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Weekend music

Tucson sounds: The Genuine Articles

Last year, one of the biggest stories in Tucson’s music community was the proliferation of really young bands. High school and college-aged kids meeting at house parties or in class, forming bands, playing multiple shows a week and slowly beginning to form identities distinct from the pop-punk and emo masses. 

But what comes next for such rock and roll wunderkinds once the days of calculus finals and all-ages shows are long past and real life awaits?

Given the state of the commercial recording industry these days, fame and fortune are probably not waiting in the wings for even the most talented young players. More likely, the future holds a lifetime of various day jobs and/or bartending gigs with band practice one a week, recording maybe once or twice a year and hopefully a live performance every month or so.

But what your band may lack in riches it could very well make up for in recognition. The idea of touring, recording, streaming one’s music and the like is to send a signal through the noise of countless other indie bands in other small local music scenes and to maybe, just maybe find the audience that you didn’t know you were writing for. And if you’re truly lucky, you’ll get to make that leap of faith with other musicians that you genuinely love and trust. 

Ten years ago, Steff Koeppen made exactly that leap of faith. The at-the-time recent high school graduate who grew up in Tucson’s Northwest suburbs had already done some time in bands in addition to more formal training in voice and piano. But as the budding keyboardist and vocalist became more confident in her live performance skills, she also discovered a knack for songwriting.Tired of lobbying to have her voice included in male led punk and DIY bands, Koeppen decided it was time to lead her own band, based around the smart, stylish piano pop and rich, expressive vocal melodies that best suited her style of songcraft.

A decade later, Koeppen and her bandmates have achieved the elusive goal of largely making their livings as musicians - not through some fabulous career in pop stardom, but the joyously hard way, combining live shows with bread and butter work like wedding gigs, music lessons and the like. But the members of the Articles are pretty sure their younger selves would see this as success in the highest degree. Back in the proverbial day, however, even finding like-minded souls to play with, especially as a female songwriter in a male-dominated youth scene, was a bit of a challenge.

Steff Koeppen: "Where I went to school, at Marana High School, there weren't a lot of bands back then, but when I went 'in' town,there were a ton of them and I became friends with a lot of those guys. And, yeah, mostly they were guys."

First to join the band was Koeppen’s former classmate, drummer Tom Beech, a familiar face who just happened to be a damn fine percussionist, even at the tender age of 16. Next on board was bassist Christopher Pierce, who answered a call from Koeppen on the site Myspace, looking for other players. 

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Christopher Pierce (bassist): “I was in my early twenties, so I was kind of the ‘old man’ of the group!”

Pierce’s flaming red pirate beard and penchant for funk-inspired rhythm added a touch of flamboyance to the group’s stage presence, and his musical chemistry with the band from day one was nothing short of magic. In fact, over the years Beech and Pierce have gone on to become one of those near-inseparably-bonded rhythm section pairs that travel from project to project in seeming telepathy, such as is the case in the instrumental project Tongs, where the two currently play alongside keyboardist Chris Pena.

Back in the early days, though, a bass, piano and keyboard trio playing in Tucson’s DIY scene was something of an anomaly. While a wealth of DIY and all-ages spaces provided places to play,Tucson's youth scene has always skewed a bit loud, so the band often found themselves on odd and slightly mismatched bills. Think piano pop sharing a stage with emo punk and heavy metal bands.

SK: "There was a venue called Living Room across from Sky Bar back then that was an all-ages venue. And there were also Dry River Collective and Skrappys. I feel like I was surrounded by a lot of young bands, both in Tucson and in Phoenix, where there were a lot of places to play back then. It was a challenge, though, to find other bands we really meshed with musically"

“I love a lot of heavier bands, especially the Mars Volta! But I was also into a lot of indie pop, like Feist and Regina Spektor and that was more what my writing style leaned toward. My goal in songwriting was, and still is, to write pop songs that are accessible, but musically interesting. Musicians’ pop.”

