by Logan Lowrey-Rasmussen
I’m always game for a good house-show, and while I attend them quite frequently, there was a low-key feeling of exuberance I had for the May 4th edition of “It’s A Party, Why Not?”
Hosted by Lou Cruz, the lead artist behind Tapedeck.art, the event would not only feature unique, acoustic solo-sets from individuals who usually play in bands, but also a slew of local artists displaying their art and photography. Partners Lou Cruz and Matthew Slusser (of Getting Stoked-related fame) recently moved into this swanky bungalow in the heart of Tempe, and with Lou’s guidance, helped engineer a house-show hybrid commemorating the one-year anniversary of the It’s a Party, Why Not? album by Sam Etling, AKA Sore Eyes. Carried in tow was my close friend and artist Inaya Flores, and new friend, Josef Rodriguez; we approached the non-descript driveway with double-doors guiding us into the art and fun.
Laid out in thoughtful organization was the art of Lou “Tapedeck.art” Cruz, artist and musician Caroline Wright of Still Drunk Still, artist and photographer Alyssa Morton of AM Photography, and photographer Natalie Picht with their own respective tables. While Alyssa Morton inspired me with her fantastical-yet-realistic interpretations stemming from her personal experiences, it was refreshing to see the tastefully muted, refined style of Natalie Picht’s photography.
I was yet-unfamiliar with the visual work of Caroline Wright, but the smooth, peaceful stylings of her art heavily contrasted the abrasive, punk (yet acoustic) attitude of her music. Nestled in the corner was Peter Resendiz, frontman of Sad Dance Party selling merch, across from the aforementioned Lou Cruz, who showcased the best from her project, Tapedeck.art.
“I actually just started creating art a little under a year ago, [and] I was inspired by an Australian artist who now lives in Chicago named Mikaela Palermo,” said Lou. “The name ‘Tape Deck Art’ is a play on words from Frank Turner’s Tape Deck Heart, which is one of my favorite albums of all time.”
“As for my style, I’m honestly still trying to find it; it started out as digital doodles of friend’s faces on an iPad, and has evolved into much more,” Cruz continued. “I am now focusing on teaching myself realism and working on proportions of the human anatomy. Painting and drawing people is where my passion lies.”
I also caught up with Cruz to get the low-down on the future of what she referred to as “StokedHaus,” and the future of house-shows at this venue: “We love getting the community together and celebrating each other, [and] supporting the scene has always been extremely important to us,” said Lou. “We loved having the opportunity to combine music and visual art in one night [and] we plan on continuing this formula to give exposure to as many artists/musicians as possible.”
I entered through the classic 1980s kitchen into a dimly-lit living-room space, “spotlit” by an overhead ceiling fan where the artists would perform. First on the line-up was Harry J. Erkface, “everyman” of the 51 West venue in Tempe, and member of bands Robot Repair and Drats. The set comprised largely of covers and “fun” crowd songs, and he seemed to enjoy taking the piss out of himself. Before speaking to Mr. Erkface about his set, his lack of pretension left me speechless when I found out his heavy involvement in the Arizona music scene. After his set, involving both a Smash Mouth and Cheap Girls cover, as well as an impromptu “Rocky” segment egged on by the audience, I caught this AZ transplant and asked him about his usual going-ons:
“I started doing acoustic sets in 2007 when my band members were unavailable for shows,” Harry J. Erkface explained. “It turned into a fun way to play some songs I loved that didn’t really fit in with the bands I was playing in, as well as a cool outlet for trying out new material. It also evolved into a way for me to be really interactive with the audience; I’ll often ask for 3-4 ideas from the crowd and make up a song on the spot utilizing all of their topics.”
While he couldn’t fully recall his impromptu set, Harry carried the vibe of the “cool professional;” he could clearly handle himself in a refined environment, but he has a “no-holds-barred” approach when interacting with the crowd.
