PHOSPHENES: PURVEYORS OF THE TEMPE SOUND

PHOSPHENES: PURVEYORS OF THE TEMPE SOUND

By Vanessa Joy

The early ’90s ushered in what we now know as the “Tempe Sound”. Any musician and fan alike was proud to be a part of the scene that major labels began to hail as “the new Seattle”. An intangible groove flowed down Mill Avenue where the college set, local scenesters and an array of other colorful characters congregated at the rock clubs that anchored the city’s musical mile. It was places like Edsel’s Attic, Gibson’s, Hayden Square and Balboa Cafe, among others ,that provided a home away from home to the live music crowd of the time. But, it was the closing of storied venue Long Wongs in April of 2004 that indicated the end of an era. These venues gave a ripe audience to bands such as the Gin Blossoms, Dead Hot Workshop, The Refreshments, The Meat Puppets, and Phosphenes. Like flannels and Doc Martens, Phosphenes are back to rock a whole new generation of Tempeans.
“Are you calling us seasoned?!” David Lawitz jokes indignantly. He’s the lead guitarist, backing vocalist and resident funnyman of the band. The quick-witted David, with even quicker fingers manipulating over frets, is truly mesmerizing to behold when he’s making his guitar bleed. The classically-trained Arizona State University alum is a rhythmic fireball of energy, and live music fans would be doing themselves a disservice not to catch this boisterous force in action on stage. David, along with older brother Bernie Lawitz–the band’s drummer–,founded the group in ’91, and soon after found a kindred spirit in lead singer/guitarist Jim Wiskerchen. After numerous changes in the band’s personnel over the years, Phosphenes are now the tight foursome we know today with the addition of steadfast, talented bassist Bill Harrison last year (whom the others lovingly refer to as “the glue”). In ’93, the band released their buzzworthy full-length album Peace and Open Minds. With this, their magnum opus,they drenched local stages with a sound that was more Tempe than underage drinking and Sparky. Says David, “Everytime we play [these songs] it’s kinda like the first time we’re playing it. It’s gotta have that type of emotion,” he adds. “David and I were the primary writers from the get-go…a lot of our influences–musically–was what was driving us,” says Wiskerchen. “[’90s] bands like R.E.M were a big influence on me and my writing.” Adds David, “[Jim was] able to really pick up on the sound of the times. That was always his gift.” Wiskerchen, the youngest of the group, showcases the uncanny ability to project any sound, and excite any emotion into Phosphenes’ tracks. There are points in their live performances where you can almost swear you’re watching a different band, yet they remain effortlessly cohesive. Wiskerchen grew-up in a musical family (his mother was an opera singer), and one of the benefits of fostering his vocal talents at such a tender age is that he hasn’t even begun to peak. “[My voice] has actually gotten better over the years,” he notes. Wiskerchen’s rich vocal cadence is a major stand-out amongst his scene counterparts, but his first love? “I’m still addicted to writing.”
The Lawitz brothers,while originally from Hauppauge,New York, are your quintessential Valley boys. “I grew up in Scottsdale, hungout in Tempe, now live in Tempe,” says Bernie. “Mill Avenue was amazing in the ’90s. The music scene was much better for rock bands. You go down [Mill Avenue] now and you have DJs going and house music. It’s just completely different. Going down [Mill Avenue] back then, every bar had a live band. You could see 10 bands in one night. You had Edsel’s Attic, you had Chuy’s, you had all these other clubs. It was great. It was just like Austin is now. It’s terrible what’s happened,” he expresses. “Mill Avenue will never be the same…” Wiskerchen adds, “corporate America took over.”
With an ever-changing music scene in the Valley, Phosphenes have remained a constant. “I’ve always loved the Phosphenes,” says Rob Tasso the former owner of Edsel’s Attic. “They’re one of my favorite bands.” Tasso, who currently owns and operates the popular Tempe Tavern, has kept the band as a fixture on his stages since he was a 21-year-old kid running Edsel’s. He’s not one to mince words, so the compliment is a bonafide endorsement. However, one change that has become apparent is the band’s sound evolution. While inherently not abandoning the magic that helped them define the “Tempe Sound”, they are able to deftly oscillate between influences from Pink Floyd to twenty-one pilots. This band is definitely not “set in their ways” so to speak. To keep a firm grip on such staying power, Phosphenes have had to overcome many hurdles to remain relevant. The hardest of all: “life,” Bernie emphatically states. “Marriage, kids, divorce, but we’re all good friends…” It’s that bond between this band, a meeting of the minds, that has kept them resilient in the face of inevitable adversities that all too many bands have succumbed to. Bernie, in addition to being a powerhouse percussionist, has also taken over the Lawitz family business of Beads Galore located at Priest Drive and Southern Avenue in Tempe. The store is a Mecca for jewelry makers, craftspeople and bead enthusiasts. “We started in my parents’ garage with $126 worth of beads to a store with over 6,000-square-feet full of beads,” Bernie exclaims. Even with the pressures of their daily grinds, Phosphenes is the bandmates’ common infatuation. “We do this because we love it,” states Bernie. The best advice he can give to up-and-coming bands following on the path that they have paved? “Compromise…for each individual person…as the whole band.”
In their own right, Phosphenes is still an up-and-coming band simply because, unlike a lot of bands from their era, they have not stagnated. their musical ebb and flow is undeniably thrilling for any fan of live music. Change is the only constant, and this band is perpetually evolving with the times. We at Azmusic.org were lucky enough to get a sneak peek at some of their upcoming material; Tempe hasn’t heard the last from this timeless band. You can catch them Friday April 8 at Tempe Tavern, and at our next event Country’s Crazy Passover Party also at Tempe Tavern April 22.

