Let us now perform a general dissection of the various forms of rock 'n' roll music being performed in the Valley of the Sun. There are the pop guitars on Mill Avenue that go jingle jangle jingle; there is the bouffant metal of Phoenix; you've got your neohippie groove funk; and born-again, second-generation punk.
But there is something else quietly festering out there that you may not be aware of: a handful of bands in the Lush, Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine mold, playing atmospheric, moody stuff called noise pop. That's what guitarist/singer Brandon Capps calls it; his band Half String is one of the main practitioners of the genre. Capps, 24, is also the organizational force behind the Beautiful Noise Festival, a showcase of seven local groups that represent a big chunk of this miniscene of Brit-influenced sounds.
This is actually Beautiful Noise II (featuring Alisons Halo, Half String, Loveliescrushing, Nostalgia Drags, Scenic, the Aprils, and Six String Malfunction). Last year Capps threw the first concert--billed as "a festival of ethereal and difficult pop"--to a surprisingly large turnout of some 650 fans. The event even garnered attention from national publications like Option and Alternative Press, and he's received calls from those mags and others this year, as well.
Settling his lanky frame into a living-room couch in his small Tempe house (the furnishings are spare and artsy, like his music), Capps explains that noise pop is not as popular a draw as what the more Blossomesque acts over on Mill Avenue offer.
"That's a scene that's kind of ingrained, it's a staple of the music community, it's been going on forever, and that sound is just continuous," he says without any trace of bitterness. "It's like, people go out to bars, they hear that sound and figure, 'Oh, that's the type of music we have to play to fit in.'"
Fitting in is not his main concern. In fact, Beautiful Noise (no relation to the Neil Diamond album) originated out of "frustration," Capps says.
"Just the fact that I had noticed there were some really great things being produced, most of it just via four-track [recorder] by living-room bands, people that weren't really playing out on the local bar circuit. A lot of these people [in bands] have voiced their frustration at trying to go out and do shows, and some of those bands even had CDs out. Lycia, for example, had three CDs out on the Projekt label, and their network is pretty much around the world.
"I thought it would be great to group all those bands together for one night, and create a situation that would attract a lot of people who shared the same frustrations with us about the local sound, which seems to be pretty mainstream and bland."
Raised in Aspen, Colorado, Capps moved to the Valley after graduating high school to dive into the local music scene, believe it or not. He'd been corresponding with friends who are local musicians, and upon arrival did what many a struggling musician has done.
He got a job at Tower Records. "I worked at Tower for five years," says Capps, shrugging. "When I left, I was an assistant manager, but that was getting a little bit too career-oriented." He now runs a mail-order music business out of his bedroom, pushing albums from a number of labels, and has returned to Tower in the somewhat less-stressful position of what he refers to as "just a schmo."
Half String--which rehearses in a cramped back room the size of three phone booths--plays out locally only about once a month. But if the band lacks live experience, it more than compensates with recorded material, stuff that has not only been released (on the Sedona-based Independent Project Records, also home to Scenic and Alisons Halo) but has also seen international distribution.
"Being involved with IPR has helped a lot," Capps offers. "A lot of people locally may not own our releases, but I get orders from Europe all the time. We get letters from Japan and Belgium and Italy--it's great."
It's not surprising that the suave sophisticates across the water would find Half String's music appealing. But what about your run-of-the-Mill Avenue, rock-loving philistine? Capps feels acceptance may be right around the corner.
"I'm pretty excited about this year's [show], just because the musical community is a lot stronger and friendlier than it was a couple years ago," he says. "I think the local radio and press are really starting to open up to some different things, rather than the music that's been typically covered, and that's a big change. This town's been kind of backward compared to a lot of other towns."
What can you expect from the seven bands at Beautiful Noise?
Capps pimps the rock: "It's pretty varied, but the thing that everyone has in common is they're doing something pretty original. It's atmospheric and moody, and then some of the other sounds have more of a pop structure . . . some kind of stray off into their own realms."
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Though he may be a man with a noisy vision, Capps has no designs on becoming the Bill Graham of local shoe-gazing, mysterioso pop. He only wants to spread the word.
"I don't want to force it down people's throats," he says. "I'm not looking to evolve this into a Seattle scene or something. It's just a matter of exposing it to people; hopefully, other people will be encouraged to start playing and doing things, even though it may be outside of what's accepted."
Beautiful Noise Festival is scheduled for Saturday, February 11, at El Rancho de los Muertos. Showtime is 7 p.m.