Sharing is Caring

sharing is caring 01
Hilly Kristal, owner of CBGB’s in front of his famous music club November 29, 1993.

by Frank Ippolito
Associate Editor

How you can help the Phoenix music scene without even getting dressed.

I just completed my third viewing of CBGB starring Alan Rickman, (aka Hans Gruber, Professor Snape, and many more…), and it occurred to me, there’s a pretty big reason why I have to endure someone whining about, “How much the Phoenix music scene sucks”. For the record, I loathe that term, “the music scene” so that will be the last time I use it.

Any way, CBGB is a terrific film. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the actors portraying the punk rockers that played the place where dull and unimaginative, but that was not the point. The story was how Hilly Kristal, owner of CBGB, took his love for music and gave musicians a place to play. He, pretty much, is credited for bringing Punk Rock to the masses and helped break the careers of The Ramones, The Talking Heads, Blondie and many, many more acts.

Gone from the rock world for some time now, Kristal was quoted at the very end of the movie when asked why he kept the place open.

Interviewer: Why do you keep this place open?
Kristal: Because these kids, this music, need to be heard.


Of course, that was a different time. You actually had to leave your house to see and hear music. Nowadays, one never has to leave the house thanks to Internet, downloading sites, and streaming services. I mean, like, never.

Too, CBGB was smack dab in the middle of a crowded city. In Phoenix, specifically, the bars that feature live music are located away from the city, relatively. In New York there was/is amazing public transportation. Here, not so much (although, I hear the Light Rail now goes to Mesa. Um, ok…).

OK, so let’s just put the distance from populated areas and the transportation aside, there’s one way you – yes, you – can get the word out and support the music and the bands that work so hard creating it: Share it.

No seriously, it’s that easy and I don’t see enough people doing it.

Every day, the mighty YabYum (or another blog) posts an article. And it literally takes a nanosecond for me to share it to my wall. OK, you’re like, “Yeah, that’s gonna help…”

It will. It does. I promise.

That share goes out to everyone I know. And that gets the word out about the blog. And, in the world of social media, that stretches the reach of the said blog and grows readership. Tag someone who is mentioned in the post, and you double the reach. Tag three. Tag four. Tag five. And you broaden the reach like crazy. Instantly. And it took you all of 5 minutes to do so.

Now, imagine doing that for a local band (or, a local photographer or artist). Now, take that post and share it on a friend’s wall that you think will dig it. Boom! You just helped broaden the reach of Phoenix music and maybe, just maybe, that person will listen and/or share that post. Viola! Phoenix bands, et al, gets the attention it truly deserves. All thanks to you.

And, maybe I’m crazy, but say you like a band. I mean, you’re crushing on them super hard. Take that post and re-post it on a friend’s wall in another state (and beg to that person to like that page, if you’re so inclined). Well done! You’ve just helped spread the word about that band and proved to the world that Phoenix music doesn’t suck.

And, you can do it naked.

(Fuck, if you can’t see your way through all that hassle, give it a like and Facebook will let someone know you liked something…I mean, if that’s all you can muster, at least you did something, you lazy wretch.)

Because remember what Hilly said: (Because) these kids, this music, need to be heard.

5 Promising New Singles

00The Psychedelephants

The Facade

If the first single from Asymmetrical Geometry is any indication of what’s to come, I think The Psychedelephants might be one of my new favorite bands. “The Facade” is a little bit trippy, a little bit grungy, and all fun. The band has been around since 2012, but they’ve been on performing hiatus for nearly a year. That’s all about to end on Oct. 18th when they release Asymmetrical Geometry at the Rogue Bar in Scottsdale. Until then, enjoy “The Facade” here.

1Freaks of Nature

What’s the Use

If you haven’t heard the retro-refurbished sounds of Phoenix’s Freaks of Nature, you need to get out more. But, until that happens, you can at least check out some of their tracks available online like “What’s the Use”, a rollicking rocknroll number that will have you dancing around in no time. Listen to “What’s the Use” here and stick around for other tracks from the band. They’ll be on your Must-See list in no time in which case we have some good news for you. The Freaks of Nature will be the Weirdo Party at Lost Leaf on Oct. 18th.