It’s Meant to Be; It’s INTERFATE

BY VANESSA JOY

We music-hounds here at Azmusic.org got to sit down with the guys of Interfate recently. Nowhere near an overnight success, Interfate is an Arizona group that we’re all too pleased to follow as their popularity rises quicker than the outside temps. We got the pleasure of delving into exactly who this band is and their plans for future clout . We might as well–they’re here to stay.
Fronted by Jordan Sanchez, a soft-spoken character with smoldering eyes who wields a big vocal “stick”, Interfate has seen a surge in interest over the past year. It’s mainly due to their enthralling hard rock anthem “Fear” released in 2015. The track showcases the band’s plentiful musical layers and perked up the ears of fans, colleagues and onlookers alike. When asked why he thinks Interfate has garnered such relevance in the scene as of late Sanchez replies, “I think we’ve just been fortunate enough to be booking these awesome shows and getting our music out there–slowly and surely.” Hopefully, you made it out to the band’s inaugural Livewire performance in Scottsdale last Sunday. They provided the opening entertainment, and gained a flood of new fans for themselves, for heavy metal supergroup Hellyeah. They’ve also provided local support for the likes of: Nonpoint, Taproot, Smile Empty Soul, Static X, Boy Hits Car and In This Moment to name a limited few. We all know the protocol for getting your band heard: promote, gig and fucking rock. These guys seem to have received the memo.
Like an incredible lover, Interfate takes you on an emotive roller coaster of visceral feelings that are lovely to feel and yet hard to reconcile when it ends. They wrap you in a flannel of melodic hardcore, whilst kissing you in the morning and just walking away–they leave us wanting more. “[We shoot for] a modern sound,” says Sanchez. Drummer, Charles Kendall adds, “I think we’re between Breaking Benjamin and Seether. [Our style] keeps changing. Our new stuff is way different…well, not too different,” he assures. With undeniable grunge roots as well, these Phoenix ingenues have grown up in the scene, and are now the men we hear on tracks such as “Tremble”. “We just released “Tremble” about two months ago–it’s a little more laid back,” states Sanchez.
Something that seems to be rare in the AZ music scene, is witnessing a band give another their due. But, the guys in Interfate know exactly what kind of gifts they possess musically/vocally, and their love for the scene is free-flowing and refreshing–these guys are true musicians. “We’ve played a lot of shows in California, and it’s a whole different attitude,” says Kendall. “The bands there actually like each other. They work with each other and bring each other’s crowds together.” “Their fans are there to see other bands…not just their band and leave, which I feel happens a lot [in Arizona],” adds Sanchez. When asked which of their contemporaries they enjoy seeing as fans, the band replies in unison, “Bear Ghost!” Ethan 103, Frequis, Nomada and Tome all received honorable mention from the guys.
In addition to seeing these guys at the regular haunts(i.e. Joe’s Grotto, Marquee and a myriad of Tempe/Scottsdale venues) you might be lucky enough to catch them making ear holes wet just for fun with their side project, The Grunge Sponges, at Devil’s Advocate on Tuesday nights during open mic. “Just [something] to keep ourselves busy,” says Sanchez. With the assist from cocksure bassist Ty Koile and the restorative rhythm guitar from band newbie Carl Martinez, we’re certain “them Interfate boys” will be very busy in the coming days. Escape the heat this weekend, and catch the band this Friday at The Drunken Lass Irish Pub in Prescott, Arizona.

