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Local engineers scramble to document the Valley punk scene with new compilation

James Mather and Mike Heffington have two consuming passions: recording punk-rock bands and drinking as much Natural Light as they can get their hands on.

Fortunately, they live in a world where their hobbies frequently intersect. It's well-known in local punk circles that Natural Lights are as essential a component of the Mather-Heffington recording process as mike stands and mixer cables.

"People buy us that beer when they come over to record," Heffington says, knocking back a brew as he speaks. Mather adds, "Yeah, we got them all addicted to it."

Mather and Heffington are veterans of the local underground punk scene. Mather sings for Potato, while Heffington rips through barre chords for the Superstars of Professional Wrestling. Even after a decade apiece of playing in punk bands, they still speak with all the wide-eyed zeal of recent converts.

Mather is the skinny blond Hawaii expatriate who loves surfing. He's giddy and likably spacy, like a younger, less-pretentious Perry Farrell. Mather is stocky, dark-haired, and no-nonsense. When they're together, they come off like characters from Clerks, relentlessly trading offbeat observations and local gossip.

A couple of years ago, Mather and Heffington decided to pool their recording equipment, start a label (Nearfield Recordings) and begin documenting the frequently ignored Valley punk scene. The first flower of their efforts, a two-years-in-the-making, 28-track CD compilation called Valley of the Spun, just hit the stores, and these two hard-core Alan Lomaxes say it was a project that needed to happen.

"Other comps had been put out, and to us they just weren't representing the town as far as bands that we knew that were really good. So we decided to do it," says Heffington. "It started out as a whim, and finally ended up happening."

What's unique about Valley of the Spun is that it's a showcase of tracks recorded specifically for this comp, with the organizers hauling their 16-track Tascam gear to bedrooms, garages and sheds to capture fury and aggression on tape.

And make no mistake, this collection is a ferocious, often inaccessible listening experience. From The Jedi Five to Mandingo to The Terminals (whose Pistols-influenced "Riot" is a highlight), this is a continuous, rapid-fire aural assault, unsweetened by studio overdubbing.

If The Belligerents' screamer "Punk Not for Sale" sounds like it was recorded in a closet, there's a reason for that. The track was taped live in a tiny, 10-by-12 patio room with feedback and leakage flying in every direction. Mather says he and Heffington actually needed three sessions to get even these raw results, adding that the first time they tried to get The Belligerents on tape, they found that the band had not used a tuner in more than a year, and stubbornly refused to use one.

A surprise highlight of the disc is the inclusion of two 15-year-old tracks by Junior Achievement, a seminal band cited by many locals--including Mather and Heffington--as the quintessential Arizona punk group.

Many of the current bands on Valley of the Spun had never been recorded professionally, and those that had ventured into a studio had come away disappointed.

"We found that a lot of bands that had recorded professionally and spent money on their recordings, they've ended up liking what we did better, because it captured them how they wanted to sound," Heffington says. "It didn't come out so sterile-sounding," Mather chimes in.

Mather and Heffington take some pride in the fact that their comp has already inspired two other local punk collections, with many of the same bands. The recording duo already has a follow-up planned with 15 bands confirmed, and more of a statewide focus in mind.

Above all, they seem determined to make locals appreciate the punk community that relentlessly toils beneath the radar of the local media, gigging at parties and venues like Tempe Bowl and the Vortex.

"Mandingo is revered in towns throughout this country, and nobody knows who they are here," Mather says.

"A lot of these bands, all they do is sit and practice in their house, and they're fucking awesome," Heffington says. "I think they just don't have people behind them."

The Heat Is On: Nita's Hideaway closed with a bang on July 12, and the new owners, who have renamed the club The Heat, are working on the club with the hope of opening on July 31. The new owners--Lori Biddlecome, her sister Tammy, and longtime family friend Robert Ross--planned on applying for a temporary liquor license on July 13, the day that ownership officially transferred to them. Although they plan to give the club a face-lift, The Heat's owners say they hope to maintain much of what was good about Nita's. Some of the music will lean in a heavier direction, but with the thought of representing the diversity of the Tempe music scene.

"There are so many people in Phoenix, and there are not that many bars," Tammy says. "We love the local bands. We want to get more local bands in there, instead of having the same bands every night. We love the Revenants, we love Dead Hot Workshop, it's bands like that that we plan on keeping."

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