People complaining that there’s no good music in Phoenix might as well be saying, “I am a lame-ass person who would rather make a generic blanket statement than go out my front door and prove myself wrong.”
Because if you’re saying that, you are missing the hell out. Not only is there a giant and rich musical history here, there are always a ton of new bands popping up, as well as established acts keeping their things going.
All those good sounds abounding have inspired record labels to form, in order to capture the works of local talent, as well as sonic offerings from all over the globe. We made a list of several area based labels – 11 of ‘em – so that you can pour some goodness into your ears and plump up your record ‘n’ tape collections.
Straight outta Sunnyslope, Thomas Lopez started the label as a hobby and it's now evolved into a very active and continuously growing label. “Phoenix,” he says, “is all grown up now, and the current music scene is refreshing. I am happy to be documenting some of the artists from Arizona.” Though the label may have originated from a deep love of punk rock, Lopez is interested in many genres and wants the label to reflect that.
You’ll find punk pioneers on the label, like Mighty Sphincter and Feederz, as well as newer bands like Christian Family, Scorpion Vs. Tarantula, and Father Figures. Lopez is looking forward to some upcoming releases from outside of town, like The Cocky Bitches, a side project of Paul Leary from the most glorious of noisy weirdos, The Butthole Surfers.
This label was started in 2013 by local musician Ryan Avery, who is involved in a variety of bands including Father’s Day and Drunk ‘n’ Horny. He also was the subject of the 2008 film Hi, My Name is Ryan, whose title is also the name of another of his musical projects.
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Avery started the label to “put out music from artists that I believe in and want other people to get into.” Everything he outputs comes out in a limited release of less than 500 copies.
His choices definitely lean on the quirkier, more inventive sides of indie rock. The Aquabats “Cadet Beach Party” cassette, for one. The band gave him an unofficial thumbs-up to put his out, and why wouldn’t he go for it? The unique recording by these California rockers that incorporate ska and New Wave is from a campfire show they did in 2001. Treasure Mamma, Space Alien Donald, and Quintron & Miss Pussycat are some of the other acts that have Related releases available.
This locally based label has been focused on outputting Native American music since 1951, when it was founded by Ray and Mary Boley. Long before hipsters began setting up shop in downtown Phoenix, this pair had a recording studio on Seventh Avenue and Roosevelt Street in 1948. They first recorded Navajo singer, Ed Lee Natay for the record Natay, Navajo Singer – an album that is still an active release in their catalog. The label has changed hands since then, but this legendary home for so many artists has consistently flourished, releasing new material atop its rich history. Jay Silverheels, Stoney Park Singers, and Thomas Duran, Jr. are just a few of the many artists whose work you can find under the Canyon umbrella.
James Fella’s label started in 2004 as a response to seeing bands he liked, both local and beyond, come and go without any recordings. With a penchant for experimental music and the sonically non-mainstream, Fella’s first three releases were 7-inch singles for the Arizona band Reindeer Tiger Team, California’s Night Wounds, and Woods from NYC. To date, Gilgongo has put out more than 100 releases by established and lesser-known performers and groups. There’s Shearing Pinks, Olivia Neutron-John, Vial of Sound, and Cherie Cherie. Fella also has released music from his own projects, like Soft Shoulder. The label is also hosts an online mail-order component that's strictly curated by Fella and sold via record website Discogs.
President Gator founder Jeremiah Gratza says the main focus of this label is “to show the best of what Arizona has to offer, regardless of genre." Each release is different and represents everything from country and hip-hop to punk. The label is starting to expand to include national artists, including So-Cal's Sam Outlaw. Gratza also tells us there’s a couple other brand-new releases in the works, only no one can know about one of them, ‘cause it's top secret. One he did mention, though, is a 7-inch of Tony Martinez’s song “Lonely Has a New Name,” which was co-produced in Nashville with YelaWolf.
Warped Your Records
Pennsylvania transplant Colin Bauer has only been in Arizona for a couple of years, but he's kept plenty busy. Not only is he making music with the band he’s in, The Expos, he formed Warped Your Records, which now has over 20 releases to its name. He also just wrapped up the second annual Warped Your Fest, featuring a lot of label bands. Lathe-cut vinyl, cassettes, and digital albums are some of the ways you can enjoy Warped Your Closet Goth, Harrison Huffman, Diners, and Cody Smith.
Moone Records definitely has a flair for the poetic, whatever the sound behind it might be. The label's artists include Lonna Kelley, who performs solo as well as in bands Cherie Cherie and Giant Sand. Her voice is lush and heart-moving. On the roster, you'll also find soulful pop-rockers Pro Teens, and Gene Tripp, with his stark, often chilling, alt-country.
Sunnyslope may be just one section of town, but it sure boasts a lot of music supporters. Onus is based there and operates with the mission “Make music, not money.” With their positive focus, the label has put out a lot of interesting rock and roll. There’s rock with a psychedelic edge, like No Volcano’s acclaimed release, Dead Horse Power. The Eleven Forties, Breakup Society, and Lonesome Wilderness are other notable bands you can find in their artist roster.
If you like synth-y dance music with trance-inducing hypnotic edges, you'll wanna get acquainted with Ascetic House. Marshstepper, Body of Light, and Glochids are a few of the acts you'll find in their catalog. Founders J.S. Aurelius and Alexander Jarson have previously told New Times that they see Ascetic House as more of a collective based on their interests and philosophies than a record label. Other bands with releases on this label include Somali Extract, Soren Roi, Deep Pill, and Granite Mask.
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Founded by David Hilker in 1989, Fervor started with the mission of showcasing local musicians while raising money for the homeless community. Now, Fervor is home to a broad range of artists, from new and upcoming indie bands to rare music from the 1920s – and you thought the ‘80s was a long time ago It’s an interesting blend of releases. There’s classic Phoenix New Wave from Gentlemen Afterdark, some ‘90s hip-hop by Phunklogistix, and metal from Tampa’s Lucian Blaque. One exciting happening around the Fervor headquarters this fall is the release of the new Pistoleros record, Silver, which marks the band's 25th anniversary. The band features brothers Lawrence and Mark Zubia, two anchors of the Mill Avenue music scene that exploded in the '90s.
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This Mesa-based label is owned by Chuckie Duff, who has his hands in a lot of musical pies. He’s the former bassist of Dear and the Headlights and also co-owns the popular Flying Blanket Recording Studios with another musician and engineer, Bob Hoag. Rock and roll acts that play by different rules are on Common Wall’s artist list, like Snake! Snake! Snakes!, El Sonida de Reposa, Gospel Claws, and Before Braille.