Over the ensuing decade, Steff and the Articles have grown beyond that core trio of bass, guitar and piano, to include strings and, eventually guitar. Koeppen jokes that each string player has introduced their own replacement, with past violinists including Jessica Muiseke, Alexandra Tuggle and current main string player Kaitlyn Miller Vargas, who recruited her husband Johnny Vargas, to join up as the Articles’ first ever guitarist.

After a decade of playing together, the band is more nuanced and mature in many ways than in those early days of playing together, with years of trust and familiarity opening new avenues of musical exploration. Though still firmly rooted in piano pop, elements of jazz, classical and even a little bit of folk rock have found their way into the group's richly textured sound. In addition to their relationships with each other, the Articles have also been lucky enough to find a musical partner in recording engineer Curtis Douglas, who most recently worked with the band to record the 2017 release 'Timekeeper.' Koeppen and her bandmates hope to record more in the near future and keep evolving and growing even more in the decade to come.

For now, though, the time has come to simply look back with pride and celebrate a decade of pop "stardom" Tucson style.

Steff and the Articles marks 10 years together next week at an anniversary "extravaganza" at 191 Toole. The show takes place on Saturday, January 25 at 7 p.m. with opening sets from Dirt Friends and Night Weather.

Check your local listings...

Saturday, January 18

  • Natty & The Sunset - 6 p.m. Mercado San Agustin
  • Country Music Night - 6:30 p.m. House of Bards
  • Adam Townsend - 7 p.m. Hotel McCoy Lobby
  • Silver Cloud Express and La Cerca - 7 p.m. Crave Coffee Bar
  • The Secret Jazz Series - 8 p.m. El Crisol/Exo
  • Zeppelin USA - 8 p.m. Rialto
  • Big Grin - 8 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
  • Club Sanctuary 11 Year Anniversary & Grand Finale - 9 p.m. Surly Wench Pub
  • Rewind: R&B & Hip Hop Party - 9 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Until The Sun - 9 p.m. Irene’s Donuts
  • Unwound Debut - 9 p.m. Whiskey Roads
  • Ultra 80s Dance Party - 10 p.m. Passe
  • Gabrielle Pietrangelo Trio: Dillinger Days - 7 p.m. Hotel Congress Cup Cafe
  • Coco Montoya - 7:30 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Author & Punisher - 8 p.m. Club Congress
  • Jerk!, Gutter Town & the Minds - 9 p.m. Sky Bar

Sunday, January 19

  • Gabrielle Pietrangelo Trio: Dillinger Days - 7 p.m. Hotel Congress Cup Cafe
  • Coco Montoya - 7:30 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Author & Punisher - 8 p.m. Club Congress
  • Jerk!, Gutter Town & the Minds - 9 p.m. Sky Bar

Monday, January 20

  • Jazz Guild of Tucson: Saigon Session - 6 p.m. Miss Saigon Downtown

Tuesday January 21

  • Koo Koo Kanga Roo - 6 p.m 191 Toole

Wednesday, January 22

  • Radical Face - 7 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Paul Opocensky Project - 7 p.m. Crooked Tooth
  • Eric Johnson - 8 p.m. Rialto

Thursday, January 23

  • Nocturnal Theory w/ Desert Fish and Viane - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • Miss Olivia and the Interlopers - 8:30 p.m. Tap & Bottle

Friday, January 24

  • Dolly's Birthday Tribute - 6 p.m. Saguaro Corners
  • Heart & Soul - 6 p.m. Playground
  • Jacob Acosta Band - 6 p.m.Harbottle Brewing
  • Trees Speak - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • Black Cat Bones & Michael P. & the Gullywashers - 8 p.m. House of Bards
  • AJJ - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Paul Opocensky Project - 8 p.m.Hotel McCoy Lobby
  • Naim's A Jazz Trio - 8 p.m. El Crisol/EXo
  • Nitecall - 9 p.m. R Bar
  • Phil Free Band - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
  • Electric Feels: Indie Dance Party - 9:30 p.m. Rialto
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courtesy of Steff and the Articles

Steff and the Articles at Sky Bar

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