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'Getting angry about stupid things': Uncovering Distortionists' fuzzy musical motivations

A few months back this column mused upon the local phenomenon known to one and all as The Great Cover Up. 

While for some the event is more or less a big rock and roll Halloween, for other bands, the yearly event is a catalyst, getting like-minded folks to come together to form new bands, add additional members to a lineup or think about their music in new ways after the musical immersion training of becoming a temporary "cover band."

Tucson punk band The Distortionists are a case in point — the unholy rock and roll offspring of a Buzzcocks cover set, a love of noise and pure Southern AZ bar-band punk enthusiasm. This week we caught up with the band and asked what was probably way too many sober and serious questions for a band who's this much fun.

TucsonSentinel.com: How did The Distortionists come to be?

Mike Panico:  "In early 2006, I started writing songs again after several years away from the music scene. I enlisted Ed Nossem to help out as he was an old bandmate from the Grimble Wedge days. After a couple of weeks we looked at each other and thought, hmm, maybe we should just start a band.  

"Ed enlisted Taylor Hardy, an old bandmate of his from the Tribulators and we found John Hayes through a Tucson Weekly ad (no, not that kind of ad).  We goofed off for a year or so, writing songs and what not and played our first gig — not as the Distortionists, but as "the Buzzcocks" for The Great Cover Up in 2006.  Early the next year we started playing regularly as ourselves — although the photos of us as Teletubbies were very convincing."

TS: So who are the Distortionists, anyway?

MP: "So the band started out as Taylor (drums and vocals), Ed (guitar and vocals), John (bass and vocals) and me (guitar and vocals). In all this time we played regular gigs at "high class" joints like the Territorial and the Runway, and began a regular gig playing in the Great Cover Up. We played the Cover Up (one of our favorite things to do) as The Dead Kennedys, the Go-Gos, The Misfits, Motley Crue and the Red Hot Chili Peppers."

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"Along the way we picked up Joe Furno on flute and Aaron Stielstra on theremin, old rock album covers and general mayhem.  In early 2012 Taylor moved to Colorado so we enlisted Rob Bloom with Mandy Bergstrom on vocals.  Later in 2012 Rob moved to Chicago to "grow mushrooms" and we found Thomas Gonzalez, the guy who used to play drums wearing a blue afro wig in the University of Arizona pep band.  Since then we've added Amber Sipe on vocals and a host of guest musicians on recordings and at gigs. The current line up is just Thomas, John, Amber and me."

TS: What's the band's overall vibe and what keeps you all going after all this time?

Thomas Gonzalez:  "I just enjoy playing out and writing/recording music. Always looking to improve my own skills and creativity too.  Playing with good musicians, both in this band and the other bands we play with around town makes this a wonderful experience."

John Hayes: "I think our vibe is getting angry about stupid things and getting stupid about angry things. What keeps me doing this is that I know if I didn't get out for the shows I'm in, I would never go out at all and I'd just be old and lame."

MP: "Doing this helps me escape from the angry and prowling horde of needy cats that has taken over my house. "

TS: What are some of your influences? And who are your favorite bands?

MP: "I am always influenced by whoever is in the band at any given time. I love music without pretension."

JH: "Our different drummers have influenced our own sound quite a bit. Taylor brought a bit of metal into our sound. Rob made things a bit more poppy, and Thomas brings great skill and technique. 

MP: "Drizzle is our absolute favorite local band. We proudly covered one of their songs on our soon to be completed release. Those guys are pure punk rock."

MP: "All of the bands associated with the Arizona Hardcore group we are fans of: Cicada, Blue Collar Criminals, Bleach Party USA, Bordertown Devils, Brian Thomas Parker, Dirty Magic, In Good Cause, Sucker for the Sour, Gunrunners, and all the rest. Sorry if I left anyone out. Local music is killer in Tucson and has been for as long as I can remember."

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TS: What have been some of your favorite gigs or favorite venues past and present? 

MP: Our favorites include the Quarry in Bisbee a few times (we love the home pickled onions in their Gibsons), the Inkenstein Halloween party, playing at the Screening Room in from of Godzilla, Hang Art (when it was around), and opening for Green Jelly at the Loudhouse.  We were very honored to get a Reader's Choice Tammie award in 2007 for "Punk," especially since we didn't know anyone that would vote for us. We were included in the last Garage Punk Pirate Radio compilation release, as well several podcasts on that network over the years."

"And of course there's the Great Cover Up. This past December we played again, this time as Neil Diamond."

"We have to plug the Loudhouse also, as Mike and Terry have dedicated the space to live music and are always supportive of local bands.  Great place and great people!"

