Tucson sounds: Adam Townsend's desert-bred blue-eyed soul
Tucson is a rock and roll town, whether it be mariachi-flavored Calexican desert rock, messy teenage punk or fuzzy psych-garage. But rock and roll wouldn't be rock and roll with a little bit of classic soul, heavy on the Otis and Aretha, with no skimping on the production values.
This week your friendly neighborhood music columnist got the chance to delve into some local indie rock with more than a touch of good old fashioned vintage blue-eyed soul from the Old Pueblo by way of Nashville. Say hello to Tucson's Adam Townsend.
TucsonSentinel.com: Hey Adam, nice to meet you! Tell us about the new record and how it all came about!
Adam Townsend: "Hey! Nice to meet you too! I'm a Tucson native and based here, but I went to Nashville to record my debut album. I'm a singer/songwriter and have always wanted to release an album, so about 18 months ago I started to put things in motion to make that happen. I love a lot of old soul music but also more current indie rock so I wanted to make a record that had some of those vintage and new sounds."
TS: Tell us about the evolution of this album.
AT: "The album is called 'All My Fires' and in a way the seed was planted about ten years ago after I finished college and wanted to try a career in music. The timing was never right though to fully jump into that world. So I continued to write, and play live, and hone my craft. I lived in San Diego for six years after college, married my wife, Elena, and had a son a few years later, Jude. During that time we all faced some personal tragedies while my mother in law was fighting stage four breast cancer. After she passed away we moved back to Tucson three years ago. That's when I really dove into pursuing music. I began playing all over town and cutting my teeth back in my hometown, and I began the very early stages of planning out the album."
TS: What's your own musical coming of age story?
AT: "I think growing up in a musical family I was almost destined to fall into it. Although, I've taken it a little further and I'm trying to actually make a real career out of it by getting into songwriting and producing music."
TS: What's your live music background? Do you play mostly solo or in bands?
AT: "I've played with some friends through the years and was in an acoustic/folk rock duo. Nothing serious though, I've always been a solo artist for the most part. I'd love to put a separate band together in the future though. Just because I write a lot of different styles that don't fit my own personal sound."
TS: How did you discover soul and why is that your main inspiration?
AT: "I remember hearing a lot of old soul music as a kid, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin. I didn't appreciate it as much back then, not until I was in college though. Then I started discovering newer soul artists too. James Morrison was one of the first current artists I heard paying homage to that sound. Later on I fell in love with people like Michael Kiwanuka, Leon Bridges, Alabama Shakes, St Paul and the Broken Bones."
TS: Favorite artists and bands ever? Currently? Favorite Tucson musicians?
AT: "That's a tough question, I always go back to the classics, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin. Tucson wise, my favorite new band is probably Chateau Chateau. Viané is great and has a tremendous voice, Night Weather has amazing energy and catchy songs, Steff Koepen is one of my favorite singers and just a great songwriter. Brook Sample is a great singer too, excited to see her career explode. Carlos Arzate is another great singer/songwriter in town. There's truly so many here in Tucson. I actually made a playlist of a bunch of Tucson artists! It got a little buzz and way more attention than I would of thought, which was cool for the artists and a bunch of listeners."
TS: What was the recording process like? Was it everything you'd hoped? How did you choose the folks you worked with?
AT: "Recording in Nashville was incredible! I hired a producer, and he took care of a lot of the scheduling and hiring the musicians. He really orchestrated all of the details I don't think of as an artist. He injected a lot of his own creativity into arranging and producing the songs. All the musicians were phenomenal players, and insanely talented. It was definitely everything I had hoped for. The songs came out better than I could've imagined."
TS: Who were the other musicians and contributors on this release? How did it all come together?
