Phoenix vs. Tempe? Is a Fractious Relationship Hurting the Valley Music Scene?
Former Friends of Young Americans
See also: Echo Cloud Brings Actual Local Rock to Mill Avenue's School of Rock
See also: Behind the Scenes of Former Friends of Young Americans' Practice Pad
A couple of weeks ago, our own Anthony Sandoval penned a music feature about Phoenix-based shoegazers Former Friends of Young Americans. In the piece, the band (mostly, songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Toby Fatzinger) shared some opinions. A lot of them, actually. Fatzinger discussed Crescent Ballroom, stating he "fucking hated" the place, and weighed in on the "Tempe vs Phoenix" debate, coming in hard in support of Phoenix. Fatzinger makes some loose, not-entirely-serious references to Nazi Germany, ASU douchebags, and having sex with bears.
Actual bears, mind you, not the slang term for hairy, burly homosexuals. (After speaking with Fatzinger, he cleared up that they were referring to the homosexual slang term for burly dudes; in fact, one member of Former Friends is gay and was joking about his preference regarding men.)
The article generated a mini shit storm.
Some commenters (most didn't use an actual name, of course) attacked the band's statements, some accused the group of blatant homophobia, some were upset by the group's language. Nicole Parasida of Tempe-based promotion company-slash-blog Echo Cloud Productions, whose expressed mission is to "promote the Phoenix area music scene to join the ranks of New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Austin," wasn't offended by any of that stuff -- it was the attacks on Tempe that irked her. She responded with a blog of her own, in which she discussed her thoughts about the "Tempe vs. Phoenix divide." She didn't link back to us, as to not give the article "undeserving hits," but shared Facebook posts from Echo Cloud friends and a fairly comprehensive list of 32 Tempe alternative, rock, indie, and jam bands "that don't suck."
In a lot of ways, the whole controversy (let's use the word loosely) distracts from estas diloculo, the band's excellent new swirling guitar-pop record. It's a really good record, especially the galloping introduction of "Hopefully Deadly," which breaks down into a gorgeous, swooning vocal from keyboardist Jessica Kelley, and Trail of Dead-esque sex-groove of "Botero" (sample lyric: "Spread your legs, say my name.")
It's not the kind of music that "defines Phoenix," but I'm not sure that kind of music exists. The place is a pretty disparate, and best I can tell, it always has been. Pull out an old Placebo Records comp and try and find a thread connecting the bands beyond "weird" and cool.
But let's be fair: Our piece didn't focus much on the record. It was an attempt at a sincere conversation among bandmates and an opportunity for creative people to just kinda rap. I've had discussions with Fatzinger over the years, and he and I don't see eye to eye on plenty of things. For one, I live in Tempe, and any town that has Rock-N-Roll Fingers can't be that bad. Fatzinger's not a fan of Crescent Ballroom (though he openly gives respect to Charlie Levy of Stateside Presents on multiple levels), but I think it's a fantastic place to see shows and grab a drink. As the kind of listener who will go wherever a band I want to see is playing, it's nice to have another place I can do so in comfort.
The marquee at the Hole in the Wall at Echo Cloud Production's SxSW showcase.
But while I wasn't on board with a lot of what Fatzinger said, I didn't agree with all of Parasida's blog, either. "I was really taken aback by the insulting comments," she writes. "Primarily, because the musicians I call friends do not speak negatively about each other, especially not anyone else's music."
Really? Almost every musician I have ever spent any amount of time with has problems with other people's music. Few are as open about it as Fatzinger, but find me a musician who hasn't kvetched about someone getting undeservedly paid more than him or her, ripping off another artist's sound, or forgetting to bring the microphones and I'll give you 20 bucks (it's not much, I know).
"Maybe I'm just a rosy-eyed idealist, but I believe in community, not competition," Parasida told me yesterday. We have a choice to continue to build up this amazing music scene, and negativity doesn't help."
Of course, "negativity" is an interesting word to interpret, and Fatzinger doesn't mind honest criticism of his music.
"We certainly have no problem opening our music up to public ridicule, and we don't see how any artist should take issue with criticism if it has any basis in reality," he told me. "The only objective that Former Friends has as a band is to get good. We have an album that just came out, which we are proud of, but we certainly feel like our best is yet to come. We think it only helps us as a band if people contribute their honest opinion about that album, so we certainly encourage people to explore it along with all of the music Phoenix has to offer."
Fatzinger notes that he appreciates plenty of Tempe bands, but that much of their discussion was light-hearted and not meant to be taken seriously. But when it comes to music, he's interested in nothing less than complete honesty.
"I'm a bit baffled as to why, we as musicians [and] artists, are in any way fearful of what we might say or how we might say it," Fatzinger says. "Seems like the antithesis to what we're doing. Why not have an open dialogue about music/art and its validity or lack thereof? Why do we have to tailor what we say to the media? Seems like there should be no place for bureaucracy in art."
"It's not my job to be critical -- someone else can do that," Parasida says. "There are musicians who appreciate that role, and there are people willing to do that -- it's just not going to be me. And, to be honest, if someone else wants to do that, I don't necessarily have a problem with that."
Honest art requires honest criticism. How can all local music be good? How can everything in Phoenix or Tempe rule? It's simply impossible. You can't blame things on where you are. I know it's not as always as simple as this, but if you make the kind of people want to hear really, really well, they'll show up. And if you're bold enough to make the kind of outstanding, creatively demanding music that I love best, you'll have to settle for a musical career of painful obscurity and eventual critical fawning and record re-issues.
Is there really a Phoenix vs. Tempe battle? I dunno, maybe. But this town isn't that big. If a band plays out, it's going to wind up playing both. Hell, Former Friends of Young Americans played Long Wong's the night after our article was printed. A little inter-city competition helps everyone improve, and, honestly, does anyone really take it all that seriously? Would any Tempe band refuse to play a killer night at FilmBar? For that matter, would a Phoenix-based hardcore band not play the right night at the Nile in Mesa or Chasers in Scottsdale?
The Echo Cloud Productions folks are easy to root for. They're passionate, hardworking, and dedicated. They are the kind of tireless "rosy-eyed idealists" any scene needs. But a good scene needs Fatzingers, too, the kind of guys who are going to say stuff that gets folks talking, and even more than that, the kind of guys who makes music that doesn't chase trends or ask for anyone's permission.
A good discussion requires people caring enough to actually state something -- even something uncomfortable and potentially messy.
"I think it's like this," Parasida says. "Sometimes you have to rip everything out of the closet to organize it."
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