When Ari Leopold moved to the Valley last year, he stumbled upon a burgeoning indie rock scene that couldn't be ignored. Well, difficult for him to ignore, anyway.
The Tempe rock scene he fell in love with isn't exactly popular if you're thinking mainstream success. You don't see parents from the suburbs venturing into the dark rock dungeon that is Rogue Bar, just biting at the chance to discover the next big local band. That sort of quaintness makes it underground-friendly, but Leopold thinks it deserves better. It deserves broader.
It deserves exposure.
On Saturday, May 26, the Rolling Blackouts guitarist will begin his first feature-length film project, recording a show at Rogue Bar for Tempe Rocks Your Face, a musical journey through the Tempe (and Tempe only) music scene, featuring bands like TKLB?, Banana Gun, and Japhy's Descent
And no, this has nothing to do with the alleged Tempe vs. Phoenix musical superiority turf war.
Up On the Sun: What sparked the idea to do a film like this?
Leopold: This is the product of countless late-night conversations with friends and musicians about what's next and what would be cool -- to take the quality and intensity we see at these shows and capture it in a series of videos, and then combine it into a movie. Hopefully it will be a good movie. I've made shorts before, but this is my first feature project. And I'm not aspiring toward a film career or anything -- I'm a hobbyist -- and my main interest is the activity itself of making the movie. But it's also symbiotic, because the videos we produce can meanwhile be used by the bands to spread their music to a wider audience.
Most people don't realize the determination and commitment it takes for bands like Japhy's Descent, TKLB?, and Banana Gun to stick together for years, play literally hundreds of shows, and slowly craft a musical set and stage show that works. It's rewarding to be a fan of these bands, they keep delivering great shows and recordings, and show no signs of letting up.
They're doing a good job at their art project. Now my art project is to take what they are doing live at the club, and create something that will deliver a quality experience to someone who has never seen or heard these bands before, who's watching this on their computer at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday.
Obviously, this film is Tempe-centric. Is there a reason you focused solely on Tempe and on Phoenix's other outlying areas? Did it have anything to do with the Phoenix vs. Tempe controversy on our blog recently?
Nope. We've been planning this for months, long before said "controversy." When I moved here last year, I was on the lookout for good local bands, and this Tempe niche is what drew me in. I met most of these people at the Apache Lake Music Festival and I was super-impressed with their music and the culture. Most of them are very nice people, as well, which is nice, but not my priority. I'm interested by this group of people because they "make it happen" and they bring a high-quality product. That's what matters most. There are a bunch of Phoenix bands that I like, too, and I'm hoping this project goes well, so that we can make more installments and include those groups, as well.
You're working toward a feature-length film. Would that just be a bunch of footage of these concerts or would it be something with a story line? Can you give us the details on that?
Once I've got the basic plan, I try not to be too premeditated. I prefer to "shoot first and ask questions later." It's something I learned from making records, when too often I would be upset about good content because it wasn't what we had intended. But I appreciate your question, you're talking about an arc, and, yes, I do agree that good art has an arc, some sort of beginning, middle, and end. And, yes, I do anticipate being mindful of the arc, incorporating some sense of composition into this piece. As far as using one arc to last over an hour, versus a series of shorter arcs spanning the individual sections, we'll see how it goes in editing. We're doing lots of interviews with fans and members of other bands in the scene, so we'll have that footage to intersperse.
Do you feel like the bands in Saturday's lineup are representative of Tempe's music scene as a whole?
Yes. That's why I asked them to participate. Granted, all three of these groups are seasoned over multiple years. It takes at least a hundred shows for a band to become a band. Breakups, personnel changes, trying different sounds -- it takes a while. Many of the current Tempe bands are newer than these three, and in that sense, less congealed. I expect to see more bands reaching this level in the coming months/years, hence my desire to make more films (or at that point, would they be episodes?) capturing these groups' performances when they get to that point. But in terms of the level of talent and diversity of sound, yes, these three bands represent.
Why should fans come out Saturday?
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Actually, we're not promoting much to the general public for the Rogue shoot, this one is more geared to the core fans who are already part of it, who have built the scene into what it currently is. It won't be a typical show, it will actually be a movie shoot, with lights and "cuts!" and "places" and so on. Indeed, it's open to the public, people who've never been to a Tempe show are welcome to join us, and they will certainly enjoy the spectacle, albeit quite a bit different from how shows in this scene usually flow. And of course, if you like dancing and want to be in the movie, then you have to be there.
On a more global level, let me say: This is a cultural phenomenon we have the pleasure to witness because we live in the youngest big city in America, and we are the first generation to forge this subculture. To any of the readers who are just now learning about all this for the first time, you are invited to the party! If not Saturday at the Rogue, then soon enough, you will be at one of these exciting shows, and then you will keep coming back. This is what's hot and this is what's happening right now.