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Weekend music

Tucson sounds: Jillian Bessett keeps us in the loop

If you're from around here and you don't know who Jillian Bessett is, you probably don't get out much.

Whether as front-person for pop/jazz-tinged band Jillian and the Giants, original bassist for surf rock supergroup the Surfbroads, or hypertalented backup vocalist for local luminaries including Carlos Arzate, Keli Carpenter and Katie Haverly, Bessett's voice is heard all over.

Though the Tucson musician, songwriter, composer and now producer is nominally a stay-at-home mom these days, she's possibly more creatively plugged in than ever, with a hand in projects ranging from a local femme-focused music networking collective, a solo album, producing and recording other artists, and collaborating with frequent musical "partner in crime" Katie Haverly, most recently on the video for Haverly's "Titanic" and the upcoming score to Hawkinsdance piece The People Electric.

Jillian Bessett

​TucsonSentinel.com: Hey there! Lots of folks in the Tucson music community know you pretty well. But for those who don't, do you mind introducing yourself?

Jillian Besset: "Hi! I'm Jillian Bessett. I'm a producer and vocal live looper and I also sometimes play with my full band Jillian and the Giants. "

TS: What have you been up to lately, musically speaking?

JB: "[My band and I] haven't been gigging out together as much since my youngest was born but we're still all working together in different capacities. Lately the majority of my creative energy has been focused outward, producing and composing music for other people/companies, or in cultivating a femme collective called Shoptalk that aims to build community with other non binary or woman identifying creatives/entrepreneurs."

"More recently I've gotten to be a part of things like the Electric Witch series put on by Hannah Yen, Nirantha Balagopal, and Chelsey Trejo. It was an event that featured presentations on sound equipment, electronic gear, and other basic stuff you need to know in the music industry, and it was geared specifically for women and non binary folx. Sometimes playing music can feel very male-dominated and territorial. It was so uplifting and rejuvenating to see so many fresh faces with a femme perspective and generous open hearts, where the feeling is that there's room enough for every single one of us and that we're so much stronger together."

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"I loved this idea of fellowship and resource sharing so much, especially being at home with the baby. I don't have as much time to devote to going out and networking anymore. So I started running an online group that sometimes has meetings at my house that talks about the music business. It's called Shoptalk and if you're reading this and you're a femme-presenting person who wants to learn about how the music business works (or you're a femme-presenting person who has experience to share!) and need some guidance and community, please find me on Facebook or email me and come be a part of it."

TS: How did your current solo musical incarnation come about?

JB: "My current solo looping setup started last summer when I was trying to figure out how to play the music in my head without needing to have the full band over and get a babysitter. It didn't feel like my typical solo sounds I could pull from playing a guitar or piano. I wanted something that felt fuller and rhythmic. So I've been using the looper to create a percussive and layered background to the songs I'm writing. It's absolutely the most fun I've ever had playing and writing music and it just seems to keep getting more interesting."

TS: Besides your solo act, what other bands have you been in? JB: "I have also played bass for local surf icons the Surfbroads and have sang backup for Katie Haverly, Carlos Arzate, and Keli Carpenter. I recently sat in with Loveland at one of the last shows at Cans." TS: How did you fall in love with your instruments and start playing music? And how has your approach to writing changed as a solo artist, especially recently? JB: "My main musical focuses are singing, lyric writing, and production. Instruments have always been a necessary conduit to convey the idea but they're not my specialty. I'm not classically trained and any of the music theory I've learned has been in the past five years - it's really abysmal. But when I'm writing, I know what sounds I want to happen next and I can hear them in my head. With Jillian and the Giants I was so spoiled because I would basically sing and describe what I wanted to the band (Chris Callahan, Paul Radek, and Julius Schlosburg) and they'd go 'oh you mean this?' and just bang it out. So I've been privileged to love and work with some really talented instrumentalists. So when I started to step out solo, the looper is what allowed me to sing exactly what I heard in my head without needing a translator. On one hand it's liberating to be able to control the creative process from start to finish, but I also miss the camaraderie and closeness of being in a band all the time. I've been trying to reach out and create social opportunities in other ways to make up for that but with the baby being so young it's not always easy." TS: How did you discover music, especially pop music and rock and roll? JB: "Growing up I was so basic. I listened to whatever was on 93.7 KRQ and when was I feeling extra cool 97.5 FM. Let's see... Britney Spears, Brandy, Monica. I think I owned a Third Eye Blind CD, maybe. I know every lyric to Bare Naked Ladies and Chumbawumba. Look Julie, I'm not necessarily proud of all this but I'M HERE TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH. " "It wasn't till my 20s that I think I started discovering music and really understanding what musical genres and sounds I really liked and spoke to me. There was an angsty folk period: Tracy Chapman, Ani Difranco, Arlo Guthrie. There was Kate Bush, the Beatles, Lauryn Hill. I remember listening to 'Blackstar' by David Bowie and just sobbing, thinking that it was such a cool way to head into whatever happens after this life. Meeting and marrying Paul was probably the best thing to happen to me musically. He has one of the most beautiful music collections and has been making me mix tapes since we started dating. A short list of the music I might have missed without him includes the Beach Boys, Parliament, Pere Ubu, Fugazi, Captain Beefheart, Sun City Girls. He relentlessly tries to make jazz happen for me. Something will pop up on the Genius playlist and he'll say, 'OK, who is this famous trumpet player?' but I never know who it is and he'll sigh and I'll laugh. I always guess Miles Davis. Ugh, I'm the worst." TS: Hey, man, all of us secretly start out on Top 40 radio before we graduate to the "harder" stuff. So no shame there. What are your favorite bands of all time though? Current favorites? Local favorites? JB: "My favorite bands ever? Probably Kate Bush, the Beatles, Ani Difranco. This is so difficult! I'm currently listening to Y La Bamba, Adia Victoria, The Suffers. There's so much good stuff touring right now!" "I just opened for the L.A.-based band FINKEL and Wild Powwers from Seattle and they were SO great. Locally, I love the Surfbroads, Shrimp Chaperone, Big Mean, Street Blues Family, Katie Haverly. Sharkk Heartt, Al Foul, Naim Amor, Fatigo, and Weekend Lovers. Moontrax is doing some really cool and beautiful stuff. Chezale of course, Trahma and the other performers in the femme hip hop cypher from Tucson Hip Hop Fest have been in heavy rotation (soooooo gooooood.) I'm recording an album for Just Najima, aka Najima Rainey (formerly of rhe Sinners) right now and it's blues/gospel/goth. It's so beautiful!" TS: Future plans as a solo artist and for the band? JB: "Future plans as a solo artist are to finish recording and release this looper set I've been perfecting this past year. The album is called 'JOY,' so keep an ear out for that. We're also researching and dipping our toes in client based recording (Jiantt studios maybe? We're still knocking the name around.) As for Jillian and the Giants, I'm sure we'll be back once the baby is a bit older." TS: You've shared a lot about running your own gigs, including live sound. How'd you learn, what should others know and what obstacles have you faced in learning this? JB: "I started learning how to run sound in 2012 or so,announcing for Tucson Roller Derby. It was a basic PA setup, but then playing live shows over the years in so many different spaces and environments, you pick it up. We also do a lot of recording at our house, so its been hands on, kind of on the job training." "Some of the challenges that come from live sound are that you're under pressure and unless you're doing sound in the same place day after day there are going to be multiple variables affecting your sound at each spot. Acoustics, size, how many people are in the building all affect how you set up. I remember thinking 'God, it would be so helpful if I could just practice setting up all this stuff without pressure a few times.' So I did, I watched a lot of Youtube, I asked friends, I screwed up a lot, I got better and now I'm here. In my experience as a woman performer and being on that side of the soundboard is that sometimes people don't want to hear your input and you have to be firm about what your needs are. I try to keep that in mind when I'm running sound and try to take my ego out of it. The sound person, performer and venue should all want the same thing, to have the greatest show possible, and thats more easily achieved when everyone is listened to and feels comfortable." TS: Tell us about your upcoming project with Hawkinsdance. JB: "The very next project I'm SO EXCITED to be a part of is The People Electric. The People Electric is a self-produced contemporary dance concert put on by Hawkinsdance. Its an expression of feminism with a stylistic nod to the second wave feminist movement of the 1970s. Katie Haverly and I have composed the score for this piece and we can't wait to see it all come together. The show runs this Friday through Sunday at the Scoundrel and Scamp Theatre. You can still buy tickets, but hurry! Friday night is nearly sold out and the next nights are sure to sell out as well."

