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Spring roundup: Perk up your ears for these Tucson bands

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Weekend music

Spring roundup: Perk up your ears for these Tucson bands

  • Gabi Montoya, John Read and John Matzek of Juju Fontaine
    Keli CordovaGabi Montoya, John Read and John Matzek of Juju Fontaine
  • Kevin Conklin, Randy Rowland and Nelene DeGuzman of The Rifle with Johnnie Rinehart (Resonars, Free Machines) and Matt Rendon of Midtown Island Studios
    Christopher RiggsKevin Conklin, Randy Rowland and Nelene DeGuzman of The Rifle with Johnnie Rinehart (Resonars, Free Machines) and Matt Rendon of Midtown Island Studios
  • Ken and Inez McLain aka The Exbats
    Christopher RiggsKen and Inez McLain aka The Exbats

It's that time of year again. Those fleeting days that herald the return of pretty cactus blooms, clear and gorgeous sunny skies and that agonizing decision in older Tucson households, whether it's time to flip over from heat to evaporative cooling.  In other words, it's springtime in the desert. 

As spring rolls in and bands make their way to and from town as part of the SXSW touring circuit, our local music heroes are beginning to emerge from hibernation and hit stages (and record store shelves) once more. Luckily, your intrepid local weekly music columnist is on the case. No band will slip from its underground lair without an attempt at a heads-up from this space. 

This week, I caught up with three of our local favorites, the Rifle, the Exbats and Juju Fontaine, and checked in with the folks at Midtown Island Records to see what's on the horizon for local audiences between now and the hellish summer days to come.

It's your spring music roundup from

The Rifle takes aim at new material How has the last year or so treated the band? You ended up on a lot of folk's best of lists, for one thing!

Drummer Randy Rowland: "The year's been good"

Singer/Guitarist Nelene DeGuzman: "It’s been great! People have been so nice and supportive about Anabasis."

Bassist Kevin Conklin: "I was really surprised to make it on those best-of lists, we learned a lot about our sound and we’re really looking forward to working on more stuff in the future."

TS: We hear you may have a new recording in the works, tell us about the new material.

Conklin: "We’re playing around with structure, getting that juicy desert cream vibe ."

Rowland: "I’d say it’s a more focused sound than ever, we’re definitely refining a sound."

DeGuzman: "I'm kind of really anxious to get back into Midtown Island Recording Studio.  I’ve been writing things I’m excited about, working on them with the band.  I just want to start recording them already!"

TS:  Tell us a bit about your sister project Elegant Rabies.

DeGuzman: "Our very close friend, Michael Ely, is the front man of the band and Kevin currently plays bass. In an earlier lineup, Randy also played drums and I played guitar.  Randy and I are no longer part of the live band but I still play keys and do backing vocals on the recordings. Elegant Rabies is playing at Flycatcher this weekend to celebrate Michael’s 65th birthday and that should be a great show. Be there or be square!"

TS: Thoughts on the state of the Tucson music venues and the local music scene these days? 

Rowland: "I was sad hearing that Flycatcher is under jeopardy of turning into a student housing complex, that’s a real bummer." 

DeGuzman: "Yeah, I was sad to hear that.  

Rowland: "Also there’s cranes everywhere building this stuff. All around us man."

Conklin: "It’s sad to lose the Flycatcher. I hear Exo is putting on shows now though."

DeGuzman: "I love the Tucson music scene. Keeping a music community alive and thriving does require effort and love and nourishment, but I grew up in Redding, CA where there was really no music scene at all. There were a couple places were older blues or jazz musicians could jam covers together, more as a hobbyist type thing, but really no place for younger kids to create original music for each other. Occasionally a DIY space would pop up but they never lasted long.  I’m endlessly grateful for how vibrant the music scene and community are here."

TS: What's on the short and long term horizon for The Rifle? Upcoming shows? Tours? The Album? Anyone you're excited to see or play with? Direction of material to come?

Rowland: Well, we’re getting some new recordings going and planning a summer tour with the Exbats. We're planning to do a west coast tour up to Canada.

Conklin: "We’ve also got a song coming out on the When in AZ compilation in April. It’s all Arizona bands covering other Arizona bands!"

DeGuzman: "Elegant Rabies and The Resonars are on the compilation too.  It’s gonna be rad!"

The Rifle has several upcoming shows on the calendar for March and beyond. The next one up is this weekend at Saint Charles Tavern: Sunday at 8 p.m.

Release The Exbats (on digital and cassette)

TS: Hey there Exbats! What's up? Since last year, you've put out a new album and a lot of the studio tracks have Matt Rendon on bass. I've noticed that lately you've started adding bass to the drums/guitar/vocals basic sound of your live shows. How is the style change working out?

