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Weekend music

Tucson sounds: Gimme some Sugar Stains!

Plus: Remembering Toxic Ranch's Julianna Towns

In the late '80s and early '90s, when your humble local music scribe was a baby rock and roller, Downtown and especially Fourth Avenue looked a whole lot different.

Amidst all the weirdness and colorful post-hippie chaos of the avenue, back then, there was much to be loved and marveled at. You could pick up strange and interesting leftist and/or Celtic-flavored free newspapers, as well as flyers for pretty much anything, at the jewelry and bead shop Piney Hollow, find a copy of a William S. Burroughs novel for a dollar in the chaotic and dusty stacks of the used-book paradise that was Goodbooks and buy "dragon's blood" and get your fortune told at a magical apothecary run by an ominous-looking "mage" who looked to be all of about 22.

But probably the best place to hang out on the avenue - well, technically, just off of the avenue on 6th Street- was Toxic Ranch Records, a hardcore-punk-leaning indie record store with its own label and a subversive treasure chest of fantastic things to buy including zines of all kinds, obscure band t-shirts, weird bumper stickers and stacks and stacks of CDs and cassettes by local and not-so-local bands.

Toxic Ranch was owned and run by Pomona, Calif., transplants Bill Sassenberger and his wife Julianna Towns, who opened the store as a Tucson regenesis of their Southern California indie store and label, the legendary Toxic Shock Records. The label was more or less at the epicenter of Tucson's hardcore scene in its early days, and the store continued to be a fixture of the Downtown scene for more than 20 years. While the brick and mortar version of the shop closed for good in 2014, Toxic Ranch has stayed alive in its online and mail order incarnation at toxicranchrecords.com.

This columnist was saddened to learn recently of the death of Julianna Towns, co-founder of Toxic Ranch and a fabulous musician in her own right as frontperson for goth/punk project Skinner Box. Details were minimal at press time, so expect a more detailed obit in the coming days, but until then, remember to raise a glass to one of Tucson's fairy godmothers of punk.

Gimme some Sugar (Stains)

If you've never been witness to the show-stopping, guitar-smashing, pyrotechnics and general costumed badassery that are the Sugar Stains, this columnist highly recommends loosening up and heading out to a show. This isn't shoegazey, dreamy introverted indie-pop or vintage psych-tinged garage rock or serious hardcore punk rock, mind you. It's just plain rock and rock. Loud, ballsy, glam, badass, fun, raw rock and roll. With zero rock and roll dudes or rock and roll dude attitudes, if you get my drift. If you're not just plain allergic to fun, you're probably going to have a good time. It's been a few months since we last heard from our local fabulous Stains, so your friendly neighborhood columnist decided to check in.

TucsonSentinel.com: What's the origin story of the Sugar Stains?

Amy Munoz Mendoza: "I formed the band in late 2010. I had auditioned for a band and didn't care much for the vocals, but the drummer and bass player were another story. I subtly left my information for the drummer on the sly and connected with her. I ended up playing with that rhythm section.

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The band started out as an all female Ramones cover band called "the Monettes" with two other womyn in the community. We probably learned a half dozen Ramones cover songs, and after a while, I was like, let's just write our own music. It was a natural progression, and were able to write an album in no time."

TS: Cast of characters at present? And your secret superhero powers?

AMM: "I'm on lead vocals and guitar. I have the majestic ability to read black metal band logos, no matter how spikey the font."

Berenice "Betty" Lomeli: "Guitar and back-up vox. I'm a super woman, mountain-biking, rocking guitar goddess. And I say this humbly."

Velvet Hammer: "Drums. So, I can speed up time... or slow it down."

Serena Rose McNeil: "Bass and vocals. I harness the powers of Nikola Tesla and levitation to play bass on bar tops."

TS: How would you describe the band's style and genre? Are you a hard rock band? Punk? Postpunk?

AMM: "This comes up a lot. I've heard our genre described in so many different ways. Objectively, I would say we are a hard rock band, but it can vary from song to song."

