Oddly enough, Celebration Guns has run into some confusion about their name. It comes from a Stars song off their album Your Ex-Lover Is Dead, but when the Phoenix quartet played Michael Feldman’s travelling radio show Whad’Ya Know?, a few members of the aging, liberal crowd raised an eyebrow: “Celebrating guns? Are you folks with the NRA?”
Truth be told, the band doesn’t care much about firearms, but they’re certainly into celebrating. Their stellar indie tunes channel that mid-2000s-era bombast, reminiscent of Arcade Fire or The Appleseed Cast.
Since their formation in mid 2013, Celebration Guns have been busy, gigging hard and often, and releasing two splits with Twin Ponies and B.O.T.S., and two EPs, with a third, The Me That Used to Be, to be released April 8 on vinyl from President Gator Records. Recorded in February 2015 with noted sound engineer Bob Hoag of Flying Blanket Studios, The Me That Used To Be most precisely captures that swelling, turbulent sound Celebration Guns have grown into.
“This is the closest to capturing our sound that we’ve come to,” vocalist and guitarist Justin Weir says. “We’re pretty happy for the most part. There’s not a lot of dark moments in our music, so celebratory, a lot of explosive moments.”'
“Thank You For Your Time” sputters to life with symmetrical rhythms and choppy, sardonic vocals, briefly dissolving into a whirl of high-pitched grooves. With optimistic glockenspiel and soaring crescendos, “The Volunteer” evokes early Vampire Weekend. But as demonstrated in the song’s music video — featuring a jerk driving around Sunnyslope and Tempe ripping people off — the lyrics are confrontational and not a little bitter. The album’s titular track brings it all back, channeling that emotion inward.
While Weir and bassist Ryan Miller have been buds since high school, the rest of the band — drummer Timothy O’Brien and guitarist Christopher Blanco — met via Craigslist. In fact, Blanco came over for tryouts after the previous guy had offered the band a fistful of pills.
“After he bombed the songs, he was like, ‘Hey, you guys want some benzos?’” Weir recalls, emphasizing the stern “no” he gave. “As he walked out, Chris walked in and played everything perfectly.”
The rest is history. In a few short years, the band has become a tight-knit powerhouse, as well as one of the better-known acts around town. Indeed, Celebration Guns have come a long way since their debut EP, Quitter, which was recorded using GarageBand drum loops. Still, even their earliest recordings hint at the mathematical post-rock influences that still shape Celebration Guns today.
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“A big start of this band was me reaching out to Robbie [Pfeffer] from Rubber Brother Records,” Weir explains. “I just randomly went to Cartel to see the Thin Bloods and Numb Bats play a show there — I didn’t know who they were — and they had this whole cassette counter. I thought it was so cool that they had a cassette label.”
Weir soon contacted Rubber Brother, and although their indie roots stood out from the garage rock aesthetic shared by many Rubber Brother bands, Celebration Guns would release often through the label. While bummed that Rubber Brothers stopped being active about a year ago, Weir started his own imprint, Saint Joseph Music & Art Collective. And with plans for their first full-length later in the year, Celebration Guns are losing no momentum.
“We take professionalism seriously as a band … I like the idea of the scene supporting itself,” Weir explains. “It’s important to us to know what other bands are up to, to develop relationships with them and not just show up, do our own thing and ignore everything else that’s going on. [We] actually promote ourselves and reach out and do things instead of sitting around waiting for something to happen.”
Celebrations Guns are scheduled to play Crescent Ballroom on Friday, April 8.