Hang The Bassist is part of Tucson's youth rock revolution
It would be easy to make the case that 2018 was a less than stellar year for the prospects of live musicians at traditional venues in Tucson. Some longtime and brand-new establishments alike closed their doors for good while other venues switched formats from live bands to dance and DJ nights, in part to cater to the growing numbers of University of Arizona undergrads living in or near Downtown Tucson.
However, while this was happening, a kind of low key revolution was taking place in terms of where local gigs were happening and who was playing them.
First, came the house show and pop-up show renaissance. Dwindling venue availability and a need to find gig spots for touring bands coupled with the power of crowdsourcing and social media sparked a kind of local explosion in the already time-honored tradition of old school DIY house party shows as well as recurring shows at non-traditional venues such as tattoo vendor Spark Project Collective and repurposed garage-turned-art-and-music space the Ervice. Second was the growing cadre of truly excellent teen and young bands emerging from places like School House of Rock and the corridors of local high schools. And since teens and all-ages friendly gig venues are kind of a natural fit, you can guess the rest. A summer and winter full of kick-ass house shows largely centered around increasingly good teenage musicians.
Your humble music critic predicts that 2018 was only the beginning and 2019 will be the year that Tucson's teen band invasion truly takes hold. In the meantime, she checked in with some of the folks in the middle of all this sudden attention.
First, we checked in with our fine young friends in the band Rough Draft.
TucsonSentinel.com: So...what's up with all the young bands in Tucson all the sudden? Where are you all finding each other? And who should we know about?
Rough Draft: "Without a doubt, the accessibility of music and the tools needed to create has contributed to the rapid formation of new bands here in tucson. Between friends and other artists, these newly found bands are given the opportunity to feel welcomed and thrive in the scene. We mostly find each other at other local shows, on social media, or through mutual friends. We’ve met some of our closest friends through attending local shows and mutual friends. In a way, it all just melds together."
"Social media, mostly Instagram, is a huge help, along with attending other local shows and meeting other artists face to face. Some local bands we feel everyone should come to know are: Somniac, Carnival, Yum, Pelt, Better on the Inside, B.Y.O.M., Calling Upon Theory, and Sauced Up! As for Rough Draft ourselves, recording is the main goal at this point. Kind of an objective we’ve all been working towards but never quite been able to fit into our schedule."
Next, we stuck our heads in the door at a local space that's been the epicenter of a lot of Tucson's youthful musical zeitgeist, the School House of Rock on Broadway just east of Downtown.
TucsonSentinel.com: Tell us about Schoolhouse. What are you folks all about?
The Schoolhouse of Rock: "SHOR, aka the School House of Rock, is a music school, but we also have a recording studio and a stage where we host live shows. The atmosphere here is incredibly youthful. This sets us apart from other music schools as we tend to hire younger teachers and staff members as they tend to be more enthusiastic about music"
TS: What impact do you think SHOR has had on the local music scene so far?
SHOR: "We have hosted some great shows which have contributed to the success of many local bands. Our students and teachers are also active in the music scene."
TS: What great Tucson based teen/youth bands should we know about?
SHOR: "Rough Draft, The Frecks, YUM, Airconditioner, The Great Citizens, Stripes, Calling Upon Theory, Annie Jump Cannon. Many of these bands have also played shows here at SHOR."
TS: Thoughts on the importance and impact of having resources like SHOR in our community?
SHOR: "It's crucial for young bands to have support from resources like ourselves. We provide a safe show experience free of drugs and alcohol and our doors are always open for young bands and musicians.We have an incredible amount of resources to offer and we encourage anyone to reach out to use. We have an amazing stage, recording studio, and we are always looking for people to begin internships here."
Hang The Bassist (a band that, suspiciously, has no bassist)
Hang The Bassist is a local duo composed of guitarist/vocalist Tara Maria Belger and drummer and multi-instrumentalist Pigeon C. —both currently in high school — and as serious about music as bands twice their age. Many local music fans first became aware of the band after they performed at this fall's Electric Witch Workshop or else have come across them at local house shows across the past several months, including a few at "the Co-op" — a prolific local house show space near Downtown.
TucsonSentinel.com: How did each of you fall in love with music to begin with? And what inspired you to start taking it seriously?
Pigeon C: "Music had always been a part of my life, that’s for sure. Every dinner, my dad would give me a choice of what cassette to play while we ate; my top picks were Selena, Led Zeppelin and Joan Jett. On road trips, my mom would have me listen to Green Day and Slayer. I knew for sure that music would be part of me forever. My mom’s friend got me a drum set for my third birthday, and I became absolutely obsessed. I would play songs I liked and try to drum over them, but I was three so I’m pretty sure I still didn’t understand how to control my limbs. I credit my first drum set to really making me fall in love with music. It’s easy to love listening to music, but it’s a whole different world when you start making it."
