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Tucson sounds

Late night double feature: Just Najima, the Rifle dropping new records

Next Friday marks not one, but two long-awaited album releases by two of this column's favorite local bands! Your friendly Tucson music columnist shares the score...

Just Najima: Queenie and the Apocalypse Cabaret

TucsonSentinel.com: When I hear your music, it always seems like you've taken elements of sound and style that exist already and recombined them in unexpected ways.

But the real, solid kick to the gut is when you lay down subject matter with some weight, on revamped classics like "Somebody's Talking Bout Jesus." Songs like that can easily be dismissed as relics of history.

What elements inspired you to make this album? And to did you set out to make a statement or is it a "write what you know" kind of scenario?

Najima Rainey (Just Najima): "I have been thinking about and listening to soul music since I was a kid. It's kind of the music of my subconscious mind. So I've always wanted to create soul music or thought about how to turn a song on the radio into a soul song. So when I started creating this album soul music is just what started coming out. I definitely didn't set out to make a 'statement' but I definitely think soul music talks about the strife we experience around us. It ranges from things like Marvin Gaye saying 'natural fact is, honey, I can't pay my taxes' to him asking 'what's going on.' That's also the legacy of music like the traditional blues and spiritual songs. I strive to have a place in that legacy."

TS: This was your first full length recording AND you went into the studio with someone making their own debut as a producer/engineer, Jillian Besset of JIANNT studio. What was the recording process like from your perspective.

NR: "Because I don't know how to write music, it was important to find the right person to help me bring the music in my head into reality. Jillian Bessett was that person. She understood my vision and we could communicate in music in a way that worked. For me, meeting Jillian was very fortuitous. It didn't have to be an amazing and collaborative experience, but it was. I truly credit her loving and generous spirit. Jillian wants to see other women succeed."

TS: Between your strong, assertive stage presence and your off-stage reputation for social activism, I think a lot of folks have a very "serious" image of you. What are some guilty pleasures and absolutely ridiculous things that you love that might surprise people.

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NR: "Am I? Seen as a serious person? Huh? I actually have questions about that question!"

"I think life is meaningless and utterly absurd, so I laugh constantly. How can you do anything but laugh? A surprising fact about me is that I like video games even though I'm not particularly good at them. I'm also a mediocre herbalist and I'm trying to cultivate a kombucha scooby. As in thinking about doing it, but not ever actually doing it."

TS: Tell us about the album release party!

NR: "Well! Talking about a party is something I'm good at! And, I'm so incredibly excited for this party because I want this release to really be a celebration. Who knows if I'll make another album - the world is ending, after all!""

"Which brings us to the event. It's called the Apocalypse Cabaret and it's happening on Friday, January 31, at 8 p.m. at Club Congress. There is going to be music and performance by Jaime J. Soto. The MC is going to be the amazing Jeena Doucure. MoonTrax will be performing and I'll be doing special performances of the music from the album. I'm trying to really capture the revelry and abandon of a cabaret at the end of the world."

TS: Once it's finally here next week, where and when can folks get a copy of "Queenie"?

NR: "There will be copies of the actual CD available at the release party and of course at shows. The album will be available for download on iTunes, CD Baby, and Band Camp."

Celebrate the release of Just Najima's debut album "Queenie" at the Apocalypse Cabaret at Club Congress at 8 p.m. on Friday, January 31.

The Rifle: Honeyden

TucsonSentinel.com: A new Rifle album? Well, it's about damn time! Tell us about the songs and material on Honeyden.

Nelene DeGuzman (The Rifle): "The material on Honeyden is definitely a lot more self-reflective and personal than my songwriting has been in the past. I've grown more comfortable being vulnerable and open with myself in my songwriting process. I filter my feelings a lot less..

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"The making of Honeyden spanned two years and the first tracks were written three years ago just after Anabasis came out in 2017. Kevin and I had a crazy 2018, we got married, bought a house, did a bunch of work on that house because she was an older fixer upper.  My grandmother on my mom's side who raised me and my sisters passed away at the age of 99 in 2019.  She was just a couple months short of her 100th birthday. I attended her funeral in Canada and it was crazy to see a bigger picture of the life she lived. I only knew the tiny piece that she shared with me, when she lived with me and my mom and sisters in Southern California, helping my mom raise me and my sisters, the trips we took together, the visits we had later when she lived full time in Canada.  The reality was that she had 8 children (my mom included), 11 grandchildren, and I think 7 or 8 great grandchildren across the Philippines, Canada, and the U.S. but somehow managed to be so present and important in all of our lives. The cover art is a picture my Auntie Lorrie found of me and my grandma which I hadn't seen before. I don't actually remember where it was taken but the album is dedicated to her."

