The Making of the Phoenix Metal Scene: A Peek at the Men and Women Behind the Curtain

Alice Cooper is one of Phoenix's proud residents;
Alice Cooper is one of Phoenix's proud residents;
Maria Vassett

There's a lot to love within our fiery little corner of the rock and metal industry.

We've thelped breed some pretty legendary bands, like Sacred Reich, Flotsam and Jetsam, Job for a Cowboy, and Alice Cooper, to name a few. We have dozens of brutally talented underground bands, from melodic death metal (Vehemence, St. Madness), sludge and doom metal (From Dogs to Wolves, Tempel), thrash and psychedelic metal (Black Banner Dovichenko, Pelvic Meatloaf), as well as such events as Southwest Terror Fest and the Fuck Cancer benefit. Plus, back in 2012, Heavy Metal Television decided to plant roots in Mesa.

The rock and metal scene in Arizona is alive and well. And that is a direct result of a group of behind-the-scenes folks who keep the whole thing running.

Every month, the calendar is packed with shows. Bands regularly tour and record in the Valley of the Sun because we have a strong population of industry professionals. These professionals, from producers to club owners to promoters, are the very people that keep the local scene running like a well-oiled machine, dedicating their time and money to promoting the hell out of the Arizona heavy scene. It would be impossible to highlight every single person who contributes to the behind-the-scenes aspect, as there are many noteworthy figures and companies.

There's Donny Johnson at the Marquee, Charlie Levy of Stateside Presents, and the Mantooth Group, in charge of booking and managing The Nile Theater, The Underground and 51West, also occasionally booking shows at Yucca Tap Room. Joe Grotto, the owner of one of my favorite venues -- aptly named Joe's Grotto -- is all about supporting local metal. On any given weekend you can find some major national acts, or local bands' anniversary parties and CD releases on the stage that just recently allowed moshing back into the game. The venue also just started up a "Metal Tuesdays," where you can bring in your favorite metal CD or just show up and jam.

Joe's is host to all the shows promoted by Mosh Pit Army, a production company with a strong presence in the Valley; you're bound to see a patron at any given metal show wearing one of their shirts. Oh yeah -- and at any of these shows, you're bound to see the production crew from Heavy Metal Television, whether they are interviewing one of the rockers or just rocking out themselves.

And I can't leave out No Cover Phoenix, a market of No Cover magazine that sponsors a bunch of local metal. Event coordinator Michelle Leach and editor Janet Blankenship (aka. Phoenix Amazon), can always be counted upon to show up at any metal show on any given night, and put tremendous effort into promoting local metal.

Another noteworthy lady in the metal scene comes from 13th Floor Entertainment, a production company owned by the lovely Kim LaRowe. From larger acts like Flotsam and Jetsam, Corrosion of Conformity and Crowbar (all upcoming shows), to CD release shows for local bands, 13th Floor helps organize dozens of acts a month at venues like Club Red and The Nile. LaRowe has worked in the industry since '94, has managed an array of bands, and the venues on her resume she helped book include the classics Mason Jar, Brickhouse and The Sets.

"We have a great scene despite people who try to tear it down," says LaRowe. "There are many high-caliber, hard-working and very professional bands and venues out here." She goes on to add that the amount of behind-the-scenes professionals is vast, too. "I could go on forever. Kimber Lanning, the owner of Stinkweeds, formerly of Modified, Will Anderson. He doesn't live here now but has always been a huge supporter of the local music scene working for AMJ, Luckyman & now The Kollective. Michelle over at Mantooth. Marcus Meng at Kupd, Nancy [Stevens] at Pub Rock/KUPD."

Stevens, is the owner of Pub Rock Live, which is also home to the KUKQ radio station. She produces some radio festivals that several local rock bands play on, such as UFest, Desert Uprising, and others.

She moved to Phoenix in 1989 and has been in the music/radio scene ever since, but in the last five years at KUPD she had a chance to really work with a few of the heavier local acts.

"I think out of all the different genres in Phoenix, I have noticed that the local metal scene seems to promote and support each other better than anyone," says Stevens. "It takes a revolution these days to get noticed as a young band."

Very true, as booker/promoter Stephen Chilton can attest to. He's dedicated to getting those names out there, but if you attended such highly anticipated shows as Ghost BC, Amon Amarth, Children of Bodom, Black Flag or The Sword in the last year, you have him to thank.

Chilton, who you might know better as "Psyko Steve," promotes and books about 150 concerts every year throughout Arizona. While he books everything from country and indie rock to punk and metal, any metalhead in the Valley knows that they can count on Steve to put on regular heavy metal shows each and every month.

"I started booking DIY shows here and there for friends in 2000, doing street team stuff for different venues, and gradually that grew into a career," explains Steve. "Since high school, every job I have had has been some how been related to promoting music and art."  

He went on to handle marketing for Stateside Presents and The Crescent Ballroom, and then started Psyko Steve Presents. In the last year he not only produced shows for the shows mentioned above, there's also Baroness, Red Fang and Every Time I Die, and he's currently he is promoting shows for Senses Fail, Skeletonwitch, Eluveitie, Tyr, Anberlin and comedian Brian Posehn, a strong fixture in the horror and heavy metal world.

Speaking of which, I can't mention heavy metal and horror in the same sentence without thinking of Kill Death Productions.