Pat Riot Reviews Just a Memory

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Recently I was approached by Paul Levesque to do a review of his band Light Speed Go’s Sophomore EP “Just a Memory”.I don’t consider myself much of a writer but, I have known Paul for going on 5 years now and of course I am happy to get a sneak peek of an album before anyone else, especially this one.

This 6 song EP is something I have enjoyed listening to. I have had it on a loop for hours, not just to do this review but because it is a damn good album and very well rounded. Its quite the emotional roller coaster in the 6 songs that are on the EP but, Its an awesome ride.

The first track titled “Go” empowers a feeling we can all relate to. The feeling of knowing that your significant other is on their way out. Knowing that its just a matter of leaving that you feel just needs to be done. Realizing you’re different and never really had anything in common to begin with. “Lately I just want to see you go”.

“Go” builds up nicely into “Get Away”. Another all too familiar feeling for a lot of us. The feeling of being stuck and wanting to get away.

In “Last Flight” they really show not just their Punk roots but their definite Punk Rock Chops.

As we fade into “Not You” the story continues with the rich emotional journey we have been on all along. About becoming the man your father never was or could be.

As it plays along, the melody continues, you grove along right into the title track “Just a Memory”. Its another feeling we have all had, especially listening to punk music. Its a great hate love song. Its a middle finger that screams  “I love you, bitch”.

To wrap up the 6 track EP is an amazing acoustic punk ballad titled ” Runaway”. Finding that one girl at the show with the same patches on her vest and smokes the same cigarettes you do. Hoping and wishing she thinks about you as much as you think about her. She is the first thing you think about when you wake up. The last thing you think about before you go to bed. The girl you would do anything for.

To wrap up this review, I have to say it has to be one of the best local punk albums I have heard in a long time. I couldn’t be a bigger fan of Light Speed Go then at this moment.If I didn’t already have this album I would buy it. Twice. So, hit up the band or Go to a show and grab your copy of “Just a Memory”!!

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They have an upcoming show on Feb 26th at Rebel Lounge (Fire Marshall Permitting). If you don’t go see them there you can always check them out on…

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ARIZONA’S GOLDEN BOYS: AMERICAN STANDARDS

