Tucson sounds: Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder - a conversation with Deanna Cross
Tucson is a town where making art or music seems more like the rule than the exception. The cost of living isn't what it used to be, but it's still a pretty affordable town and it certainly isn't hard to find other players for your band among the bars and record shops and hangouts Downtown. But maybe the biggest factor in Tucson's musician friendliness as a town is the laid-back nature of Tucsonans when it comes to "still" being in a band as a fully functioning grownup human.
This is a town where your day job typically has little impact when it comes to your creative hustle. One local surf rock band boasts not one but two doctoral candidates in their midst, while some of the most talented folks in town have workday identities as teachers, florists, lab techs, tattoo artists, graphic designers, art gallery assistants, restaurateurs, nannies, bartenders, realtors, landscapers, landscapers, record store clerks...you get the idea.
Although Tucson is a fabulous place to play music, it isn't an easy place to be a working musician. With so many bands and players all working on their own projects, supply sometimes exceeds demand when it comes to live talent. Tucson is a great place to make a living while making music, but not a great place to make a living solely on the proceeds of one's music or art.
Still, some local folks, by ingenuity, intestinal fortitude, an eye for opportunity and probably no small amount of inexplicable faery magick, manage to make a living purely doing art/music/creative gigs and, man, do they work hard to earn that living, even if they love it.
One of these folks is my friend Dee, aka Deanna Cross.
If you spend a decent amount of time Downtown, odds are you've met Dee. Whether fronting her band the Unday on vocals and electric viola, as the harmony and violin half of Hatpin Duo, as a chanteuse in Green Faery garb in the alt-covers duo For Love or Absinthe, or adding soulful vocals and occasional fiddle in ensembles like Blue Monsoon, Desert Rovers and Old Pueblo Soul Revue. Or maybe you've encountered Dee as one of the "sirens" behind the counter at Fourth Avenue's Silver Sea, or at her other "day jobs" hosting karaoke at Royal Sun and Club Congress and teaching the next generation of hatchling musicians at Schoolhouse of Rock.
Regardless of how you know her, to know Dee is almost inevitably to be absolutely charmed by her. You'll know her by her bright red hair, even brighter smile, fairy tale by way of thrift shop style, fancy shoes, addictive hugs, gorgeous voice, and quiet, thoughtful wisdom.
Dee is one of those kind and patient souls who you half expect to show up in the Batmobile and half expect to be attended to by bluebirds and animated Disney forest animals. She's got a solution or a kind and well thought out reflection no matter what dilemma you throw at her and is crazy talented on top of it.
So rather than feature one of the million and one projects Dee is seemingly in at any given moment, your trusty scribe instead decided to share a few words from a local Tucson treasure.
TucsonSentinel.com: Hey, Dee!
Deanna Cross:Hey, Julie!
TS: You're in a ridiculous number of projects these days. Want to start by giving us an overview of them all?
DC: The main project, I would say, and my 'baby' is the Unday. The Unday is all original, loosely influenced by a little bit of progressive rock, a lot of classic rock and all of our combined influences as players. I'm also in the avant garde harp/violin project Hatpin Duo with Mariah McCammond, For Love or Absinthe, my duet project with Peter Gorritz, which combines covers with originals, and Old Pueblo Soul Revue with Bryan Thomas Parker."
TS: In For Love or Absinthe, did the sort of musical language immersion of playing a really diverse set of covers help generate new songs? Like recombinant musical DNA?
DC: "I always wanted to include originals with For Love or Absinthe, but starting out with covers made sense because we wanted to have two hours of solid material. Peter and I both gig a lot and play a lot on weekends, so we wanted a project where we could play on a Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday."
TS: So, kind of combining the fun of practice with the seriousness and hustle of a gig.
DC: "With For Love or Absinthe it's as much about engaging with the audience as the songs themselves. With the Unday, it's more about the songs themselves."
TS: It also can't hurt that,sometimes, people buy you absinthe, because of the band name. So, that's a perk!
