Tucson sounds: Anchorbaby's new grooves
For a town our size, Tucson produces rather more than its share of world-class caliber rock and roll records from year to year, but inevitably there are a couple of releases that stand out from the crowd and win over even the most jaded local music fans. Records that are just a little bit different, a little bit better, a cut above the "competition" though their aim is never really to compete.
This year, that album is "Groovysmo," the debut solo release by Resonars and Lenguas Largas alum Ricky Shimo. When someone tells you about this album, they never really just tell you. They hand over a copy or send you a link, or just play the thing right then and there until you agree that it's pretty brilliant.
But for the architect of this project, being "this year's model" seems like no big thing at all. A few weeks back at the live premiere of what was once a studio-only project, Shimo was laid back, relaxed and cool as a cucumber, stretched out in a small corner of the stage, blissfully singing in Spanish and conducting with his lead guitar and keyboards. Three of Tucson's best guitarists (Matt Rendon, Isaac Reyes and John Polle) backed him on rhythm guitar and bass, their faces knotted up in tense concentration and maybe even a little bit of nervousness.
How does Ricky Shimo keep such grace under pressure? And where did Anchorbaby come from in the first place?
You know you wanted to know. And so, your friendly neighborhood music scribe decided it was time to ask.
TucsonSentinel.com: Hey Ricky! I'm kind of excited to get to talk to you about Anchorbaby. "Groovysmo" is one of like four local albums I've had in constant rotation for the past month or so. It's just an excellent record, so mad props to you.
Ricky Shimo (Anchorbaby): "Thank you for supporting our local scene. The Resonars, Freezing Hands, Feverfew had also releases this year, and they're excellent records.This is my first born, so I'm a proud papa."
TS: Well, congrats, Papa! Besides Anchorbaby, you're probably best known for your guitar wizardry in Lenguas Largas, but for folks who don't know, what's your background in other bands and projects before and besides that?
RS: "I played bass with (Nogales band) the Jons and Y La Orquesta. I had a project called "Shimo" with my brother Alex 'Cahito' Ruiz (RIP.) I've played drums with the Solace Brothers and played bass with Discos. And these days, I'm playing bass for the Resonars. I've been very lucky to play with amazing musicians, who've taught me and inspired me into come up with my own sound. Too many to mention."
TS: When did you start toying with the idea of a solo record? And how did it all start to come together?
RS: "I've been working on these songs for many years, some are 10 years old. I was hesitant about making a record in Spanish, but I felt like the songs were starting to bother me, so I had to get 'em out of my head. John Polle (of Whispering Wires) told me about the concept of anchor babies. I thought it would be a cool name for my project and once I started recording with Matt Rendon, things started to put themselves together slowly, Tucson style!"
TS: "Groovysmo" is kind of mashup of various styles from Brazilian psychedelia (aka Tropicalia) to Sonora/Arizona border rock to straight-up garage punk to stuff I'm probably not even clocking. What genres and artists and influences made it into the primordial soup that this project evolved to? And how much of it was just kind of invented on the fly?
RS: "I love music from the '60s-70s era. MPB and the Tropicalia movement I love. I love what we wrongly call krautrock, punk, postpunk, new wave, some prog rock, good pop music, Argentinian music, Latin American folk, Cuban music. African music, jazz, rancheras...a long list."
TS: There are a lot of folks guesting on this recording. Mostly the Midtown Island Studio usual suspects. Tell us more about that part of making the record? Was recording it as fun as it sounds like it might have been? Is it true that even one of the Midtown Island dogs makes a cameo appearance? (Sir Paul McBarkney, I presume?)
RS: "Every aspect of this record has been a dream come true. Recording one on one with Matt Rendon and Jim Waters was one of them. This helped me battle anxiety and la depre (depression,) so it got better and better as it was happening. It took me a couple of years to finish it, since I have Lenguas and was not in a hurry to start a new band. Cherish Rendon and Matt Rendon sang on 'Groovysmo I' and so did my friend Sathya Honey. But there's a long list of other people involved in this record behind the scenes, people that I love, and will always be thankful for helping a brother out: Karren, Layla and John Polle, Ed Arnaud, Travis Spillers, Isaac Reyes, Vanessa Kramer, Jimmy Teyechea, Mark Beef, Brian Bollt, Johnnie Rinehart, Jim Waters, Christopher Enriquez, and of course Sir Paul McBarkney and his perfect timing."
TS: If we love the album and want ideas of what to listen to next, what would you recommend? What are your favorite artists and records that most people might not know about?