ARIZONA’S GOLDEN BOYS: AMERICAN STANDARDS

By Vanessa Joy

We at Azmusic.org recently caught up with the jovial young lads of American Standards–the most famous band in the Valley you’ve probably never heard of. These guys are the band your cooler, younger brother told you about, but you take all the credit for when introducing this four-piece to friends. Sitting down with the members(excluding guitarist and recognized heart of the band, Corey Skowronski), they answered some unadulterated questions like why Tempe venues smell so distinctly weird.
Frontman and founding member, Brandon Kellum is a lethal combination. Possessing the oxymoronic state of being a well-heeled West Phoenix kid with chiseled good looks, who happens to wail like a chained banshee and produce the kind of guttural screams that most “scene” girls’ panties drop for–I introduce you to the Patrick Bateman of the modern hardcore-punk sound. He’s quick to crack a beer and flashes a disarming smile. With consummate vitality, Kellum explains the band’s goal,”It’s not how we can go heavier and heavier, but how we can go in every direction more”. An American Standards album is a musically all-encompassing one: hardcore,melodic,experimental, which is made apparent on their most recent effort, Hungry Hands. But, all the while, never forgetting the punk rock ties that bind. Since the inception of the band–a nod to the ubiquitous porcelain throne brand–the seemingly well-mannered boys have made their not-so-polite display of power in Arizona’s music scene by showcasing a superlative brand of thrash, metal, punk and–for lack of a better word–screamo that appeals to all hardcore tastes alike. They quickly gained a following that went from cult to devout with their DIY punk ethic. Brooklyn-born bassist, Steven Mandell who joined the band two years ago muses, “When they first started, they really had the raw punk rock feel to them. Really thrashy…” Formerly of AZ local band Ape Kill Ape, Mandell is much more than a bass-slappin’ rhythm keeper. He has a certain ear that allows him to meld effortlessly with the other members to create an oddly perfect union. But as time progressed and the band’s personnel changed, so did the direction of the sound–with awesome results.
Mitch Hosier is the unassuming one in the backwards baseball cap with the bill curled like Dennis the Menace. He’s thoughtful. He chooses his words carefully. he declines a beer for a bottled water. There’s a thousand guys that look like Hosier, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one that plays drums like him. The newest addition to the band, Hosier is the punk anchor of the outfit with his incomparable percussive speed. While the band is able to explore creatively, it’s Hosier’s drumming that keeps them in the punk section of iTunes and Spotify. Even though his adolescent musical tastes began with nu-metal and such, he was–thankfully–introduced to punk for our sakes. “[My dad] had an Offspring album, so I got really into punk music…that fast punk kinda stuff…,” says Hosier. Feeling old yet?
With an unequivocal sound and a highly-marketable look, it was only a matter of time before major labels started seeking out the desert-bred act. Enter Victory Records. The Chicago-based, controversy-plauged label has included on their roster such acts as: A Day to Remember, Streetlight Manifesto and Hawthorne Heights. All of which have filed lawsuits against the label for reasons ranging from breach of contract to fraud. The guys inked a deal with We Are Triumphant, Victory Records’ Boston-based distribution partner. “Having our name attached to a larger label [helped],” says Kellum. “But, the actual work behind [the band] was all us. When it came to booking tours, recording…all the money and time that goes into all that–it was all us.” After cutting ties with the label in 2013, the band released the five song EP The Death of Rhythm and Blues, which has been highly-regarded as a major creative turning point for American Standards.
If you’ve ever caught an American Standards show, you’re seeing one that the guys themselves would attend as fans. “We only want to play shows people want to come see,” says Kellum. They’re not playing on a bill that consists of bands that they wouldn’t personally listen to and rally for. It’s that same discretion that has made them a sought-after act. Not only in the Valley, but nationally as well. A lot of bands fall into the all too comfortable rut of playing the same shows, at the same venues, with the same bands and the same people in attendance–an easy way to become stale and shorten your popularity’s shelf-life. American Standards found that out a long time ago, and it’s paying off. They opened up for Atreyu in Tucson last month, and their response? “That was pretty cool for us…” A cool, calm and collected reaction that can only come from a band who’s played with the likes of GWAR, Sick of it All, Norma Jean and Danzig. These hometown boys are making good and you can’t expect to see them on the local circuit without keeping your ear to the street, which makes their charismatic sound that much more alluring. Some in the local scene feel that there are certain bands or individuals holding other acts back by sheer networking muscle, but these guys have avoided the dramatics of a merciless Valley music community. Conspiracy theories aside, American Standards has shown so much love to the stages that nurtured their beginnings and ran up formidable bar tabs at some of our favorite venues. “I really like the Underground,” says Hosier–The Nile, for all of you neophytes, has gained a bigger draw with their newly acquired liquor license. Tempe Tavern, Yucca Tap Room and Joe’s Grotto also received honorable mention from the band. You can also witness this hardcore act at your local perk place. They recently played Gurley Street Coffee in Prescott and the boys enjoy Tempe’s 51 West. “It doesn’t quite smell like farts yet,” Kellum states matter-of-factly. The one thing that can’t be masked by the smell of fresh-brewed java is the inevitable trajectory of this substantial band. No one can accuse these guys of being an overnight success, but we at Azmusic.org are ecstatic to see where the coming days take these critical Arizona darlings.