As I re-entered the performance space after mingling with artists and guests, Chuck A Rock, co-lead vocalist and bassist of The Linecutters took the “stage” with an acoustic guitar. I was visibly excited for this set: not only was Chuck a high-school classmate who I witnessed grow into an accomplished musician, but in the last year, we have formed a friendship in our adult-life with occasional hang-out sessions. Like Songs Lacking Talent, seeing Chuck A Rock on a bill is also an occasion for itself, since there have been a few times when said-frontman had to cancel for undisclosed reasons. It’s always an exciting prospect when I’m able to catch band-members performing a solo-set, where the audience is able to attain a truly-personal connection.
Chuck’s set included a slew of covers and crowd sing-a-long favorites, ranging from My Chemical Romance, two Linecutters songs, and personal tracks performed in Chuck’s usual, abrasively punk vocals. Although visibly nervous and giggly, Chuck won over the audience with his natural charisma and vocal talents. Outside of The Linecutters’ “hometown hero/young punk” vibes, Chuck A Rock pushed through this unusual acoustic set with brevity and grace, a bit more humble than one would might expect from one of the more prolific punk bands in the Phoenix metro.
“It’s definitely different from a Linecutters set because I’m not in my comfort zone at all,” confessed Chuck A Rock. “I’m used to high energy, moshing, jumping around kind of shows, [and] when I play acoustically, I really have to hone in, face my anxiety, and just fuckin’ play my stupid songs because it’s just me up there.”
I will refute the subject and claim the songs were not stupid in the slightest.
Caroline Wright, AKA Still Drunk Still, proceeded to enter the stage as Chuck A Rock left. Although I’ve seen her art floating around, I had no idea who Still Drunk Still was preceding this event. As a former history major, I have a slight obsession with attaining information in a sponge-like manner, and this translates into when I research bands before a show. While I was able to find all resources pointing to the other performers, Still Drunk Still remained a mystery to me: who was this mysterious, indie figure lurking in the night?
Well, it was the folk-punk acoustic stylings of the visual/musical artist hybrid of Caroline Wright. Like the former, Still Drunk Still’s set comprised mostly of covers, staying mostly in the Indie vein, while showing off a few original tracks. The voice of Caroline “Still Drunk Still” Wright boasted a poignant, forward, and smooth soprano which projected into the whole living room. Comfortable in this environment, Caroline’s voice had little vibrato, and didn’t seem to miss a lick switching between soft coo’s and mild belting. Skirting the line between punk and indie-pop, the stylings of Still Drunk Still shows a melancholic positivity behind the lyrics she sings. Did I mention she also does Henna tattoos?
I Listened (Apes of the State cover)
Voter’s Rights (Local News Legend cover)
Cold Beer (Jesse Stewart cover)
My Name is Emily (Logan News Legend cover)
Coffee, God, and Cigarettes (Mischief Brew cover)
Before Sam “Sore Eyes” Etling took the stage, Peter Resendiz of Sad Dance Party engaged the crowd in one of his familiar acoustic sets. Over the past year, the sad-punk Sad Dance Party has had some visible ups-and-downs, charged by a fantastic, full-album release, but marred by frequent line-up changes. Even with the usual life challenges, the enigmatic Peter still charged on with his acoustic guitar and ability to win over the crowd with his Andrew Jackson Jihad inspired vocals. Peter famously engaged the crowd with acoustic Sad Dance Party originals, with “Airplane” hailing from the Spontaneous Human Combustion album, while the rest came from unreleased or currently unknown sources.
Although Peter’s acoustic gigs are something I’m not unfamiliar with, it’s always refreshing to see someone emotionally relentless with the tracks they perform. I rarely hear him hit a bum note, and I bet he could sing a lot of these songs in his sleep. If one thing is for sure, relating to his own writing was never an issue when projecting his lyrics of young lust, love, and loss.