"There's actually a song on there, Paving, that was inspired by a little conversation you and I had (you, yes you Julie!). I probably won't remember the actual words we used but it was about not wanting to feel competitive or like you have to keep up with the people around you and wanting like a carpool lane for life. I'm paraphrasing badly but I'm sure it sounded better when we first talked about it."

TS: What's changed about the band's sound since releasing "Anabasis"? Do you feel like you've grown as a band? Are there things that haven't/won't change vs. things that keep evolving.

ND: "Well we recorded "Honeyden" at Midtown Island Studio, which is where we've recorded everything since my one home recorded solo album.  Matt, as a collaborator, is a constant thread throughout everything.  He definitely adds a certain sound and a certain touch to everything.  I can't imagine making a Rifle record without him.

"We've got a new lineup!  We are so stoked to welcome Nick to The Rifle. He's a rad drummer whose work Kevin and I have admired in the past.  He brings a super fun wild energy to our shows and jams. As musicians, I think Kevin and I are just always evolving, always trying to get better, to learn more. Nick is the kind of drummer who just has insane technical abilities so that just opens up a lot of possibilities in terms of our songwriting and live performances. We played a New Year's show in Bisbee together and we did a whole set of just improvisational instrumental jams which is something neither Kevin nor I had ever done before. I'm just really learning to loosen my grip and trust that at our core we know what we're doing which is cool. I think the combination of Nick and Kevin is just such a solid rhythmic foundation that I'm able to let go and really feel it all live which I don't think I've ever really done before."

TS:  Nelene, you've spent the past few months performing solo as well as in full band mode. How has that experience contrasted with your performance experience as part of the Rifle?

ND: "Performing solo is a much more vulnerable experience. On the other hand, it's a little simpler, less gear, and the logistics of touring were much easier when it was just me and my gear in my tiny, gas efficient Toyota. Solo tour was really an incredible and transformative experience and it's one that I've had trouble putting into words exactly what it meant to me and what I feel like has changed since then. I think it changed me as a person for the better and I feel like it helped me reconnect to the person I was when I first started writing music, when I was just a single person tracking all the instruments by myself in my bedroom, dreaming up songs, finding my voice. Experiencing that vulnerability again after I had thought I reached a certain comfort level live was a real trip.  There was also something really incredible about performing the songs in their rawest form and having people still respond so positively."

On the other hand, adding Nick to the mix was a real reminder to me about what I loved about being in a band, how fun and exciting it can be to have other people to play off of live and to have other energy than just my own to bring to the table at a show.  The difference of having Kevin and Nick onstage with me after touring solo feels like Super Mario after getting a star and running around invincible to everything. I'm just excited and happy and looking forward to the future."

TS: You've also laid some groundwork for the band by touring as a solo performer and visiting record stores and independent radio stations in places I imagine you may revisit with the full band in tow. Do you anticipate those efforts paying off before the band hits the roadnext time around? And, for that matter, are there any plans to tour again in the near future?

ND: "I don't know! I think the goal is just to get the music out to as many people as possible in the hopes that it'll reach people who might like it. That's what makes touring so much fun, getting to show your music to new people. We definitely want to tour again. Perhaps in the fall? We've never gone east which is something I'd like to try. We are going to be doing some out of town shows in February in New Mexico and California which I'm very excited about."

TS: What changes are happening in terms of the band and what's on the horizon for the Rifle in 2020.

ND: "I've written a bunch of new songs and I'm really excited to flesh them out with Nick and Kevin.  I'm just excited to start working on the next album and exploring new sounds and ideas."

TS: Besides the Rifle, what are some of your favorite bands and venues and acts of the past year or two, both here in Tucson and out in the wider world?

ND: "Well, let's see, we've got our friends who we always want to shout out, Weekend Lovers, Exbats, the Resonars and the whole Midtown Island fam. My favorite artist I played with on solo tour was an artist called Bellhoss in Denver CO who, like me, plays solo and in a band.  She describes her music as indie sadcore haha.  Lately I've also been listening to a lot of Radiator Hospital, SZA, Noname."

"For venues, on solo tour I played this amazing venue/gallery in Provo, Utah, called The Boxcar Studios which was this insane art space but with one of the most beautiful stages I've ever seen. I did a highlight reel on my Instagram and posted pics of the Boxcar space if ya wanna see pics. I heard that it's moving though, so it'll be in Salt Lake City now? I hope it's as beautiful as their Provo location was. In Tucson we always love Che's and 191 Toole (where we are having our release party! Thank you, 191 Toole!). But also shoutout to Sky Bar for being amazing these days.They've really upped their game as a venue and it's a real pleasure to play there now. Wooden Tooth is also an awesome place to play and see shows. There's also a lot happening in the Tucson venue scene, I'm excited to see what Groundworks will be like when they eventually open their doors."