00Japhy’s Descent


Japhy’s Descent has been making the Valley rounds for several years and have amassed some fervent Descenters – get it? Like supporters and dissenters in one, eh? Fine, forget it. Anyway, Japhy’s Descent is much loved for the energy of their live performances. “Bounce” is the first single from Christopher Robin, the forth-coming collection set for release on Oct. 17 on 6th and Mill. Yes, I only gave you the intersection but I guarantee you won’t miss it because the band is throwing a block part to celebrate the release. You can check out the single through the band’s website here.


Long Black Veil

I love the familiar sorrow that the tale of woe heard in “Long Black Veil” evokes every time I hear Johnny Cash croon out the number. The Tucson musician known as Mudwerks reopens the wound in his rendition of the classic ballad. It would be sacrilege to say anyone does it better than The Man in Black, but Mudwerks’ version does “Long Black Veil” justice. I immediately started exploring other tracks available from the artist. The lesson, kids, is that  good cover can reel in all sorts of unexpected new listeners. Listen to “Long Black Veil” here.

00Butter Knifes

Eat that soup

The strange and minimal music of Butter Knifes is an experimental undertaking. When you take it to account the not-quite-driving age of the artist, the track glimmers with promise, much like the self-titled release Butter Knifes dropped this past summer. The young man behind Butter Knifes definitely shows an early spark of creative fire and we look forward to hearing more from his musical endeavors. After all, he’s already made his Trunk Space debut and he’ll be returning there for a show on Nov. 1st. Butter Knifes also performs at Funny World on Oct. 20th. Listen to “Eat that Soup” here.

The Lone Wolfs: The Bummer Summer EP

lone wolfsby Frank Ippolito

Associate Editor

The Lone Wolfs is a Mr. Drew Dunlap side project whilst he isn’t playing guitar and singing in Northern Hustle. And, while the project moniker might work for other artists, The Bummer Summer EP is anything but a throw away record.

I listened to the record while I wasn’t feeling too good but the very first lead line from the first track, “Mistep”, elevated my mood and didn’t let me down. It’s rich, bright and just plain freakin’ happy. Which is ironic since the idea behind the album was a “bummer summer”.

If there were a top ten list in songwriting here locally, heck, nationally, universally, Dunlap would be on that list, if not at the top of it. And that’s not hyperbole. His guitar work on this record is clear, crisp, and inventive.

Along with the guitars, the lyrical content is fantastic. I believe that superb lyrics can raise a song that has a simple progression. Put great lyrics together with terrific guitar playing and you have magic. There’s also some really interesting harmonies as well as keyboards on the tracks. It’s that instrumentation that gives the songs a texture that is thick and ethereal.

I must say that “OK” is one of if not my favorite track. And, it didn’t hurt that Dunlap placed an “Easter egg” in that song that referenced, well, listen for yourself and see if you can find/hear it.  Well played, Drew, well played.

Another note: there are two demos on the Bandcamp, and they are better than most produced tracks I’ve heard.

Go. Now. Listen.

5 Stellar Singles

1Hasty Escape

American Cheese

Hasty Escape is definitely high on my list of bands I want to hear more from. That being said, I’ve had “American Cheese” on repeat for several days now and I won’t be stopped! There’s a subtlety to this band’s true force. Hasty Escape has crafted an original sound from the same parts implemented by many other, far more mundane bands: folk, indie, and rocknroll. Hasty Escape arranges heartache from kitsch in “American Cheese”, making this a must-hear track. Listen to “American Cheese” here. Word has it, the band will be releasing a new, full-length album called The Filthier Things here shortly. I can’t wait.


0Bad Neighbors

Icehouse Demos

Bad Neighbors has been an under-the-radar favorite of many a local music afficiando for sometime but the band certainly has been pushing album sales on their true blue fanbase. No, in fact, seems like we’ve been waiting for an official release from Bad Neighbors for some time. The fusion of spoken word and rocknroll honestly works for Bad Neighbors. Honest. The lyrics fit, in no way detracting from the musicality of the Bad Neighbors’ listening experience. Give the two live tracks from Icehouse Demos a listen here and you’ll get what we’re talking about.


Dirt Moon logoDirt Moon

Small Ships

The single “Small Ships” first appeared on Dirt Moon’s first EP, The Cover Story. The band re-recorded the track to give their fans a listen to the updated Dirt Moon sound and you can hear the difference. The band has come a long way toward creating a more fluid sound, grinding down all the right rough edges. These days there is such a rush to record that most new bands don’t get the time to stew over their sound before entering the studio. Just listen to the dramatic difference between “Small Ships (2014)” and “Small Ships (2013)” – you can really hear what I’m talking about.


