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"I feel like I come off as a crackpot," local singer-songwriter Brodie Hubbard admits to me. We're discussing his travails as a young solo artist in a city that's not especially conducive to such endeavors. "It's really easy to make a joke out of me. I'm not a real musician."
There I take issue with Hubbard, who's a 27-year-old Valley native. He says he's not a real musician because he doesn't play his guitar in the conventional manner; rather, he lays it on his lap, in an open D tuning, and runs his thumb along the frets. Orthodox musicianship it's not, but nonetheless I think Hubbard is easily among the most gifted artists around town, and anyone who thinks otherwise isn't paying attention.
Hubbard plays what he calls "outlaw indie rock," passionate country-ish songs about, as he says, "death and murder and love and love gone bad, not wanting to get beat up, and beating up somebody else, fights and benders and things like that."
What's most compelling about Hubbard's music is that it seems out of character for him. He has soft features and an easy grin, often pushing his longish hair out of his face. He speaks softly in a high-pitched voice that goes higher when he sings. Hubbard is easily one of the nicest people I've met lately, which makes it a bit shocking when I hear him sing "I'm not afraid of a fucking thing," and "They can all take a number and get in line to kiss my ass," on his song "Crazy Wins Every Time."
Over insistent strumming, Hubbard howls his songs in a twangy drawl, singing tracks with titles like "Hankerin' for Homicide" and "This Bed Isn't Big Enough for the Both of Us."
The vitriol that Hubbard expels in his songs wasn't always in his repertoire. "I used to write a lot more sentimental songs, about girls from high school, things like that," he tells me. But Hubbard was married young, when he was barely 23 years old. "During that time, I'd have to revisit old stuff -- there was no new romance to write about."
It sounds cynical and almost hateful to say, but luckily for music fans around here, Hubbard's marriage didn't last long, only three years. A little more than a year ago he was divorced, and the marriage's dissolution was the catalyst for a new modus operandi for writing songs. "There was more source material being thrust back in the world of dating. I definitely made up for lost time. I got married pretty young, divorced pretty young, there was a whole new world I hadn't really been a part of. There was this confused anger, some relationships, romantic and otherwise, that had just fallen apart, some betrayals -- really good fodder for music."
So we get songs from Hubbard like "Involuntary," where he likens a relationship to vehicular manslaughter, singing, "I didn't know that it was you, lying there in the middle of the road, I didn't know it was your blood splattered across my hood." Also songs like "Choke," which Hubbard tells me is "likening my propensity for smothering people in a relationship figuratively to a literal serial killer who chokes women and dumps their bodies behind Dumpsters." His song "Powers," where he promises to "finally use my powers for something great; gonna destroy everything in my way," is nominated for Best Song of the Year at the AZ Ska Punk Awards being held this Friday night.
Hubbard takes his murder ballads and sinister compositions to the Willow House every Monday night for the open mic there, as well as playing out a couple of times a month, usually at one of the venues along Grand Avenue in Phoenix. But putting himself out on stages often poses more difficulties for him as a solo artist than it would for a band.
"It's awfully hard to get people to take me seriously," Hubbard tells me. "I'm one person telling people, 'Hey, do an interview with me, put me on a show, do this.' You're not going through a manager, you don't have a band -- you're one guy."
Plus playing solo opens up whole new levels for possible criticism. Where a band is an intangible entity, not subject to taking things personally, Brodie Hubbard is Brodie Hubbard. "It's me, it's my name, and it's all songs about things that have happened to me. I have this reputation, I think, among some as having a big ego and being really self-involved, and there might be truth to that in some aspects," he explains. "Anybody who's putting yourself on stage, that's a certain kind of personality that says, 'I have something to say.' You're telling people to come spend their hard-earned money to see you do your thing -- yeah, that takes somewhat of an ego."
Despite that admission -- and what artist doesn't have a fucking ego? -- Brodie Hubbard is one of my favorite songwriters around here, and definitely works his ass off harder than most bands I know. Do yourself a favor and hit up one of his shows -- you'll know exactly what I mean.