TS: Tell us about the albums The Distortionists have made so far. Any tours or new recordings on the horizon?

MP: "We started out with a home recording called "13 Song Demo" that we handed out to anyone who looked like they had the fortitude to experience it.  We then recorded "Color the Distortionists" which was a five-song EP with an accompanying coloring book.  We're sure they will be sought after collector's items! Our first official full length CD, released in 2011, was "The Mark Side of the Dune."  Following this up we released "The Lizard of Oz" in 2013 and "Appetite for Distortion" in 2016. 

"Currently we are finishing up out fourth full-length release "Andy Narwhal" (an homage to the famous marine artist) to be out in a few months. We are excited for this one due to the number of guest musicians we have helping us out.  Other than Phoenix shows we have been lame, but are currently looking at small tours both east and west."

JH: "We want to do a video for "City of Rock" a song on our upcoming release, as well as realize our idea for punk rock burlesque. I would like to someday play a show wearing drywall stilts.  

MP: "I am hoping to write a song that is no more than 15 seconds in length!" 

TS: Where can we find your music? 

MP: "We are soooo lazy we haven't even set up a bandcamp page.  You can find us on Facebook and our music on Spotify, YouTube, and at our live gigs."

"We'll be playing this Saturday at the Loudhouse, and then at the Surly Wench on April 20 with the Demons, Brian Thomas Parker and Friends and the Gunrunners and on May 15 at Spark Collective with Voice of Addiction, Bleach Party USA, the Frecks and 21 Dreams."

The Distortionists play next this Saturday with The Tiki Bandits and Cicada the Loudhouse in north Tucson. 

Whiskey and a man of The Church

Steve Kilbey is best known as the bassist and frontman for Australian post-punk psychedelia legends the Church, but the prolific musician can't seem to stop writing and recording even when his famous band is on a break from their relatively frequent touring schedule. 

Over the years, the songwriter has released well over a dozen solo records and a number of interesting side projects, but his latest endeavor is a little more retrospective in nature. Kilbey and his latest collaborator, keyboardist vocalist Amanda Kramer (and alumnus of such bands as Information Society and the Psychedelic Furs) are touring the U.S. in a series of intimate shows that feature a mix of original songs, "eclectic interpretations of other songwriters,"  and tales from their storied careers.

The tour is taking place in a series of small and/or unusual venues, including a stop at Tucson's Hamilton Distillers aka the home of Whiskey Del Bac. In addition to the show itself, Hamilton is releasing its third batch of Whiskey Del Bac Distiller's Cut; expect a night of fine music and excellent drinks.

An Evening with Steve Kilbey and Amanda Kramer takes place Friday at Hamilton Distillery, just southwest of Grant and I-10, at 7 p.m. 

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A sort of homecoming...and some 'filthy babes' from Austin

Southern California-based alt/indie rock duo 222 has spent the last couple of years taking the slow route to success, earning some air time on fabled L.A. radio station KROQ and hitting the East to West Coast DIY touring circuit, but Tucson's show will be a little special for the band, whose frontwoman, Jade Howard grew up right here in the Old Pueblo. 222 plays Club Congress Saturday night with support from locals Bruja and the Coyote and Infinite Souls. The show starts at 7 p.m. 

Later in the week, the "filthy babes from Austin" otherwise known as Sailor Poon bring their loud, fast, trashy, fabulous and unapologetic brand of fiercely feminist garage punk to Downtown Tucson on Thursday night. The show takes place at 7 p.m. at Club Congress, with support from Trash Romeo, Tropical Beach and Tucson's own Hannah Yeun.

Just for the record...

Record Store Day isn't for a couple more weeks, but a ton of Tucson bands are already at the forefront of spring new music release season. 

Louise Le Hir and her band, who have been largely M.I.A. from the local music scene since the departure of guitarist Annie Dolan for New York City last summer, have been back at Tucson's Midtown Island Studios recording a follow up to last year's release "Kill Pretty." "Weezy" and company should be releasing new material soon and are slowly returning to local stages, beginning with an appearance at Saint Charles Tavern just south of Downtown on Friday night at 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, Carlos Arzate and The Kind Souls' new album "Camaleón" promises to showcase Arzate's increasingly soulful vocals, passionate songwriting and a backing cast of some of Tucson's finest musicians. The unveiling of the album takes place Friday night at 7 p.m. at Club Congress.

If all that weren't enough, the Carnivaleros will be celebrating their own CD release,  "Tallsome Tales," at 7 p.m. Friday night at Monterrey Court.