The Superb Reality of I.am.Hologram.

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The Superb Reality of I.am.Hologram

By Vanessa Joy

 

     We recently sat down for a beer and a super-revealing chat with an artist who has, virtually, been plucked from obscurity and become a household name in the scene. You simply know him as i. am. hologram. This gripping solo artist tells us about the light and dark side of being alone onstage, why you can’t so easily label him just another singer/songwriter and why he’s delightfully startled that you know his name.
      In a homogenous scene filled with the ever-present “guys with guitars”, this alluringly eccentric musician, with an easy smile and tough convictions is a major stand-out. If you frequent any local venue, you’ve caught him live at least once (except for Pub Rock Live, but we’ll get to that later). When asked about his steadily-rising popularity he responds, “It’s strange to hear that. I don’t feel like I get out there as much, but it’s never enough for me. It’s always nice to know that I’m not doing what I do for nothing.” That sentiment is one all musicians can relate to and,sadly, some never realize.  Well on his way to scene domination, i. am. hologram.’s capabilities are no illusion.
     A stunningly adept guitarist, i. am. hologram. plays in a more unorthodox manner than his scene counterparts. While most musicians tune in 440 hertz, this visionary musician tunes in 432 hertz. “It’s just a slight difference, but it makes all the difference,” he notes.  432Hz is said by some scholars to promote natural healing–a harmonious intonation of Mother Nature.  That definitely explains i. am. hologram’s soaringly transcendent sets he’s been offering up to the Valley. A truly attuned soul, you can hear the balance this man possesses in his vocal agility.  He can be soft and sensual over his intricate chords, or primeval like a “screaming velociraptor”.
     We at Azmusic.org have said it before and we’ll reiterate: there’s not enough local musicians willing to collaborate to propel the scene out of the Valley.  That doesn’t seem to hinder i. am. hologram one iota.  “It was hard doing this without a band,” he says.  “When you have a band, you have a whole support system. So I feel very vulnerable. If something malfunctions, it’s all on me–ALL on me.  If my right foot goes out, I have to get into a fight with my right foot that night–get it back in line,” he says with a smirk.  No stranger to the histrionic antics that can come from being in a group, i. am. hologram has found a snug fit in the local scene as a solo act. However, every venue hasn’t been so responsive to this one-act. “Pub Rock feels my music is too slow,” the artist laments.  “They just don’t dig my style…I have songs that are 200 BPM.  So, when people label me as a singer/songwriter it takes away from the fact that one person can make more noise than some of these two, three, four, five, six, seven piece bands!  I make a lot of noise!” Among being a trained multi-instumentalist, i. am. hologram. is also and ex punk band member. When asked why he no longer plays punk music, he movingly declares, “I do. What is punk but a raw release of emotions?” Well-played, sir.
     Catching this complex artist’s live show is a chance to peek behind the curtain of this kaleidoscopic, genre-bending talent.  The barefoot buddha of the local scene, it’s like Annie Lennox and Kurt Cobain had a love child!  We here at Azmusic.org cannot wait to hear more from this enigmatic artist.  i. am. hologram. is not a one-man-show, but one man’s existential awakening.

The Christmas Party!!

