After nearly 18 months of anticipation, setbacks and delays, Valley music aficionados and compophiles are finally hailing the release of the local music sampler Not One Light Red. The disc is a joint venture between Modified impresario Scott Tennent's fledgling This Argonaut label and Before Braille singer Dave Jensen's Sunset Alliance imprint -- home to Five Speed and Redfield, among others. The project just hit local shelves last month, with a nationwide release set for next week. Tennent says the mission behind the disc was not only to provide a snapshot of the current indie scene -- specifically the one centered in and around his downtown performance space; significantly, the disc is subtitled A Modified Document -- but also to expose Phoenix bands to a larger audience.
"Basically, we've seen this whole scene getting a lot bigger and a lot better and we thought we should find a way to let more people know about it. My feeling is that Phoenix has everything that any other great music scene has -- good venues, good bands, good record stores -- everything, except for a record label that's focused on our scene," Tennent says.
"Olympia [Washington] has Kill Rock Stars and K Records, D.C. has Dischord, Chicago has Touch and Go. A lot of the bands here get left out in the cold because they get to a level where they're as good as any national band, but they don't have anybody to reach out and give them a little exposure. We thought we'd at least take a first step and get something out there that can let other people around the country know that they're here."
Although this is not the first such collection to attempt to document the state of Valley music -- some will recall 1999's Libations Unlimited: Phoenix 1997-1999 from the Sentry Press label, a comp that shares a number of bands with Not One Light Red -- it is perhaps the most cohesive attempt to bring together a wide range of Valley bands operating underneath the mainstream radar. From the Joy Division-inspired noise of Death of Marat to the Rocket From the Crypt-fueled muse of Pollen, the 17 cuts included here effectively convey both the depth of talent and range of styles within what's commonly perceived as the narrow confines of the "indie rock" scene.
Kicking off the collection is former Seven Storey Mountain main man Lance Lammers (under the revised Seven Storey moniker, the result of the group's quasi-dissolution this past year) with "Second Rome." Playing all the instruments himself, Lammers' bedroom recording finds his patented gruff 'n' growl in fine form on the first bit of new material to emerge from the Seven Storey camp since last spring's Deep Elm EP Based on a True Story.
Elsewhere, Reuben's Accomplice offers up the gorgeous acoustic rumination "Leave the City" to whet the appetites of fans eagerly awaiting its debut long player, I Blame the Scenery. Also included are Not One-only cuts from Five Speed (the charmingly dissonant "Blood Over Wine"), . . . And Guppies Eat Their Young (the atmospheric "Feel Like Another") as well as previously released efforts from Fightshy, Pinewood Derby and others.
For those interested in exhuming the dead, the disc also boasts a trio of cuts from bands that have recently passed on: Sea of Cortez, Chula and Tennent's own Half Visconte.
"Even though they've broken up, it wouldn't have been an accurate representation of Modified if we wouldn't have had those groups on there," says Tennent of his decision to include bands that are no longer active. "When [Sea of Cortez] was around, they were a staple at Modified. And Chula was a bright star that burned out real fast, but an important band also. I couldn't have done it justice without referencing them."
Despite a plethora of well-regarded contributors, the 800-pound gorilla (and chief attraction) of Not One Light Red remains Jimmy Eat World front man Jimmy Adkins. Adkins checks in twice on the disc, handling production chores on the Reuben's Accomplice track, as well as leading his own combo, Go Big Casino, through the sterling original "So Proud of You." The cut marks the first official appearance of Adkins' orchestral-pop side project on wax. Recorded live at Modified during the big-band's debut gig in December '99, the track is a breezy, bell-heavy slice of jangle wistfulness, merged with a melodic undercurrent that, strangely enough, conjures up some of Ronnie Lane's more sensitive moments.
Tennent, for one, knows the importance of Adkins' drawing power as a calling card for the compilation.
"Definitely, that's the thing that's the major selling point -- it's not the only selling point -- but it is the big one," he says. "And it's the song that's allowing us to get our foot in the door with distributors and may help make it a potential seller outside of Arizona. It's one of those things that will help draw the kids in, and then once they're in, there's enough stuff that's different or good to keep them interested."
Also a ubiquitous presence on Not One Light Red are the members of power-pop combo Pollen. The group's sonic brain trust -- drummer Bob Hoag and guitarist Kevin Scanlon -- do the production honors on Five Speed's entry, while singer Dan Hargest leads his side outfit Sextet through the mini-epic instrumental "Procession Part II." Pollen itself checks in with the rarely heard "A Clear Complexion," a number from its days with Wind Up records, and mixed by legendary Ardent Studios knob turner John Hampton (Gin Blossoms, Mudhoney).
Another element of Modified that is represented in the disc's packaging is its artistic component. The club, which doubles as a gallery, has been as instrumental in championing young, independent visual artists as it has musicians. To wit, Not One's cover features Sergio Aguirre's evocative painting The Swimmer, while Brent Bond's multimedia effort graces the inside panel, as do the work of photogs Lisa Williamson and Jill Betterly. As a side note, Aquirre's paintings will be on display at Modified throughout the month of February, while Bond's oeuvre can currently be seen at Stinkweeds.
As to prospective plans for a follow-up to Not One Light Red, Tennent is quick to answer. "I'm definitely not going to do another," he says with no small amount of relief. "It was really great to put this together, but the idea is for This Argonaut to focus more on putting out records by individual artists instead."
The new compilation is undoubtedly the most significant release in Argo's modest catalogue (which includes Half Visconte's self-titled EP and a split single with Visconte and Death of Marat), but certainly an entry that bodes well for the future of the imprint, one of a growing number of local micro-labels including the aforementioned Sunset Alliance and King of Monsters.
"It's a little harder for me, because I've got to handle [Modified] and make time to do my own music," says Tennent. "I think Sunset Alliance will probably move a lot faster in putting things out than This Argonaut. But eventually I hope it will be up and running pretty strong. There certainly is enough good music around here for that to happen."
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Not One Light Red is available for purchase at Stinkweeds or online at www.modified.orgKicking Out the Jams: For most well-heeled music fans, it would provide no small amount of excitement to learn that a (semi) local band claimed a full-fledged veteran of legendary Detroit proto-punks the MC5 as one of its members. Of course, that happens to be precisely the case with Tucson's Luminarios, who boast the talents of former Motor City 5 bassist Michael Davis.
The Old Pueblo combo, led by Sand Rubies (née Sidewinders) co-founder Rich Hopkins, will be in town for a rare show this Friday, February 2, at Nita's Hideaway to celebrate the domestic release of the group's 2000 effort Devolver. Although the disc bowed internationally last spring on Germany's Blue Rose Records, the record finds its U.S. home as a joint release on Hopkins' San Jacinto imprint and Stu Baker's Tempe-based Hayden's Ferry label. The Luminarios will be opening the co-headlining bill with pop combo Ashbrook.
Aside from its star-studded membership (which also includes multi-instrumentalist Stefan George and a revolving seat of trapsmen), the band's sound encompasses a range of influences and styles, from Rubies and Tom Petty-type rockers to extended cosmic cowboy jams, all marked by Hopkins' high-powered fretwork.
Also at Nita's this week, the club hosts a mini-punkathon as K Records artists The Gossip come to town to headline a four-way package with the Peeps, Uber Alice and Cali's Orange Stick. Showtime for both is 9 p.m.