Check your local listings

Friday, April 6

  • Steve Kilbey w/ Amanda Kramer - Hamilton Distillery (West) - 7 p.m.
  • Louise Le Hir  - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern (S. of Downtown)
  • Mesquite - 6 p.m. Playground (Downtown)
  • Jesse Dayton and Scott Biram, Rod Melancon - 7 p.m. Hotel Congress (Downtown)
  • Carlos Arzate Album Release w/ Buyepongo and Salvador Duran - 7 p.m.Club Congress (Downtown)
  • Mustang Corners - 7:30 p.m. Borderlands (Downtown)
  • For Love Or Absinthe - 8 p.m. Dusty Monk Pub (Downtown)
  • Wycleff Jean - 8 p.m. Rialto (Downtown)
  • Mission Garden Benefit w/ Conjunto Nopal & Tradiciones - 7 p.m. Exo Bar (Downtown)
  • Carnivaleros CD Release - 7 p.m. Monterey Court (West)
  • Otis, Big Mean, Old Fashion Assassin - 8 p.m. The Loudhouse (North)
  • Bryan Thomas Parker - 9 p.m. The Parish (North)

Saturday, April 7

  • Lana Rebel Band, Dusty Santamaria, Moria Ichiban - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern (Downtown)
  • Sur Block w/ JL6 - 10 p.m. Che's Lounge (Downtown)
  • Zona Libre - 6 p.m. Playground (Downtown)
  • Nathaniel Burnside - 6:30 p.m. La Cocina (Downtown)
  • Things That Aren't Words - 6 p.m. Mercado San Augustin
  • John Coinman Band- w/ Ash Gray & Tom Townsend - 6 p.m. Monterey Court (Central)
  • Nathaniel Burnside - 6:30 p.m. La Cocina (Downtown)
  • Roman Barten-Sherman, Trans Van Santos And The Sinners - 7 p.m. Hotel Congress (Downtown)
  • 222, Bruja & The Coyote, Infinite Souls - 7 p.m. Club Congress (Downtown)
  • Max Mileage - 7:30 p.m. Borderlands (Downtown)
  • Carvin Jones - 8 p.m. 1919 Toole (Downtown)
  • Government Cheese - 8 p.m. Fini's Landing (North)
  • Tiki Bandits, The Distortionists, Cicada - 8 p.m. The Loudhouse (North)
  • Black Cat Bones - 8:30 p.m. Hideout Saloon (East)
  • Bumble Buzz - 9 p.m. Dusty Monk Pub (Downtown)

Sunday, April 8

  • Hot Club of Tucson - 11 a.m. Hotel Congress (Downtown)
  • Nancy Elliott & Friends  - 11 a.m. Monterey Court (Central)
  • Mariachi Luz de Luna - 11 a.m. Playground (Downtown)
  • Mik and the Funky Brunch - 11 a.m La Cocina (Downtown)
  • Kevin Pakulis - 2:30 p.m. Borderlands (Downtown)
  • Andy Hersey - 6 p.m. The Parish (North)

Monday, April 9

  • Brie Capone - 7 p.m. Flycatcher
  • I Don't Know How But They Found Me - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Miguel - 8 p.m. Rialto

Tuesday, April 10

  • Wicked Bad Girls & a Boy - 6:30 p.m. Monterey Court (North)
  • Tom Walbank - Sky Bar (Downtown)
  • Sailor Poon, Trash Romeo, Hannah Yeun, Tropical Beach - 7 p.m. Club Congress (Downtown) 
  • Kevin Morby, Hand Habits - 8 p.m. 191 Toole (Downtown)
  • Steff Koeppen - 8:30 p.m. Sky Bar (Downtown)

Wednesday, April 11

  • Lana Rebel w/ Kevin Michael Mayfield - 6 p.m. La Cocina (Downtown)
  • Natalie Pohanic - 7 p.m. Public Brewhouse (Downtown)
  • Wh**es. & Helms Alee, Scar Eater - 8 p.m. Club Congress (Downtown)
  • Steaksauce Mustache, Florida Man, Low Roads, the Mindless- 8 p.m. The Loudhouse (North)

Thursday, April 12

  • Louise Le Hir - 6:30 p.m. La Cocina (Downtown)
  • Dale Watson and his Lone Stars, Celine Lee - 7 p.m. Hotel Congress (Downtown)
  • Berner w/ Special Guests - 8 p.m. 191 Toole (Downtown)
  • What So Not, Duckwrth, James Earl - 8 p.m. Rialto (Downtown)
  • Tank and the Bangas, Maggie Koerner - 9 p.m. 191 Toole (Downtown)
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The Distortionists

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