Phoenix musician Qais Essar fuses modern musical sensibilities to the tradition of classical Afghan instrumentation to create some truly unique sounds in our Western deserts. In anticipation of the release of his new album, Tavern of Ruin, tomorrow night at the Newton, we’re very excited to debut his latest music video for the single, “The Thaw”.
But, before we get to the video, Qais was also kind enough to chat with us a bit about the impending release, the new music video, the Rabab, and more!
First, can you tell us a little bit about the new album? What is it called and where did you record it?
My second album and upcoming release, Tavern of Ruin, is the apex of my creative endeavors thus far. Conceptual in design, this album tells the age old story of an eternal Flame, and annihilation into Divine Essence. This instrument has not been heard in the context before, taking a dominant role in a sonic tapestry and borrows from different traditions to create a new genre for a global audience. Unlike my first LP, The Green Language, which was recorded remotely all over the world, Tavern of Ruin was recorded almost exclusively in the Sonoran Desert. I was fortunate to be able to draw from a very talented pool of Phoenix musicians, who have been able to introduce such unique instruments such as Hurdy Gurdy, Harpsichord, and analog synthesizers into an eclectic ensemble.
I understand you worked with Mexican filmmaker, Cesar Orozco, for this video. How did you two come to collaborate on this project?
I was fortunate enough to meet César based on the recommendation of another artist that we have mutually worked with. César and I, and our contrasting backgrounds allowed for a very interesting collaboration. His fresh and unique approach to film making allowed him to interpret the music in a way that really aligned with my vision.
You certainly chose an interesting instrument for your musical medium. Can you tell me a little about the Rabab and what led you to it?
From a very early age, prior to the Rabab, I was trained in both Eastern and Western forms of music on various instruments- and though I excelled and showed promise, the sound of the Rabab ensnared my heart. It was then, that I chose the Rabab to be the voice to express myself.
The Rabab, an Afghan lute instrument, originating in Central Asia, can be dated back 2,500 years. It is mentioned in countless works of Sufi poetry, having then, and continuing to still ensnare the hearts of its audience, with its charming and sweet tones used either in a classical or folk fashion. The pride of its people: it is carefully crafted from the finest wood, harvested from the mulberry trees native to Afghanistan, goat skin stretched across the top. With 3 core strings, 2-3 drone strings, and 11-15 sympathetic strings, depending on its size (tuned to the specific raga), its struck with a wooden plectrum, producing a deep ambient timbre, unrivaled.
What’s next for you, musically-speaking? Any big shows or plans in the works?
I am typing this sitting in a Dartmouth dorm room in New Hampshire where I have been for the past week, here as a musical director for a live theatre play that will be presented in VoxFest. This is the first top of my tour where I will be mostly in the New England area, concluding with the Newport Folk Festival and the end of the month. I will return to Phoenix for a few days however, for the album release show on July 15th at the Newton. After July I’ll be darting back and forth across the country, performing and working on various projects. Stayed tuned- it’s just about to get to the good part.
Closing the Distance is a new series in which we expose artists with desert roots who have since moved to other locales. Let’s bring this community a little closer together.
by Mark Anderson
Bryant Eugene Vazquez seems to epitomize the working-class artist archetype.
When not writing, performing, and recording his own music he works for a non-profit and finds the time to paint and write as well. We’ve been following Mr. Vazquez’s musical career for sometime now and I can say he always seems to be getting better, changing his approach to match the current state of mind he finds himself in, as he traverses along this plane of existence.
In 2013 he left his Flagstaff home for Philadelphia in search of new horizons. His subsequent album, All Damn Day/The Greatest Hits, is a must listen for any fan of 60s/70s singer-songwriter, lo-fi pop.
Those of us down at YabYumHQ are eagerly awaiting his forthcoming album, Grey Expectations, so before its release I reached out to Bryant to talk Philly, art, and what’s upcoming for this prolific artist.
YabYum: OK, I’m just gonna come right out and ask it, what’s Philly like, man? Please relay to us all that you do there.
Bryant Vazquez: I… survive. Haha! I love Philadelphia. It kicked my ass all over the place during my first year. The experience, of course, depends on the person. My time here has presented plenty of newfound inspirations, and perspectives. Some times just from walking the streets. It’s a vivid city, and it’s constantly evolving, even in the two plus years I’ve spent [here].
I work for a non-profit to pay my rent/etc… Aside from that, the majority of my time is spent working on music, painting, or writing. Culturally, it’s just about perfect. There’s a lot of history here. You can feel it, and you can see it. It’s there if you’re willing to go out and find it–whatever it is you’re looking for. A lot of people dismiss it, or say it’s just filthy or whatever, a lot of locals. It think it’s funny. The reaction I would get from people who found out I left Arizona, they’d just lash out in disgust. HA. “Why the hell would you leave all that beauty for this shit hole?” Stuff like that.
I don’t know. For me, it was time to go. Living in a big city has always been something of a dream of mine. Sure, I miss the mountains of Northern Arizona, and I miss the desert. But, I had almost no problem at all exchanging the San Francisco Peaks for the Philadelphia Skyline.
Could you tell our audience your ties to Arizona?
Well, I’m originally from East Los Angeles, California. It’s funny I mention that because I was practically brought up my whole life in AZ. There’s something about knowing where I’m from that… I just try not to forget that. My family moved to Yuma when I was a kid. I left the Southwest for Northern Arizona for school. Flagstaff is a magical place, and it’s really where I set my roots as far as songwriting goes. I started songwriting around 2008/2009 after finally getting over the fear of having a less than conventional voice. From there I just wrote/recorded solo acoustic. Down the line, I formed a few bands, including: Vagabond Gods with my brother, Chris, and Murdoch with some friends in Them Savages (RIP) and Redeemer. I also spent a good year and half as the bassist and resident rebel in decker. Haha. That was perhaps the tie that got me involved with Phoenix more than anything. It’d played in the valley before then, but I really got involved through Brandon Decker and his work.
