Tucson sounds: Sparks will fly
Sparks will fly
If you're a hardcore music nerd like I am, you've seen your share of stereotypical art house "tragic music" documentaries, and you know the formula by now. Some well known, but not entirely famous, troubled white guy pours his heart and soul into "trying to make it big" and is derailed by a tragic past, mental illness and/or substance abuse. And then some more successful, slightly less troubled white guy (usually a member of Sonic Youth) comes along to do some kind of late career collaboration. Then everyone can find out what they've been missing, whilst being conveniently reminded that Thurston Moore or Steve Shelley or whomever is a thousand times cooler than you are and is friends with all the best obscure tragic music dudes.
Burdened with the memory of countless such artsploitation music biopics, your local music scribe approached the new Edgar Wright documentary "The Sparks Brothers" with some trepidation. After all, the cult favorite sometimes glam-rock, sometimes power-pop, sometimes art-rock, sometimes synth-pop, always eclectic rock duo boast an impressive repertoire, a 25-album back catalog and a staunchly loyal fan base, but had somehow never fully achieved mainstream fame in all those years. They even had the requisite younger music dudes collaborative album - teaming up with Franz Ferdinand for the project FFS a few years back.
In spite of some initial skepticism, however, your trusty scribe dug this film immensely and may or may not have left the theater quietly humming the tune to the song "Cool Places."
You see, the story of the band Sparks is very much aligned with the mantra I've been repeating to Tucson music folks for most of the lifespan of this humble little column. Play music because you love to. Play music because you have to. Create the kind of art that no one else in the world but you (and your band mates) could possibly have made. And, hell yes, take advantage of opportunities to reach new audiences. Shine when the spotlight is focused on you and share enough of yourself every time that happens that the people who will love what you're doing just might find you. Lather, rinse, repeat. That, my friends, is what success looks like. And by that measure folks like Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks are among the biggest successes in the industry.
These fabulous art rock weirdos have made only the records they've wanted to make for over four decades. Along the way, they've even managed a couple of unlikely minor pop hits in spite of themselves, all while influencing a score of iconic bands and funneling most of their career earnings into modest L.A. digs and studio quality home recording gear instead of mansions and cocaine and greedy managers' pockets.
Now, granted, they're still a little luckier than those of us who rent and work day jobs and write/create as a side hustle. But the brothers Sparks are far better role models than any given rock and roll Elvis (Preseley OR Costello.) So if you're a musician, music lover or creative sort and haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend checking the movie out before its current run at the Loft Cinema ends. And if you go, stay for the end credits. There are Easter eggs and they're pretty hilarious.
REV Wyn parties like it's 1989
Sparks may once have had the market cornered when it came to oddball lyrics penned by mysterious, mustachioed keyboard players, but Tucson's REV Wyn carries on that tradition quite faithfully on the tracks that make up new album Total Abandon. The new record is a simple, lo-fi, DIY solo affair recorded on a 4 track machine at the height of the pandemic. But Wyn uses the limitations of the 4 track format as a feature, not a bug, harnessing slightly distant sounding vocals and simple drum machine beats under layers of gauzy reverb and keyboard wizardry.
The end result has all the charm and nostalgic glitter of a well-worn soundtrack cassette to an old John Hughes teen dramedy blockbuster.
Case in point, the title track. A synth-kissed, slightly maudlin, lovingly '80s-esque high school ballad of a tune, "Total Abandon" would most likely would be playing during the sad part of the movie, when Molly Ringwald gets her heart broken and makes a pouty-angry face and bites her lip in the direction of her oblivious love interest.
In contrast, the upbeat, gloriously over the top syth-pop bop "Steppin' Out" would probably play during the opening credits, as the camera pans over the streets of a tree lined Chicago suburb and then cuts to a trying-on-clothes-and-hats-and-strands-of-vintage-pearls bouncy montage scene. Man, REV Wyn should probably just MAKE that movie already.
In the meantime, though, you can catch the REV performing live at Desert Island Records (Broadway and Country Club) this Friday night, July 2, at 7:30 p.m.
Keeping Tucson Scotty
A few months back this column paid tribute to the late, great Scott Kerr, a dear friend and (alongside your humble narrator) a core member of the all volunteer crew behind KMKR-LP, a free form non-profit, non-commercial LPFM radio station based at Xerocraft Hackerspace downtown.
Scotty was on Team KMKR long before the station ever hit the airwaves, first stepping up to help as a featured performer at one the of a series of concerts held (beginning in the summer of 2014) to help the station raise funds for its initial launch. True to his pied piper nature, he soon was helping to organize future concerts, recruit local performers, solicit music donations for the station's all-local music library and generally evangelize for the project.
When KMKR finally went live in 2018, Scott Kerr aka "the Vinyl Wizard" was the first live DJ to pick up a microphone in the studio. He was the guy who trained new folks to use the mixing board and the one who tracked down potential underwriters to help keep the bills paid. And, as if that weren't enough, Scotty usually ended up playing guerrilla sound engineer/ringmaster/emcee for every station live event from remotely broadcasting the Tucson Folk Festival to hosting all-ages punk shows in the dirt lot behind the building, to spinning records costumed in a wizard hat and cape at a holiday party that culminated in a live brass band playing the Star Wars cantina theme.