Jesse Val Returns with the ‘Purist Rock’ of Delta Val

By Vanessa Joy

Azmusic.org had the pleasure of sitting down with Jesse Val recently to chat with him about his opening at Pho Cao, the direction of his new vision and why this heart-wrenching new album was worth the fight back.
Amongst the low iridescent lights and diners enjoying mouthfuls of succulent Vietnamese cuisine, Jesse Val was laying his soul bare with his sumptuous, whiskey-soaked vocals . “[The debut show] was a very emotional roller coaster,” says Jesse. You’re off the scene for well over a year to try to rediscover who you are and what you wanna give to the people…” The people have responded in a resounding fashion by showing up to Pho Cao–on a Monday night nonetheless–with eager ears to specifically catch this Tempe Comeback Kid, once again, grace the stage.
Cartoon Lion fans will be relieved to hear, Jesse Val has not abandoned the key elements that made him a favorite on the scene to begin with. Says Jesse, “I’ve always done simple rock ‘n’ roll. It’s who I am inside. It’s wild, It’s not always tuned-up.” Whereas Cartoon Lion favored a more modern sound, Delta Val will be offering up a much more vintage, classic vibe and listeners seem to be keen on this new incarnation.
This multihyphenate (singer/songwriter/guitarist) has always been highlighted by fans and critics alike as a prolific songwriter and the highly-relatable, self-aware tracks from Delta Val are no exception. When we asked Jesse Val about his songwriting process, we got a much more metaphysical answer than we bargained for: “Musicians [write by saying]: ‘let’s make a song sound like this…or there needs to be a metal part here’,” he says. ” [I’m] not saying that’s wrong, [but] the music that I write is not mine. I don’t know where it comes from to be honest with you. It’s there. It’s in my head, so I play it. Once it comes out, you guys hear it; it just passes through me. You have to let it be what it is–regardless if it’s heavy or slow or soft.” This is when we fell in love with Jesse Val even more than we already were.
A San Diego (National City) transplant to the Valley from modest means with Pacific-blue eyes, Jesse Val isn’t interested in making musical merriment for the posh set–cough, cough Scottsdale–he’s the patron saint of us working stiffs. Says the artist, “I need to connect with the common person. I [couldn’t] care less about these rich people and politicians…, but us regular folk–we need a voice. Sometimes the day just sucks and sometimes you’re tired of grindin’ on the stone, but–the music–for three minutes can take you somewhere, make you forget about the bills.” The diverse crowd you’ll see at a Delta Val show is a testament to Jesse Val’s philosophy, even though this profound artist didn’t have it quite so easy growing-up as the odd-man-out. A White minority in a predominately Black and Hispanic neighborhood, young Jesse Val honed his musical skills in a sheer attempt to give himself some type of emotional output and now, the fans, we reap the benefits of a once-tortured soul who has now found inner peace through his craft.
Delta Val has also opened the door for talented, young bassist Kyle Forsyth to show up on the scene like a quiet storm. Like Jesse Val, Kyle has been playing for most of his life and we’re excited to see where this new-found musical partnership takes them. The essence of Delta Val is simple, pure, untainted and Kyle adds to that mystique nicely. Even though Jesse Val’s personnel that he jams with has changed–his endgame has not. “Every artist in town knows it; reinvention is the key.” Jesse Val muses. “It’s how you stay relevant. If you keep producing the same art year after year, well…people already have that.” Even as a new father, Jesse Val has definitely succeeded in his venture to stay relevant. He laughs, “It can be done!”
You would think with such connections on the local scene, Delta Val would have dozens of local musicians vying for a chance to collaborate with this dextrous musician. That wasn’t the case. After proverbially knocking on the door of some former scene-mates, his drive to make music with other like-minded musicians fell on deaf ears. It’s an evil that this town has been plagued with for far too long and from the ashes of those dashed hopes, Delta Val rises. We have a feeling, others will realize that their ticket to ride on the smoking locomotive that is Delta Val was a missed opportunity. Don’t miss yours. We at AZmusic.org implore you to catch this esoteric and momentous artist on a stage near you.