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Tucson's favorite tentacle: An interview with Fish Karma

Comedian turned musician Terry Owen, better known as Fish Karma, is something of a local legend. He's also a pretty weird cat. So when this reporter got word of a new rock opera by the Fish man, she was all ears. 

TucsonSentinel.com: A rock opera you say? How did this all come to be? 

Fish Karma: "Several years ago, a friend convinced me to apply to the Tucson Fringe Festival. Knowing that a theatre venue would necessitate something more interesting than simply performing several songs with my then current band, I decided to try and write a narrative that would weave several unconnected songs into a (somewhat) coherent narrative. My application was accepted, so I wrote what turned out to be my first “rock opera,” called “Halloween in America,” the same title as the last recording I had released. I cajoled David Fitzsimmons into reading the libretto in between songs. I had so much fun with this project that I wrote another one for the next iteration of the Fringe. The advantage to this approach is that I was able to project the lyrics onto a screen, since the lyrics and the narration work together to create a story."

TS: For the kids and non-Tucson-natives who weren't around at the time, tell us the legend of Fish Karma. How did it all get started back in the day and what adventures did you encounter along the way?

FK: "The origin of Fish Karma is rather prosaic; I was doing stand-up comedy once a week at the late, lamented Tequila Mockingbird bar in El Con. Originally, I was part of a comedy duo; when we parted ways, I was loathe to use my actual name for some reason, so I conceived this strange appellation that would function as a temporary alias. (It came to me when I was doing my laundry.) I realized, too, that a disguise of sorts would allow me to be a little more free onstage. To complete the new identity, I wore elf shoes and a burlap dress I had purchased at Value Village. It made sense at the time. I think. However, I decided to keep the name when I put out my first recording: a cassette tape on Al Perry’s Addled label."

TS: Back in the proverbial "day," a lot of us thought it was kind of a big deal that a Tucson act was on the Alternative Tentacles record label. After all, that was the Dead Kennedys' home base! What has your experience been with the infamous label and how has that changed over time?

FK: "I’m glad that the label is still alive and kicking after all these years. Jello Biafra reviewed my tape in Maximum Rock and Roll, which is how I first came to his attention. I was supposed to put out an album on Alternative Tentacles in the early '90s, but then... some stuff happened. After many years, I finally reconnected with Jello when I opened for him at South by Southwest, eventually resulting in “The Theory of Intelligent Design,” the first Fish Karma album that came out on AT. To be honest with you, I’m not really sure how the label has changed; I’ve been out of the loop for many years. The last time I went on a tour was with Mojo Nixon, which I believe was sometime in the '90s. I spent a week in a van with him, traveling up and down the California coast. It nearly killed me."

TS: Well, to be fair, if you don't know Mojo Nixon, then your tour could use some fixin! But back to the interview. What started you along the route to musicianship back when you were a wee pup? And what keeps you playing after all these years.

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FK: "I’ve always loved music but was hampered by not being able to play an instrument. Or sing, really. However, the advent of punk was quite liberating. That, and moving to Tucson in '81 and discovering all these fascinating bands that were putting out cassette tapes of original music, many of whom were on Lee Joseph’s independent label. I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazing Tucson musicians over the course of my musical “career” — Al Perry, Loren Dircks, Marx Loeb, Sean Powers-Murphy, Rich Hopkins, Gordon Groves, Kevin Henderson, Rndy McReynolds, Ed Nossem, Steve Brookbanks, Ted Riviera, Will Clipman, etc., etc. However, I feel that I have finally found my true band soulmates: Dave Roads, Dante Perna, and the Reverend Jim Hartley. What keeps me playing is that music is so much fun, even after all these years."

TS: Are those last few names your current band lineup?

FK: "Yeah, Dave Roads, guitar; Dante Perna, drums; the Reverend Jim Hartley, bass and me on vocals and occasional tambourine."

TS: Favorite all time musical influences?

FK: "Ian Anderson and the Minutemen."

TS: Favorite current bands?

FK: "See above comment about being out of the loop.” 

TS: What about your favorite tour mates and fave local bands? Who are your favorite folks to listen to in real life?

FK: "I haven’t toured much, but I did accompany Al Perry and the Cattle on the infamous One American City and Five Canadian Cities tour in 1986. A splendid time was had by all. My knowledge of current bands is pathetically negligible, although The Resonars make me want to explode with happiness."

TS: Yeah, The Resonars are pretty badass! But tell us some more about the upcoming show.

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FK: "The show is called 'Time to Say Goodbye.' It’s how different people react to (or ignore) the incipient destruction of humanity as a result of anthopogenic activity. In other words, a laugh riot! It will feature songs from our new Alternative Tentacles album, also called 'Time to Say Goodbye' — available for download on June 8 — as well as a smattering of songs from previous albums. David Fitzsimmons, the irrepressible Star cartoonist and columnist, will again serve as the narrator for the evening. Also, I will have a limited edition of CDs for sale that feature covers that I have drawn or painted for those who like tangible product."

Fish Karma unveils his rock opera "Time to Say Goodbye" on Saturday at 7 p.m.,

Chills and Feverfew

Up and coming local band Feverfew has yet to release an official E.P. or album, but their first few live shows have already generated some buzz among local musicgoers for their primitive punk/garage edge combined with honest, unapolegetic songwriting à la the early, pre-grunge days of K Records and company. The band describes their sound: "Isolation, an extreme lack of sunshine, and a pining for the desert led to the wall of sound surrounding Feverfew. Lyrics depicting the self loathing and bad sexual decisions that accompany depression are brought to life by the harsh grungy guitar tones and discordant yet harmonious vocals." 