TS: Tell us about the album release party!

ND: "It's going to be January 31 at 191 Toole, doors at 7 p.m. It's free and all-ages and we will be joined by Casanova (for their very first show) and our good friends Weekend Lovers! We'll have brand spanking new merch available, a lot of which was designed by the very talented local artist Emily Orzell."

TS: Where and when can we buy the album?

ND: "Our release date is the same day as the show. It's also available for digital pre-order on Bandcamp and will be available on cassette tape and CD at our release show at 191 Toole."

The Rifle celebrate the release of "Honeyden" at 191 Toole on Friday, January 31, at 8 p.m. with support from Weekend Lovers and Casanova.

Weekend Lovers - Baby

Speaking of Weekend Lovers, it's been quite some time since Marta De Leon and company shared any new music with the world in recorded form, but the band has been slowly stockpiling a fabulous collection of new tunes over at Midtown Island and next Friday the first of these shall finally be unveiled. Stay tuned for the release of "Baby" next Friday online and in this space.

Also happening this week

In case you hadn't gotten your fill of local album release news for this week, next Friday boasts a third local release party, over at Saint Charles Tavern starting at...yep, 8 p.m. That's when the Demons of South Tucson release their newest album of eclectic and danceable grunge, acoustic, reggae, folk and border-infused rock.

Meanwhile, a couple of touring acts of note worth catching this week include Texas based post-hardcore legends ...and They Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead at Rialto on Monday night and the perfect psych pop-garage darlings the Shivas at Club Congress on Tuesday.

Check your local listings…

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 arts@tucsonsentinel.com.

*DIY/House Show - contact bands for details

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

Saturday, January 25

  • Desert Heat HipHop Festival - 4 p.m. House of Bards
  • Cuban Night - 6 p.m. Crooked Tooth Brewery
  • Santa Pachita - 6 p.m. Playground Rooftop
  • Fog Lake w/ Foxes in Fiction and Video James - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • Paul Opocensky Project - 7 p.m. Borderlands
  • Karaoke with Kat - 7:30 p.m. Hotel McCoy
  • Velocity - 8 p.m. Hideout Saloon
  • Barefoot On Bumblebees, Hairbrain, Stripes - 8 p.m. Irenes Doughnuts
  • Lunar New Year with Wet - 8 p.m. Borderlands
  • Steff and the Articles 10 Year Anniversary - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
  • The Fab Four: The Ultimate Beatles Tribute - 8 p.m. Fox Theatre
  • Golden Boots w/ the Gral Brothers - 8 p.m. El Crisol (Exo)
  • Dash, Moontrax, Juju Fontaine - 9 p.m. Sky Bar9 – 11pm
  • Noise Machine - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern

Sunday, January 26

  • The Last Sunday Revival - 5 p.m. Tap & Bottle
  • Hank Topless - 6 p.m. Che's Patio
  • For Love or Absinthe - 7 p.m. Royal Sun
  • Tablao Flamenco - 7 p.m. El Crisol (Exo)
  • Railroad Earth w/ Marty O'Reilly - 7:30 p.m. Rialto

Monday, January 27

  • ...and you will know us by the Trail of Dead - 8 p.m. Rialto

Tuesday, January 28

  • The Shivas w/ the Gem Show - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • Just Najima, BreakingGlass, Method to the Madness (KMKR Fundraiser) - 6 p.m. La Cocina
  • F*ST! Presents: Fight the Power - 7 p.m. Loft Cinema

Wednesday, January 29

  • Alpaca w/ Copper Magma / Demon Grass / Stone Witch - 8 p.m. Club Congress

Thursday, January 30

  • Pearl Earl for Femmes & Thems - 6 p.m. Club Congress
  • Oscar Fuentes and Heather Hardy - 8:30 p.m. Tap & Bottle

Friday, Jan 31

  • KXCI presents: Pieta Brown and David Huckfelt - 8 p.m. El Crisol (Exo)
  • Exo Bar Tucson
  • Febbo Fuentes - 6 p.m. Sand-Reckoner
  • Big Grin - 6 p.m. Harbottle Brewing Company
  • Paul Opocensky Project - 7 p.m. Caps & Corks
  • Demons of South Tucson Album Release Party - 8 p.m.  Saint Charles
  • Dia De Las Luchas - 8 p.m. Rialto
  • The Rifle Album Release Party w/ Weekend Lovers - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Just Najima presents the Apocalypse Cabaret w/ Moontrax - 9 p.m. Club Congress

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the photographer of the lead image.


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Kerry Whelan

Najima Rainey aka Just Najima

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