Music News

Black Cactus Records Is Serious

The Black Cactus Records gang is fed up. They're annoyed by the brash young hotheads who fancy themselves rock stars. They hate the dudes given to asinine behavior on stage and off. They're done with excessive drinking and drug use. They've had enough of bands flaking out on gigs, showing up late, and having to bum an ax because they forgot to pack their gear. They're ready for something different.

The question: How is that gonna go over with everyone else?

Black Cactus Records is a collaborative, collective effort that includes musicians, sound guys, songwriters, and DJs who espouse a common work ethic. They wanted to form a cooperative record label because, they say, the rest of the music community doesn't take its job seriously enough.

A little self-righteous? Maybe. But in a super-genuine way.

The Black Cactus clique includes Former Friends of Young Americans, Tremulants, The Necronauts, The Premiere, and Lisa Savidge. Their bond is not aesthetic: Musically, the bands sorta run the indie-rock gamut, from punk to shoegaze and back. Rather, it's about the bands' similarly disheartening experiences in the local scene.

They have the standard complaints, mostly trouble booking and promoting shows. But rather than bitch, they decided to pool their time, energy, and resources, hoping to help themselves and — just maybe — the Phoenix scene.

The Cacti are mostly Tony Robbins types — at least on the surface. There's a congenial, encouraging spirit to the collective, and they preach the gospel of positivism and mutual aid. (Also worth mentioning: Because Black Cactus operates as a quasi-socialist operation, the group is hesitant to say anything on the record without first formally voting on it — so please excuse the lack of direct quotes throughout this piece.)

In any "in" group worth its salt, there are also outsiders. In this case, that means popular Phoenix bands who don't meet their standards for professionalism. Acts that have canceled shows at the last minute, not followed their start and stop times, or come across as egotistical and entitled.

In other words: bands kinda like Hooves.

New Times readers may remember Hooves as the band who notoriously got kicked out of a charity bowling event (and were banned forever from the alley) for their drunken antics, which included (but were not limited to) throwing four balls down the lane at the same time and tossing a ball at the manager. Hooves have become notorious for such shenanigans, and fans (read: our staff) are endlessly entertained by both their music and their mischief.

But, hey, we're at a safe distance.

"Hooves are some of the worst people I've ever met," says Toby Fatzinger of Former Friends of Young Americans.

Fatzinger burns with rage as he recounts a story of the time the two bands played a show together in the tiny town of Cottonwood. Hooves, it seems, completely trashed a hotel room. Toby and company watched an elderly cleaning woman wiping away tears, wounded by the degrading task of cleaning up their mess.

That's not cool in the Black Cactus camp.

Another example of how the Cactus dudes act like anti-stars: They treat sound guys like human beings. Acknowledging that doing the D.I.Y. thing successfully requires unsung heroes, the collective counts sound engineer Jalipaz Nelson, owner of Audioconfusion, among its fully accredited members. Actually, Nelson not only records and masters Black Cactus material, but he writes press releases and printed material for the collective as well.

He's not the only one pitching in offstage. They've actually got, collectively, a skill set similar to what you'd need to run an actual label. Necronauts' frontman Billy Goodman is a graphic designer, David Jackman of The Premiere knows how to handle street promotion, and Nick Gortari of Lisa Savidge works as a software engineer by day, so he helps with websites.

Talking to the guys is like overdosing on earnestness. They seem to sincerely believe that everyone involved has something unique to contribute, and that the sum is greater than the parts. And it's all about the art.

"Starting a band to get rich is like joining the priesthood to get laid," says Dan Somers of Lisa Savidge.

Maybe the adjusted attitude comes from the fact that the dudes are a little older than the usual local band types. The Cactus clan varies in age, but skews toward "I was old enough to vividly remember watching Michael moonwalk for the first time." One of the members is a 27-year-old Iraq war veteran. Another — who would not reveal his age — is the live-in grounds keeper at a local Catholic church. He landed the job while he went to the church for support group meetings related to his drug addiction. (We didn't press further.)

So, yeah, you get the impression they've seen some shit. And that gives them empathy for, say, an old woman who discovers that running a hotel in her golden years is not quite as glamorous as it sounds.

Where do they go from here? This is where they seem so much like their less-professional peers. They, of course, have big plans and bigger dreams.

First, they're putting out a compilation CD featuring all the bands participating in the co-op. Then they would like to host out-of-town bands (while providing the openers from their stable, natch) as a way to build relationships between the Phoenix music scene and that of other cities.

Not that they aspire to leave:

"Anytime someone gets big, they abandon Phoenix," says Nelson.

"If I had to live the rest of my life listening to only bands from one city, I could do it with Phoenix," says Dan Somers of Lisa Savidge.

On the other hand, they're not protective of Arizona's sacred cows:

"The Gin Blossoms sounded like no part of Arizona that I wanted to be from," says Fatzinger.

In the meantime, they're also working the communism thing. Fidel would be proud: All the cash that Black Cactus acts make goes back into the operational costs, collectively helping every band involved. Eventually, they'd like to purchase a generator so that they can host extemporaneous concerts in the desert. They also expect to help fund their bands, the CDs, and any other press needed to make their endeavors successful.

They will not be spending the money on professional recording — they also show some distrust for studios. Most professional producers and sound engineers try to put their own stamp on the sound, claims Lisa Savidge's Gortari.

"If I had a free ride at Flying Blanket, I wouldn't take it," he says, referring to Bob Hoag's highly respected Mesa studio, where many of the biggest acts in town lay down tracks.

Given all that information, you can probably guess what they think about music labels. The consensus is that labels are not beneficial to young bands. They're lazy, the guys claim. There are plenty of talented, hard-working bands that are ignored by labels, both major and indie. Considering all the work a band has to do to prove that it has enough money and fans to get signed, these guys figure, why not do it on our own?

Stay tuned for the results.

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Sarah Ventre