"We are largely influenced by Black Sabbath, Theo from the Lunachicks, Al Di Meola, Motorhead, Lita Ford, Naked Aggression and Joan Jett. The band's musical backgrounds are so diverse that you get this melting pot of sound as a result."

TS: Favorite gig moments? Worst? Best? Weirdest?

AMM: "Collectively, our Clockwork Orange homage was our favorite gig. We dressed in full-on droog regalia along with droog back-up dances, donning giant penises. I think best and weirdest go hand in hand there."

"We're an interactive band, we like to engage with the audience. We have so much fun, and are super picky about gigs. I can't think of a bad gig we've had in the last four years. Looking back through our catalog, there are too many favorite gig moments to list. We've played with fireworks, 'gimps,' busted-up guitars, set guitars on fire..."

"Some shenanigans are in the queue for Skybar. We had a giant T-Rex bobble head stage dancer in Bisbee. If you've been to a show you know what I mean."

TS: I have been, so I do! It's been a while, though. What have you all been up to since we last saw you?

AMM: "Our last gig was in October in Bisbee, so it's been a minute. Our band members have gone through a lot personally. Relationships, work, moving, you name it. Sugar Stains is like a rare guitar, you don't bring it out too much, but when you do, you can pick up where you left off and it still sounds fucking fantastic."

TS: What other bands are you all in? What's most different between this and your other projects?

AMM: "Velvet Hammer and I are in the Surfbroads. I play in a few bands including Loveland, and my band Strange Vacation."

TS: "A few bands" is an understatement!

AMM: "Berenice has several projects including the Ohmlauts, Pop Gestapo, and Clusterfuck (she has too many other projects to list.) Serena Rose fronts, and brings the low end, to her new project Heroes Reunion. You should check them out!"

"Sugar Stains differs from our projects in that we can just jump in and play for fun. It's very much the irreverent 'I don't give a fuck' sliver among our musical projects. Our current line-up has formed and exciting Black Sabbath cover band called 'Snatch Sabbath.'

TS: With so many projects going on for each of you, how does touring fit into the mix?

AMM: "We have played out-of-town shows in the past, but with a new record in the process we plan to promote this on tour. We have been toying with a European tour so stay tuned!"

TS: You too could be "big in Europe!" Favorite venues you've ever played?

AMM: "Our favorite local venues are the classics. Certainly we've had some rock and roll moments at Congress and of course Rialto."

TS: Favorite bands?

AMM: "Collectively we're so diverse, but here are some band favorites: Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, Motorhead, Chelsea Wolfe, Baroness, Lita Ford, Dimebag Darrell, Bob Mould, Led Zepplin, Betty Davis, Dick Dale, Butthole Surfers, The Runaways, PJ Harvey, Iggy Pop. Oh it's a long, long list.

TS: This columnist approves.Tell us about your upcoming gig and any near future stuff you have lined up.

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AMM: "Our next gig is at Sky Bar with Black Medicine and Stereo Riots Thursday night at 9 p.m. We're currently writing album number three, and ready to rock your shit in 2019!"

Sugar Stains play Sky Bar on Thursday, April 4, at 9 p.m. with Black Medicine and Stereo Riots.

Also happening this week...

While local outlaw country troubadour Hank Topless is bound to play a gig or two in any given week around these parts, appearances of the full Hank Topless Band in all its powerful, loud, honky-tonking, slide-guitarin' glory are far rarer, so the band's Friday night appearance at Saint Charles Tavern is bound to be worth getting off the couch for.

The Sugar Stains' guest on Thursday night at Sky Bar, Black Medicine, also has a little treat in store for you, as the band prepares to release their latest album, recorded at Tucson's Baby Gas Mask Records. Look for that release on Tuesday, April 2, via the band's bandcamp site.

Formed from the ashes of Galaxie 500 and once billed by Rolling Stone as "the best band you've never heard of," New York indie-pop legends Luna are known by a small by some standards but large enough and fiercely loyal fan base across the country and around the world. Come see what your Luna obsessed record-collector friends have been ranting about when the band visits Tucson at 191 Toole on Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, the post-SXSW afterparty that is late March and April continues to bring touring bands to Tucson, luring some of Tucson's finest out of their seasonal retirement. Check your local listings for more info and tune in next time for a visit with local band Tongs, more music news and some thoughts on the concept of local music scene gentrification.

