Onus Records Launches With Motown-Inspired Songwriting Model

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No Volcano
Carmen Garza

Detroit's Motown Records had "Hitsville U.S.A.," an office and recording studio that housed the songwriters and musicians who birthed a sound that spoke to the soul of the nation. Motown's competitor, Memphis-based Stax Records, discovered such groundbreaking artists as Issac Hayes, Otis Redding, and the Staple Singers and committed them to tape at a converted movie theater dubbed "Soulsville U.S.A."

Onus Records, based out of Phoenix's Sunnyslope neighborhood, has the "Shark Cage," a cramped shack in Tommy Globbot's house that is in desperate need of fumigation.

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Globbot, Onus' label head, spins a yarn about how his grandfather Viral was inspired by the success of Motown and Stax and started the original Onus Records (pronounced OH-nus) in 1972. After a string of failed releases, Viral quit and went into the auto upholstery business, but Globbot took it upon himself to revive his grandfather's musical dream. It's a cute story, but one has to ask Viral's grandson how much of this is true and how much is made up.

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"It's 100 percent true," Globbot declares. "That's the family history!"

He's assured in his response, but it's hard to tell whether they're pulling an Andy Kaufman-esque trick for some buzz. After all, it's not as though the revived Onus Records, now a virtual label, is going to make a profit from Globbot's business plan. In fact, he's removing the profit motive altogether.

Globbot and musician (and New Times contributor) Serene Dominic have taken a cue from Motown's assembly line recording style by recruiting a team of songwriters, singers, and musicians from Phoenix bands and recording them with phantom names. Sometimes, actual groups will contribute material. Beginning in 2015, Onus will release a song per week free of charge at onusrecords.bandcamp.com, calling it the "Single of the Weekend." By following this strategy, only people interested in music -- not the money -- are involved. The result, according to Globbot, is something pure.

So far, the label has a few singles awaiting release, including dreamy jangle-punk "Tribute" from No Volcano (which also is the for-profit face of Onus) and Wes and the Westdales' "Tightening Your Grip on Me," a fast-paced soul single that would make Wilson Pickett dizzy. The band, as legend (and the press release) has it, actually resides near west Glendale, but "the boys' Aunt Inger lives on the cusp of Moon Valley, so that was good enough." Dominic helped co-write the upbeat throwback track.

"I'm a performer, but I am also a C.E.S.P., a creative embedded silent partner," Dominic says. "I basically write songs, demo them, and try to get someone else to sing them. If they catch on, then we do another single with them. If they don't, then we get another bunch of people in."

The play on words with the label's name is obvious, and Grandpa Viral's existence again comes into question. But why deny the legitimacy of Globbot's story when it comes from the mind of someone who is putting his own money into seeing quality music come out of Sunnyslope?

"I put the money into this idea. If the consumer wants to contribute money to our Bandcamp site, they're more than welcome to, but we don't expect them to. It's not part of the deal. It's how they respond to it. The ball is in their court."

When achievement isn't counted in dollars and cents, how does Globbot measure the success of Onus? He says simply, "After a year of releasing music, there isn't a single song we've released that we regret."

The Onus Records launch party is scheduled for Wednesday, January 14 at the Rhythm Room.

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