Did you have any thoughts on the AZ music scene when you departed in 2013? What has been your experience with the Philadelphia scene so far? Any musician/band’s we should check out from there?
Thoughts on AZ music scene? Hmm. Haha.. Um, well… I don’t know. I mean, for me as a solo artist? Not much thought, to be honest. I got love from some places, for sure. It was actually through YabYum that I got my first taste of publicity outside of Flagstaff, which I will never forget (Thank you Carly/Mark). Much respect. A lot of earlier work was just acoustic and vocals, and it wasn’t exactly popular. It was pop music, and well…my concern wasn’t to be popular. I was too concerned with writing intricate finger-picking songs with somber lyrics and vocals. It was until Non-Sequitur that I really branched out musically, but even then, aside from a few nods (Mitchell Hillman, always love and respect), I don’t believe I had much of an interaction with a music scene. Playing with decker. introduced me to a lot of the Phoenix music scene. and with that I introduced my other projects. I owe a lot to Brandon, he’s a hard worker, and I learned a lot from him.
As far as bands/musicians go, I always enjoyed Field Tripp. Dan (the man behind the band) and I worked on a song together one time…which might not exist anymore, or is maybe hidden in his achieves of music somewhere. He’s a prolific songwriter, and he was always pushing to do the best work that was in him–we shared that mentality, and a love for Elliott Smith. Ha. Future Loves Past was probably the tightest band I’d seen in the valley, though I’m not sure if they’re still a thing these days. Eric Palmer, who I still keep in contact with from time to time, he would write these amazing bass lines. Captain Squeegee… I mean, those guys are all insane musicians. I’m sure I’m missing a shit load of others, but at the moment, those are the ones that stuck out for me. I could also go into bands that I thought were pretty bad, but no one wants to read what I have to say, much less about that. Ha!
The Philly music scene.. shit.. I mean, Philadelphia has an enormous and hugely diverse musical palette. There’s a lot of really popular indie/national acts that come out of Philly, and even more bands/artists that are just beneath the radar. I formed a band with a friend pretty soon after arriving in Philly: Beverly Mud. I did the open mic scene for a bit around the city, but I found the majority of my foundation at Fergie’s Pub in Center City. A lot of the local artists, and comedians would perform on Monday nights, and that’s where I met my friends Marcus Kitchen, and Scott Haldeman (who would eventually become the drummer for my current band). As far as locals, it was Ali Wadsworth (thank you) who pointed me in the direction of Fergie’s, she’s a super talented singer/songwriter and a hell of a bartender. She also introduced me to Marley McNamara, a key player in the whole Philly music scene. She also happens to manage The Districts, who are blowing up nationally, as well as a list of other great acts. I have her to thank for any sort of attention I initially received as far as local radios/shows.
It’s hard to pinpoint, really… I’m not gonna pretend that I have any real close knit connection to it, because there are so many different scenes going on, house shows/DIY/etc… I’m still pretty reclusive, but I can say since being here, I’ve pushed myself to be more outgoing. I could tell the difference immediately coming from AZ and then seeing all that Philly had to offer. It’s compelling to hear all these people really grinding away to create something different (or not, which is fine, too. Ha.). WXPN (radio station) is a so supportive of it’s local artists, and I think that’s probably one of the huge differences. I don’t know, though. Ha. I’m still just trying to do the best I can, and hopefully along the way meet and play with more rad bands.
In the realm of singer/songwriters, there’s Alec Stewart, Thom McCarthy, and Ron Gallo– all of them are incredibly gifted songwriters/musicians. I’d recommend giving them a listen. MINKA is a band we played with as well, they’re pretty wild. Kate Faust is a songwriter/producer who’s also just really all about giving everything she’s got. Damn, I’m probably going to think of a whole list by the time I send this out. But, it’s incredible. I need to meet more, I guess. Ha.
Stunning to hear your computer glitched out on you and you subsequently have to re-record an album you’ve already re-recorded TWICE before! Any news on Grey Expectations that you’d care to share? I gotta say, All Damn Day/ The Greatest Hits is my favorite album yet of yours, can we expect more of that album’s “pop” sound or will you be going for something different entirely? Has the album’s sound changed over the course of time it’s taken to record it?
Oh, man! Haha… yeah, that was a nightmare. Fortunately, I was able to retrieve it! I had this total meltdown when it happened. Like, it made me physically ill when I thought I’d lost all the work I had for Grey Expectations. That being said, I do have two versions of the album, the second being the album which I’ll be releasing. It’s pretty much all done, the album is comprised of eight songs. There’s not a trace of acoustic guitar [and] it’s definitely got a bigger sound than the last album. With ADD/TGH I went for a 60s/70s acoustic pop thing… like the The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society, The Velvet Underground’s Loaded, Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and Hunky Dory from Bowie. I did the whole chorus verse chorus song structure, which was both fun and torturous.
Grey Expectations continues that formulaic song structure, but is hopefully more fine tuned? Ha. As far as influence… it’s more in the vein of bands like Jesus and Mary Chain, Echo and the Bunnymen, Slowdive, and other noise/rock/pop bands from the 80s/early shoegaze. In a sense it’s also more lofi than ADD/TGH because I only had two mics to record the album… Anyway, I think people might enjoy it. Haha. It’s mildly “shoegaze”.
The songs from ADD/TGH are definitely different live. I think earlier on I tried to have the band (Los Gringos) play them as close as possible to the album, but they eventually took on new life as we all got comfortable with the songs. Lately, they’ve been taking a bit of a psychedelic route? Something of the sort…
How did you hook up with Los Gringos?
