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Meanwhile, metro Phoenix remains an affordable area to live and create. Outside the Courtney Marie Andrews circle, the Valley is also home to other talented singer-songwriters, such as Matthew Reveles and Stephen Steinbrink, the latter signed to Tempe-based Gilgongo Records.
There's also the 25-year-old Tobie Milford, whose Alyosha recently came out on Surface to Air Recording. The local indie label documents music in a $150,000 facility, complete with 20-foot vaulted ceilings and oak floors, near McClintock Drive and Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe.
To the label's Cary Miller — who learned his audio skills from Shelly Yakus, the renowned audio mixer who engineered John Lennon's "Imagine" — Milford sounds as though he were plucked straight out of folk music's heyday.
"Musically, he could be a new Jeff Buckley," says the 29-year-old Miller. "Artistically, he can be the next Bob Dylan. I'm really impressed by [Tobie], and I'm not impressed by much."
It makes sense that the nation's fifth-largest city — which has a unique acoustic showcase known as The Train Tracks, featuring non-amplified musicians playing songs on the Valley Metro light rail — is starting to make sonic waves nationally, says Jimmy Eat World's Adkins.
"Phoenix is cool because there's room to do something here," he says. "You know how many people move to L.A. or New York and can't do anything because everyone else is trying to do the same thing? With the Internet, there's no reason to move to a place like that."
As for Andrews' progress, Adkins says she is doing everything that she needs to do: "She's writing songs and touring. Those are things you can count on to make a difference in your longevity.
"The worst thing that can happen for any musician is to blow up out of nowhere without building that foundation, because you run the risk of fizzling out quickly. It bodes better for your longevity if you build it up naturally, and that's what she's doing."
River Jones stands barefoot outside his second-floor downtown Phoenix apartment. In his left hand is a lit cigarette. In his right, an iPhone connected to somebody in the music industry.
On most days, this tiny concrete patio is the farthest Jones gets from his live/work recording studio, which he shares with his fiancée. Decked out in a faded shirt and a pair of skinny jeans, the blond, bed-headed Jones hangs up the phone, takes another puff from his smoke, and explains that he's way over his cell-phone minutes for the month. However, he says it's all worth it.
"If somebody had told me that I would be running a folk label at age 32, I would have told them that they were crazy," Jones says. He's not even a folk-music fan — he much prefers Stereolab over Sufjan Stevens — so he can thank Andrews for his surprising vocation.
As Andrews' reputation ballooned, she ran into a problem: Aside from two personally produced CD-R albums housed in homemade disc sleeves, she didn't have a proper recording to sell at shows.
One night at Holgas Gallery, an artist cooperative on Third and Garfield streets, Jones and his fiancée, Shalon, were introduced to Andrews. Jones, who had recently moved back to Phoenix after living the rock 'n' roll lifestyle in Los Angeles, knew of Andrews, but in the midst of launching a record label, he had never heard her music.
Moments after the meeting, Jones, his fiancée, and Andrews found a quiet place at Holgas, where the then-16-year-old played a song for the couple. Jones was blown away. "I dropped everything to record Courtney," he says.
However, Andrews wasn't exactly enthusiastic, dismissing Jones' dreams of documenting her music as another all-talk, no-action plan she'd heard before. Says Andrews, "I didn't take it seriously. Even when he was doing these free recordings, I was like, 'Yeah, whatever.'"
Over time, though, Andrews noticed that Jones actually knew what he was doing. Plus, studio time was free, with an agreement that part of the recording cost would be recouped from sales. The sessions turned into Urban Myths, an album that wasn't even mastered because the label didn't have the money.
Despite the disc's anonymity, the CD-release show for Urban Myths was a huge success, thanks to Andrews' blossoming songwriting and a heavy online marketing campaign engineered by Jones. Because fans of all ages packed Modified Arts, many were turned away. Andrews and Jones couldn't believe it, especially considering that a startup label had released the record.
Soon, the circle of musicians Andrews had built since age 14 began working with River Jones Music. Since then, more out-of-state artists have recorded at Jones' home/studio.
Brent Cowles, who goes by You Me & Apollo, moved here from Colorado Springs, Colorado, after finding River Jones Music's MySpace page. The Pioneers of Prime Time TV, one of the label's only full bands, want to move here, but they're tied down in New Mexico (the lead singer heads a construction company); instead, they make trips to the Valley regularly to record and play shows.
The hyperactive Jones, who has signed more than a dozen artists in the past few years, shuns the spotlight. He insists that he's about the music, rather than the money and notoriety. Because it's a full-time gig that doesn't turn a profit, his fiancée "keeps the lights on," says Jones, who spends up to 16 hours each day recording, mixing, marketing, and making sure his artists' albums are stocked in independently owned record stores across the country. He's especially found success building the brand through social-networking outlets, including Facebook and MySpace.