Group Efforts

Make-ups, breakups and other local band gossip abound

After an eight-year run, local pop-punks Pollen are calling it quits. The group announced its imminent demise from the stage this past weekend, confirming rumors that had been circulating for several weeks.

The band -- which relocated from Pittsburgh to the Valley in 1994 -- has seen its star on the rise over the past year, thanks to last year's stellar full-length Chip, released on Florida's Fueled by Ramen records. However, it had become increasingly clear that to maintain the band's burgeoning success, a significant increase in touring was going to be necessary. That, in particular, was something that guitarist Mike Bennett was not keen on. Bennett, who's planning to start a family within the year, told the group about his intentions of quitting the road by next summer.Significantly, Pollen drummer and chief songwriter Bob Hoag is also settling down and is set to be married later this year. While the group members say it was not an easy choice, they opted to take a cue from Bennett's decision and "close up shop."

An interesting side note: Pollen bassist Chris Serafini was set to audition for San Fran indie rock outfit Samiam last week. The group, signed to New Red records, was booked for a Far Eastern tour in the coming months. Serafini -- favored to fill the band's vacant rhythm slot -- was scheduled to fly to the Bay Area for a final audition, only to receive a call the night before saying that Samiam had decided to break up as well.

The Sand Rubies: Rich Hopkins (left) and David Slutes' desert rock combo returns to the Valley this week.
The Sand Rubies: Rich Hopkins (left) and David Slutes' desert rock combo returns to the Valley this week.
Indie metal trio the Fucking Champs takes the stage at Modified on Saturday.
Indie metal trio the Fucking Champs takes the stage at Modified on Saturday.

Pollen is set to play a final Valley show sometime in May. Bash & Pop will let you know when a date is confirmed.

Tying in with the Pollen split is news that fellow Valley popsters Sugar High will make their final appearance with lead guitarist Jason Garcia as part of New Times' music showcase this Sunday.

Early word was that former 39 Lashes leader Louis Lashes would be taking over for Garcia. But it appears Sugar High will continue as a three piece and possibly under a different moniker. The group already has a full-length debut -- produced by Pollen's Hoag and Kevin Scanlon -- in the can and is currently shopping it to labels.

For his part, Garcia says he's spoken to Bobby Lerma, formerly of Valley punks the Voice, about starting a new band. In the meantime, the guitarist will continue to perform with Insert Coins, a joint Pollen/Sugar High side project featuring Hoag, Bennett and Sugar High's Pat Singleton, among others. Insert Coins will perform this Saturday at the Nile Basement in Mesa opening for the Centerfolds. Showtime is 7 p.m.

Elsewhere, there's news from Valley twangers the Revenants. The group, which returned to the stage earlier this year after a six-month layoff (and with a new drummer), is set to go back into hibernation for an undetermined period of time, after a final performance this weekend.

Reportedly, the decision is -- in part -- the result of an undisclosed personal issue with one of the band members. Group leader Bruce Connole says he plans to use the time off to complete work on the band's long-awaited follow-up to 1998's Artists & Whores. Connole -- a converted tech head -- has been recording tracks for the album in the living room of his East Valley home. The singer adds that the group has completed more than half a dozen songs for inclusion on the new disc.

Connole says he will also use the break to put together material for a new side project; the as-yet-unnamed group will follow on the heels of the now-defunct Pearl Chuckers, the bluegrass combo Connole fronted throughout '99 and 2000.

Connole, who in recent months has taken up both the fiddle and the dobro, says the new project will be "a folksier kind of thing than the Revenants. Actually, that's not the right word to use, 'cause as soon as you say that people think of Pete Seeger and songs about flowers and shit."

"But I can feel this idea germinating -- and I'm sure the whole world is waiting with bated breath," he notes sarcastically. "But it'll be in more of an acoustic direction. I have a feeling it'll be the kind of thing that middle-aged losers all over the planet are gonna love."

Look for both the new Revenants album and Connole's acoustic outfit to surface late in the year. Meanwhile, the Revenants will perform this Saturday, April 21, at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe, with Truckers on Speed. Showtime is 9 p.m.

Among the hot rumors about town is one that has the Gin Blossoms readying a comeback of sorts. This latest reformation -- the band's first since its millennium New Year's performance -- was apparently prompted by an offer to perform at a private party in California. The scenario was then expanded to include some possible festival gigs in the Golden State and work on new Blossoms material.

Word also was that the mini-reunion would be timed with a possible rerelease of the band's first album, 1989's Dusted, as well as an early-summer show in Tempe.