Check your local listings...

Friday, March 29

  • Mesquite - 7 p.m. Hotel Congress
  • Natalie Pohanic - 8 p.m. Borderlands
  • Gene Moran - 9 p.m. Dusty Monk
  • Hank Topless Band - 9 p.m. Saint Charles
  • Johnny Hootrock, the Vooduo, the Shivers - 9 p.m. Surly Wench
  • Whitney Rose, Gus Clark - 7:30 p.m. Club Congress
  • Slow Crush. Holy Fawn - 8 p.m. Club Congress
  • Octopus Heart - 7 p.m. MSA Annex
  • Get Married, Amateur Palm Trees, and Logan Greene - 9 p.m. Owls Club
  • Sick and Dirty on Pennington: - 9 p.m. Pop Up Show (Contact Bands for Info)
  • Love Fest - A Variety Show: Black Medicine, Just Najima, Tyler Holmes, Wizard Apprentice - 7:30 p.m. Ramada Tucson
  • Hatpin Duo - 6 p.m. Sand-Reckoner Vineyards
  • Total Collusion, Armed at Night - 8:30 p.m. House of Bards

Saturday, March 30

  • Jozaya Project w/ Street Blues Family 10 p.m. Che's Lounge
  • Belinda Esquer - 7 p.m. Tucson Hop Shop
  • Battle of the Beats 2019 - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • Brand X - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Synesthesia - 7 p.m. Hotel Congress
  • Shrimp Chaperone - 9 p.m. Saint Charles
  • Loveland - 7 p.m. Crooked Tooth Brewing
  • Octopus Heart - 7 p.m. MSA Annex
  • Los Puchos - 8 p.m. Exo
  • Speakeasy Sessions: James Mills - 6 p.m. Dillinger Brewing Company
  • Vintage Pistol, Juju Fontaine, Zero Miles to Empty - 9 p.m. Sky Bar
  • Epitaph Romance - 8 p.m. House of Bards
  • Time Traveler's Masquerade - 3 p.m. Scottish Rite Cathedral
  • Chris Gaffney w/ Dave Alvin - 6 p.m. Scottish Rite Cathedral

Sunday, March 31

  • Sunday Sessions: Kevin Pakulis - 2:30 p.m. Borderlands Brewing
  • Chris Hall - 6 p.m. Che's Lounge
  • Twain & Little Mazarn w/ Chelsey Lee Trejo - 8 p.m. Exo
  • Mik and the Funky Brunch - 12 p.m. La Cocina
  • Octopus Heart - 7 p.m. MSA Annex
  • Joyce Luna - 5 pm. Public Brewhouse
  • ObaBand - 7 p.m. Royal Sun
  • Last Sunday Revival - 5 p.m. Tap & Bottle

Monday, Apr 1

  • Chris Cohen w/ Forest Fallows - 7 p.m. Club Congress

Tuesday, Apr 2

  • Rebels for Rain w/ Michael P Nordberg - 5:30 p.m. Tucson Hop Shop
  • Luna - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Eugene Boronow - 8 p.m. Revel
  • Bryan Thomas Parker, Jeux Zef - 7 p.m. Royal Sun

Wednesday, Apr 3

  • Mo Urban's Open Mic Comedy - 7 p.m. Passe
  • Pigmy Death Ray, Hans Gruber & the Die Hards, the Ohmlauts - 8 p.m. The Roach Ranch (House Show - contact Bands for details)
  • Al Foul, Naim Amor - 8 p.m. Exo Roast
  • Street Blues Family - 8 p.m. Club Congress

Thursday, Apr 4

  • La Cerca, Go Fever, Golden Boots - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • Sugar Stains with Black Medicine and Stereo Riots - 9 p.m. Sky Bar
  • Red NOT Chili Peppers - 8 p.m. 191 Toole

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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Dominic Bonuccelli

The Sugar Stains: Berneice Lomelli, Velvet Hammer, Serena Rose McNeil, Amy Munoz Mendoza

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