Horse Black Horse Black

Live at The Flycatcher

The Tucson doom-rock group known as Horse Black dropped two live tracks recorded at The Flycatcher. The two-track single opens with “Lost’n Found” before moving into “17th” establishing Horse Black as a band I definitely want to check out live. Dark and melodic, rock with an edge but not overly aggressive in any way (for all you not-metal fans like myself, sorry readers). I might even make the drive down to Tucson to catch Horse Black at Club Congress on October 10th, but until then, I’ll definitely spend some time with Live at The Flycatcher beforehand. You can too, here.


0Local Wizards


The lo-fi, experimental track, “Milk”, from Phoenix’s Local Wizards sounds like an erratic approached to music-making was implemented in its construction, but if you listen carefully, you’ll notice that the song maintains its structure throughout. “Milk” is thoughtfully constructed and represents Local Wizards continuing explorations of the limits of songcraft. If you go back a little further in the Local Wizards’ collection on Bandcamp, you’ll find a veritable garden of eclectic offerings. Start with “Milk” here.

Throwback Thursday: Death Takes A Holiday

When we introduced Throwback Thursday to the blog, we were really excited to find out what sort of rad albums might come our way that, while not necessarily “current” in the media’s use of the term, manage to hold their relevance throughout the test of time. Death Takes A Holiday is just the sort of gem we had in mind.

Formed in the early nineties, DTAH took a short break and returned around ’97 to get down on the music-making. Pete Hinz (of JJCnV fame and lead bassist for Death Takes a Holiday back in the day) put up a collection of tracks [listen here] from the now defunct band and it was love at first listen.

Turns out Death Takes A Holiday was HUGE. Okay, maybe not Eagles huge, but definitely a name in the underground/alternative scene here in the Valley. They won a New Times Award and opened for some pretty stellar bands. I told Pete I would have to do a Throwback Thursday article on DTAH and he hooked me up with Andy Held and Richie Van Syckel, guitarist and second bassist respectively. The band also included a changing line up of drummers (Sam Horowitz, Dennis Hickerson, and Ray Weaver).

Through the awesome power of the Internet I was able to ask the guys a few questions about Death Takes A Holiday and they were kind enough to give me responses.

YabYum:  How did DTAH form and start playing together?

Pete Hinz: I was playing in a band called the Customers (late 80s-early 90s) with Andy, the guitarist. Then we got a new drummer and went with a new name. When christening the band “Death Takes A Holiday” I had no clue it was a movie from the 30s. I was driving a van I had painted completely black and mentioned how I should write “death takes a holiday” on the side. Then we split for a couple of years and got back together with Rich as second bassist in 97.

Richie Van Syckel: I joined the band the second time around. I was a huge fan of DTAH, I would go see them a lot and me Pete and Andy were hanging out going to shows and stuff. When they were thinking of reforming I totally wanted to be in the band. So I asked Pete if I could play bass and Pete would play 2nd guitar but Pete wanted to play bass and so we decided to do a 2 bass band. It totally worked.

Andy Held: Originally Pete started The Customers and I joined after their first guitarist left. We played out quite a bit and did some recording, then our drummer decided to call it quits, and along with a new drummer we decided to rename the band. Pete one night wanted to paint “Death Takes a Holiday” on the side of our ugly black band van, and I said that’s what we should rename the band, so there you have the beginning.   We split up around 1996ish when our drummer went into rehab for some substance abuse. In 97 Pete put an ad in the New Times classified musicians wanted section and the only people who responded to his ad were me and Sam Horiwitz, our drummer fresh out of rehab! We then announced this news of playing again to our #1 fan and good friend Richie VanSyckle, and his first response was “I’m playing with you guys this time!”, so two bass players it was.

What other projects were you in after DTAH? Are you in a band now? 

Pete: Before DTAH was the Customers. After was the Shaving Party and now JJCNV.

Richie: After DTAH I played guitar in Vin-Fiz. Then bass in Seven Storey Mountain for a few years. Also played in numerous noise rock project bands that never played out. I’m am currently in a band with Andy called Hi Fi Lo. We started the band a few months ago and will be playing are first show in June.

