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A different classic rock: Half-Broke Town transcends musical genres

"Tucson shows up" said Half-Broke Town violinist Samantha Bounkeua. "Offers you a hand and a step. Is gentle when you're still young and raw and gets amped when you try your hardest."

Bounkeua's band Half-Broke Town is proof of this phenomenon. The group's first gig was at one of Tucson's many weekly musical open-mic nights  — this one hosted by musician Jason Leo at Sky Bar.

"We were so brand-spanking-new that we hadn't even picked a band name yet. When asked what he should call us, we told [Leo] to introduce us as 'Thank you, Jason,' since we were so grateful to be playing out," she said. It became the band's semi-permanent name for several gigs, including their first paid gig at the venue, just a few weeks later.

"I was actually at Sky Bar for HBT's first show!" recalls Half-Broke town's newest member, bassist Clarissa Sarabia. She and percussionist Hillary Engel make up the rhythm section of Half-Broke Town, adding a rock edge to the folk/blues/roots aesthetic of founding members Bounkeua, vocalist Erin Henderson and guitarist Randy Lopez.

"When we first started, there were three of us...sitting in a living room jamming acoustically and quickly realizing that we had a certain chemistry and aesthetic we could build on," said Henderson, who grew up singing in a Southern church choir but never considered fronting her own band until becoming part of Tucson's musical community. "I'd only been in town a few months when someone overheard me singing in a ritualistic setting and invited me to audition for their band. Since then, I have had a much clearer picture of the type of music I want to create and the type of performer I want to be."

One of Henderson's local projects is a band called Black Medicine, in which she plays with guitarist Lopez. When he met Bounkeua and began to jam with her, it was soon clear to Lopez that Henderson's vocals would be a perfect fit for the music they were beginning to create. When the three played together, they found that they shared the kind of rare musical intuition that some bands take years to perfect.

"When I heard Erin sing, I knew I wanted to find something to play that would not only support it, but echo and imitate it," said Bounkeua. "That, combined with the virtuosic riffs that Randy plays, created an entirely new sound base for me to figure out how violin might be able to break out of the box that it so often finds itself in popular music."

The self-described "world-touring, classically trained Oberlin violinist gone rogue" has played in many local projects, but with this one she wanted to do something unique.

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"I wanted so much to play violin in a different way. I have no interest in being a 'blues fiddle player' or a 'classical concerto soloist ' I didn't care about genre as much as building sound and energy through musical ideas and textures," she said.

Transcending genre is something the band does well, agreed Lopez.

"I think the genres used to describe the music of HBT are more of an afterthought rather than anything we consciously did on purpose. The vast backgrounds of the band was there, as well as, all of our love for different music styles. When Sam, Erin and I first started playing together, it was more our passion, jamming, and hard work that hel p.m.ld our different styles together," he said.

Soon after the band's inception, percussionist Hillary Engel got on board, intrigued with Half-Broke Town's dichotomy of traditional instrumentation and non-traditional style.

"I've always said that I do music for the people. I've met the best people on this planet through music, and this band is no exception," said Engel.

"We each have our own backgrounds that don't necessarily relate in the most obvious way, and we're pulling from several different genres that also don't seem to fit together. Hip hop and jazz? Classical violinist and a Southern belle gospel singer? OK sure, let's see what we can come up with."

Engel, like Bounkeua, comes from a classical background. Having two "classicists" in the mix definitely makes a mark on the band's composition process.

A favorite game of the group is something called "name jam" in which one band member picks a name or word and the others have to assign each letter a pitch that correlates. "Using those pitches, we come up with a melody on the spot and use improvisation to build rhythmic and harmonic structure around that," said Bounkeua, adding that she and Lopez write a lot of the song forms and structure that form the basis for Half-Broke Town's music, with Henderson writing most of the vocal melodies and the lyrics.

Sarabia, the newest grou p.m.mber, has also begun to introduce musical compositions, mostly in the form of bass lines that the rest of the band fleshes out into organic compositions. Sarabia got to know the members of Half-Broke Town while playing in another band, dark indie rockers Pipelights. When the band finally decided to add bass to the mix, she was a natural fit.