Well, the formation of Los Gringos started with Scott Haldeman (drums). I knew him through my former bandmate/roommate, Marcus. They had their own band (Daddy Long Legs) going on. After Beverly Mud fell apart and I finished recording ADD/TGH, I got in contact with him, he was real quick to pick up the songs. Afterwards came Marcus Kitchen (Daddy Long Legs, Mars) and filled in on bass for a minute. Frank Mashockie plays the lead electric and he is a master of noise and texture, as well as an accomplished guitarist. He kinda volunteered after I’d put out a request for band members online. We both share a lot of the same influences and ideals as far as music and art goes. He has his own solo project as well, Bleu Velvet, which is gnarly noise/pop which super fuzzed out guitars–real good shit. Finally, there’s Dean Custer on bass. Originally I met Dean through mutual friends, and I fell in love with the guy and his playing. He’s in a prog-metal band called Something Like A Monument. Once Dean joined the band, that really solidified our lineup. Everything just clicked, and we all just go along pretty naturally. I write all the material, still, but they put their own spin on the songs, and I love that. As far as the name… hahaha I don’t know, man. I forgot which one of them threw that one out, and I’m not sure it’ll stick, but hey… fuck it!
It seems you’re also dedicating more time to your fine art which is pretty darn awesome, how long have you been painting?
Ah yes. Painting. Um, well I started drawing at an early age…so that was always kinda in me. As far as painting, I’d say… about a year and a half? Sometime in the summer of 2014, I think. I’ve always loved painting, and I’ve always been a fan of the masters. I have a huge love for German Expressionism, and the Post-Impressionist/Expressionist movement as a whole. I kinda just went for it, and haven’t stopped since. I’ve had a couple shows, and I’m currently showing at a coffee shop in Center City. I’ve been selling pieces here and there, mostly on commission. But, my plan is to do a series of portraits, and hopefully have a gallery showing. I love portraits. They’re timeless, and I’ve always just preferred figurative art to landscapes or abstract works.
What does it mean to be an artist? I know you take the term quite seriously.
Damn. That’s one of those questions…. No one has the definitive answer. Art is subjective, says some people. Then, there are people who just have these rules set in place. I don’t know, man. I mean, I know I have my own… principles. I couldn’t tell you.There’s good art, and there’s bad art. There’s great art, and terrible art. There’s art, and there isn’t art. It’s a touchy subject to those people who really give their lives for it. Some artists give it all, put it all out there, and never expect anything in return. And on the opposite end, there’s the all the commercial stuff, the business aspect, the shit that really cheapens the whole idea of creating. Personally, there are times I can tell if I like or love something within a second of hearing, seeing, or reading it. Other times, I know right away if I hate it or think it sucks. Those people who know me best, or hell, might have just met me, they know how harsh I can be when it comes to anything in relation to art as a whole. There’s this quote by Henri Matisse, “I have been no more than a medium, as it were,” I think that’s the best summarizes it, as far as I’m concerned. What it means, I guess that’s subjective, too. Ha. As an artist? I believe having discipline and a respect for the craft can go a long way in separating who’s in it for the glory, and who’s in it for the long run.
Are there certain songwriters or fine artists that have influenced you and your work that we should know about but might not be on a lot of people’s radar?
I’ve been very inspired by composers lately, a lot of avant garde/noise stuff. Songwriters have always been at the top of my list, from the greats to the lesser known. Umm… artists outside of the radar…I just found out about a guy named Billy Childish. He’s insane. If you’re interested, you should look into him. He’s an artist.
Besides Grey Expectations, what do you have upcoming? More art shows? Music videos? Tour?
Well, I have a lot of music that’s recorded/written that isn’t from Grey Expectations. I have another two albums waiting in line. There’s also two albums of strictly compositions/instrumentals that I’ve been working steadily on, and I’m excited to eventually release those. There’s music videos in the works for the first few songs to be released off GE, and other video projects. I’m working on taking part in an art/benefit show that will go towards fighting breast cancer. We’re playing a show in November that is also a benefit show to fight cancer. A lot of performing is happening soon, and I’m ready to play the new material. There’s stuff I’m working on that is writing outside of songwriting/music. And hell, I believe we’re gonna try to make CMJ this year. I don’t know, man. All kinds of shit. I also have to remember to feed myself, shower, and keep my 9-5. Haha.
You honestly seem to love Philly, is New York still on the horizon or have you found a new town to call home (at least for a little while)?
I do honestly love this city. I find myself saying it often. By now, it almost feels as though it wanted to keep me here. For the moment, it’s definitely home. New York is in the back of my brain somewhere for someday. Maybe it’ll happen. I feel like it’s something I need to do. Until then, I plan on playing there as often as possible. After Philly, I have no idea where I’m going. Out of the country? Maybe? I’ve picked up and left is all behind once, I can see that happening again.
This might sound a bit presumptuous, but I’m always surprised by how much I enjoy the music of Kongos. Comprised of four brothers from “Phoenix by way of London and Johannesburg,” KONGOS blends alt-rock with kwaito for a sound all their own. The band’s third LP, Egomaniac, was released this past Spring, four years after their sophomore album, Lunatic, which rode in like a dark horse and won me over, along with the rest of the world. At the start of Egomaniac, I’ll admit I was concerned it was going to be too much of the same. Far too many bands that see success with an album become mired in a sound and don’t push forward. But, as the album continued, I recognized Egomaniac as a gem in its own right. “The World Would Run Better”, the second track, might be my favorite, but I love the jivey “I Don’t Mind” and “Hey You, Yeah You”. The mellow, emotive single, “Where I Belong”, should also be included amongst my favorites. Egomaniac is definitely worth the four-year wait between albums.