RS: "This is a little taste of what inspired me: Neu, Faust, Milton Nascimento/Lo Borges' 'Clube da Esquina,' Pere Ubu's 'Modern Dance,' the Velvet Underground, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, Brian Eno's 'Here comes the Warm Jets,' Gilberto Gil, Roberto Carlos, Invisible: El Jardin de los Presentes, Fela Kuti's 'Zombie,' John Mclaughlin, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis's 'Bitches Brew,' Funkadelic/Parliament, Silvio Rodriguez's 'Dias y Flores,' Los tres Ases, Almendra, Love's 'Four Sail,' the Who's 'Sell Out,' the Modern Lovers, Jimmy Hendrix. The list goes on and on."
TS: Damn, that's a great playlist. In the last month, Anchorbaby the studio project has become Anchorbaby the live band. And it's kind of an all-star cast of characters. What's that been like? Do you plan to do more of it?
RS: "When I first started to plan a live version, I though of getting different characters that I haven't played with before. Then I thought, maybe I should try to put the band of my dreams. So it worked itself out, till it got to this formation: Matt Rendon and Isaac Reyes on guitar, John Polle on bass, Johnnie Rinehart on drums, Brian Bollt on keys and percussion, and me playing guitar and keys. It's been a very 'psychedelic' experience, and I feel that these guys are having as much fun as I am jammini-jammin!"
TS: Any plans in the works for a followup recording? Groovysmo II?
RS:"I've been working on songs, but don't have a concept yet. Fortunately, the 'Garage Mafia' is gonna get busy this year, so I'm gonna try to at least, sneak in a session soon. I love hanging out with Matt."
TS: Tell us about the Celebration of Friends gig this weekend. Who all is playing and what's the story behind it?
RS: "Anchorbaby, Barely Bipedal, The Gem Show, Pork Torta, and Shit Knife. The show was put together by a group of friends to help our brother Leo Schwamm. He's a great musician and a cool cat overall. He's dealing with medical issues, so we're hoping to raise some money and have a fun show."
TS: What's next for Anchorbaby?
RS: "Play as much as we can, play in Mexico, start a new record, and push Midtown Island Records forward."
TS: On behalf of all Tucson music fans, please, please do those things!
Anchorbaby play the Celebration of Friends fundraiser this Sunday, August 11, at 5 p.m. at the Alliance For Global Justice.
For the benefit of Mr. Schwamm
The benefit of living in Tucson, if you're a music or creative type, is the relatively cheap cost of living, not to mention a lot of service industry jobs in the many restaurants and bars that cater to our seasonal college and snowbirds crowd. If you don't mind keeping something other than banker's hours, you can make enough to pay the rent and still find time to do what you love minus the sordid selling out for money part of the music biz. That's the good news.
The bad news is that the freedom of not having a 9-5 office gig for some giant corporate entity also means not having a giant corporate health insurance plan (assuming such things still exist) and the sad dirty secret about a lot of Tucson's creative underbelly is that we're all one major health scare away from a financial crisis.
That's where community comes in. Last week your humble reporter told you about a benefit for to raise much needed funds for local musician and cancer survivor Joe Fanning. The event was by all reports incredibly successful from an attendee standpoint with nearly half a dozen stellar bands, local art and fabulous food trucks and, most importantly a lot of folks turned up in support. Tucson showed up.
This week...well, it's time for Tucson to show up again.
Tucson based musician Leo Schwamm has long been a friend, confederate and partner in crime among the loose federation of local musicians known lovingly as the "Tucson Garage Mafia" comprised of Midtown Island Studio alums and former denizens of Tucson's original punk scene. A talented guitarist with a penchant for Eno-esque composition, Schwamm is a veteran of a litany of notable Tucson local bands including F.U.C.T, Cortex Bomb, Rogue Drones. More recently he accompanied a certain former associate of Giant Sand in performances around town, though that's another story for another time.
To friends and coworkers, Schwamm's one of those Han Solo, Humphrey Bogart types who comes off gruff at first but always has your back when it counts. He's one of a handful of old-school Tucson punk scene folks who are as a rule cynical on the surface, warm-hearted underneath and known widely for taking care of their family of choice. But like so many talented Tucson folks of late, Schwamm has stumbled on hard times. Faced with some ongoing medical issues, the line cook by trade (and musician by choice) has recently faced the vicious circle that is medical issues plus lost work time plus medical bills plus all the anxiety that comes with the previous formula.
What Schwamm lacks in funds, though, he certainly makes up for in friends, and a strong contingent of the same folks he'd probably give a kidney or his last nickel to were they the ones in need are stepping up to help out a friend. And you might want to do the same, if not for selfless reasons, purely for the caliber of the music and food at this event.
This Sunday night Schwamm's good friend, veteran punk rock curmudgeon Mark Beef along with a cadre of some of the best garage, psych, rock, punk and pop musicians in town converge on the Alliance for Global Justice building for "A Celebration of Friends for Leo Schwamm"
The benefit show is all ages and features performances by Anchorbaby, Barely Bipedal, The Gem Show, Pork Torta, and Shit Knife.
