Donald Martinez eagerly leans into a thick slab of steak with plenty of nuclear-grade horseradish. In wire-frame glasses and a button-down shirt, the slight, dark-haired musician has the kind of pale skin cultivated from long hours spent in front of a computer screen and inside rock clubs. Aside from his hearty appetite, nothing about his appearance gives away the fact that growing up in small-town New Mexico, Martinez had the buff build of a wrestler.
"I thought I wanted to be a jock," he says with an easygoing laugh. "All my classes were going to be weight training." Then he took up the trumpet and guitar, and dropped weight training for jazz and concert band.
These days, Martinez still does his share of heavy lifting, but it's the Phoenix indie rock scene he's carrying.
At 30, Martinez is enjoying modest success with his band, the Budget Sinatra, and even more luck with a Web site called TheShizz.org. And he's one of the most influential characters in Arizona music.
Martinez bought the domain name (an inside joke between Martinez and his work buddies, who used to say, "That's the Shizz!") and didn't do anything with it for a year, before he finally used it to post directions to the debut show for his band in December 2001. At first, he just added links for bands he liked or whose members he was friendly with, and, over time, bands started contacting him directly to ask for links to their home pages. Last year, Martinez even released a Shizz compilation CD, which wasn't much of a moneymaking venture (only 1,000 CDs were pressed) but was definitely a community-building one. All 12 participating bands pitched in to pay for production costs, and all got an equal number of CDs to sell. It was such a hit that Martinez is already under pressure to put out another.
The Web site has grown from a modest links page to the online epicenter of a flourishing community of indie bands from all over Arizona. Thanks to the exposure from the Shizz, sometimes these bands even get a bigger local draw than touring national acts. And along with a busy discussion board -- where scenesters chat about not just music, but topics like "The Flu," "i'm starving," or "If you hate Bill O'Reilly" -- the main page has links to a dozen and a half groups, hand-picked by Martinez, that span a number of genres but all have one thing in common: Even away from the Internet, they're now known across the Valley as "Shizz bands."
"I never expected this," says Martinez. "People are calling each other Shizzies and Shizzites, and it's blowing me away."
But being the man behind the Shizz hasn't gone to his head. He still posts messages to the general forum that read like personal notes. ("Sorry to anyone who has tried to get a hold of me in the last week, I have been out of town. . . . I will be on later tonight to see what crazy stuff you guys have been up to the last week and to check out all the drama that has ensued.")
Indeed, Martinez runs the Shizz like it's a giant circle of friends -- one that's getting bigger all the time. And it all started with one friend he made in jazz band on the first day of college in Alamogordo, New Mexico: Mike Montoya, who's now well-known in Phoenix for his eclectic, Latin-tinged rock band Fatigo. Looking back, that new friendship was the start of Martinez's six degrees of separation -- or less -- from so many local bands.
Martinez and Montoya were in several projects during college. "We were in a Tejano band together, we were in a blues band -- anything musical that we could get into, we got into. In a small town, there's not much to do, so if you set up a show, everybody goes," says Martinez.
In 1996, Martinez moved to the Valley, and Montoya followed in 1997. They re-formed their old band, Travolta, whose Mr. Bungle-inspired time signatures didn't fit with the jangly Gin Blossoms sound that was big at the time. That wasn't such a big deal. To Martinez, the greater disappointment was finding out that so many Valley bands didn't stick together like he'd hoped.
"There was no camaraderie. It wasn't like, `Oh, we're playing a show together -- really cool,'" Martinez says. "I hated the scene for a while. I couldn't believe it. In Alamogordo, there were like four bands in the whole town, and we all supported each other and would go to each other's shows -- everything together."
After a couple of years had passed, Martinez was finally able to re-create that kind of support, thanks to like-minded friends and friends of friends, including members of Fatigo, the Minibosses, and Vin-Fiz. Hanging out with those bands, he met Dana Stern and Ben Baraldi, who became the singer/guitarist and drummer, respectively, of the Budget Sinatra. In short, the Shizz -- or at least, the spirit of the Shizz -- was in the works well before it had a name or a Web site.
You'd expect the Budget Sinatra to get the biggest Shizz benefits of all, but that isn't exactly the case, explains Baraldi, who also plays guitar in the Minibosses, a band that's been getting a lot of attention lately. "We're so careful not to abuse anything, between Minibosses and the Shizz, that we're one of the most removed bands," he says. "And there's not much favoritism on the Shizz anyway."
It's certainly taken on a life of its own. Stern says that she's seen the forum evolve a lot even in the past year, with new waves of people coming in all the time. "There's kind of something for everybody. A lot of people have made some pretty good friends out of it, too. I mean, I know people get together and hang out. Also, it helps everybody network," she says.
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The Shizz has kept things so hectic for Martinez that the three-year-old Budget Sinatra didn't even release its first demo EP, Either Way I Win, until earlier this month.
Along with the Web site, Martinez has been increasingly busy booking shows at local venues such as Modified Arts, Hollywood Alley, Emerald Lounge and the Brickhouse, as well as private, under-the-radar gigs in a warehouse space. The close-knit crowd that formed around the Shizz created an instant audience for both local acts and popular Arizonan out-of-towners, such as Flagstaff's I Hate You When You're Pregnant, a confrontational, Speedo-clad one-man band with a cult following. These days, Martinez has branched out to booking non-Shizz bands and even national touring acts.
But don't worry about the Shizz going national, too. Martinez says that adding non-Arizona bands to the site would dilute it, so he's going to try to keep it as local as possible, focusing support on in-state bands. "I think we need all the support we can get," he says. "I think people need to know about this place."
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