Since you can't hear them yet on digital music or video sites, you'll just have to do that old-school thing where you actually get out of your house and see a live show. The good news is that you can do that this weekend, as the band makes their Cans Deli debut along with Velvet Panther and South American band EEEKS. The show follows the The Swamp Meet in its new home at Cans, featuring a pop-up market for such swag as vintage clothing, repurposed attire, vinyl records, classic video games, and vintage and original art.

Catch Feverfew, Velvet Panther and Lear at 8 p.m. at Cans Deli on Fourth Avenue, part of Cans Sunday "triple header" which also features The Swamp Meet from 6-8 p.m. and Velvet Panther at 9:30 p.m.

Not their man

While the balance of political power in Arizona and the nation at large has swung decidedly to the right in the past couple of years, musicians and artists tend to be a left-leaning bunch and prone to speaking up about things. That's why its no surprise that many Tucson bands and musicians had lots to say, including Juju Fontaine's Gabi Montoya, whose "Not My Man" is both a definite comment on the current occupant of the Oval Office and an anti-abuser anthem of sorts. 

"I wrote this song days after the election, after years of pent up rage toward the men who have consistently and systematically hurt me and tried to hold me back in my life," Montoya said. "But to see an admitted sexual predator rise to the highest office in our nation, that was just a huge and painful slap in the face from millions of fellow Americans, as I'm sure it was to millions of women and sexual assault survivors."

Montoya and her band recently laid down a live E.P. at Waterworks studio including the song, and Juju Fontaine has now released the track as a single, with proceeds benefiting Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse and The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project.

"Immigrant rights is an issue close to the hearts of many Tucsonans, and as a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual assault, I wanted to use this song to help other women experiencing similar struggles with violence in their lives," said Montoya.

Local artist Gabby Vee (also a participant in Cans Deli's Swamp Meet) contributed original artwork to the project which is available both as a physical poster and as part of the digital track. You can check it out on the group's Bandcamp page at jujufontaine.bandcamp.com.

Check your local listings...

Each week this column compiles a choice selection of live gigs in and around Tucson with the help of great venue and band event announcements from the web and social media and other resources, including local musician Chris Black's site www.whoplayswhere.com. 

Friday, June 8

  • Bradford Trojan - 12 p.m. Joel D Valdez Main Library
  • Natty & The Sunset - 6 p.m. Johnny Gibson's Market
  • Santa Pachita - 6 p.m. Playground Bar and Lounge
  • Austin Counts - 6 p.m. Sand-Reckoner Vineyards
  • Greg Morton & Friends  -  6:30 p.m La Cocina
  • Ra.m.sey Lewis - 7:30 p.m. The Fox Theatre
  • The Sword - 8 p.m.191 Toole
  • Michael Franti & Spearhead - 8 p.m. The Rialto Theatre
  • Noonday Devils, Hippie Crippler - 8 p.m Brodies Tavern
  • Basic Biology, Resurrecting Id, Nil - 9 p.m Flycatcher
  • The Pork Torta, The Kevin Dowling Fitness Hour - 8 :30 p.m. Cans Deli

Saturday, June 9

  • Supercrush Big Bite Hikikomori Dial Up - 8 p.m. Cans Deli
  • Christopher T. Stevens - 7 p.m. Hop Shop
  • Fish Karma Record Release, David Fitzsimmons - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • Oscar Fuentes - 7 p.m. La Cocina
  • Drop D, Color Of Chaos, Waysted Youth - 7 p.m. The Rock
  • Supercrush, Big Bite, Hikikomori, Dial  - 8 p.m. Cans Deli
  • Los Puchos & ALHHLA - 8 p.m. Exo Bar
  • The Yardbirds - The Rialto Theatre
  • Saint Augustine Band - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
  • The Rough, In Lessons,Gila Byte, Pyrotechnica - 9 p.m. Sky Bar

Sunday, June 10

  • EEEKS , Feverfew, Lear - 7 p.m. Cans Deli
  • Mik and the Funky Brunch - 12:30 p.m.La Cocina
  • Kevin Pakulis - 2:30 p.m. Borderlands
  • Legion of Mario - 3 p.m. Crooked Tooth Brewing Co.
  • Lydian Osman - 5 p.m. Public Brewhouse
  • More Trouble  - 7 p.m. Royal Sun
  • Mega Bog, Olden Yolk - 8 p.m. Owls Club
  • AK/47, Violent Opposition, Earache - 8 p.m. Club Congress
  • Velvet Panther - 9  p.m. Cans Deli

Tuesday, June 12

  • Tom Walbank - 6:30 p.m. Sky Bar
  • Glen Gross Duo - 7 p.m. Royal Sun
  • The Eulogy Project, Deschtuco, Brian Thomas Parker - 8 p.m. Club Congress
  • Songs With Steff Koeppen - 8:30 p.m.Sky Bar
  • The Heartlights,Texas Trash & the Trainwrecks,The Gem Show - 8 p.m. Cans Deli

Wednesday, June 13

  • Miss Lana Rebel & Kevin Michael Mayfield - 6 p.m. La Cocina
  • Mark Insley - 7 p.m. Royal Sun
  • Brownout - 8 p.m. 191 Toole

Tuesday, June 14

  • CHRCH, Body Void, Hist, Bird Violence- 8 p.m. Cans Deli
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