AT: "The musicians: Andrija Tokic - producer, sound engineer; Jon Estes - bass, upright bass, acoustic guitar, piano, organ, wurlitzer, string arrangements; Jeremy Fetzer - lead, rhythm, & acoustic guitar; Dave Racine - drums & percussion; Lindsey Lomis - lead and harmony vocals on 'Hurricane'; Jack Tellmann - production assistant; Elizabeth Estes - violin; Emily Nelson - cello; Kristin Weber - violin & viola; Diego Vasquez - horns arranger, trombone; Kirk Donovan - trumpet; Paul Thacker - tenor and baritone saxophone; Maureen Murphy - harmony vocals; Alexis Saski - harmony vocals; Jordon Silva - mixing engineer; Adam Yukon Harr - mastering engineer."
AT: "For the most part it came together one song at a time with my core band guys. We would sit down, listen to the demo songs, figure out the bare bones of the song, and then jump on our instruments and start jamming until we had the right groove. My producer would give his input and things he wanted to try, and within 20 minutes we would have a pretty solid rough draft. Then we'd roll the tape and hit record while we played the song live once or twice. If it was good we'd move on and lay down extra guitar parts, and any keyboard or piano stuff. We tracked 14 songs in four days with the core band, and then over the next four days we brought in the string and horn players, and background singers and finished the rest of my vocals. Lots of coffee, snacks, lunch breaks, beers, and jokes really helped us get through the long studio days!"
TS: What else are you up to these days? Future recordings? Touring? Other goals?
AT: "I still gig about 12 times a month around Tucson so that keeps me busy. I might put together a small West Coast tour at the end of July or early August to promote this record a little bit. I'll definitely continue writing and recording and experimenting in the studio. One of my big goals is to have my songs placed in film and TV, sync licensing is one of the last remaining ways to make money with your music."
TS: Thoughts on the prospect of mainstream vs. small scale success? Thoughts on the music industry as a whole?
AT: "I think you have to focus on your local community first and have success there, and then more regionally, especially before you can hope to achieve any mainstream success. Obviously I would love to have my music heard everywhere, and if I want to sustain a music career I will ultimately need to achieve some amount of mainstream success. I think the music industry is equally exciting and terrifying. With all this new technology it's rapidly evolving and changing in good and bad ways. The world is rapidly changing too though so you have to learn how to be flexible and adapt. I hear a lot of musicians gripe and complain about it all, but if you waste time doing that, you're wasting time creating music while some 18 year old who is probably more talented than you is having tons of success because they're learning how to work with what they've got. I'm just happy to be alive and have these talents to make great music to share with the world."
TS: There are a ton of talented young musicians rising to attention locally of late. Any advice to share from the trenches?
AT: "Play, play, play as much as possible, cultivate and foster a fanbase. Engaging and talking with them is super important, be involved in your community of local musicians, be a kind human being, continually practice and hone your skills, ask for constructive feedback, find a mentor, take a basic business and marketing class, get organized (spreadsheets are your friend) and stop making excuses."
TS: Fave live music moments ever? Weirdest ones?
AT: "My favorite live music moment has got to be seeing Paul McCartney play in San Diego a few years ago. He's 70 years old and he played a three-hour set! That's unheard of. He put on an amazing show, he was such an incredibly talented musician and singer, let alone an amazing entertainer. I don't recall any particular weird ones though. I probably just love seeing bands live so much I've never let anything external going on bother me."
TS: Tell us about the album release!
AT: "I'm super excited for the release show at Club Congress! I've never played with a seven-piece band like this before, let alone with my own my songs. It's gonna be amazing. The band Night Weather is opening the show. It's basically gonna be a big party. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and its just $5 to get in. I can't wait!"
Adam Townsend unveils the album All My Fires at Club Congress on Friday night, June 7 at 7:30 p.m. Night Weather opens the show.
I could have danced all night (at the pillow fight)
It's summer in Tucson. The students are gone and the snowbirds long ago threw a dust cover over their Oldsmo-Buicks and left their part-time homes (with the Christmas decorations still up) for cooler climes. There is. Nothing. Happening.
Right? So one would think. Unless one were out last Wednesday night.
