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Modern Art Records' Ben Collins on Why Bands Skip Phoenix on Tour

Ben Collins
Ben Collins

In this week's issue (on stands tomorrow and online later today) I spoke to Miniature Tigers frontman Charlie Brand about the new album, Mia Pharaoh. Call 'em a "Brooklyn band" if you must, but they're showing Phoenix plenty of love: There's that downtown mural, and they're performing twice tomorrow, once at Crescent Ballroom as part of the Modern Art Records Tour with label-mates Geographer, The Chain Gang of 1974, and Pretty & Nice and a free in-store performance at Stinkweeds before that.

I also spoke to Ben Collins, founder of Modern Art Records (as well as Phoenix break-out band Chronic Future), a label founded to release Miniature Tigers' music. Collins cleared up where Miniature Tigers stands on the whole Brooklyn-by-way-of-Phoenix thing. As a Phoenix native, Collins also had nice things to say about Crescent Ballroom and Kimber Lanning of Stinkweeds and Local First Arizona. Check out our interview after the jump.

Up on the Sun: Can you tell me about the upcoming Modern Art records tour?

Ben Collins: It's the culmination of five years of work since we started the label. Miniature Tigers have always been and will always be the cornerstone of Modern Art. I started the label based around the band when I first discovered their music. It's the first thing I ever found that really made me want to be involved in a business like a record label.

It's a 24-city tour with our current line up. It starts in Seattle and ends in Las Vegas and goes through South by Southwest. It's really just a celebration of all the bands and the label itself.

You've pretty much been working with Miniature Tigers since the beginning. What attracted you to them in the first place?

Just great songs. I had known Charlie [Brand] since we were kids but when I first heard the early demos of the first songs, they just cut right through and just really moved me. It was a pretty easy decision to make, I just love the music so much.

How would you describe Miniature Tigers' sound progression from day one? They seem to experiment with each album, but they continue to turn out well.

They're always reinventing themselves and they're always pushing limits, but I think the real core values of Miniature Tigers' music is they go for very simple structures and songwriting. I think that all of the greatest bands usually stick to that kind of formula. I would describe their sound as very catchy indie pop. That's probably it in a nutshell.

You live in Brooklyn now, but do you still have some ties to Phoenix?

I always want to reiterate how much we love Phoenix. We might not spend 100% of our time there anymore, it's always in our hearts. We look at this tour, it's not just a celebration of Modern Art, it's a celebration of something that started in Phoenix and will always continue to correlate with the town.

I'm glad that you have a Tucson date as well and you guys are spending a lot of time in Arizona.

Absolutely. In fact, I wanted to have a Flagstaff show but we just couldn't make it work. With the last record [Fortress], we played Phoenix the day that the record came out and in this case we're playing Phoenix two days after the record comes out, so we always try to make it a point to celebrate new releases in our hometown.

I know Miniature Tigers is a quote unquote Brooklyn band...

It's tough. Rick [Alvin Schaier] lives in Orange County, Charlie has been splitting his time, he spent a little bit of time in Dallas recently with his girlfriend. Charlie spent I think six months of the year last year in Phoenix and two of the members do live full time in Brooklyn. I know they get tagged as a Brooklyn band, but they're kind of nomadic.

At least it's not like The Hold Steady thing, where they left Minneapolis for New York City.

No, no, no, if they had it their way, they'd be spending winters in Phoenix and summers in New York. Hopefully they'll be so successful that they can make that really happen.

 

Did you make the Brooklyn move at the same time, or was it a natural progression for everyone to head east?

Algernon [Quashie] actually grew up in New York, so he's a New York-based kid. I moved here almost three years ago, about a year before Charlie did. I guess you could say I was maybe the first to make the move.

I had to do it mostly for business reasons with Modern Art and joining forces with Warner Music group, I just I felt the need to really be here on an everyday basis since the company's based here. To kind of kick up the business of the band and make sure things were being done properly, I felt like I needed to be present on an everyday basis. When I lived in Phoenix, I was literally flying out here every six weeks and the cost of coming here and getting a hotel and staying here for 10 days at a time actually outweighed the increase in cost of living, so it's been a good move. To be honest with you, the label has grown incredibly since I've been able to be out here, so it's been for the best.

Has the Brooklyn move given bands like Miniature Tigers increased exposure?

Yeah, definitely. Despite the fact that New York is a massive city, it is incredibly close knit, maybe even more close knit than a town like Phoenix from what I've come to find. I think that has something to do with the fact that it's not very spread out like a place like Phoenix is. You have scene existing all within a couple miles of each other, so you're constantly running into people. Your circles of friends are that much tighter and it's really helped Miniature Tigers in the sense...last year they toured with bands like Neon Indian, Morning Benders, The Walkmen, those are all people that we all call friends. It's been very natural and very easy for them to find contemporaries from being around the scene. I would say that's definitely been a big help to the band as far as their associations with other musicians and being championed like that. It's been a big help.

You have no idea how many times I've heard a Tempe band complain about Phoenix kids not coming to a show.

It's tough, they don't. It's my biggest qualm in Phoenix in general right now is people are not supporting live music like the way other cities do. I just think there's no real urgency in Phoenix, people have a very lackadaisical attitude towards live music in general, and that's why I'm just so thrilled to see Charlie [Levy] opening the Crescent Ballroom because it's about time we have a really proper venue for mid-tiered bands. We were lacking that for so long.

I think what people also should realize is geographically, its really difficult for bands to get into Phoenix and out, especially on van tours because it's six-to-seven hours between stops where as if you're going up and down the West Coast, it's like a two-to-three hour drive to the next market and it's even shorter on the east coast. A lot of times bands just opt to skip Phoenix because it doesn't make financial sense and then on top of that, a lot of times they play shows here and there's just not the same sort of urgency to see the music live, which I think is going to greatly improve with the fact that you have a place like the Crescent Ballroom opening.

I was actually just talking to someone about how The Crescent kind of fills the void the Modified left behind, only with a larger capacity.

You're totally right. It was definitely heartbreaking to lose Modified in that sense, but at the same time, I'm so glad Kimber [Lanning] did that because I don't think we would have a Crescent Ballroom had she not taken a step and really forced that issue. Kimber Lanning, she's my favorite Phoenician by far. There would be no Modern Art [without her]; I wouldn't have been able to do what I did if it was not for the support of Kimber Lanning.

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