The Phoenix four-piece known as YASKY (formerly Why Ask Why?) creates ooey-gooey prog rock with an experimental undertone. Their recent 8-track release was recorded at Audioconfusion and features a melding of prog-rock, jazz, synth, and some darker, more obscure influences. I listen to music all day, every day, and I can’t quite pinpoint YASKY’s genre. That in itself is an accomplishment. Blue Lady kicks off with “People Behind the People”, establishing an ominous tone that carries through the rest of the album. As you move through the songs, some tracks get downright trippy. Occasionally, certain elements of their songs can feel a little bit like an afterthought, but it might just be that I’m not in the right mental space (and by “right” I mean “distorted by drugs”) to fully appreciate the added texturing. All in all, Blue Lady was an unexpected delight in my music-listening sphere. The vocals are surprisingly fierce as is the musicianship behind them and the band has a real sense of cohesion in both their performances and their recording. Go ahead and sink into the sound-melting goodness of YASKY.
There’s a lot of rowdy teen angst on Cyan&Magenta’s latest release, Not My Usual Self. They might not yet have the polish of other artists on this list, but there’s a rawness here that you might not find elsewhere. From the trials of being just-friends on “Over This” to the stuck-in-hometown blues on “Mesa”, Cyan&Magenta hits on all the early-life anxieties. “5:09” turns the energy, and the depression, up a few notches for a powerful number. And, of course, the track comes in at five minutes and nine seconds. The band mixes folk with alt-indie on the ironically named “Title Track” and other numbers. While songs like “Untitled” (let’s work on those track titles, fellas) and “Foliage” amp up the energy. There’s a versatile mix on this collection. Check out Not My Usual Self from Cyan&Magenta.
Ever have one of those days where every song sounds the same? That was my day and then I heard “Lullaby” from Tucson’s Karima Walker. The song had a way of soothing my weary soul (and ears). Mellow and meditative, “Lullaby” is just that, a lullaby. Not the kind you sing your child to sleep with, but maybe. Walker creates soundscapes as painters create landscapes. Her songs belong in a gallery. Drift away with “Lulllaby” then stick around to listen to more offerings from Karima Walker.
You might be thinking, didn’t Michelle Blades move to Paris? Yes, she did, but she often visits and on one such trip she recorded this breathtaking number with Phoenix’s own Eamon Ford this past May. “Te Recuerdo Amanda” is a cover of a Victor Jara song and Michelle Blades brings her own experimental undertones to this rendition. This track is a must-hear single. Listen to it. Listen to it now. And, if you missed her last performance at The Trunk Space, you missed out. Let’s hope this globe trotter has plans on another pass through Phoenix sometime soon.
If Saydi’s been around since 2010, how come I’m only discovering her now? How did this not get to us through the appropriate channels? Considering this is her first single, I will allow it to pass, but we should have been told. Tempe’s Saydi creates a dreamy dancepop that is totally enamoring on “Lavender Ghost”. If this single is any indication of what’s to come, I would keep an eye (or ear) on Saydi.
For those of you who aren’t yet familiar with Scattered Melodies (for shame), the “band” is actually the musical pairing of Josh Montag (percussion) and Jake Johnston (bass) and a variable cast of musical guests from the local music scene. For their latest single, “Legacy”, Scattered Melodies joined forces with Laura Hamlin (vocals) and Jack Howell (piano/guitar/strings). Josh Montag wrote this song for his mother and debuted it at his wedding for the mother-son dance. If that doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, you are cold, downright cold. The song is a divergence from the band’s usual hippie groove to something a little more sentimental. Give it a listen.
The coffee-pop act known as gillwire is the brainchild of Jonathan Gil Thwaits. The Chandler band is preparing for the impending release of their debut album by sharing a few rough cuts including the single, “Tragedy Sells”. Combining Ben Folds-esque vocal stylings with an airy alt-pop. Don’t let the name of the track fool you, “Tragedy Sells” is an upbeat number with a bit of lyrical bite. Keep in mind, these tracks are unmastered, but they offer a little sampling of what’s to come. For the finished product, you’ll have to head to Sozo Coffee in Chandler on July 8th (or wait for the digital release).
And not cool in like a “cool” way. You know, that too cool for school, disaffected by everything and everyone around them, smoking cigarettes with reckless abandon kind of way. No, she’s cool in a completely other, cooler way.
If you know her then you know what I’m talking about: completely personable and very low key in social settings, but when she gets up on the stage to perform in either Cherie Cherie or The Christian Family, truly mesmerizing moments happen. I’ve witnessed many performances of hers over the years and I’m never unimpressed.
I was excited she took the time to answer the questions I had for her. Let’s find out more about Ann Seletos with An Insider’s Introduction.
Mark Anderson for YabYum: How long have you lived in AZ? When and how did you first get involved with the music and art scene? I believe I first saw you with Make My Baby, how did you start playing with them? Were you in bands before that?
Ann Seletos: My family moved from California to Arizona when I was two months old. I was raised in the suburbs of North Glendale where I never felt like I fit in or had anything in common with the people I grew up with and desperately craved some kind of artistic respite. When I was a teenager I discovered the First Friday Art Walk in Downtown Phoenix (which was much different, smaller, and more DIY back in the early 2000s) and I pretty much knew that’s where I belonged. I suppose that was my first introduction to the Phoenix music and arts scene, but I spent many of my early years as spectator rather than participant. I struggled with a lot of confidence issues and simply thought that being in a band was something I “couldn’t do.” I was lucky to have good people around me see my potential and push me into giving it a try.
I first saw Lonna Kelley perform opening for M. Ward at the Clubhouse when I was about 19 or 20 and instantly became a huge fan. Years later, when I was about 25 years old I think, Lonna contacted a friend of mine because she was looking for female backing singers for her solo project. After singing together, she and I realized we had a lot of similar ideas musically, and we really liked the sound of our voices together. We started Make My Baby with the intention of having girl group-esque three-part-harmony driven songs. Cherie Cherie sort of rose from the ashes of Make My Baby after dark times struck. We realized we are both happiest when we are writing songs together and singing them together, and we became closer than ever during those formative months…we’ve since referred to each other as “soul sisters,” and we truly believe that. I would not be doing any of the projects I’m doing, or finding myself musically, without the unconditional love and encouragement Lonna has shown me over the years. She has always believed in me, even (and especially) at times when I was incapable of believing in myself, and she has always pushed me to the edge of my comfort zone. I am endlessly grateful to her.