Guitarist/vocalist Kenny McLain: "Geez. We'll we got the bass player we wanted, and now she's moving to Texas. For now either Matt Rendon or Melissa Reaves have been playing bass when they can, we like having the extra sound, a lot!"

TS: In addition to the Schroedinger's bass player situation, have you got anything new and cool coming up?

McClain: "Yes. We just made a video with Tucson lifer Christopher B Riggs. It's for Kill Yr Boyfriend. It came out great and that should show up in a couple weeks.

Meanwhile, Inez has been doing a lot of ceramics and I have been really into silks creening shirts and posters for the band. I just made a cool hat imitating a guitar store logo. 

That and we just wrote some new songs. Which we are really into. Clearly, our next record, our third, will be our OK Computer.

We are playing some parties at SXSW. Hopefully that will be chill and not too stressful. We have a ton of shows lined up. 

Oh! And we are touring with The Rifle this summer! West Coast look out."

The Exbats are another band hopping on a ton of local bills in the next month or so. Their latest is in support of Telephone Lovers and the legendary Scott Yoder of The Pharmacy fame. Catch them at Flycatcher on Wednesday at 9 p.m.

Getting in on the good Juju (Fontaine)

TS: Things have definitely changed for Juju since last we checked in. Can you tell us about the lineup change?

Singer/guitarist Gabi Montoya: "After the band's EP release last December I had time to do some reflection, and realized things were starting to go in a direction that wasn't what I intended this project to be. I needed to feel like I was making my own music on my terms again. That led me to make the difficult decision  to part with my former drummer. I played some solo shows and worked on new music. I was surprised at how positive the feedback was when I wasn't afraid to play what I wanted to and wasn't worried that the music that was too "dark" or "slow" or "singer songwriter-y". 

Luckily, my bassist John Read stuck around and suggested we try jamming with his drummer friend John Matzek. 

John M. has a really keen sense of what a song needs, even if it's a simple subtle beat. And John Read has been laying down some killer bass lines on our new songs. 

It's pretty exciting to watch my songs come to life with their ideas. I'm in the process of writing and arranging new tunes and hoping to record a full length album some time this year, which will include some of the newly arranged versions of tracks from the EP. Who knows, maybe even a little tour. 

Also, a project I've been wanting to being to life for a while is finally happening. I started a 3 piece all-girl band inspired by 60's and 70's female garage bands and lofi surf punk with a little doo-wop soul thrown in there.

It started as just a fun thing, mostly an outlet for silly song ideas and a reason to wear cool vintage clothes on stage, but my bandmates Dessa Keys and Isabella Rodriguez turned out to be incredibly hard workers and talented musicians which made it pretty difficult to take this (still unnamed) band less seriously than Juju Fontaine. We have a few possible shows lined up so I'll keep everyone updated on that!

As far as the local music scene goes, I've been pretty blown away with all of the diverse talent that has been playing live on any given night. I would be out watching live music every night if I wasn't always working on my own music. 

I love what I've been seeing at Exo's new bar. They have a constant flow of must see artists/bands. It seems like some downtown venues are doing a better job of promoting non-rocks-band performances that feature DJs, electronic artists, and rappers as actual shows, which I really appreciate.

 I like being able to watch artists who's medium is a lot different than mine and I think smart bookers and promoters will keep up the trend of promoting diverse talent. My only complaint would be that some venues seem to end up booking the same local acts all the time instead of giving a chance to someone they're not as familiar with. And that's fine, I'll keep spamming their inboxes until they decide to get in on the good Juju!

Juju Fontaine has a couple of live shows lined up this month, including one Saturday night at Saint Charles Tavern at 9 p.m.

What's spinning at Midtown Island Studios?

Once upon a time there were only a handful of great recording studios in this town and only an even smaller number devoted to primitive sounds, vintage gear and analog equipment in a Pro Tools world. A notable exception was the Coma Cave, run by Resonars frontman Matt Rendon. Rendon's current recording venue, Midtown Island Studios is a bigger and better version of its progenitor and in the past couple of years, Midtown has played host to not just some of the best local bands to grace Tucson's stages and airwaves in ages, but also some nationally known recording artists like the May Company and Phoenix based Nanami Ozone.

This past year has been a musically fruitful one for the Midtown Island crew and there's a ton of great stuff coming your way. 

The new album by the Exbats was released last month and is already available, along with two videos already out and likely more to come. Coming soon, expect releases from Louise Le Hir, Christina Antipa, Weekend Lovers, Wanda Junes, United Snakes (ex - Un:ted States) and Elegant Rabies, with new Nanami Ozone coming this summer. 

