Looking Back on When In AZ, Vol. 1

Dry River Yacht Club at The Yucca Tap Room release party.

In 2009 I had been covering local music for over a year and was discovering a few gems here and there. In the pages of JAVA Magazine I had covered Colorstore, The Love Me Nots, Greenwich, and a couple other locals, but the scene was different back then. In my interviews I’d ask what other local bands the artists like and their recommendations were few and far between. All of that seemed to change in September 2009 when the first When In AZ… compilation was released. Maybe it was the idea of 55 local artists covering one another or maybe it was the series of legendary release shows at The Rhythm Room, Yucca Tap Room, Modified Arts and other venues of the time, but all of a sudden the scene started to snowball and I quickly went from occasionally writing about the local beat to finding myself quite addicted to it. I still have no complaints about that shift in the wind.

When I was asked by the Phoenix New Times about what the turning point was for me in discovering a true love of local music, I was immediately brought back to that crazy September eight years ago. “After those release shows I never had to search for local talent again, I had the map for that time,” I said.  ”Few of the bands exist anymore, but this set the stage for the wave that crested in about 2012, with bands like Black Carl, What Laura Says, Colorstore, Yellow Minute, Gospel Claws and so many more. Still, most of the musicians from former bands have come to found some of the best available today eventually forming Wyves, Citrus Clouds, The Gentle Hits, No Volcano and more. Even more amazing is that contributors like Dry River Yacht Club, Treasure Mammal, Courtney Marie Andrews, Lonna Kelley, The Sugar Thieves, Andrew Jackson Jihad, Sweetbleeders, and The Rebel Set are still going strong.”

There was something happening here and what it was, was perfectly clear. If there was ever any doubt in anyone’s mind that there wasn’t a consistent, high quality music scene in Phoenix—all you had to do was download the amazing 55 track compilation When In AZ... After you listen to over three hours of local artists covering other local artists, the message was clear—Phoenix had a music scene and it was one of the greatest undiscovered treasure in the nation at the time.

Local luminaries Nick Kizer, Lacy Lester and Rodney Hu, along with 55 local bands teamed together to present something unique, brilliant and pretty amazing. First of all, who even knew at the time that there were 55 brilliant bands of unique talent and sound to contribute to a compilation of this size along with the will and skill to cover each other’s work with impressive effect? Apparently the visionaries behind this project had some inkling, but they really only expected 20-30 artists at most, not the enormous outpouring of talent the project has borne.  One more amazing fact is that all the proceeds went to fantastic charities within the valley, so that not only could you hear a wonderful soundtrack to your life you could also help out those less  fortunate by lending an ear.

The idea came about over a drinking session Nick Kizer, of local act Babaluca, had on his birthday with the members of Colorstore. “It was conversations about music…we were having a good time,” Kizer said. “We we’re talking ‘we should do this, we should do that, we should record a rock opera.’” At some point Kizer asked simply “What if local bands covered other local bands?” “There are other regional cover albums where artists cover national acts,” Kizer said. “Soon musicians started talking with each other…” and the rest is now downloadable digital history.  Enter  Laci Lester. “I got Laci involved because she works closely with the local non­-profits,” Kizer said. “It seemed right to do it all for a noble cause.”

It was Laci Lester who was able to reach out to Regina Nixon of The Phoenix Conservatory of Music and Nate Anderson of Ear Candy, both non-profit organizations heavily involved with bringing music education and instruments to those in need, especially for children in underserved areas .  “Both of them [Nixon and Anderson] are musicians who are are passionate about bringing music to those in need,” Lester said. “100% of what we make is going to charity,” Kizer said. “Money to students who need music.”  The local music community also showed their generosity many fold, “We had a 100% in kind donations for the studio time, the mastering and from the bands performing,” Lester said. “It’s been a fantastic way for the music community to champion together with each other and raise money for these non-profits!”

The final piece of the puzzle was provided by Yucca Tap Room owner and operator Rodney Hu. Rodney found out about the compilation Nick Kizer was putting together and was the first to offer venue sponsorship, offering two nights at the Yucca Tap Room. He also became the financier of the entire project. “The deal was to contribute,” Hu said. “Let’s just get this done, if it came down to the point where he needed extra I told him to let me know. The original idea was 20-30 bands.” Clearly, that expectation was surpassed with the participation of 55 bands in all, and while it may be called When In AZ…, these bands are only from the Metro Phoenix area. Amazing, first of all that there are that many talented bands here, but also because of how many bands we all knew that did not appear, mostly due to recording and touring conflicts that summer.