Tara Belger: "My music taste is largely inspired by my dad. He’s been sharing his music with me since I was really little. A band that has been in my life for as long as I can remember is Green Day. I was three or four years old when my dad played me their 'American Idiot' music video, and from then on I was hooked. When I was older and still listening to their music, I was inspired to play music. I started taking guitar lessons from the Schoolhouse of Rock. A year after I started playing, I began to write my own music and lyrics. I met Pigeon at a summer theatre program in 2018. We didn’t really talk until the house party after the last day, where there was a set of drums and some guitars. We played a lot of music that night, and it was like something clicked. I felt like we could really do something cool."
TS: Who's who in Hang The Bassist? And how'd you get that name? I can't help but notice that you don't have a bassist..."
PC: "Tara does lead vocals and guitar, while I play drums, but we typically revolve instruments throughout shows. Our name comes from a few different places: I was at a show once, and the bassist was absolutely wasted and couldn’t play anything right, and in between songs, this guy yells 'Kill the bassist! Kill him!' and people started cheering. When we brought band names to the table, I was thinking of something like that, and we don’t like Todd from Scott Pilgrim so there’s that. Our friend Neruda helped us finalize it to Hang the Bassist."
TB:"I mainly play guitar and sing while Pigeon plays drums, and we’ll switch for some songs. We play each other’s songs, and cover songs by bands we both love. Our bud Neruda helped with naming the band. We have a lot of feelings about Todd from Scott Pilgrim."
TS: Nice! What bands influence you or at least just make you really happy as rock fans?
PC: "Hang The Bassist is very much influenced Green Day, the White Stripes, the Cramps, and Bikini Kill, but we also get inspiration from horror movies and spaghetti western films. My personal favorite bands are Sleigh Bells, Fugazi, Led Zeppelin, FIDLAR, SWMRS, Taco Cat and X-Ray Spex."
TB: "My all-time favorite band is Green Day. I was happy to find that Pigeon is also a fan. I’m also sort of in love with the band Mt. Eddy, and Pigeon got me into SWMRS. I also really love the '80s; the Cure is one of my favorites. My influences all come from my dad’s favorite music. Some bands that I think have influenced my writing are the Pixies, Violent Femmes, and Generation X. Pigeon’s music reminds me a lot of the Regrettes, the Frights, the Cramps, and Bikini Kill. I think our sound as a band is influenced by Green Day, the Cramps, and the White Stripes."
TS: That's...a rather diverse pool of influences. As an old school rock and punk fan I've gotta say I approve! What about your favorite local bands, though?
PC: "I absolutely love (LA-based, but Tucson-bred band) Foxx Bodies; their shows are fantastic and their music deals with a lot of sexual and political issues that aren’t discussed in music. We recently played with Diluvio and Black Medicine, and both are new local favorites; they’re all extremely talented and so sweet. Prom Body, Calexico, AM Waves, Exbats, Human Behavior, Big Bad, and Pelt are huge faves, too."
TB: "Most of the local shows I’ve been to were of older bands. A lot of my dad’s friends play live music. My dad’s girlfriend is also in a really cool jazz trio that plays at the Coronet sometimes, covering old jazz hits. So I haven’t seen as many local rock shows as I have bluegrass, blues, and folk shows. Of the local rock shows I’ve seen, there are some awesome teen bands that I’ve really looked up to. One of them was the Frecks, a rad all-girl rock band which, unfortunately, stopped playing shows. I also really like the band Yum, which is a funk punk band of really talented musicians. I saw both of these bands at the Schoolhouse of Rock. The shows always brought a supportive audience."
TS: Any thoughts on the local music scene in general? And the youth rock and punk scene in particular?
PC: "The Tucson scene is full of amazing artists, and I’m really glad to part of it; it’s also really refreshing to see other teens getting involved and making art together. There’s a lot of supportive artists who actively help each other out, and everyone in the scene seems to know each other. The teen scene is amazing but has a lot to work on. It can sometimes be a breeding ground for misogyny, and I hear horror stories about assault and uncomfortable interactions. I’ve witnessed femmes getting punched and harassed. This happens in any scene, but this is a teen scene, and we need to be the change for future artists. We need to have conversations about misogyny and toxic masculinity in the local teen scene. All art spaces should be safe for anyone, regardless of gender, sexuality or skin color. The kids in the scene are very much capable of making this change, but only if they’re willing to talk about it first."
