It took bassist Rich Tokatyan and guitarist John J. Yohimbe of Phoenix outfit Dynamite the Liberator three years to see their vision of a rock 'n' roll band come to fruition. They searched high and low for potential suitors -- musicians who could not only jive with their philosophy and creative prowess, but who also had the skill to match their own.
The Valley's talent pool proved to be too shallow for the dynamic duo, but lucky for them, Phoenix happens to be a hot spot for transplants like themselves. Enter singer and New York-native Marcus Terrell Smith, and drummer Chad Calton by way of Michigan.
A year later, the four-piece band is primed to show the Valley just what it's been missing. This week provides folks two chances to "get liberated" with performances at the Sail Inn tonight, and again tomorrow at Monsterland in Mesa.
Up on the Sun: I understand everyone in the band is a transplant. What were some of the forces that brought you guys together?
John J. Yohimbe: I was pretty much disgusted with the music scene down here. I'd hooked up with a couple cats to do some blues stuff, and was able to play and develop my chops. But I was really wanting to get into a situation where I could do real, original music. So I went on Backpage and found an ad Rich had on there. He was just looking for guys to jam with. I had to cancel on him like six times, and I knew about the flakes out here so I was hoping he didn't think I was one of them.
Rich Tokatyan: I did have him lumped into the "flake" box.
Yohimbe: But we finally got together. I'm sitting in his living room; I had my small combo amp and my guitar. And he's playing these songs for me that he recorded on his Macintosh and playing his bass. He's singing and he's got all these tunes and he's like, "You know, I've had these guitar players come through saying they can play, but when I play my stuff with them, nothing happens." So I just started playing along to his stuff and I really just dug it. I just knew where he was coming from with it.
Tokatyan: It's kind of an unusual pairing because, for me, I was looking for someone to take the stuff that I write on the bass and interpret it with the guitar and find a melding, but most guitar players don't think like that. We're able to kind of play off each other and work off each other. John writes stuff that I can work with, and conversely I'm able to come up with stuff that he can interpret. We're both old school. I'm from New York and he's from Jersey so we both had influences that span multiple genres; Punk, reggae, rock, disco, funk -- we listened to everything growing up. All of that stuff came through in our connection.
Yohimbe: As a musician and as a writer, you rarely make those kinds of connections. You know, for all intent and purposes, it is magical when it happens so you embrace it. I was very fortunate.
Tokatyan: And then we went three years, literally, three years, searching for other members and in that time ... we went through a whole litany of interesting situations.
Yohimbe: We met some of the most no-talented, egotistical, self-absorbed, excuse-creating, no-chops-having...
Tokatyan: Not like we were standing up high on this mountain, but we ran into a lot of pretenders. We were looking for people that had our level of passion and commitment.
So you guys come into this environment that leaves much to be desired with the talent pool and the commitment level. What made you stay? What was the redeeming quality that you guys saw in the music scene?
Yohimbe: Right now, we're still coming into the realization of what is functional out here and what's dysfunctional. We know that with the musical culture, that there are more concentrated core locations in the States that will embrace what we do a little bit more. But right now, we're trying to establish ourselves to the point where we can have this cycling of fans and a following and an understanding of what we can really do. Because a lot of people simply haven't heard what we can do. There are opportunities to have here.
The thing about the Valley that's different from just about every other major city is that its always waiting for something to happen. It won't take the initiative to make something happen. And you can feel that vibe when you go to an L.A. or you go to a New York; people are not waiting around. They're making things happen.
Tokatyan: We looked at the situation out here and we recognized the challenges, but we also recognized that there were opportunities because there really wasn't much happening. Our thinking was, "let's make it happen. If there's no real scene here let's make one." It's not a great scene but it is a blank canvas.
Yohimbe: I think ultimately, the people are waiting for something. They receive, they don't create. I think that's because people are coming from so many different places in this country that they're not ...
Tokatyan: They're not rooting down.
Are there any other Arizona bands that you've come across that you've become fans of?
Yohimbe: We saw Strange Young Things one night at the Roxy. They were a straight-ahead rock 'n' roll band. Not like super-hard rock, but just a balls-out rock band. They put on a really good show.
Tokatyan: Yeah, I think that was the best show we've been to locally. The vocalist is just so dynamic.
What can people expect from a live DTL show?
Yohimbe: We bring out physically dead clowns.
Tokatyan: Everybody hates clowns, man.
Yohimbe: No, but seriously. If people come to our show, they're going to hear music that is the most dynamic music they're going to hear in the Valley. We're going to go three, four songs into our set, and they're going to know they haven't heard everything the band can do.
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Tokatyan: That was one of the things we talked about in our early days. we both really like bands where everyone of their songs is kind of different. You don't know what to expect coming out of the next one. I really think we're that kind of band. A lot of bands, you hear two or three songs and you say, "OK, that's their sound."
Yohimbe: Emphasis on dynamics and mood. Each song has it's own personality and tells its own story. So each song will touch certain members in the audience in a certain way.