DC: "That definitely is a perk. "
TS: The Unday seems to be a lot more selective about gigs than your other projects. Is that by design?
DC: "With a full rock band, it can be hard to get people to come out to see you.We try to play at least once a month and we are kind of thoughtful about the gigs we play. When it's original stuff, it's harder to get people engaged, too. All the promotions, flyers and event hype cost time and money and a ton of effort, so balancing that with these other kinds of projects makes it not so frustrating. "
TS: How do you balance the constant gigging with creativity and creating serious work? Some people can't seem to pull off the gigging for profit vs. putting your heart on your sleeve balancing act, but you seem to do it with some grace and joy.
DC: "I think the key really is diversifying. Since I have some event friendly projects, I can accept gigs like, say, a wedding show or a festival or a lounge gig really easily. Tailoring your art to the audience is kind of the key. To give people an emotional response to music is why I do music. It's marvelous when strangers are touched my music I've played for them."
TS: And you still manage to be true to your vision in the Unday and save those gigs for an audience that get that vision, more or less.
TS: You teach music too, these days. Voice, guitar and piano. How does it feel to pass on what you've learned?
DC: "I love it a lot more than I thought I would. I feel like the biggest thing that I bring to the studio is all of my live performance experience. Giving kids the guidance to learn to deal with their own anxieties and fear of performance and of screwing up, which I think is often overlooked in music education. How to recover. What happens if I play a wrong note? How do I move on and keep going?Those are really fundamentals of music that are not taught often enough."
"I also teach music exploration to tinier kids, with an emphasis on piano. Showing theory in patterns, which pays off more quickly on piano. There's immediate gratification that other instruments don't have."
TS: "So, shifting gears a bit, when will the Unday record again? It's been a minute!:
DC: "We definitely are starting to work towards getting into the studio in the fall. Financial barriers are a very real thing of course, and we may do some crowdfunding along the way. In the meantime, we've released on video and are working on another soon."
TS: Do you plan to self record again?
DC: "We're planning to record at Luna Studios, which is where 'Making Out With Maker's Mark' (the band's first video) was recorded. We have another track that we recorded there, Continuum, which will be released soon, along with another music video, so stay tuned!
TS: What's your favorite MTV era video of all time?
DC: "'Fell on Black Days' by Soundgarden. It was a well-shot, basically live video and was cool because it was different than the studio version."
TS: Next gigs?
DC: "The Unday palys again on May 24 at Surly Wench Pub, For Love of Absinthe presents 'Glitter Vamps Around the World' at Royal Sun on May 21st and this Thursday night I join Mariah for Hatpin Duo at Augstin Kitchen
See Deanna Cross perform live as half of Hatpin Duo Thursday, May 16 at 7 p.m. at Augustin Kitchen and as your Karaoke DJ of choice at Club Congress this Sunday night at 10 p.m.
Please release me...
If you read this column regularly, or otherwise follow the ebb and flow of local music comings and goings, you may have noticed that rock and roll kind has a calendar of its own. For instance, the pre-SXSW through Coachella early-to-late spring tour season sweeps small and not-so-small bands from all over the country (and occasionally the world) into our little venues while drawing elusive local talent off of the couch to play a rare live show or two and luring some of our own best bands and artists on to short musical journeys of their own.
But what happens to the local music scene when tour season number one is at an end and it isn't quite hot enough for summer tour season (aka annual escape to cooler climates in the name of music) to get underway? Three words. New album releases.
Yes, dear friends, it's that time of year again. When all your friends and favorite bands and soon-to-be favorite bands start posting to bandcamp, hawking CD releases and maybe even pressing some limited release vinyl if the budge allows. And your friendly neighborhood columnist has the inside track on some of what's to come.