How long have you been playing the drums now? Do you play any other instruments? Obviously your singing is great, were you in choir at all?
AS: This is kind of a tricky question for me to answer! I don’t really consider myself able to “play the drums,” but I do have some training that has helped. I played snare on the drum line in high school for a short time, and when I first went to college at 18 I tried for a music degree focusing in percussion (which turned out not to really be my thing…music academia, that is). The drum kit has never come very easily and honestly, I don’t even really like it that much, haha. I intentionally strip down my kits: in Cherie Cherie I use only a floor tom, snare, kick, and one cymbal. In The Christian Family, I use a kick and two floor toms. That’s it. My full kit is much bigger, but I am a firm believer that less is more. And I love toms. Moe Tucker of the Velvet Underground and Peg O’Neill of The Gories have probably inspired me the most as far as my drumming style is concerned…they were unconventional and untrained, but more musical in their drumming than drummers typically are, and I think that makes all the difference: having a good sensibility and being complimentary to what’s going on musically (Ikue Mori of DNA is another great example of this, though in a much more sonically intense/avant-garde way).
I can also play keys (and am secretly actually classically trained on piano) and I play guitar just about as badly as I drum. But I love the guitar so much–it might be my favorite instrument. I’m hoping to play it out more in the coming years, particularly with a solo project I’m working on. Thank you for saying that about my voice! It’s probably the thing I struggle with the most. I’ve never liked the sound of my voice and feel like I’m still getting to know it, although, yes, I did sing in choirs growing up and learned how to harmonize and to listen to the people you’re singing with, which I think is just as important as having a good voice. I feel like I get to reconcile a lot of different styles in both bands, since Cherie Cherie is full of beautiful and dark melodies and harmonies while The Christian Family is a bit more uninhibited (and I get to scream!).
How did the Christian Family come about? How would you describe the band for those uninitiated?
AS: The Christian Family is Daniel [Shircliff] of The Freaks of Nature and me. The Freaks have always been my favorite local band, and as it turns out, Cherie Cherie is Daniel’s favorite local band. One night after I went to see Freaks play at The Lost Leaf, Daniel stopped in me in the middle of Fifth Street to ask if I’d be interested in doing a new project with him. I said of course, and we discussed getting together to try it soon. A couple of weeks later, he called me with a full vision, and that’s when The Christian Family was born. I was so excited to try something completely new to me and to again be pushing myself into uncharted territory.
The Christian Family is sort of Gospel-Revival-Garage-Punk. We are largely inspired by the heart, soul, and rock and roll of 50s and 60s gospel revival musicians as well as straight-forward, fuzzed-out garage and punk. If Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Chuck Berry, the Spits, and the Gories got together to jam, you might end up with something similar to The Christian Family.
You’ve played all over the Valley and State, any favorite places to play? What made ’em so special?
AS: There are some very cool places to play in AZ; one of my favorites to come about recently, especially for sound, is probably Valley Bar. The Trunk Space was always a favorite because good people ran it with good intentions, in addition to it being one of the few all-ages venues around. I honestly always enjoy playing shows at really unique, one-off/DIY venues, like house shows or even just in record stores like Double Nickels Collective in Tempe. The Christian Family played at a motorcycle/hot rod garage on Grand Avenue called Haifley Bros last year and that was really fun and different. Places like that, or more underground venues, like warehouses, usually always produce unique and memorable shows.
What is your take on the Arizona music scene? The good/the bad/the ugly? What would you like to see change, if anything?
AS: There are a lot of advantages to being a musician in AZ, particularly in Phoenix/Tempe. I feel like it was the perfect place for someone like me to start out playing (that is, someone who was pretty timid and maybe lacking in confidence, but with a real desire to play). I was afforded a lot of opportunities that would probably not have come around as easily or as often if I lived in a much more musically competitive city, like Portland or Austin or New York or Los Angeles. I feel a lot of people took chances on me here and it’s really helped me discover myself and grow as a musician.
Another thing I like about the music scene here is while it’s so diverse, it’s really not that big, so there’s a lot of crossover between music scenes. I’m interested in a wide variety of music genres, and I think I would go crazy if I had to only stick to one thing. For instance, in addition to getting to play in Cherie Cherie and The Christian Family, I’ve also had the opportunity to play in other projects including Soft Shoulder, the legendary post-punk/no wave/avant-garde project of Gilgongo Records owner James Fella. The drum parts in that are so different from what I’m used to playing, it’s really fun and challenging whenever I’ve been able to be part of the ever-rotating line-up. I also have an experimental/noise project that I do with John Quintos called EVA AGUILA. It’s basically me experimenting with guitar feedback through a delay pedal while John goes free-jazz-style crazy on the drums. Our whole set is usually about ten or so minutes. It’s wonderful. Then my solo stuff is more in the 60s/70s folk vein (or at least I’d like to think so). I hear that in other more musically competitive cities, the scenes are much more niched…that is, people tend to stick within their very specific subgenres, since they’re each so large, and don’t often mix.