Andy: We did a short stint as The Shaving Party with Pete, myself and Richie and a drum machine with Pete playing some keyboards as well. We played one show, and then Pete continued with it for a while until he started Janis Joplin Crap and Vomit, JJCNV of course. Richie had, and I had, a few failed attempts at getting something going, but it never really got off the ground. In the fall of 2013 Pete asked Richie if we were still looking for a drummer, and as a bonus he has a practice place. Of course we jumped at the chance [to play] with Eric Guthrie formerly of Pinky Tuscaderos White Knuckle Ass Fuck and Wirefeeder, etc. We hit it off immediately personality wise and musically, and we knew we had the right guy, but we needed some vocals to really get going  Then guess who… Pete, asks if were looking for a singer/second guitarist.  He mentions Orin Portnoy from Odds and Sods, so we set up a rehearsal with him in January of ’14 and like the missing puzzle piece we started writing like crazy and we now call ourselves Hi Fi Lo. Our first show is June 7th at the Icehouse Tavern with Pete’s band JJCNV who put the puzzle together.

What was it like playing the Valley music scene back in the late 90’s, year 2000? How would you say it’s changed, is it better, worse, uncomparable? 

Pete: Pretty much the same. Still plenty of places to play for a band. Shit tons of bands. Just different venues and locations. The crap part is what Tempe did to the Mill Ave district. They turned it into a chain mall.

Richie: Playing shows in the 90s was pretty good for us. We played often and would always try to have our friends’ bands play with us. Also DTAH was getting a lot of press from zines to New Times. I would say the main difference of the scene back then was that most of the cool venues were in Tempe and Mesa area. Now all the good venues are in Phoenix.

Andy: I considered Death Takes a Holiday a unique art/punk band, and back in the early mid ninety’s we never fit in with any bands that well in town to actually create a scene, so we got to play with a lot of Rock/Grunge bands. And I think our stuff really kinda went over the crowds heads, but we did develop a few loyal followers, mainly friends of course. But in ’94 the Phoenix New Times hired a new Music Writer, Peter Gilstrap, and we were lucky enough for him to catch us on one of our “good” shows and that year he voted us “Best Alternative Band” in the 1994 Best of Phoenix issue of the New Times, which I thought was pretty cool. Towards the end of the 90s when the Modified Arts opened up, the independent music scene started picking up and with the addition of all the new Art Galleries who hosted bands, things were looking good.

More specifically, what was it like to a in an unclassifiable rockin punk band back then when so much stuff around here wasn’t? It just seems to me that music like DTAH would be easier received these days but perhaps I’m wrong. 

Pete: We got contacted by Island Records and World Domination Recordings for submissions. Nothing ever came about with those but its not like loud punk music didn’t have enough fans that the bigger labels were looking at even someone as small as we were. Back then we played shows with noise, pop, garage, weirdo, rock and punk bands. Just like now. We crossed a lot of genre lines cause we were influenced by and vomiting out many different artists.

Richie: Not sure if it would be different now. I think our crazy drunk loud funny shows might get a slightly different response from people.

Andy: I think you’re right about DTAH being much better perceived these days, there are still boundaries for all genres but I think there is a whole separate genre for bands that go beyond those boundaries.

Pete, Sammy, Richie and Andy at Hollywood Alley

Is there one proud/funny/shitty event or memory that sticks out more than others about DTAH that you would like to share? Like something that happened at a show or even when you guys were all together practicing/hanging out?

Pete: We played the grand opening of the original Nile Theater. Played with and spent the night hanging out with Steel Pole Bathtub. The stage lights at the Lucky Dragon set the stage on fire.

Richie: One of my favorite shows was we got asked to play a Valentine’s day show, but we wanted to do something different. So we decided to do all covers that had to do with love, sex and stuff. Gun Club’s “Sex Beat”, Cheap Trick’s “He’s a Whore”, Buzzcock’s “Ever Falling in Love” or Big Black’s “Bad Penny”, songs like that.

Andy: Well besides winning Best of Phoenix, my proudest memory was when I got a voice mail for an A&R Rep from Island Records that heard about us and was interested in possibly signing Death Takes a Holiday. So we put together our best attempt at a promo pack and sent it to her…..never to be heard from again. But I did save that voice mail forever and played it for people all the time.

Any plans for a reunion?

Pete: Already did one a couple years back.