One of the founding bands of Tucson's teen rock underground revolution, and one of the most talented groups in an insanely talented scene, is local trio Stripes. The band's freshman album, recorded at Midtown Island Studios may be the best collection of catchy, hook laden, slightly profane melodic indie pop/punk gems produced locally since Bisbee's Exbats. Stripes frontwoman Izzy K combines gorgeous, heartfelt vocals with lovely, nuanced lyricism and raw, uncensored, heart ripped out of your chest and bleeding on your sleeve emotion while her decptively simple guitar chords throw out rythmic and dynamic challanges to her bandmates (drummer Bella and bassist James Noriega) who respond to the challenge with the solid chops and slightly psychic rhythmic timing a band can only get fro playing two or three shows a week for months while getting better and tigher and bolder as players each and every time. The new record, as yet unnamed, is set for release on May 20. Until then, catch the band at a house party near you!
Speaking of Bisbee's finest, soon there will be new Exbats recordings. I repeat, NEW EXBATS RECORDINGS! Need I add more? Probably not, but your friendly music journalist of note has at least one spoier for you. There is a song set to be released on the next 'Bats album that will absolutely make you cry even if you are the literal grinch or the biggest bastard on the planet. If it doesn't make you cry, you might be a replicant. Stay tuned for an announcement sometime later this year via Burger Records.
BTP and Friends
Since arriving in 2012 as a solo singer-songrwriter, musician Bryan Thomas Parker has worn many hats, both literal and figurative. Growly voiced folk/blues troubador, rock guitarist, session bassist, pop punker, Celtic rover and soul man. Now fronting maybe the most mature ensemble of his career, Bryan Thomas Parker and Friends, Parker has surrounded himself with a crew of talented players and lets them truly shine on the group's new record.With a heavy dose of '70s funk and soul styling and production by the talented team at Baby Gas Mask Records, this album is a laid back, funky Sunday afternoon kind of groove and a damned fun listen. Check out Parker and the band at Friday's album release listening party at Baby Gas Mask's studio location, just east of Downtown.
Known as rising stars in Tucson's hard rock and heavy metal scene, local band Elyzian is more than your average metal band. With mathlike precision, a certain melodic proginess and traces of '90s alt rock and deathcore edge, the band is a cut above their peers and has no plans to stop evolving. Catch Elyzian's album release at Sky Bar this Friday night.
This weeks column "cover girl" Dee and Elyzian drummer Sam Bess joine the other progressive/alternative/chamber rockers who make up the Unday are hard at work on a follow up to their self-titled 2014 release. In the meantime, you can check out a little taste of what's to come with the recently released video for "Making Out With Maker's Mark."
Now in the finishing up stages, Just Najima's debut album features a mix of original Southwestern gothic soul numbers and sly, seductive feminist takes on classic vintage blues numbers. The album is being produced and recorded by local musician-turned-producer Jillian Bessett with a release date to be announced sometime soon.
Sissy Famighetti's astonishgly great band Feverfew was not so long ago a one woman vision draped in loops and fuzz and glitter-covered haze. The full band sound Famighetti and engineer Matt Rendon crafted for this album eventually birthed the powerful, fully rounded, solidly rhythmic vision that led to the dynamic and dazzling live trio that the band has become. With support on bass from Nate Gutierrez (Flight 13, Resonars) and Johnnie Rinehart (Resonars, Free Machines, Lenguas Largas) on drums, these tracks are pretty damned impressive in their own right. The first two tracks, "Bed of Ash" and "Flower," are available now on Bandcamp, with a full-length release soon to follow.
Topping many local media outlets' best of lists in 2017, the Rifle's first full length record, "Anabasis," was a small masterpiece and kind of a tough act to follow, but the band is finally set to bring us a follow up. The record is currently in progress with...you guessed it, friend and cheerleader of the band, Matt Rendon at Midtown Island Studios. The new songs are nuanced and mature and the band is tighter than ever, so look for the coming record to be a more than worthy successor to the band's existing discography.
With pure, raw rock and roll swagger and a voice that's kind of equal parts Chrisse Hynde, Grace Slick and Christine McVie and kind of like no one else at all, Marta De Leon is a bad ass live band leader for the loosely configured network of rotating players that is the Weekend Lovers live band. Some of these folks are likely to make appearances on the Weekend Lovers newest tracks, currently being laid down at Midtown, though even if the whole thing consisted of overlapping Marta bass tracks interwoven with a chorus of harmonic Martas, we'd still be in for a treat. Release date TBA.