Manni Jimenez founded the company in 2012, fully committed to bringing the best bands out from the underground scene. With a business name rooted in Venom lyrics, his story is a great example of how music helps heal.

"Kill Death Productions basically started out of depression when I was going through a really hard time, and one day I was sitting at my table listening to Venom and thinking," explains Jimenez. "Then it came to me that the metal scene in Arizona was really falling down. Promoters in the state weren't really giving local bands a place to shine or to show what they have. My main focus is to keep it local and support the scene as much as I can. I'm a one-person promotion company."

While Kill Death Productions first started out with a sole focus on death metal, Jimenez has now opened his mind to different genres within the metal community, like thrash, punk, rock, and heavy rock.

"It's great to know I can be the person who actually helps get these bands on bills in Arizona. I focus on almost all local and the southwest region of the U.S., like California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona," explains Jimenez. "But I have booked bands from Europe and the East Coast."

Record producer, mixer and engineer Jeremy Parker has also worked with bands from all over the country.

A few years back when I was writing a piece on the Dead Eyes of London, I found myself at Parker's house. He was working with the band on their new album, and as we sat there he played me some new music from a few other bands he had just worked with recently; just little names like Hell Yeah and Mudvayne.

For the better part of the past 15 years, he has worked as a freelance mercenary, traveling the country to work with an array of popular bands and musicians, including Evanescence, Disturbed, Slipknot, Trivium, Nonpoint, and local bands such as Black Metal Box, Black Bottom Lighters, Signs of Betrayal, Frequis, Redfield, and Fivespeed.

Now he's poised to expand in the local scene even more, recently opening a Tempe recording studio with Frequis guitarist Chris Nastri and his studio manager Krista Nealy.

"I've done so much work in the absolute best studios in the world, but over the past few years the technology has really changed it all," explains Parker. "Rarely does a band of any size do a big two- to three-month booking in a big studio anymore. Everyone's moved into tracking in more cost-efficient surroundings. Our studio is a little more unique then regular studios, and completely different in that we do not just book anybody that wants to put some time on the books. Might sound like a bad business model to turn down business, but you have to like the people you're working with. This entire thing is such a labor of love."  

A labor of love indeed. As venue owner Nancy Stevens knows, with so many live music venues closing within the past few months, it's important to keep the scene alive and promote support. When speaking with these behind-the-scenes pros, she's also quick to give praise to their colleagues.

"There are numerous radio shows that support the metal scene, whether is Marcus Meng with Into the Pit on 98KUPD or any internet radio host who supports local/national metal, and also the writers and supporters thru print/web who continue to support our scene such as yourself, No Cover Mag and Heavy Metal Television," says Stevens. "Basically anyone who provides an outlet for music is vital to this community.

LaRowe thinks that radio and press help, but the metal scene does fine with or without that.

"There used to be more local radio shows on the major stations but that kind of fizzled out. Marcus Meng does play locals on Into The Pit so I'm glad for that," she adds.

"Charlie Levy from Stateside/Crescent Ballroom/Viva Phoenix -- no one in town is producing more great shows than he is. I am excited for the improvements Kim is making at the new Club Red," chimes in Psyko Steve. "And Kimber at Stinkweeds has been a mentor for more bands and artists than can be counted, myself included. There are so many great people in Phoenix that I work with every day it would be impossible to name them all."

It's important to point out that the majority of people who work behind-the-scenes in music never start out based on the vision of huge paychecks. It's all about the love for the music -- and they all have some local favorites. Jimenez lists of personal favorite bands include technical death metal act Singularity, St. Madness, Vehemence, Meat Hook, and Warhead, the latter of which brings quite the crowd whenever he books them. Psyko Steve is helping Take Over And Destroy and Sorxe do a joint album release show next month [August 16], and he's excited for new music from Landmine Marathon. And Nancy has been a fan of Man Made Machine since they were "young chaps," watching them grow musically over the past 10 years.

Parker has his own mantra that he ensures to tell the bands he works with:

"Listen to your own material as a fan, and stop thinking about who wrote the song or part or any other factor. Evaluate it honestly, and if it doesn't keep your attention from beginning to end, tear it apart until it does. You get an entire set of songs that knock people over, you'll be a legend."

While Psyko Steve, LaRowe, Stevens, Parker and Jimenez definitely agree that the Valley scene has flourished immensely in recent years, they all attest that there's still a lot to improve upon.

"I think the entire pay-to-play ticket sell scam has really hurt the scene. A good band needs time to write & rehearse," explains Parker. "Then on top of that and their other job, now they gotta hustle around Phoenix and deliver tickets? I think it's insulting to tell these local bands to sell a ticket for 10-15 bucks, and then only cut them in at two bucks a ticket. There are other venues in this nation that actually give 100 percent of the cover charge to the entertainment -- you know, the reason on these people are in your bar."

Adds Stevens, "What I have said since day one about the local scene is 'this is not an easy street, you need to dig hard, never give up and always support other local bands so the scene does not die.'"

So next time you're checking out your favorite local metal band or listening to a new record, take a second to think about the group of people who made it happen. Support these companies and venues that take pride in our little slice of heavy metal and hard rock heaven. And of course, continue to rock out to the music.

"Any scene will always be defined by the bands in it. We need to see more bands taking their art seriously. More bands working to create the best music they can, and more artists working to make sure it is heard," claims Chilton. "At the end of the day, no one comes to see promoters or venues or sound guys. People will come to see great music, to be inspired."

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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