Bleed & Breathe
It’s All Okay
The Long Way
The man of the hour, Sam Etling, finally took the headlining spot in the very show dedicated to his 2018 album, It’s a Party, Why Not?. I feel like Sore Eyes was a project I was late to the party to as well; while I have caught Sam play with No Lungs and I’ve casually listened to the Sore Eyes catalog, I don’t think I truly grasped the emotional depth of his music until I saw him play his own living room to a bunch of 20-somethings. The set not only comprised of his LP in full, but also featured the new Songs That Were Supposed To Work EP in full, “Bad For Me” (from the split EP he did with No Lungs), and “A Song For Me” (originally featuring Josh Capati, formerly of Phantom Party, off of the How Dare Me EP).
In a way, it actually felt like a full-scale Vegas show without the pomp-and-circumstance: Sam may have been humble to the enthusiastic crowd, but the passion in which he transferred this energy into his vocals floored me, along with the fact we were treated to almost his full catalog (minus “Not Really” and “Vampire Skin). Due to the relatively short length of his songs, this was a low-key, full-scale display of the Sore Eyes mythos. Sam confessed to the crowd and later to me how much of these songs were written when he was at a different place in life:
“It feels incredible and terrifying celebrating the anniversary of my album [since] so much has changed since It’s a Party, Why Not? came out,” confessed Sam Etling. “I swear I feel like I’m not the person I was when I originally released it, [but] when I sing those songs I wrote about the girls who broke my heart, [as well as] my struggle with anxiety and anger, it takes me right back to the moment that I wrote them in the first place.”
Armed with a guitar and an attentive living room, Sam sang these songs from a different time with the exact zeal he meant to portray. The belts found in certain parts of his tracks took listeners to the place he mentioned, while also giving us a perspective on how the mature Sam Etling felt about these tracks. Songs he openly refused to play like “Vampire Skin” show that maybe he has moved on in the amount of time his music had been released.
One of the highlights of his performance came in the form of Still Drunk Still re-entering the stage space to duet with him on “Let Me Down.” The track was originally recorded with the vocals of Alex Saint, who plays bass for Daphne and The Glitches, but Caroline Wright quickly filled in their spot with her soft, yet powerful soprano.
“Alex Saint’s voice is beautiful, but it was great being able to add my own flair,” said Caroline. “That day was actually the first time Sam had heard me harmonize, so he was relieved when he heard me sing it the one time we practiced before the show. I feel like Sam and I have always have had a cool friendship because it has always been all about the music.”
Usually my OCD prevents me from leaving any event early in order to catch every second, but I had to “take five” and step outside after the duet with Caroline. Like Sam, his music resonated with me in a way I did not expect; while Sam has grown with his musical output, I felt the younger Logan inside of me squirm and twitch at some of the emotional notions the songs implied. It was this strange, primal sadness which washed over me with every belt and styling, keeping me from the present and pushing my brain into the weak, insecure Logan I was and still am. It was actually refreshing to feel this emotion at a show, since I’m usually objectively detached from the subjects I write about.
As I left the venue after his set concluded, I had one last conversation with Lou Cruz about the brevity of his music, and she was more than blunt enough to explain her own relationship with it:
“Sam is my best friend. He hasn’t always been, and I haven’t always liked his music,” said Lou. “Sam has evolved in so many ways since the first time we met about 4 years ago, [and] musically, he has come leaps and bounds; his music is intimate and personal [and] because of his music, I have felt a stronger connection to him as a person,” Cruz further explained.
“I might actually be his biggest fan, [and] I support everything he does, but along with being the biggest fan and a close friend, I am also his biggest critic. We have a working relationship as well as a personal one; I also create all his artwork. I am proud of all the work he has done, his growth as a person, [and] I am incredibly lucky to call Sam my best friend.”
The night ended on a wonderfully cathartic note as I packed up my gear and drove home. I reflected back on how I knew Matt, Lou, Alyssa, Chuck, and a few others in high school, and how much we have all grown to foster our talents. It feels good to see those I once knew when we were kids, blossom into something creative and powerful.
*Name updated 2020.