The People Electric by Hawkinsdance (score by Jillian Besset and Katie Haverly) runs Friday- Sunday at Scoundrel and Scamp Theatre. More info available at hawkinsdance.org.

Tucson's green new deals

You may or may not know it, but Tucson was founded by an Irishman, Hugo O'Conor. With a pedigree like that, Saint Patrick's Day around these parts is more than just a collegiate drinking holiday and as such, our little desert village has a time-honored tradition of hosting and fostering Celtic-flavored bands, especially around this time of year.

While Tucson in the '80s and '90s had a rather hopping Celtic music scene, including groups like the New Potatoes and the Mollys, the current batch of Irish flavored troubadours is a little bit leaner these days. Keep your eyes peeled for old favorites including the Out Of Kilters and Bastard Sons of Patrick as well as "Jimmy O'Carra and the Awkward Moments," a familiar band with a slightly altered name in light of the occasion.

The biggest ticket draws this Saint Pat's weekend, however, will likely lean more towards a couple of seasonal supergroups, who have been rehearsing for months to bring you this weekend's marathon lineup of Emerald Island folk balladeering. The first is Joshua Butcher's the Lucky Ones, featuring many of Butcher's bandmates from projects like the Muffalettas and Little Cloud. This seasoned group of pro players will no doubt put on a show to remember. Giving them a little competition this year are he newest Celtic kids on the block, the Desert Rovers, made up of folks from Bryan Thomas Parker and friends, For Love or Absinthe and Old Pueblo Soul Revue. Though much newer as a project, the Rovers are also a talented crew of working musicians and sure to entertain the mix of tourists, drunken college kids and Irish blooded locals that head out to throw back a Guinness or three this weekend.

Catch these players from roughly Friday through Sunday this week as each band rushes from venue to venue and gig to gig, and keep in mind that there can only be ONE Highlander! Just kidding. Highlanders are Scottish, not Irish, so there don't need to be any winners or losers in this particular race.

Also happening this week...

South by Southwest is in full swing this week, as evidenced by the continuing flow of notable indie bands stopping in Tucson on the way to or from the Austin based annual music industry showcase. And, as usual, a handful of Tucson's finest are representing our fine city at the conference. This year's Old Pueblo ambassadors of record at SXSW include the Rifle, La Cerca, Xixa and Mute Swan. May they travel safely and do us proud! In the meantime, check out this week's crazily jam-packed and talented lineup as the SXSW tour circuit continues to cross our borders. Meanwhile, new music is also on the horizon, including a long awaited full-length release from Nanami Ozone and a brand-new single by local band Moontrax, both released as of Friday. Moontrax is unveiling the single live at this week's show with the Tongs, so you'll have to wait a little longer to hear it. Though I can assure you the wait will be worth your while. In the meantime, you absolutely can check out Nanami Ozone's "No" by heading to this week's local music sidebar for a preview. Last, but by no means least, Tucson expat and talented musician Elizabeth Scarzini is headed our way this week with her current band HollyHocks. Check out that show at a rare Thursday night Che's Lounge set with support from local legends Greyhound Soul. That's a wrap, folks, but stay tuned for next week's column, in which a sampling of our city's best and brightest live sound engineers tell all about doing time behind the board for local venues.

Check your local listings...