Freezing Hands 3
With the hard to explain to one's friends subtitle "Backward Chaining a Cat to Use A Toilet," the long-awaited Freezing Hands III debuts on Burger Records May 17, promising more sweet harmonies, power pop hooks, epic snark brought to you by Travis Spillers and co.
Meanwhile, Freezing Hands' live lineup has recently added this reporter's second favorite Freezing Hands bassist of all time, one Mr. Kevin Conklin of the Rifle (this reporter's favorite Freezing Hands bassist ever currently plays "lead" bass in said reporter's own band when not lecturing her at great length about Bryan Ferry, Queen or Peter Gabriel era Genesis, so it's all good.)
Artist that we wish would record a record already: Natalie Pohanic
Whether playing solo, armed with an oversized acoustic guitar her sweet, rich, velvety voice or backed by the rotating cast of merry men that make up her band, the Sunset, Natalie P. is a constant, welcome presence in our local musical universe and another example (like Stripes above) of the adage that practice makes perfect. With a live show (or sometimes two!) nearly every night of the week, making her way as a true working musician in a town full of moonlighters, Pohanic gets better and better with every gig. In this reporter's opinion, it's damn past time to capture this magic for posterity, songs about dogs and all.
Check your local listings...
Friday, May 10
- Elyzian Album Release - 8:30 p.m. Sky Bar
- Bryan Thomas Parker & Friends Album Release - 6 p.m. Baby Gas Mask
- Max Mileage - 7 p.m. Crooked Tooth
- Natalie Pohanic - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
- Pedro y Los Lîricos - 8 p.m. EXO
- Joe Pena - 8 p.m. Westbound
- Rarefaction Jazz Trio - 6 p.m. Dusty Monk
Saturday, May 11
- Bryan Thomas Parker & Friends - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
- Infinite Mercies - 8 p.m. EXO
- Black Renaissance Night 2: Spoken Word - 8 p.m. Hotel McCoy
- Girlpool - 7:30 p.m. 191 Toole
- Big Grin - 6 p.m. Sand-Reckoner
- Helado Negro w/ Ojalá Systems- 7 p.m. Club Congress
- Silver Cloud Express, Leila Lopez-7 p.m. Crave Coffee
- Little Cloud - 7 p.m. Crooked Tooth
- Randy Jackson- 7 p.m. House of Bards
- Miss Oliva Trio - 7 p.m. La Cocina
- Max Mileage - 7 p.m. Tucson Hop Shop
- Lord Huron - 8 p.m. Rialto Theatre
- Sundressed, Hearts Like Lions - 9 p.m. Sky Bar
Sunday, May 12
- Febbo Fuentes - 2 p.m. Public Brewhouse
- Julianna Warkentin - 4 p.m. Thunder Canyon
- Omni, Dirt Friends, Cool Funeral - 7 p.m. Club Congress
- L7 - 8 p.m. Rialto Theatre
- Mik and the Funky Brunch - 12 p.m. La Cocina
Monday, May 13
- The Electric West with M. Crane and ZMTE - 7 p.m. Club Congress
- Tav Falco's Panther Burns w/ The Rifle - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
- Jenny Lewis - 8 p.m. Rialto Theatre
Tuesday, May 13
- Sandman the Rapping Cowboy! - 8:30 p.m. Owls Club
- TOPS - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
- WEEED - 7 p.m. Club Congress
Wednesday, May 14
- Midnight Transit Co - 7:30 p.m. House of Bards
- Mo Urban's Comedy Night - 7 p.m. Passe
- Castle, Dayak, Napalm Strike - 8 p.m. Club Congress
- Hatpin Duo - 7 p.m. Augustin Kitchen
- Night Glitter - 7 p.m. Club Congress
- Dead Meadow, Strange Lot, La Cerca - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
- Johnny Orlando - 8 p.m. Rialto Theatre
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.