Phoenix Once Had a Mod Scene
Every Wednesday is 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 temporary 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 scorched earth of Arizona around or shortly after the year 2000 A.D. We will honor that band with a commemorative digital single that you, the digital public, will have only seven days to download to your computers and smart phones before this single gets marked up to an exorbitant price as determined by the mp3 collector community. When that happens, a new Heritage Hump subject will be chosen and the free-for-a-limited-time-only cycle begins anew.
Phoenix, once upon a time you had a Mod scene. You could walk outside of The George and Dragon or now-defunct clubs like Casablanca and Emerald Lounge and drown in a sea of Vespas, as if someone took your regularly scheduled strip-mall sameness and switched it with a scene from Quadrophenia.
For Mat Hammond, the Shepherd's Bush expat who formed Eurovox in the early Aughts, it was mostly a musical choice. Once again back in Britain, he has no illusions about what this ersatz Mod movement was all about here.
"The retro mod scene was based around scooter clubs and mod-themed discos," Hammond says. "The 'following' was good but not a wave! There were only a few other bands, can't remember their names."
In my 2005 article on the band, "The Euro Stops Here," the desire to have a Mod scene certainly had something to do with clothes, a little to do with transportation, a bit of nostalgia for Northern Soul. But mostly it was about a guy trying to find his natural voice.
Eurovox's fascination begins and ends with Mod's economy of sound: a choppy guitar, a bass that acts as a second rhythm guitar, and hyperkinetic drumming. While the Who seized mod to fit in with its audience, and the Jam revived mod to identify itself for an audience while distancing itself from punk, the songs frontman/guitarist Mat Hammond writes for Eurovox are about fitting in and identifying yourself for an audience. Standard universal subjects like true love, being flat broke and finding comfort wherever you can abound on This is . . . Eurovox, like "Billy No Mates," an ode to a dateless mope who might take some solace in the song's masturbatory solution ("the future's in your hands"), and "The Story of a Boy and a Girl."
As for the English element, Hammond sings in a Shepherd's Bush twang that makes "That's how the story go-ooes" sound like he's considering "the town of Story Ghost." Still, this London-born musician has taken a lifetime to arrive at his natural speaking voice in song, largely at the urging of Robbie Watson, the band's producer, invisible fourth member and another Brit transplant to boot. For the past decade or more, Watson has worked with a wide variety of Valley bands, from the Zen Lunatics to Cousins of the Wize to Hammond's former band, The Living Daylytes, which also contained Eurovox bassist Steve Flores. But with the release of the band's debut on his label, Saville Row Recordings, this is the first project Watson has had a hand in with such a "pronounced" British flavor.
The track selected by Hammond and producer/manager Robbie Watson to represent Eurovox here is a tune off their third album "That Was Then But This Is Now." While the early sound of Eurovox drew inescapable comparisons to The Jam, this track with its use of Hammond (no pun intended) organ calls to mind the last days of "Beat Surrender" in its title, just before Weller jumped ship for The Style Council.
"Shows were well attended but breaking out was difficult as we were entering the demise of the Mill Ave circuit," Watson says.
Mat went back to UK five years ago and is now working on his first solo album. Stiv and Jiv are now playing together in The Captives. Watson has played shows at The George and Dragon including Joe Strummer tribute night organized by Keith Jackson.
"I produced/managed group and we had a great time," says Watson. "Plus I was an original Mod. As Mat says, " In Mod In Trust."
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