As for future releases, the Desert Beats started recording their new album on the weekend, while Rifle start their new album in April. Untied Snakes (formerly Un:Ted states) plan to start recording their new album in a couple of weeks.

Check your local listings...


  • Doyle, Blue Collar Criminals, Border Town Devils, Dirty Magic, Slack Bastards - 6 p.m. The Rock (Downtown)
  • Broken, ElyZian, Mt. Meru, Stands with Fists, Throw Logic, Gila Byte, LiftDD - 7 p.m. Rialto (Downtown)
  • Little Cloud - 7 p.m. Borderlands (Downtown)
  • Buckethead - 8 p.m. 191 Toole (Downtown)
  • Jaliha - 8 p.m. Exo Bar (Downtown)
  • Whining Pussys, Sucker For The Sour, Cement Shows - 8 p.m. The Loudhouse (North)
  • Michael Ely's 65th Birthday w/ Cool Funeral, Strange Lot - 8:30 p.m. Flycatcher (Downtown)
  • Kyklo - 8:30 p.m. Owls Club (Downtown)
  • Spaghetti Westerners - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern (S of Downtown)
  • Natalie Pohanic - 9 p.m. Dusty Monk Pub (Downtown)
  • Brokedown Palace - 9:30 p.m. House Of Bards (Central) 


  • Blank Range, The Donkey Tonk Band And Lana Rebel Band - 7 p.m. Club Congress (Downtown)
  • Thunderosa, Big Mean, Eyes Go Black, Musk Hog - 8 p.m. 191 Toole (Downtown)
  •  Max Fite, Stealing Your Kill, Douglas Beat Market - 8 p/m/ The Loudhouse (North)
  • Sego, Fenster - 9 p.m. Flycatcher (Downtown)
  • Juju Fontaine w/ BreakingGlass - 9 p/m/ Saint Charles Tavern (S of Downtown)


  • Mik and the Funky Brunch - 12:30 p.m. La Cocina (Downtown)
  • Mariachi Luz de Luna - 11 a.m. Playground (Downtown)
  • Palm, Spirit Of The Beehive, Darto, & Hikkikomori - 7 p.m. Club Congress (Downtown)
  • Double Trouble - 7 p.m.  Royal Sun (Downtown)
  • The Rifle and Half Stack - 7 p.m.  Saint Charles Tavern (S of Downtown)
  • Pvris, Flint Eastwood, Birthday - 7:30 p.m. Rialto (Downtown)
  • Jaime J. Soto, Born2Death, Azfarat, Creative Needles - 8 p.m. Flycatcher (Downtown)
  • The Sheckies, 2 Bit Johnnies, Go West, Fat Man - 8 p.m. 


  • Bryan Thomas Parker - p.m. Royal Sun (Downtown)
  • Mike Hebert's Prison Band - 7 p.m. The Parish (North)
  • The Frights, Playboy Manbaby - 8 p.m. 191 Toole (Downtown)
  • Cuco, August Eve, Jasper Bones - 8 p.m. Rialto (Downtown)
  • Guantanamo Baywatch, No Parents, Cigarette Bums, Distractor - 9 p.m. Flycatcher (Downtown)


  • Tom Walbank - 6:30 p.m. SkyBar (Downtown)
  • Denzel Curry - 8 p.m. 191 Toole (Downtown)
  • Whaja Dew And Espresso, Jess Matsen and Caleb G - 8 p.m. Club Congress (Downtown)
  • Steff Koeppen - 8:30 p.m. SkyBar (Downtown)


  • Hank Topless - 5 p.m. Royal Sun (Downtown)
  • Miss Lana Rebel & Kevin Michael Mayfield - 6 p.m. La Cocina (Downtown)
  • Classic Albums Live: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band - 7:30 p.m. Fox Theatre (Downtown)
  • Street Blues Family - 8 p.m. Club Congress (Downtown)
  • Tzimani, Breaker Breaker, Amoras Bane, The Mindless - 8 p.m. the Loudhouse (North)
  • Scott Yoder, Exbats, Telephone Lovers - 9 p.m. Flycatcher (Downtown)
  • Vince Staples, Woodro - 9 p.m. Rialto (Downtown)
  • Illuminati Hotties - 9:30 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern (S of Downtown)


  • Shoreline Mafia - 6:30 p.m. Club Congress (Downtown)
  • Overload By Kayzo, 4B - 7:30 p.m. Rialto (Downtown)
  • Leila Lopez - 8:30 p.m. Tap and Bottle (Downtown)


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