Freezing Hands, originally on the lineup, is no longer set to perform, but band members Travis Spillers and Matt Rendon will still be around to lend a hand (possibly frozen, possibly thawed) to the event's organizers.
In addition to a mind blowingly great music lineup, there's going to be food. Good food, courtesy of a pair of Tucson musicians who happen to be local celebrity chefs, Schwamm's longtime friend and sometime musical collaborator Obie Serious and his friend and employer Anthony "Rocco" Digrazia.
A Celebration of Friends takes place this Sunday, August 11, at the Alliance For Global Justice 225 E. 26th St, just west of 4th Ave. Bands include Anchorbaby, Barely Bipedal, The Gem Show, Pork Tora and Shit Knife. Show starts at 5 p.m. All ages welcome.
New Releases of the Week: The Limes and Just Najima
Another week, another teenage wonder band comes out with a new album, in this case Tucson group the Limes. One of the newer bands on the Tucson youth scene, the Limes's frenetic teenage punk aesthetic and joyous on stage energy have quickly earned them a following among fans of such fellow travelers as Stripes, Rough Draft, Yum, Alien Jacket and Mudpuppy, among others. Check 'em out this Sunday night at Club Congress along with Somniac, Logan Greene and Carnival.
Another new release this week is the long await debut CD by local vocalist and purveyor of Southwestern gothic soul, Najima Rainey, aka Just Najima. You can see Just Najima perform live at Wednesday's night's show at Crooked Tooth Brewing followed by a preview of the new album, titled "Queenie," in its entirety. In addition to being Just Najima's freshman release, the record is the first album produced and recorded by Tucson musician Jillian Bessett's JIANNT recording studio.
The Limes Album Release takes place Sunday, August 11, at 6 p.m. at Club Congress. All ages.
Just Najima plays live at Crooked Tooth on Wednesday, August 13, at 7 p.m. followed by a live listening session of her new album Queenie.
Please be upstanding for the mayor of Ladytowne
Tucson's favorite live feminist music/talk/variety show goes political this week as host Miranda Schubert invites Tucson mayoral candidates Randi Dorman, Regina Romero and Steve Farley to the stage for this week's show at Club Congress. In addition to the panel discussion among the candidates, a little birdy told us that there may be a surprise musical guest or two, with an appropriately themed musical manifesta or two.
Ladytowne Live: Mayor Edition takes place this Thursday, August 15, at 7 p.m at Club Congress
Also happening this week...
It's time again for Return of the Mermaids, Downtown and Fourth Avenue's annual celebration of Tucson's finest merfolk. And as usual there's a party in the works, this time at Irene's Holy Donuts on Fourth Avenue. The Surfbroads play live shortly after 9 p.m. followed by live DJs and a surf themed dance party.
Meanwhile, Downtown gets a double dose of event love with a first class lineup for this month's Second Saturday featuring Stripes, Moontrax and Weekend Lovers at 6:15, 7:30 and 9 p.m. respectively.
Also happening Saturday is an increasingly rare and therefore especially precious appearance by our favorite Cosmic American rock and pop chanteuse, Louise Le Hir along with Hemlock and Palm Sunday at Exo Bar. Show starts at 8 p.m.
And later this week, you can hear
Check your local listings...
Friday, August 9
- Surfbroads w/ Miss Olivia and the Interlopers - 9 p.m. 191 Toole
- La Cerca - 9 p.m. Boxyard
- Seconds Ago and Endings - 7 p.m. House of Bards
- Sasami with Stripes and Hannah Yeun - 7 p.m. Club Congress
Saturday, August 10
- Stripes, Moontrax, Weekend Lovers - 7 p.m. Scott Stage, Second Saturdays Downtown
- Surfbroads and Mermaids Afterparty - 9 p.m. Irene's Holy Donuts
- Louise Le Hir, Hemlock, Palm Sunday - 8 p.m. Exo Bar
- Jesse Dayton w/ Mike Stinson - 7 p.m. Club Congress
- Belinda Esquer - 7 p.m. Hotel Congress Patio
Sunday, August 11
- Patio Show - 7 p.m. Che's Lounge
Monday, August 12
- Y La Bamba, Andria Rose, Lano - 7 p.m. Club Congress
- Sleepspent - 8 p.m. House of Bards
Tuesday, August 13
- Suicide Forest, Shadows of Algol, Hallow - 8 p.m. Club Congress
Wednesday, August 14
- Just Najima at CD First Listen Party at Crooked Tooth
Thursday, August 15
- Ladytowne Live: Mayor Edition - 7 p.m. Club Congress
- Little Cloud - 8:30 p.m. Tap and Bottle
- The Butcher's Block w/ the Muffalettas - 7 p.m. Iron John's Brewing