Now that I’ve talked about what I love about the Phoenix music scene, I guess it’s time to discuss some of the disadvantages. While it’s kind of cool that no one really knows how great of a music scene there is here, like it’s sort of a well-kept secret from the rest of the country, it can often feel kind of restricting. I love the music scene here, but Phoenix just doesn’t really love musicians. It’s really hard to get people to go to shows and it feels like it gets harder all of the time. And I think that’s really what it all comes down to—there’s just not a lot of support. If we don’t take our own music scene seriously, no one else will. I feel a lot of musicians get fed up and leave so there are all of these really great short-term projects that pop up and then go away. There are many great “had to have been there” times when these cool and unique projects came around for a year or two and then disappear. The scene kind of swells at times, but it doesn’t really grow. I certainly feel like I’ve pushed myself as far as I can go here and while I could probably be happy with that, I’m starting to feel ready for a new challenge.
You DJ under the moniker DJ ANN ELIZA, is this in reference to Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young? What could we expect to hear in your set? When do you spin next?
AS: This question made me laugh so hard! Someone must be aware of my Mormon upbringing…but no, I had no idea that was the name of one of Brigham Young’s wives. My middle name is Elizabeth and I’ve always liked the name Eliza. Ann Eliza is something I’ve considered using for my solo project, mostly because I think the name Seletos is tricky to pronounce/spell/remember, but also because I’ve never had the opportunity to really think about an identity for a project that is (so far) all me. I’ve been using it as a DJ name to sort of try it out and see how it feels, and also because I couldn’t really come up with anything better at the last minute!
My sets have been consisting of a wide range of styles that reflect my personal taste, including 60s garage, punk, post-punk, riot grrl, country, blues, soul, etc., and additionally some of my favorite local bands. On the one hand, I love a wide variety, but at the same time I’ve been hoping to start playing more curated sets. I’ve been really into collecting old stompy gospel 45s lately and I think it would be really fun to do a set centered on that style of music. I don’t have anything in the books as of now but am hoping to spin a few sets this summer.
Can you share any future plans for Cherie Cherie or Christian Family? Shows? Albums? Tours?
AS: One of the biggest changes affecting the bands is that I will be relocating to Los Angeles at the end of the summer (as will Matt of Cherie Cherie). However, I am still going to be active with both bands and am aiming to get us more shows out of state! Matt and I also have plans for a new band and I’m also going to be focusing on a solo record.
Cherie Cherie is just finishing up recording our sophomore album. It’s taken some time, but we’re really proud of it and are very excited to have it out hopefully by the end of this year. We are also planning on doing a split 12” release with our friends Golden Boots from Tucson, so keep an eye out for that as well.
The Christian Family will have our debut 7” coming out in June on Slope Records. We’re extremely blown away by how beautiful the product is and how great the tracks sound and can’t wait to share it with everyone. We’re also planning on finishing recording some tracks for a full length before I leave and have plans for a West Coast tour at the beginning of 2017.
Finally, where do you get your fab fresh threads? Hole in the wall thrift stores, or online specialty retailers? Your sense of style is smashing!
AS: Why, thank you! I love vintage clothes, specifically from the 60s and 70s, and have a particular affinity for vintage boots as well as 60s mod mini dresses. Also vests! And psychedelic prints. And while I love buying clothes and records, I honestly really hate the actual act of shopping or rummaging (I know, I know, I’ve just never felt that thrill-of-the-search most thrifters speak of), so I’m a big Etsy and Discogs fan where I can sort of search for exactly what I’m looking for (and, bonus: not have to leave my house!). When I do go shopping, however, one of my favorite spots in downtown Phoenix for vintage clothes is Antique Sugar. They have a really fantastic variety and everything is always in stellar condition. Plus the owners, Anna and Sarah, are always super friendly and helpful and you can totally trust them when you need an opinion or are looking for something specific.
The Tucson five-piece known as Things That Aren’t Words released their 5-track debut in April. Remember the Details achieves that compelling combination of sweet and somber with an enchanting musicality and poetic lyrics. “Your Heart is an Ocean” opens the EP, drawing this listener in with a cheery, melodic indie rock that ends with the sentiment, “You were meant to drift away.” See what I mean about the sweet and somber? This juxtaposition continues throughout Remember the Details: uplifting melodies and contemplative lyrics. “Those Who Try” combines a dreamy indie sound with lines like “You’re a glutton, you’re a fiend,” sorta like a warm blanket of dark thoughts. I like it. I definitely suggest checking out Things That Aren’t Words for all you indiepop fans. Think Travis or The Decemberists.
Casey Wayne Smith out of Denver falls to the folk side of the indie spectrum. His April release – Suicide Dreams, Cigarette Magazines – is pensive; stripped down to its singer-songwriter core. The title track opens the album with a circus hue that does not persist throughout the album. That was probably a wise decision. Casey Wayne Smith showcases his talents as a songwriter in the tradition of Iron & Wine and Elliott Smith: brooding and meditative. The only near-miss for me was “Truth in Me” which toys with rocknroll without stepping beyond the indie-folk format. While it’s a decent song, it just doesn’t fit cohesively with the rest of the album. Beyond that minor issue, I enjoyed Suicide Dreams, Cigarette Magazines thoroughly. “Jesus Take Me Home” and “Suicide Dreams, Cigarette Magazines” are my two favorite tracks on the album. I recommend checking out Casey Wayne Smith’s Suicide Dreams, Cigarette Magazines, especially on those rare rainy days we get here in the Valley.
Okay, I usually hate intros and interludes that are clipped from movies and television, but I was so excited to hear the Legend of Korra clip that kicked off girl valley’s latest release, that this rule went straight out the window. I’m not 100% sure how the clip ties into the rest of the album although it takes place in the spirit world rather than on this physical plane. Likewise, the delicate music of girl valley swims toward the listener like a tenuous vapor, more dream than reality. All nine tracks wrap up in roughly ten minutes, leaving the listener more with the impression of an album than a complete LP. What you have is the potential for a truly talented songwriter in the initial stages of emergence. soften up is both beautiful and brief. I look forward to hearing more from girl valley.