Friday, March 15

  • Black Medicine,Droll Second, Crooked Saints - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
  • Cherry Pools w/ Tillie - 8 p.m. 191 Toole.
  • Emo Night w/ Taking Back Harambe, Tucson is the Reason, Dirt Friends - 8 p.m. Club Congress
  • Club 90s Selena Night - 8 p.m. Rialto
  • Monsterwatch w/ Exbats and Taco Sauce - 7 p.m. Sky Bar
  • Lonesome Shack w/ Roman Barten-Sherman - 8 p.m. Exo
  • Brandon Bailey Johnson - 8 p.m. Borderlands Brewing
  • Adara Rae - 6 p.m. Sand-Reckoner
  • Moontrax w/ Tongs - 8 p.m. Passe
  • Eugene Boronow Duo - 9 p.m. Dusty Monk Pub

Saturday, March 16

  • Tucson Ordinary Closing Party w/ DJ Mark Beef - 6 p.m. The Ervice
  • Desert Rovers - 6 p.m. Dillinger Brewing Company
  • Bryan Thomas Parker, Desert Rovers - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
  • Darlingside w/ River Whyless - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Febbo & Fuentes - 6 p.m. Sand-Reckoner
  • Al Foul Trio - 6 p.m. Mercado San Agustin
  • Iron Maidens w/ the Jack - 7 p.m. House of Bards
  • Club Sanctuary w/ dj Plastic Disease and DJ Black Flagg - 9 p.m. Surly Wench Pub
  • Great Cover-Up Reprise: Distortionists (B-52s); Miss Olivia and The Interlopers (Bjork); Big Mean (Depeche Mode) - 9:30 p.m. Sky Bar
  • Golden Boots w/ Otherly Love - 10 p.m. Che's Lounge
  • Mattea, Paul Jenkins - 8 p.m. Hotel McCoy
  • Mr Shadow & The Raskal - 7 p.m. The Warehouse on 4th
  • The Lucky Ones - 9 p.m. Dusty Monk Pub

Sunday, March 17

  • Funky Brunch - 12 p.m. La Cocina
  • Jimmy O'Carra and the McAwkward Moments - 2 p.m. Mercado San Agustin
  • Sunday Sessions w/ Kevin Pakulis - 2:30 p.m. Borderlands Brewing
  • Laura and the Killed Men - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
  • Desert Rovers - 9 p.m. Sky Bar
  • Cold Cave w/ Adult.,Vowws - 7 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Bastard Sons of Patrick - 12 p.m. Hotel Congress
  • DJ Mijito - 11 p.m. Passe
  • Trippie Redd - 8 p.m Rialto
  • The Out Of Kilters - 7:15 p.m. La Cocina

Monday, March 18

  • Wand,Teen - 7 p.m. Club Congress

Tuesday, March 19

  • The Blank Tapes - 8 p.m. Club Congress
  • Highlands, Mute Swan.- 9 p.m. Owls Club
  • Warm Drag, Lenguas Largas, Feverfew - 8 p.m. Wooden Tooth Records

Wednesday, March 20

  • Steve'n'Seagulls, ClusterPluck - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Two-Door Hatchback - 7 p.m. Public Brewhouse
  • Hippie Sabotage w/ Sebastian Paul - 9 p.m. Rialto
  • Supercrush, Gardie, Hikikomori - 9 p.m. Wooden Tooth Records
  • Mo Urban's Open Mic Comedy Night - 7 p.m. Passe
  • Featured Performer Karaoke - 8:30 p.m. Surly Wench

Thursday, March 21

  • The Crystal Method - 9 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Ladytowne Live w/ Just Najima, Stripes - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • HollyHocks, Greyhound Soul - 10 p.m. Che's Lounge

Each week this column compiles a choice selection of live gigs in and around Tucson with the help of good venue and band event announcements and other resources. If you've got a gig coming up and you'd like your event listed in this space (or if your local band has a major announcement or a new release) drop me a line at arts@tucsonsentinel.com.

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Jpon Photon/Julius Schlosburg

Jillian Bessett conducting at Hawkinsdance

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