Richie: If people totally wanted us to play a reunion I would do it. But I don’t think anybody cares.
We did do a reunion about 4 years ago, it was fun but we all have our current bands and would like to focus on that.

Andy: Well we did do a reunion gig in October of 2010 with Claire Griese playing drums. And who knows,  I would always be willing to do it again, I love playing those songs.

To listen to Death Takes A Holiday, click here. Thanks to Pete and Richie for scans. The band would like to dedicate this article to Sam Horiwitz.
Yes, this was at the Original Wongs.
A joke bio used once or twice

The Skeleton Keys

Photo courtesy of the Skeleton Keys
For Shane Hunt, music was always a conduit not simply for self-expression, but a way to relate to others.
“Music is the best catalyst for conversation I have ever discovered,” Hunt said. “You instantly have something to relate to anybody with. I can channel all that energy, enthusiasm or anguish and create something that not only helps me, but will touch or affect others also. Music transcends language barriers, religious beliefs or ethnicities – it’s a universal dialect. It’s not difficult to be enthusiastic about that.”
Shane Hunt, Sydney Sprague, and Sam Mitchell make up The Skeleton Keys, a new group in Phoenix ready to leave their unique mark on the Valley. Hunt plays guitar/mandolin, Sprague plays guitar/ukulele, while Mitchell plays violin/mandolin, and all three contribute on vocals. What’s more, Hunt’s comments show performing is something more to the trio than just playing music – they want to connect with their fans and make them feel something new.
“I tend to describe my songwriting as an attempt to encapsulate a particular moment or emotion,” Hunt said. “It’s like exorcism – you try to take an energy that is pervading your spirit and drive it out. Songs are a binding agent for that spirit. I look at where I am mentally and emotionally, feel what the tone of the song is, and imbue the melody and lyrics with the feeling I have currently, or with a past feeling that stands out to me.“
Shane Hunt
Another sign of great performers is how easily they adapt to change. The Skeleton Keys have changed since they first began, and have risen to many challenges. When Hunt was first performing, he played solo, but once he saw Sydney Sprague perform at a local “Chicks with Picks” showcase, he just had to introduce himself.
“We had very similar interests and songwriting styles,” Hunt said. “We blended very easily.”

When Hunt and Sprague began playing together, it quickly became a natural fit. Later, while Sprague was working as an intern at a recording studio in Austin, Hunt began writing for a music journal,, covering groups in the Valley and national acts.
Sam Mitchell was playing violin for one such group when she crossed paths with Hunt. But while Hunt was present to watch the group perform, Mitchell’s skills kept his attention through their whole set.
“I mentioned to her I was recording songs, and I would love to hear what it sounded like with her violin on them,” Hunt said. And later, when Mitchell parted ways with her former band, Hunt asked her if she would still be interested in working on the material together.
Eventually the three met and clicked instantly. The Skeleton Keys were born.
“When we met, Sydney and I were instant friends,” Mitchell said. “It’s not fake, everybody is really into it – everybody loves playing music. It’s music for music’s sake. I wrote stuff that fit in with their music, and went from there. We did a lot of covers, along with their own songs, to set the tone and develop our own rhythm and dynamic.”
Sydney Sprague
Hunt agreed, saying when groups sit down to write a set, there is often conflict regarding band direction.
“But with us, it was instant chemistry. Everyone got along great,” he said. “When we first walked in, we played a blend of my songs and Sydney’s songs… but we started to see the dynamic change. As a singer/songwriter, you write simply and for yourself; but I started to change in the way I approach songwriting. I write with the group in mind now, leaving space for Sam’s violin or for Sydney’s vocals.”
Mitchell adds she truly believes strings elevate and provide depth to rock music.
“I was determined to show everyone violin will fit into rock music,” she said. “It does fit into rock music. It was hard getting into a band – first, because I’m a girl; second, because I play violin.”
With The Skeleton Keys, Mitchell is thrilled to have found a group who appreciates her skills on violin, as well as builds their set around giving her a chance to shine.
“Before, in other groups, the fit just wasn’t right,” Mitchell said. “I came into this group now with bad experiences based on prior situations, but I was really blown away. I came home saying, ‘I really like doing this! I really like music again.’”
Hunt said there is a tangible difference between Sprague and himself playing as solo songwriters compared to the dynamic of when they play together.
Sam Mitchell
“I tend to write songs so I can still squeeze all the emotion, impact and intensity out of an audience I can when I play them by myself with an acoustic guitar,” he said. “So when I started to write for the band, my process started to change a bit to incorporate Sam and Syd’s strengths and sensibilities into my own style. There is a definite contrast to things I’ve written on my own to what we are writing together now. There is space created for solos, and there is a lot of room for harmonies, for example.”
The Skeleton Keys are ready to spread the word they are performing around town, and will soon head into the studio to record an album.
“Living off something we love so much would be amazing,” Mitchell said. “We’ve played consistently for a few months. We plan to get photos, merchandise and our album going very soon. I don’t care if we don’t get crazy big; I just want to get where we can do this for a living.”
Being an artist professionally is a major hurdle for most musicians, and Hunt knows there are many who are quick to condemn and sometimes dismiss performers. To every musical hopeful out there, he is just as quick to remind them for every criticism, there is a hand reaching out to offer help and support.
“You can’t allow your expectations to dictate your actions in the music business,” he said. “You have to just exist in the moment and allow things to happen to you… it’s an incredibly scarring and simultaneously intensely fulfilling experience. It’s like being in love with someone – it has the capacity to make you rapturous or completely devastated… so much of it is contingent on the type of energy you take to the situation. So if you’re open to good things, they will find you eventually.”
The Skeleton Keys aim to open many doors in the music industry and in the minds of their fans for the foreseeable future.
For more information on The Skeleton Keys visit them on Facebook or YouTube.
by Matt Marn
Contributing Writer