While KMKR concerts and fundraising drives from now on are always going to be a little bittersweet without the station's muse and mischief maker in chief, there's always a little bit of Scotty magic in everything KMKR undertakes. And an upcoming concert series called "Thee Vinyl Wizard Presents" (modeled after the "put on a show in the old barn" style events that helped get 99.9 FM on the airwaves in the first place) is no exception.
The first event in the series, a local new music record party, takes place at 6 p.m. this Saturday, July 3, which happens to be Scott Kerr's birthday. The party is being held in the shared rear courtyard of Xerocraft/KMKR and the Steinfeld Warehouse Arts Building at 101 W. 6th Street downtown. An open air gathering, the event will feature live DJ sets featuring new releases by Tucson and Southern AZ bands, as well as some sneak previews of local music coming attractions and visits from familiar faces in the downtown music diaspora, such as the twisted minds behind Barely Bipedal. The night begins with the official unveiling of the Scott Judson Kerr Memorial Stage at Steinfeld Warehouse.
We beg your Parton for this new release
“DPDQ" (aka Dolly Parton Drag Queen) is the second single by Bryn Parker's These Loud Thoughts, an autobiographical account of the now-Phoenix-based singer/musician's first epiphanies regarding gender identity and expression.
Bryn Marie Parker (These Loud Thoughts): "[The song is a] retelling of the first time that I truly recognized and understood my own gender dysphoria and in some small way, began my transition."
"I was living in Austin at the time and I showed up one night with a friend for happy hour just to find out there was a drag show happening. One of the performers was a Dolly Parton impersonator and really kinda rocked my world in ways I couldn’t even truly grasp at the time."
"Growing up in a super-religious household I had no real experience with challenging the gender binary, but that night changed my life and helped begin to give me the real life confrontation with my own concept of gender and how that related to me. I owe everything to a Dolly Parton drag queen."
Peter Gorritz (Last Dance, October Intuition, For Love or Absinthe) helped co-produce the track, and played bass and lead guitar, while Parker's Desert Rovers bandmate Deanna Cross (the Unday, For Love or Absinthe, Hatpin Duo) and October Intuition's Shawn Gorritz joined in as the song's backing "choir." A stop-motion animation music video for DPDQ, produced by Parker along with collaborator Melissa Gibson, debuted June 30 via These Loud Thoughts' YouTube channel.
...and we beg your Parsons for this cover tune...
While major label artists tend to put out covers albums when they're ready to ditch a record contract, indie musicians usually do them as a labor of love, and damned if you can't immediately tell the difference. So it's with a sense of absolutely gleeful anticipation that I announce Golden Boots' latest recording project, a series of "AI inspired" cover tunes the band plans to release one by one throughout summer 2021, complete with weird videos and original artwork courtesy of Boots founding duo Ryen Eggleston and Dmitri Manos.
First in the series is a re-imagining of the 1982 Alan Parsons Project classic "Eye in the Sky" with a little assist from Phoenix alt-country/noir songstress Lonna Kelly on vocals. The track is simultaneously unnervingly dystopian, slightly creepy, undeniably lovely and weirdly soothing. That makes it quite possibly the perfect summer "chill out jam" for one of the weirdest summers in most of our lifetimes to date.
...but as for Hank, he's never been the sort to beg
The latest release by Hank Topless and the Dead Horsemen is also a cover, in a sense, but not one you're likely to have ever heard before. Originally written by the late Kevin Bowman for a planned but never released album, "300 Roses" is a classic honkytonk breakup song and an ode to the literal costs of love gone wrong.
Recorded at Waterworks West and co-produced by Jim Waters, Hank and company's rendition not only does Bowman's composition justice, but manages to channel the ghosts of Merle, George Jones and other Nashville luminaries for good measure. While the song is, lyrically speaking, a kiss off letter to a faithless ex, its also a musical love letter of sorts to the country crooners and seasoned session men of Nashville's rhinestones and sideburns golden age.
Wistful pedal steel? Check. Spirited fiddle solo? Check. Low pitched, solemn spoken word lament? Damn skippy.
You can stream the tune or purchase a digital copy (for yourself or the lover who scorned you) at hanktopless.bandcamp.com and you can see Monsieur Topless perform it in person from 7-9 p.m. this Sunday, July 4, at Arizona Beer House.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, July 2
- REV Wyn - 7:30 p.m. Desert Island Records
Saturday, July 3
- Thee Vinyl Wizard Presents: KMKR Local Music Party! - 7 p.m. Steinfeld Warehouse Arts Rear Courtyard
- Chalako Rings in the Fourth of July - 9 p.m. St. Elmo Bar (Bisbee)
Sunday, July 4
- Hank Topless - 7 p.m. Arizona Beer House
- IndepenDANCE Party w/ Los Esplifs & DJ Herm - 7 p.m. MSA Annex
Wednesday July 7
- Veronica Everhart w/ Shamika Moore - 7 p.m. Rebel Lounge (Phoenix)
Thursday, July 8
- Salvador Duran - 7:30 p.m. Hotel Congress Patio
Saturday, July 10
- As The World Burns w/ Helldoubt, Sworn Apart, Liquid Space, Atmosphere and Slow Truck - 6 p.m. Encore Tucson