Robin Vining at The Rhythm Room release show. Photo by Joel Ekdahl.

 

The concept itself was amazing, and the music community here suddenly became beautiful—I had never  seen more individuals so supportive of each other in any other place where  I’ve lived.  “It makes sense that what musicians do best is perform and make music,” Kizer said. “It is up to the rest of us to find innovative ways to help put their art on display.” And with the help of Lester, Hu , Stinkweeds, Modified Arts, The Rhythm Room, the Hard Rock Café, Radio Phoenix, The Blaze 1330AM, River Jones Music, The SHIZZ.org and SilverPlatter.info, the When In AZ… compilation did exactly that with high minded causes in mind, to boot.  “It’s amazing what resources we have here in the Valley.” Kizer said.  I put out a challenge to all musicians and music lovers to find new and interesting ways to make Arizona music available to the masses.” I put out the same challenge and I’ll add one more before this article’s end.

So what of the music found on the actual 55 song When In AZ… compilation? It’s amazing and that’s not exaggerating the power found in these songs one bit, to this day. I actually couldn’t believe how wonderful these 55 songs sounded as they provided an endless soundtrack across three CDs in my Jeep on a road trip to and from California, and in a couple instances, I actually had to pull over to check out what I was hearing, because of how much it astounded my ears and blew my mind. The ironic thing is whether you bought a download card at one of the promotional shows or bought it online at $8! That is perhaps one of the most amazing bargains of all time. Nowhere else could you get this amount of brilliant music for such a low cost—hell, if you only like eight of the songs on the entire compilation you come out ahead and chances are you’ll like a lot more.

The music was worth it, the cause was worth it and it was, all in all, an amazing aural adventure. It still is upon hearing it just shy of a decade later. Check out the sultry vocal Garnet presents on Dry River Yacht Club’s cover of Black Carl’s “Sheep,” enjoy Fatigo’s vampiric lunacy on the Back Ted N-Ted cover “Young Lovers”, lose yourself in Colorstore’s buoyant version of “Impending Doom” by Asleep In The Sea or simply sit back and smile to Yellow Minute’s version of What Laura Says’ “Dot Dot Dot.” I could actually write all day about the great tracks here…The Premiere doing “Shahlah” by Cardiac Party, Terra Firma’s cover of KNESSET’s  “Finisher”, all of them amazing.  The point is that it’s easy to fall in love with nearly every one of these tracks, some were immediately your favorites, some were slow growers and some may be your favorite songs months from now after a listen or two.

One amazing thing is that, “The  artists just chose each other [to cover}” Lester said at the time. “We didn’t want to stymie anyone’s creativity.” The entire project is pretty amazing, fantastic, phenomenal, whichever superlative you’d like to choose and at the shows in September, it was really great to see how the other artists came out to see one another perform, night after night. This was a great way for the music community to come together and the results are in the compilation, embedded in it’s entirety below.

 

Why, though would I be focused on a local charity compilation that came out eight years ago? Because after years of false starts and near misses, When In AZ, Vol. 2 is happening again this Fall.  Nick Kizer, has returned to the fold to get the ball rolling once more, this time he’s teamed up with YabYum, Erick Pineda of Citrus Clouds,  Jalipaz of Audioconfusion, and myself, Mitchell Hillman. Jalipaz will even be offering a special rate for artists who want to record their single in a studio. At this point I hope musicians who I haven’t contacted personally, or artists that follow my writing will perk up at the sound of this. If you are a band or artist from Arizona, you just need to record a cover of another Arizona artist. We do recommend you get permission from the artist, especially if you’re eyeing up a cover by someone who has gone national. Once your cover is done, you send it to wheninaz@gmail.com. You can also hit up that email address for additional information. That’s it, that’s all there is to it. We’re not picking the best, we’re not using a review board, we’re accepting tracks and putting them on the compilation. Expect more posts about this exciting project in the coming weeks either here, or on YabYum or on the When In AZ, Vol. 2 facebook page HERE.

We’ve already started getting songs sent in and we have well over sixty artists on board. I cannot encourage you enough to figure out your cover, get it recorded and get it to us. There will be Fall events to coincide with the release, but for now, let’s concentrate on this being a snapshot of the local music scene 2017, which is every bit as impressive as it was in 2009 and quite similar with the rising tide of talent in this town.

Note: The interviews and some portions of this article were originally printed in the October 2009 issue of JAVA Magazine.

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