The Art of Busking with Jon Renner of Tiger Heist

Jon Renner of Tiger Heist tries to play his guitar live every day. He practices, plans out his set list, dresses up, and heads out to play and spread the word about his performances. But the difference between Renner and many other acts is he plays wherever he wants, whenever he wants.

Renner is a member of the Phoenix “busking” community, a term for street performers. He brings his guitar out onto a street corner or near a busy concert or sports venue, and performs for passersby with an open guitar case for welcome tips.

“A lot of what I do is street performing,” Renner said. “When there is a show at US Airways Center or Comerica, I go camp out and play. Fifty people have their eyes on me, and I’m a little nervous, but as soon as I start playing, it’s all great.”

Renner has been playing since September 2013, and January was his first solo gig. He plays as much as he can, sometimes more than one place or gig each day.

“I played 60 times in the summer – sometimes two or three a day,” he said. “It really helped. Performing is only one part; the networking is great too. I try to meet and talk to people whenever I play.”

Learning the Ropes

Renner pointed out now that music is his full-time job, a lot more goes into the craft once the food on your table depend on how well you can perform.

“You have to warm up and prepare for every time you go out and play,” he said. “When you play and sing as well, it’s a different muscle group. I can’t just bail on the gig… it’s my life. Also, when you get sick, it affects a lot – you have to cancel gigs, take time to recuperate. I also make an effort to dress up when I head out to play – to set myself apart.”

Renner explained looking the part truly makes a difference. The first time he went out to perform on the street, he dressed casually for the heat, wearing jeans and a T-shirt… and didn’t make much in tips.
“Later on, I went with a Johnny Cash look,” he said. “I put on a black button-down shirt, nice looking shoes – and I did a lot better. If you dress with confidence, the crowd picks up on that.”

There are a lot of things he learned from experience from street performing. There is a proper etiquette among the busking community as a whole – a mutual respect which must be shown to one another. He also had to learn on the fly about technique, amplifiers, what songs to play and when to play them, and so on. Most of all, he learned about how much you can make in tips, compared against the amount of foot traffic and people that stop to hear your performances.

“The secret is covers,” Renner said. “At first, covers weren’t what I wanted, but I got a lot of insight on great composers and artists. Learn a lot of songs, how chord progressions work. Then you can take that and adapt it, make it your own.”

Renner has a number of original songs under his belt, as well. As for the inspiration behind his songs, he said it always varies based on the song, and what is happening in his life at the time.

“Some of my original songs I’ve been writing for years, while others I finish on the spot, before the hour is up,” Renner said. “I usually start with a good chord progression – I’ve always been better starting with chords and melodies, then matching words to them, rather than the other way around.”