"Once Hillary joined on percussion and then finally Clarissa on the electric bass, that we felt we could really start stretching and filling out our sound," said Lopez. "Sam recently began adding electric pedals to her violin, all of which leads to new possibilities and song ideas."

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The band is building on this new momentum, ramping up their live schedule in preparation for a late October "mini tour" of Arizona followed by a larger scale tour of the West Coast in the spring. The band is also prepping to record an EP soon at Waterworks Studio.

Meanwhile, Half-Broke Town remains greatly humbled by the way Tucson's music community has embraced them and their music.

"Everyone is so supportive," said Sarabia.

"If you are a regular going to shows, you will most likely know most of the people attending every show. It's a great community, everyone is so open minded and it's just amazing to see so much love in the music scene," she said.

"People here love to see other people love what they do," said Bounkeua "And that's fucking great."

Half-Broke Town plays Flycatcher Lounge on Friday at 5:30 p.m., 340 E. 6th St. (Downtown)

Sending summer packing, Tallboys style

If it seems like only a few days ago we were sweltering in the 100-degree heat, that's because we were. Fall may be in the air, but after living through yet another Sonoran summer, it's only right to send the season packing in style. Thus, the last "summer party" of the year, the Tallboys Pool Party.

The North Fourth Avenue breakfast and beers joint is promising an all day "extravaganza" featuring water slides, a barbecue pit and live music from the Resonars, Mute Swan, Street Blues Family, Sui Blue, and The Wanda Junes, as well as DJs and whatever a "Swam p.m.et" turns out to be.

The Tallboys Pool Party kicks off at 2 p.m. this Saturday at TallBoys, 600 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)

Lifting up Raul

When Tucsonan Meaghan Isaacs died on September 15, she left behind her children and her husband Raul, famous in the Tucson music scene for always stepping up to help those in need. This time Raul needs our help and Tucson is bringing it, in the form of a live show Friday night at Surly Wench Pub. The show features local rock and punk from Magguts, Napalm Strike, Phoenix Hooker Cops, and Texas Trash and the Trainwrecks.

Raul's Turn (A Benefit) — 8 p.m., Surly Wench Pub, 424 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)

Check your local listings...

Friday, September 29

  • Half-Broke Town - 5:30 p.m., Flycatcher Lounge, 340 E. 6th St. (Downtown)
  • Hank Topless w/ The Donkey Tonk Band "Let 'Em Eat Country" - 9 p.m., Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. (Downtown)
  • Barely Bipdedal w/ Fistful of PoSt.Irrelevance - 8 p.m., Saint Charles Tavern, 1632 S. 4th Ave. (south of Downtown)
  • Janiva Magness & Diunna Greenleaf - 7 p.m., 191 E. Toole (Downtown)
  • Raul's Turn: Magguts, Napalm Strike, Phoenix Hooker Cops, Texas Trash and the Trainwrecks - 8 p.m., Surly Wench Pub, 424 N 4th Ave. (Downtown)

Saturday, September 30

  • Natty and Jamz - 9 p.m., Saint Charles Tavern
  • Deathcrown, Apostles of Ale, Dead Inceptions - 8 p.m., The Loudhouse, 915 W. Prince Rd. (North)
  • Kiko Jacome & The Stone Ave. Band - 7:30 p.m., Club Congress
  • Tucson Libertine League: The Rainbow Revue - 9:30 p.m., 191 E. Toole
  • Illout - 10 p.m., The Flycatcher

Sunday, October 1

  • Sunday Matinee w/ Jacob Acosta - 12 p.m., Bar Passe, 417 N. 4th Ave. (Downtown)
  • Dirty South Sundays featuring Poochie Loc - 9 p.m., Club Congress
  • Michael Lamonge and Friends - 7 p.m., Royal Sun Lounge, 1003 N. Stone Ave. (north of Downtown)
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Half-Broke Town

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