TS: Well said. It can definitely be hard to call folks out , really at any age. On a completely different note, though, how did you learn to play and what's your advice to new musicians?
PC: "I took piano lessons for about 8 years and some basic guitar lessons. For the most part I’m self-taught on guitar, but completely self-taught on drums. Being trained in piano has really helped me understand rhythm and how to read sheet music, however I don’t think it affected how I play guitar or drums too much. I learned drums by listening to songs and trying to copy the beats, and I feel like that has shaped me as a drummer now; I learned a basic beat by listening to 'London Calling' by the Clash, and just kept building from there. I recommend having a balance of both formal training and self-teaching; learn the basics from someone and then build off from what you know. "
TB: "I took guitar lessons at the Schoolhouse of Rock for three years. After a while I also started to learn other technical things about playing live and recording. They taught me pretty much everything I know now. I’m not sure what other music schools are like, but at the Schoolhouse I felt like I had a family. I haven’t taken any lessons since Hang The Bassist began, but now I’m able to use everything they’ve taught me, and I can make something with it. I’m really grateful to my teachers there, and I wouldn’t be here without them."
TB: "One of my favorite gigs was at Electric Witch. It was a series of workshops about instruments and gear taught by womxn for womxn, so that they could learn about these things without being mansplained to. I really loved what Electric Witch was doing, and the people there were very supportive."
PC: "My favorite gig is also Electric Witch. It’s truly inspiring to know there’s people out there who are working to help femmes become more comfortable in a music scene; it’s also really comforting to have other girls help you and educate you, and not try to take the reins and ignore your knowledge. Another favorite would have to be the Coop show, because it was my first time organizing a show by myself."
TB: "I would really like to record a lot. We have some songs that are really smooth and that I would really like to start experimenting with. We have a lot of cool music video ideas, too. We also have discussed having a regular Coop show, which would be neat."
PC: "We are planning monthly shows at the Coop, and details will be posted on our instagram @hangthebassist. We’re working on booking with some local record shops and some new venues popping up, but we don’t have any definite dates. We’re focusing more on making music and perfecting our set. We do have a definite date, which is August 10. It’ll be the Harry Potter Roller Tucson Roller Derby Bout, and we’ll be playing four mini=sets throughout the night."
PC: "I think our style of writing comes naturally for the most part, but I personally like to make sure our songs are danceable and upbeat. Our lyrics cover handle abuse and say things like 'make nazis scared again,' but they all have pretty happy beats. I want people to have fun while listening to our music, but it’s also important that people think about the issues that are happening around them."
TB: "I really like Pigeon’s songs because they have lyrics about serious subjects, but also an upbeat arrangement. It feels really good to play them when we can have fun and express the issues at the same time. I really like to see people respond and dance to the songs."
PC: "Musicians have such heavy influence that it’s so important for them to address social issues. Musicians make music because they have something to say and want people to listen. We live in such a weird world right now; politically and socially, there’s so much change happening right now, and I think it’s pretty fair for a musician to talk about issues and things of depth. Serious songs that address serious topics don’t have to be sad either, they can be dancey and fun. Making change and thinking about what’s happening around you doesn’t have to be this sad, isolating experience. Music is a really powerful medium and can communicate so much to an audience. I think it’d be useless to make music that doesn’t address problems."
TB: "At this time it is very important that current issues are expressed through music. I think that music can have the power to create awareness and make a change. If well known bands write about what is happening in the world, it’ll spread to their followers and more people will be aware of the issues today. We want our music to be uplifting and at the same to have the ability to send a message. We want people to dance and to love each other and to love themselves, all while making a difference and being aware. We want to make a safe and aware space."
TB: "We currently are not working on an album, but we plan to record some songs very soon."
TB: "My personal all-time favorite band has always been Green Day. They’ve been in my life since I was little, and they have never stopped inspiring me. "
PC: "Locally, I love Foxx Bodies, AM Waves, Exbats, Prom Body, Karima Walker and Big Bad. Nationally, I’m going to have to say my current faves that I have been listening to a lot lately are SWMRS, Blood Red Shoes, Sleigh Bells and Holy White Hounds."
PC: "Future plans to tour, do more recording, etc? We’re working on finalizing songs, and we’ll be recording very soon. Additionally, we’re working on booking shows out of state so we can do some mini tours during spring and the summer. Outside of music, we plan on working harder on the Coop, which is a backyard space where we plan to host monthly events."