An Early Start In Music

Renner said music had always been around his household. His father played guitar fairly well – he wanted to learn, too, but was afraid to ask. When he was in fifth grade, Renner’s mother forced him to play the piano.

“I played nursery rhymes… I hated it,” he said. “But I guess looking back, even that helped me learn the importance of practice, and it grew my ear for music.”

He began to play guitar early, but it just wouldn’t stick. Renner’s true passion was revealed when his classmate took up the drums, and he followed soon after.

“My friend introduced me to Travis Barker, the drummer from Blink-182, and I tried the drums – and it just clicked,” he said. “I loved it. I spent a lot of time practicing to get better. My friend taught me beats during the day at school, and I went to Guitar Center every day in the afternoon to practice them in the drum room.”

Renner loves playing the drums, but in addition to drums, guitar, and a bit of piano, he also knows keyboard, ukulele, bass, and is trying to learn the violin. He used his talents to form a group during his school years first, where he played the drums, and brought in a guitarist and some other players. They played hip-hop/indie rock fusion and called themselves Tiger Heist.

“Honestly, we just picked the name because it sounded cool,” Renner said. “We looked up the name to make sure it wasn’t taken by another group. As it turned out, it was a slang term for an inside-job bank robbery back in the 40’s and 50’s. That locked it for us.”

Unfortunately, the group as it was then did not last, but Renner kept the name as he went out on his own as a solo performer. He has since quit his job and devoted everything to music.

“I didn’t have a set list or a plan… my first seven months, I lived on friends’ couches, truly living the ‘starving artist’ lifestyle,” Renner said. “I knew about street performing, I knew I could do that. But it wasn’t until I heard about the performer Passenger – and saw his successful performances and videos on YouTube, and all his CD sales just from street performing – then I knew it was possible. I knew I could do it. I got the gear I needed, and started marketing myself as a street performer.

A Tough Gig, Indeed

Street performing has come with its own set of challenges for Renner, including a territorial street performer from another corner, drunken pedestrians yelling into his microphone, and rough crowds.

“With street performing, you never know what will happen,” he said. “Once, I had people not digging my music, and a really mean-looking guy walked right up to me and turned off my amp, right in the middle of my song. I guess you never know what might happen – but I still love doing it.”

Another obstacle buskers have to work with can be legal barriers to performing. While Renner is fairly certain Phoenix accepts and welcomes street performing, other cities have more strict policies, particularly when it comes to performing plugged into an amplifier.

For example, Renner found out the hard way in Arizona some cities require a permit to play with an amp. He was stopped in Tempe by the police after 25 minutes of performing and told he needed a permit. When he tried to ask about getting a permit, he was told playing in Tempe with an amp requires a $130 each time you play, and to get it, you have to state in advance where you want to play, and for how long.

“I would love to see the laws on street performing relaxed,” he said. “I know the laws are there for a reason – if you take them away, a lot of people (who may need more practice first) might turn their amps way up, and hurt the reputation of street performing overall. And we don’t want people with not enough experience or skill giving street performers a bad name, but on the other hand, they have the right to play, too… It’s definitely a tough call.”

A New Start for Tiger Heist

Renner has recently finished writing the songs for his upcoming album, and is now playing a number of pre-arranged performances at local restaurants, like Potbelly Sandwich Shop in Phoenix. While he continues to perform on street corners, he knows performing in set venues is another great way to network and spread the word about his performances.

“You lose a lot of freedom playing in venues, but it’s more professional,” he said.

A lot of his attention is also moving toward getting his album recorded, as well as his CD release party, with a tentative date set for May 16.

“For me, it’s a set date, but we’ve got a lot of work to do to get there in time,” he said.

Renner also hopes to get a blog started, full of tips and advice on busking for street performer hopefuls. His dream for later on is to start a non-profit dedicated to sending used guitars to other areas, such as Africa, where they can find new life teaching new people to play and love music.

But for now, his advice to people hoping to learn to play guitar, or work their way up to street performing: just do it.

“Ask someone – someone who won’t just tell you what you want to hear,” Renner said. “Ask them if you’re ready to play in front of others. Memorize 10 to 15 songs, minimum. When you master those and get bored with them, then you’re ready. Being on the streets is awesome; you get so much free exposure… I wish I’d known about street performing earlier.”

Find “Tiger Heist” on ReverbNation at or catch him every First Friday in downtown Phoenix.

by Matt Marn
Contributing Writer