On a warm, mellow, quiet, unassuming Tucson summer evening, guitar straps were broken, pillows were thrown, mosh pits were formed, wristbands were issued and the kids showed the old guard how it ought to be done.
It began at Club Congress as former Frecks rhythm section Alien Jacket opened an early show for Chicago indie band Dehd. The duo, which consists of purely bass and drums, has refined their sound over the past few months, with sweetly snarling vocals, a raw, pulsing beat and a lit bit of funk in their bass driven punk. Frontwoman Erica breathed, writhed and sweated out the bands songs until the movement and swagger was too much for her instrument strap to handle, leaving her balancing her bass - and still playing until two of the audience members (members of fellow band Rough Draft) propped up the instrument on either end till she finished the song.) It was a short set, but spectacular.
Weekend Lovers were up next with more bass-centric rock. Since the dissolution of the Lovers' original lineup, bassist/songwriter Marta De Leon has been musically playing the field a bit with a rotating cast of supporting players, but this version of the lineup may have been the most solid to date with Danny Perez on guitar, Gabi Lisk on drums and John Read on upright bass all lending a solid, rhythmic new wavesque edge to De Leon's signature Rickenbacker bass and rich, smoky Chrissie Hynde meets Christine McVie vocals.
A quick change of venues found your friendly scribe at 191 Toole, catching up with the Exbats who are currently laying down tracks for album number three at Midtown Island. The 'bats had just finished what was by all reports one of their most energetic sets of all time but more music was just around the corner, with a spirited performance by Tongs, whose music is catchy, funky, instrumental and weird. Imagine if P-Funk were a trio that played live fusion versions of Nintendo video game theme songs. Now imagine the punk kids forming an impromptu mosh pit and dancing to it. And loving it.
Meanwhile, over in 191's "beer jail" aka the cage in which alcohol-imbibers were segregated from the kids at this all-ages event, the Midtown Island regulars were out in full force as Lenguas Largas took the stage. Lenguas is a band that seems to evolve into newer and weirder versions of itself every year or two, and this time around they've settled into a classic rock and roll four-piece, with Isaac Reyes still at the helm on guitar and vocals, Brian Bolt on drums, and Ricky "Anchorbaby" Shimo on lead guitar, but with Mr. Johnnie Sparkles himself, aka Johnnie Rinehart (Free Machines, Resonars) taking over bass duties with a bit of Detroit protopunk garage rock swagger. While the usual suspects swilled Rolling Rocks and shot the proverbial shit in the "cage" the kids kept right on dancing, giving Lenguas a full on slam dancing, grooving fan club the likes of which they probably haven't seen in quite some time.
And then, it was time for the main attraction. Stripes!
On a night rampant with stellar bass playing, Stripes was ironically light on the low end. According to my anonymous sources, bassist James Noriega was down for the count with a case of strep throat and hoping to recover in time for next week's tour kickoff. Meanwhile, the show would go on, with drummer Bella and frontwoman Izzy boldly taking the stage as a two piece - and rocking every single minute of it.
With a last-minute lineup change and no harmony support, one might forgive a less than perfect performance by such a young band, but there was absolutely nothing to forgive. Izzy was, if anything, stronger and more confident than ever, smilling slyly, making eye contact with the audience and cracking jokes, including an impromptu take on Inez from the Exbats famous "one joke." We won't tell you what the joke is. Go see the Exbats for yourselves. About halfway through the set, Izzy introduced the song "Pillow Fright" by instigating an actual pillow fight, tossing pillows and baloons into the crowd. Even, Mullarkey, the long time Tucson scenester of yore, was there - dancing a slower, more mellow version of his famous Mullarkey dance and taking delight in the pillow pit. Toward the end of the set, Izzy had her own guitar strap mishap, deftly balancing on one leg, flamingo like until a fan lept up to help her fasten. Only at the second to last song did Izzy show a hint of flagging energy...but only for a second. Drummer Bella led the crowd in clapping and chanting until (like a crowd of kids believing in Tinkerbell) the energy level in the room drew Izzy and the crowd both back to dizzying heights, with demands of an encore which ended in a gorgeously exhausted room full of glowing teenage rock and rollers, tired adult music fans and a glorious mess for the poor folks working 191 that night.