OK so I know this post might seem very random, but the fact is YabYum receives music submissions from all over the world. After multiple emails from bands out of Rimini, Italy, I had to take a moment and check out what was happening in this coastal Italian province and city. I’ll be honest though, before I looked it up, I had never heard of Rimini let alone where it was geographically.
Yeah, my bad.
Of course it was founded practically 1800 years ago and has much rich, cultural history. Sure it’s one of the most famous seaside resorts in all of Europe, located on the Adriatic Sea with nine miles of beach and thousands of hotels, restaurants, bars, and discos. Hell, it’s even the hometown of Federico Fellini, famed Italian filmmaker recognized as one the most influential directors of all time.
I had just never heard of it is all. What can I say, I don’t get out much – of the country, I mean.
Well, thanks to YabYum that of course has all changed. Rimini, like so many places in the world (including Italy as a whole), has a very active and dynamic music scene with musicians playing every genre under the Italian sun. I listened to thousands, OK maybe hundreds, alright about 50 albums and made these three selection This is by no means me trying to pigeon-hole or blanket over the Rimini “sound”, these are just the albums I liked the most. So without further ado, here are Tre da Rimini (Three from Rimini)!
Holy smokes you need to hear this album. Like, right now. Recorded over a period of two years, Delone was released back in May. Much like the Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi album Rome, Delone is the perfect soundtrack to a film that never existed – it’s western, it’s pop, it is the sound of Italy. But as the press release for the album states: it’s not the real Italy, “Delone‘s Italy is the patria seen from afar, from the eyes of an expatriate or castaway, a misty Italy, a dream of an older time that tries to find elegance and pride in the impossible anarchy of the troubled present.” I could not have said it better. Starting like a fantastic spy thriller, “Bendigo” sets the mood for the entire album. “Una Danza” takes us into a smokey club, Carla Lippis entrancing and hypnotizing us into a lulled sense of wonder. Sacri Cuori (or Sacred Hearts for us English speakers) have been around the better part of a decade now, recording their first album Douglas & Dawn (featuring Tucson favorites John Convertino of Calexico and Howe Gelb of Giant Sand, as well as Marc Ribot and James Chance) at Wavelab Studio in Tucson in 2010. Now, five years and three albums later, Delone is a bona fide masterwork. Guitarist and producer Antonio Gramentieri, along with Francesco Giampaoli (bass and beyond) and Diego Sapignoli (drums and percussions) “consciously stretched the definition of who they are” during the making of Delone, and you can tell. Add to that baritone sax, trumpet, keys, and more percussion and you might get the idea of where this album takes you. Joining them on lead vocals (in both Italian and English) is the phenomenal Carla Lippis, who the band met in Australia and brought back to Italy, a simply incredible talent, amazing find, and “the last Italian diva”. Even Howe Gelb reappears on Delone and provides a vocal track on “Serge”. The title track sounds straight off the Kill Bill soundtrack and like a James Bond theme song describes the character of “Delone”, “Like a star in the sky who refuses to shine he stays hidden/Like a shell on the beach, just out of reach, he can’t be touched.” Delone is an album to first experience and then enjoy again and again, “a treasured notebook full of restless dreams and nostalgic sketches, all of it edited together like a suspenseful, old TV movie.” If you use Spotify listen to the album here. You can also preview and purchase the album from Glitterbeat Records here.
Jarred, the caveman simply make good folk/indie/rock music. I mean, really frickin’ good. Let’s be honest here, I don’t gravitate t’words these genres naturally, they’re more of a Lenore or Frank type thing, but as soon as I heard I’m Good If Yer Good I knew I’d have to write on it. Comprised of members Alejandro Baigorri (guitar/vocals), Luca Guidi (drums, percussion) and Matteo Garattoni (contrabass), this indie folk trio have written quite the stellar album. After a stark, muted-trumpet filled “Intro”, I’m Good If Yer Good begins with “Troubles” on the mind, “And trouble now my darling is the only thing that’s keeping us from falling down/But I’m good if you’re good, even if it means throwing out every treasure that we found.” Sure, tracks like “She Ain’t Gonna Come” may sound like they’re getting a little “Mumfordy” at times, especially thanks to Matteo’s excellent banjo skills, but that didn’t stop me from listening: I persevered and so should you, it’s well worth it. Produced by Antonio Gramentieri, I’m Good If Yer Good will make you dance out of your seat, forget you’re an adult, and whoo-oo right alongside Jarred skipping down the sidewalk. However, there are moments of stark contemplation. Album favorite “Interstate” begins with an electro-fied kick drum before entering Lynch-like territory with it’s sustained, western, reverb guitar. “All We Do” gets right to the point, “All we do is cry babe/ All we do is hide our love away.” It’s a finger-picker’s dream and features deep piano to accent the mood. “Red Wire” is classic rocknroll: a song about a girl complete with a full horn section and electric guitar. Getting a little more specific, “Amelia” is a six minute song dedicated to it’s title, each part of the song a different chapter in her tale. Principle songwriter Alejandro certainly has no doubt met his fair share of characters, he left the Universidad Nacional de Rosario in Argentina where he was studying musical composition, packed his bags, and moved to Italy before meeting the friends that would become Jarred, the caveman. The vocal doubling on “Like A Broken Toy” is a wonderful effect while “Morning Sun” brings back more of that sweet trumpet and a resounding “Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker!” “Which One To Lose” is the perfect send-off, subtle and delicate yet full of rich character, “I’m trying not to play games, but it’s too late now…If we could only choose/Which one to lose.” Do yourself a favor and listen to I’m Good If Yer Good by Jarred, the caveman on Bandcamp here.