TB: "Touring would be super cool. I would definitely love take our music further once we’re super solid. We’re going to start recording soon, so it would be cool to release something and then start touring. My mom lives in California so I think touring around there would be a possibility."
PC: "We have so many fun stories to tell, but our absolute favorite moment has to be from our latest show at the Coop. We planned the show a few months beforehand and we didn’t expect it to get so cold, so of course we had this bonfire going and we served soup to the performing artists. The fire was a little far away from the stage, and I jokingly asked 'can someone just pick up the fire and move it closer?' and people started circling around, and we thought they were messing around, but all of a sudden the crowd parts and this kid is dragging the blazing pellets, and he brings it closer to the stage. This kid literally brought the whole fire closer to the stage. And he was totally chill about it. "
PC: "We're working on more booking right now! Currently our only set date is the Tucson Roller Derby Bout on August 10."
Stay tuned to this space to hear more about upcoming live shows by Hang The Bassist and other youth and teen fronted local bands. In the meantime, you can check out another of our favorite youth let bands, Stripes twice this week - at the Punk Goes Electric house show this Saturday night and at Club Congress this Sunday night, opening for Burger Records artists Tomorrow's Tulips.
Best of 2019?
This year, many local media outlets are announcing their "best of 2018" lists of local music releases and bands. But why stay mired in the past when there's new music to be heard?
Your friendly neighborhood music columnist has heard the future and it is good. Or, rather, she has previewed the tracks available and she thinks your going to dig them.
This year's upcoming releases of note include the forthcoming Feverfew album, recently recorded at Midtown Island Studios and awaiting a release date sometime this year, as well as a just announced new Resonars album dropping in April and the long awaited project Anchor Baby, the solo venture of Lenguas Largas Ricky Shimo.
More good news should come soon on the recording front, maybe the best of which comes from the band that, proverbial gun to our head, probably would have topped our Best of 2018 list as well — Bisbee's the Exbats. The 'Bats just released a brand new video for their single "Hercules," an ode to Kevin Sorbo's mythical TV hero from the viewpoint of his sidekick Iolaus. The video, shot by Tucson's Christopher Riggs, features vocalist/drummer Inez McClain's face in various stages of youthful angst and empathy, all through a black and white filter like it's an old school Hollywood audition roll. The Exbats vinyl best of compilation "E is for Exbats" will hit stores on January 15 of this year, but stay tuned till this summer, when the punk pop duo turned trio promises their best release to date.
The Wooden Ball
A once and future Tucson tradition, the Wooden Ball, returns to Club Congress this year. The even features a stripped-down, mostly acoustic mini festival of local artists playing 20-minute sets to benefit a local charity or non profit and plays out like a Tucson version of MTV Unplugged in its heyday. This year's event benefits local LPFM station KMKR radio and showcases performances by Little Cloud, Mute Swan, Miss Olivia and the Interlopers, Rebekah Rolland, Sweet Ghosts, Chris Holiman, Joe Pena, Loveland, and Gabriel Sullivan.
The Wooden Ball takes place Saturday January 6 at 6 p.m. at Club Congress.
Check your local listings...
Friday, Jan. 4
- Zero Miles to Empty, Cloudless, Chelsea Paolini - 9 p.m. Sky Bar
- 80s Holiday Hangover - 7 p.m. Rialto Theater
Saturday, Jan. 5
- The Wooden Ball w/ Mute Swan, Gabriel Sullivan, Rebekah Rolland, Joe Pena, Sweet Ghosts, Little Cloud, Miss Olivia and The Interlopers, Loveland, and Chris Holiman - 6 p.m. Club Congress
- Punk Goes Electric: Stripes, Logan Greenem Michael Tumini, Domestic Weather, Ruben Farias, Joby DLR - 8 p.m. Midtown area house show (check with bands for location details and invites)
- Cloud Walls w/ Charlie Stout - 10 p.m. Che's Lounge
- Free Machines, Freezing Hands (benefit for Michelle Testa) - 10 p.m. District Eatz
Sunday, Jan. 6
- Tomorrow's Tulips, Stripes - 7 p.m. Club Congress
- Lana Rebel and Kevin Mayfield - 6 p.m. Che's Lounge
- Carlos Arzate, Division Men - 8 p.m. Exo Roast
Wednesday, Jan. 9
- King Tuff, Stonefield - 8 p.m. Club Congress
Thursday, Jan. 10
- Miss Olivia and the Interlopers - 8:30 p.m. Tap and Bottle
- Quits, Carbon Canyon, Psygoat - 10 p.m. Owls Club
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 email@example.com.