Introducing Heritage Hump Day: Vintage Phoenix Sounds from New Times and Onus Records

The Beat Angels never released "She Shoots Starlight" until now.
The Beat Angels never released "She Shoots Starlight" until now.
MP3 Sleeve Courtesy of Heritage Hump/Onus Records

From now on, when someone asks you what the day in the middle of the week is, no longer need you say, "err, hump day." Now you can say "It's Heritage Hump Day!" That's because every Wednesday from now to the end of the year or before someone really big stops us, Heritage Hump Records (a subsidiary of Onus Records) and New Times will be bringing you a limited edition collector's item of a much beloved Phoenix band that walked the earth before the year 2000 A.D. We will honor that band with a commemorative digital single that you, the public, will have only seven days to download to your computers and smart phones before this single goes back into the vault, a new Heritage Hump subject is chosen and the cycle begins anew.

This week we bring you Phoenix's punk-pop poets The Beat Angels and a much-coveted song from their never-released third album entitled She Shoots Starlight.

See also: The 10 Most Influential Punk Records of Arizona

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Unless you were there when the Beat Angels first showed their night owl pale complexions and barfly squinting faces on the stage of the Mason Jar in 1994, it might be hard to imagine what a sight for sore eyes they were. Before we lapsed into this mix-and-match culture we have now where we can have music from every era on demand, we lived in a world where once something was gone, it stayed gone. Vammoosed! Sometimes a whole generation would have to die off before you could get chords with down strokes. If you grew up on The Stooges, The New York Dolls or the Clash, you had to wade through New Romantics, hair-farmer/metal leftovers, hippie groove bandwagon jumpers and grunge before the pendulum would swing back the other way.

When the Beat Angels came along they brought back a lot of swagger to a scene that was predominantly metal and shoegazers. The band, in that early lineup, had the dearly departed rhythm section of Jon Norwood and Kevin Pate, probably the best one-two punch the Valley ever produced. Add to that had the front line guitar attack of Keith Jackson and Michael Brooks, charging the lip of the stage like an advancing army, and the poses and prose of lead singer Brian Smith, who gave the band much of its collective persona.

When profiling the Beat Angels for this publication in 1997, I wrote:

"the Beat Angels have made themselves synonymous with beatniks, booze hounds, low-rent fast talkers and women with pasts -- the legend emblazoned on the new album's pulp-novel parody sleeve. For three years, singer Brian Smith has written all too knowingly about people who for some reason or another don't want to go or can't hack going home. He has an almost vertiginous attraction to the walking wounded and their well-traveled routes to the bottom. It's his cologne, and he surrounds himself with it like so much secondhand smoke."

"I do at times embrace this notion of a romantic lowlife," acknowledges Smith. "There are times when I find myself there, broke and drunk. That's precisely why I live where I do in Phoenix, Van Buren and 14th Street, pretty much the worst neighborhood in the city as far as prostitutes, whores and junkies are concerned, cabbies on crack, whatever. I chose to live here, though. I mean, I could've moved to Tempe or something stupid."

At that time the Tempe sound was being celebrated, here was the anti-Tempe sound that had no use for R.E.M. twang, but thanks to Brian did celebrate the shaking of the tambourine more vigorously than anybody since Davy Jones.

Nick Foster at Nita's Hideaway
Nick Foster at Nita's Hideaway
Martin Mathis

By the time this was recorded in 2001 at Gilby Clarke's Redrum Studios in Los Angeles, the Beat Angels had been through at least three different rhythm sections before original bassist Kevin Pate returned and the band hooked up with A.D. Adams.

"It was for our third album, which, so far, has never been officially released. We never quite finished it. Such a drag," recalls Michael Brooks. "We really crafted this one. Really worked out each part. From the 'American Girl'-ish intro to the guitar hook. We were thinking 'And Your Bird Can Sing' sideways. Gilby had this magic dust or button or effects pedal, I have NO idea what it was, and he applied it and it just makes that part EXPLODE! The lyrics are pure Brian Smith. Brilliant stuff that he can produce on a whim."

"There's a sadness in the lyrics," says Brian Smith. "It's sort of about a doomed life in west Phoenix amid chain-link dirt yards and fading tract houses and crystal meth. ... I came up with the basic chords on an acoustic guitar and then showed it to the band. It was basically a crappy little folk song that they made into soaring rock 'n' roll single. Brooks made up the killer descending guitar part that made the tune. And A.D. Adams and Kevin Pate were such a gifted rhythm section -- just had this deceptively simple groove and swing. Listen to Pate purposely pull back his bass notes slightly on certain beats ... He had incredible rhythm, and a weird musical intuition that'd I'd never seen before or since. You can hear it here. And guitarist Keith Jackson pretty much arranged the thing too."

Jackson sums up this week's seven-day collectors' item thusly: "I think the 'unreleased' Beat Angels last recordings..were some of the best work we had done in our super nova years. Viva the Angels!! "

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