It appears, however, that all the rumblings are a bit premature, as a source close to the group says things are just "in the talking stage." In fact, the latest word is that the whole affair might be in jeopardy, as the private-party offer has fallen apart. While it's possible the group might still make a handful of summer appearances, conventional thinking is they may not want to exhaust interest prematurely for just a few one-offs. Especially since it seems inevitable that the band will, at some point, mount a full-scale reunion -- including new album, tour and likely a Behind the Music-type tie in. In any event, we'll keep you posted on the latest.

Winding Back: Speaking of the Blossoms, one of the group's contemporaries, Tucson's Sand Rubies, return to the Valley this week for a gig at Nita's Hideaway. "Wait," you're surely wondering, "didn't the Sand Rubies call it quits a long time ago?" Well, yes and no. The popular Old Pueblo combo first disbanded in 1993, before getting back together for a series of shows starting in 1996. Over the course of the next few years, the band performed regularly, releasing a quartet of live and archival albums before breaking up, vowing never to play again, and then getting back together then breaking up and . . . well, you get the picture.

The love-hate relationship between Rubies co-leaders David Slutes and Rich Hopkins is responsible for much of the triumphant artistry of the group's late-'80s efforts (under the Sidewinders moniker) on LPs like ¡Cuacha!and Witchdoctor-- albums that cemented the band's reputation as architects of the "desert rock" sound.

The interceding years have seen Hopkins lead his own band, the Luminarios, on a series of critically praised albums and to some commercial success in Europe. Meanwhile, Slutes has had a hand in a number of projects -- including producing last year's comeback disc by fellow Tucsonans Phantom Limbs (an album released on Hopkins' own San Jacinto label).

This latest resumption of the band's activities started a few months back, after, Hopkins says, "Dave and I got together one night and played a bunch of Cure songs." The group has notched a handful of gigs, including a recent turn at Tucson's venerable Club Congress, but this week's show marks the first Rubies sighting in the Valley in close to three years.

Rounding out the band's current lineup are longtime drummer Bruce Halper and former Gentleman Afterdark guitar ace and sometime Ruby bassist Robin Johnson. Johnson -- who's back after a long vacation courtesy of the state -- and Slutes were regulars on Valley stages during the mid-'90s with their power-pop project Maryanne (formerly Ginger -- get it?). While Johnson was in stir, Slutes completed work on tracks the pair had laid down, resulting in 1999's Your First, Your Last, Your Everything. The disc, released on Minneapolis' Contingency Records, was one of the year's finest slices of ear candy. The pair are currently working on a new, as-yet-unnamed project, which is reportedly set to take a grander, orchestral-pop direction.

Meantime, Hopkins says there are no plans for any new Sand Rubies recordings to follow on the heels of the group's most recent offerings: 1996's concert set Live, '98's Sand Rubies: The Sidewinders Sessions(a compilation from the shelved RCA/Mammoth releases Witch Doctor and Auntie Ramos' Pool Hall), Return of the Living Dead,an odds-and-sods collection also released in '98, and the 1999 covers collection Release the Hounds.

But, the guitarist adds, the band has not ruled out continued live performances. The Sand Rubies take Nita's stage on Friday, April 20, with Sistrum set to open. Showtime is 9 p.m.

Metal Men: Heavy metal is primped boys in spandex delivering shrieking, operatic vocals, pseudo-classical electric-guitar wankery and 20-minute drum solos. It's VH1 rockumentaries, underage hesher groupies and 40,000-seat stadiums. It's big riffs, badass lyrics and boobs uncovered for the cameras. What heavy metal is not is three guys who look like gas station attendants playing instrumental songs in tiny indie rock clubs. That is, unless those three guys are the Fucking Champs.

This San Francisco band, consisting of two guitarists and one drummer, uses convoluted metal riffs to make bewildering guitar opuses. The trio labors over its songs and albums for years -- showcasing a dedication to sound that has propelled the combo to more than a dozen tours, five of them across the country, all in a dilapidated camper van that smells like dirty socks. Along the way, the band's undeniable sonic appeal has led to rave reviews from decidedly different camps: the lowbrow writers of 7-Eleven newsstand staple Metal Maniacs and the staff of Drag City, an indie label most often associated with lo-fi songwriter/experimentalists such as Will Oldham, Smog, and Flying Saucer Attack.

The group's most recent effort for the label, IV, was released this winter to further raves from mainstream mags like Rolling Stone. The Fucking Champs are scheduled to perform as part of the Undisputed Masters Tour this Saturday, April 21, at Modified, with the Rapture, and Drunk Horse. Showtime is 9 p.m. -- Glenn Donaldson

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