Music News

Art imitates Arpaio: Two Phoenix bands find "inspiration" in the sheriff

By Niki D'Andrea

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has inspired many things, but until recently, his impact on the local music scene seemed minimal. But now, at least two Valley bands are using the sheriff as a gimmick for their music -- one has adopted and adapted his name, and another is using his image in violent effigy.

Local hardcore punk band The Prosthetics just released a new seven-inch record, “Count It!” The cover art features a caricature of Joe Arpaio, face-down on a curb with a boot planted on the back of his head. The action captured in the drawing is known as “curbing teeth,” and it’s long been a part of skinhead and white power mythology (particularly after a teeth-curbing scene in the movie American History X).

Prosthetics bassist Gerson Cedillos stresses that skinhead tradition had nothing whatsoever to do with the cover art -- the idea was just to illustrate something horrible happening to the po-po. “It has nothing to do with any kind of racism,” Cedillos says. “Some people from out of state thought it was racist because Arpaio looked like a Jew in the art, because he has a really big nose. And there was that movie, American History X. But it’s not meant to be racist. It was a way to show somebody getting hurt really badly, but not necessarily getting killed. I mean, nobody wants Arpaio to die, but there is a huge amount of animosity toward him.”

Cedillos says the cover, created by Mesa artist Austin Acker, was chosen because it fit with the band’s punk ethos. “We wanted something that was uniquely Phoenix, but can be applied throughout the world,” he says. “You know how punk is -- punk isn’t very police-friendly. It’s very anti-authority.”

And then there’s Phoenix duo Sheriff Joe and the Arpaios, which Chris Coffel and Shawn Severud of The Grassroots Campaign started just two weeks ago, as “a joke band.”

Unlike the frenetic punk of The Prosthetics, Sheriff Joe and the Arpaios’ music isn’t blisteringly fast and loud, taking a quirky, indie pop approach instead. As for their namesake, Coffel says, “Everybody knows Arpaio. He’s not the greatest guy in the world, but everybody knows him, so we figured, why not use him?”

Originally conceived as a comedic spinoff of Flight of the Conchords (the New Zealand duo chronicled in the HBO series of the same name), Sheriff Joe and the Arpaios may now be in it for a longer haul if fans dig their shtick.

“We might try to make this a live band, if people are interested,” Coffel says. “I thought we should dress up like sheriffs, but Shawn wants to wear pink underwear, so we’ll probably do white T-shirts tucked into the pink underwear.”

Coffel’s clearly taking a light-hearted approach to his band’s Arpaio “homage,” but he doesn’t hesitate to follow-up our interview with a quick phone call.

“I just want to add one thing, and it’s really important,” Coffel says. “We do think Joe Arpaio is a douchebag. We just wanna be clear on that.”

The Prosthetics will be performing with Subhumans Friday, April 19, at The Clubhouse Music Venue in Tempe, and with Fleas & Lice on Monday, May 19, at Modified Arts.

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea