its way, iconic) Tucson band: Dream Sick. That band did a lot to help a certain community coalesce, but it never had a lot of success outside the city. It was arguably just as good as Prom Body, or any band here. So what was the difference?
Organization. Baquet always did all the promotion himself for Dream Sick, and got some national response. But the band didn’t have a good website or much of a social media presence. “It looked stagnant,” he says, even when things were cooking. “Whereas, with Prom Body, it’s like, I got all the photos on the site, I got the bio written, I got music all lined up pointing to the Temple of Cairo links [where Topaz Records sells the band’s albums]… That way, they see the video and they’re like ‘Oh, this is pretty cool, this is a decent song’… and then they go and they see we have a full site, and we play shows, and people come, and it’s like ‘OK, well, these guys are doing something worthwhile. I’ll give ’em a blurb.’”
“It was honestly pretty easy. Easier than I expected.” Vice, Stereogum, CMJ – this kind of coverage seems unattainable to most Tucson bands, but “Vice, you know, they post like ten things a day.” In other words, it’s not much to them.
Baquet explains that timing, momentum, and luck are the key. You can get lucky one time – as Prom Body did with their initial SPIN blurb – and you start looking more attractive to other media outlets, and it gets easier to pull off. Baquet admits that he did use a PR company – Drunken Piano – to help with most of the media pitching, rather than doing it all himself. But he made sure the rest of it happened on schedule: “Honestly, man, we just got our assets organized and planned out, made a timeline, and then did our part getting it done on time after we set the timeline.”
It was an ambitious timeline, comprising three very involved music videos, countless photos, an active social media presence, packed shows, close collaboration with a dedicated team of friends to develop the art and fashion that help define Prom Body, and on and on. “I work my balls off for Prom Body.”
But it’s not unattainable. Whether you have balls or not, it’s in your power to work them off. And that, combined with tight organization, is what Matt wants for every band in Tucson. “I just want to see everyone get more organized, and Tucson could have a really big come-up.”
TEAM TUCSON FOREVER
It’s already starting to happen. “I’ve been sold on it for the past 2 years, and now that it’s kind of happening, I’m like OK, it’s real!” Baquet cites Best Dog Award and Head Over Heart as two bands that he thinks have it together enough, and might be on the cusp of something great. Lenguas Largas is basically there – they’ve gotten coverage from places like AV Club, Wanderingsound. “[They’re the] epitome of rock and roll, and I love it.” And there’s other people who are trying to take it to the next level, like Gabe [Sullivan] and Brian [Lopez]… If you don’t know about the Latin scene, with Howe [Gelb] and Gabe and Sergio [Mendoza], then you will soon.”
Baquet had moved up to Seattle after he graduated, in order to try and make something big happen. But he wasn’t taken seriously there (partially because he was just 19), and when he realized that the most fun he had in Seattle was when Tucson kids came up there anyway, he left. And he took larger ambitions with him.
“A dream of mine is to shed light on a scene… something more than a band, more than just music. And when I was deciding to move from Seattle, I was thinking about going to a smaller town, somewhere like Arcata, and being like ‘I’m going to create a scene there.’”
“But then I thought about it, and I was like, ‘There’s already a kick-ass, unknown scene in my hometown.’ … And I just try to shed light on that.” Baquet slowly began reaching out out to everyone, getting to know everyone, focusing on “people who are creatively asserting themselves.” And now, he’s basically the guy to know. “I wanted to become a one-stop shop to know everything in Tucson arts.”
THE ROAD SUCKS
“I’m down to help anyone. You need contacts, you need advice, just come to me.” Baquet is serious: to touring bands, he says, “You hit me up and I’ll either set you up with someone else, or I’ll give you a show, book you with other locals.”
“I would expect the locals to come show some Tucson hospitality… You should always show [touring bands] a bitchin’ time. We should take advantage, it’s cheap here, buy ’em some drinks. Show ’em a good time, man, they’re on the road. The road sucks. When no one wants to hang out with you, no one wants to talk to you, they just want you to play and get out, [you’re] not gonna want to go back there. But, even if you don’t make money, if the show is awesome, if people are into it, it means a lot.”
There’s a great, DIY-style, reciprocal ethic that he’s talking about here: “They are, in return, going to bring you to their hometown. That’s how it works… Tucson needs to show these touring bands some love, because they’ll show it back… You’re got to be constantly relating and showing people kindness.” Baquet speaks from experience. He’s brought many bands back to Tucson after playing with them on the road, and on the other hand, he’s been able to rely on them to set Prom Body up with better shows.
MATT BAQUET HAS GOT YOUR BACK
Baquet can’t possibly name all the bands in town that be believes in for this article. But if you look at HoCo Fest, a multi-day festival that he largely booked for Club Congress recently – and if you look at the few weeks prior to that – it was something of a project of his to book a really comprehensive spread of the best Tucson talent.
“I’m always trying to please everyone, and I just can’t sometimes.” Being a booker can be thankless, especially at the best venue in town that’s still accessible to most local acts. And it gets worse when he deals with submitting locals to open for bigger touring bands that come through. “You don’t understand I’m dealing with agents and outside promoters, and people who do not give a fuck about us. […] It doesn’t always work out.”
But Baquet is giving it his all. He’s trying to “let everyone know, hey, it’s going to be a great year. I got your back. Things will come around.” And he means it.
To close, Matt Baquet should serve as an example to all musicians in town that hard work pays off – if the work is strategic, if it’s organized and focused, if you have a team working with you. He says, “I want to believe that if the music’s good, someone will find it [and blow it up], but… it doesn’t work like that here. You got to get your shit together yourself.”
“This could be, for me, the biggest year yet. And I hope that everything we’re doing is making people hungry, because anyone here is talented enough to reach their goals… even support yourself” through music. There are people here who do it.
“Team Tucson forever, dude.” With that, Baquet leaves the interview to do another walk-through of another show for another band he had a hand in bringing to town. He is dedicated to the task of putting Tucson’s music scene in the national eye, whatever it takes. One show at a time.