A good time was had by all.
Stripes and fellow teen rockers Rough Draft embark on their first ever Southwest tour this week, with a kick off concert featuring Rough Draft, Pelt and Carnival and the Exbats on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Club Congress.
One band to rule them all
You all know what a battle of the bands is, right? In your favorite cheesball '80s film it was the way the protagonists were going to earn the money to keep grandma's house/the local skatepark/the record store from being torn down and, thus, save the day.
This week (and throughout the summer) at the Screening Room in Downtown, the unlikely tradition lives on in the flesh as local rock, punk, psych, pop and funk musicians battle it out song by song, riff by riff until somebody wins...the honor of a job well done and the undying acclaim of their musical peers. Or something. Whatever happens in the end, it's probably going to be a blast and the kickoff this week promises to be extra spectacular, as infamous local punk curmudgeon Mark Beef referees and the audience plays judge, jury and executioner for the battle royale between rockers Free Machines and Warmonger.
Show starts at 10 p.m. at the Screening Room and ends when a winner is declared.
Rock for Paul and Paws!
This show is (literally) for the dogs!
TucsonSentinel.com's own Maria Coxon-Smith may be the hardest-working dog rescue advocate in town, but this week she and the pups at Hard Luck Hounds Az get "a little help from their friends" at the debut Rock For Paws performance at House of Bards.
The show features a one-of-a-kind tribute to Sir Paul McCartney by Tony Kishman, star of Broadway Beatles tribute Beatlemania and the more recent musical Live and Let Die! Get a selfie with Kishman, just so you can pretend that you, too had a Paul McCartney sighting in Tucson!
Rock For Paws: Live and Let Die takes over House of Bards Saturday night, June 8 at 5 p.m. AC/DC tribute group the Jack opens the show with some more guilty pleasure old-favorite band love.
Check your local listings...
Friday, June 7
- Adam Townsend w/ Night Weather - 7:30 p.m. Club Congress
- The Bennu - 8 p.m. Sky Bar
- SlimCessna's AutoClub,Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds, Mission Creeps - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
- Patti Griffin - 8 p.m. Rialto
- Tucson Duels: The Free Machines VS Warmonger - 10 p.m. Screening Room
- Burlesque in Wonderland - 9 p.m. Surly Wench
Saturday, June 8
- Then When, Gunrunners - 8 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
- Summer Sessions with Jesse Sensibar, Just Najima - 2 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
- Shooda Shookit - 10 p.m. Che's Lounge
- Diluvio, Santa Pachita, Tonight's Sunshine - 9 p.m. Sky Bar
- Rough Draft, Exbats, Pelt and Carnival - 6 p.m. Club Congress
- KFMA Local Noize Night w/ Avery, Alien Atmosphere, Pyrotecnico - 8 p.m. Hotel Congress Plaza
- Snow Tha Product - 7 p.m. Rialto
- The Muffulettas - 8 p.m. Finis Landing
- Fineline Revisited 15th Anniversary - 9 p.m. Surly Wench
Sunday, June 9
- Katie Haverly and the Aviary - 7 p.m. Che's Lounge
- Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts w/ Lydian Osman Ali - 8 p.m. Club Congress
- Alejandro Escovedo - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
Monday, June 10
- Culture Abuse w/ Tony Molina, Dare, & Entry- 7 p.m. Club Congress
- Tab Benoit - 8 p.m. Rialto
Tuesday, June 11
- Kevin Galloway, Birds & Arrows - 8 p.m. Club Congress
- The Offspring (Acoustic) - 8 p.m. Rialto
- Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
Wednesday, June 12
- Street Blues Family - 8 p.m. Club Congress
- She Wants Revenge - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
- Little Cloud - 7 p.m. Public Brewhouse
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the guitarist who performed with Weekend Lovers.