Nashville & Backbones are straight up badass. Comprising six members and three-part harmonies, the songs found on Cross the River seem meant to inspire. Citing America, Creedance, CSN&Y, Dire Straits, Doobie Brothers, Eagles, and Sting as influence, Nashville & Backbones are aiming their songwriting goals high and delivering the goods. “Tell It Like It Is” opens the album: “Lies, all I hear is people’s lies/No surprise when you look and close your eyes/The truth in this guise paints a road to the place where freedom dies.” I was hooked. What follows is an explosion of guitars, violin, banjo, keys, bass and drums on “Stone”. “Clueless (Despistado)” shifts gears, cruising you along some abandoned Spanish highway, tremolo guitar, congas and trumpet pushing you forward. As I listened to Cross the River I couldn’t help but thinking that if I was told these cats were from the fine state of Tennessee, I wouldn’t think otherwise. Is their music then somehow kitsch to me simply because I can understand it and therefore think that’s “cool?” No, I believe music is so universal bands all over the world are playing sounds from all over the world. “Spirit of the Summer” is a perfect example of this, using the catchy upbeat found in Jamaican ska they sing, “Here comes again that familiar refrain.” Going full on honky-tonk, “This Song” pokes fun at itself while describing exactly what’s happening in the song! The title track is a twelve minute epic: a powerful, dramatic, romantic tryst with the river at it’s center, “One down, all aboard/Give the boatman all your hoard/Cross the river and explore/’Til the end of the world.” My biggest complaint about this album is that it’s too long. Especially after a song such as “Cross the River”. The next four tracks are my least favorite on the album and simply get in the way before ending with the beautiful “The Ballad of Recap”, wherein my love for the band quickly returns. Check out Cross the River on Spotify here. You can also check out their first album (which I also highly recommend), Haul In The Nets on Bandcamp here.
I would like to thank my editor for allowing this post, grazie!
Brent Miles and Jennifer Glenn of The Heartless Bartons came down to the Reading Room at YabYum HQ to play a couple of songs. Check out the video and then head to ThirdSpace tonight to see the band live and in person. More on that event can be found here. Thanks to Burning Empire Media and Like Lightning Sounds for helping us make the video!
“Gone” and “Yasminka” Written & Performed by The Heartless Bartons.
Song River chats with Yod from the band Fu who recently released their new EP titled, I.
Song River: First off, I have to ask because no one seems to be sure… pronunciation of “Fu?”
Yod: It is pronounced: “PHOO.”
SR: Where did the name originate?
Yod: It’s a slang [term] for mastery, so you can attach it to anything like “CODE FU” or “KUNG FU.” I like to think we practice “MUSIC FU,” so that’s what I called us, Fu.
SR: Your music and show are a visual feast. Can you place your sound in a particular group?
Yod: The BEST! Wink wink… We bridge genres a lot, but no matter what our music has to really have an impact on us or we don’t play it. If you want to keep it simple – its great rock music.
SR: Talk a bit about the stage presence? What was the thought process behind the set up, colors, meaning of masks and props used?
Yod: Our stage setup is really Stowe’s brainchild. He had most of it designed already before joining the band. When he did come into the band, it seemed a perfect fit. The masks are beginning to represent characters in a concept record we are writing, a “Sci-Fi Odyssey” soundtrack.
SR: Fu came together in December 2014. Are you three the original band members?
SR: Were any of the band members in former bands before coming together? If so, talk a bit about where you each came from and how you came together to form Fu.
Yod: We have been in different bands over the years… cumulatively we have over 60 years experience. I think Stowe came from outer space before Fu and I (Yod) was in the band Mergence for several years. Parker had a good run in a band called Secular End for a while.
When I wanted to start Fu I spent about a year searching for musicians that I considered up to the monumental task of making a 3 man band sound like 5 or 6 and had the ambition and dedication to commit to this undertaking. I’m glad I was patient, because I am thoroughly impressed by these two guys every time we play.
SR: The development of lyrics to the instruments… is it a group creation or is there a solitary creator for what you play?
Yod: It is a group thing, and we have them delivered by stork.
SR: Music is not only an art, of course, but there are so many components that go into this business. How has that side of things been for you? The business side, marketing, managing?
Yod: Ugh, we will be ever so thankful the day we can have someone else do business for us and we just create, but for now we share the joy.
SR: The release of your new album: I. Talk to me about the title, the tracks, their development, the artwork that might have gone into the sleeve/cover.
Yod: The title is I, just a capital I. The tracks are songs about our experiences. I write a lot by watching a movie in my head or placing myself in a situation mentally and then describing emotions, scenes, whatever. We collaborated on the artwork, the cover is from a 14th Century tapestry design and the pig on the back is what Parker wears. The next back cover will be Stowe’s gas mask.
SR: Who did you work with on producing it and where was I recorded?
Yod: We recorded I with Brian Neil at Oak Street Studios here in town and I had Jun Murakawa mix and produce it in Los Angeles. Man, did Jun do it up too! He spent a month mixing it and seemed to really have a good time making it not boring.
SR: Are you planning on touring with its release?
Yod: We definitely have plans for regional trips and a national tour opportunity would be most welcome, especially after the next two recordings. The second EP is being recorded September 2015 and will be out by the end of this year. The full length spring/summer 2016.
Being on the road is like Disneyland for musicians, we can’t wait!
SR: Videos to be made? If so, which tune are you planning to create one with first and who would you like or have you gotten to help create it?
Yod: “Sleazer” seems to be happening first as a live footage video, but we have tons of ideas for others. We do a lot in-house, but if any film makers and animators out there love the music go ahead and get in touch we like collaborating!
SR: Do you have any particulars that you must have when playing/performing? Like some people like to play at a certain time of night, they have a particular brand of guitar they prefer playing.
Must have list:
1 case Pina Colada Rockstar
1 quart of Astroglide
3 feet of rubber hose
1 burlap bag
1 roll Gorilla Brand tape
Check out the new EP from Fu through the band’s website (here) and follow them on Facebook (here) for new music and upcoming shows.