Music News

Comp Romp

It's back to the Dark Ages for me lately, having recently killed off both my cable TV and Internet access at home. I dropped them and went medieval for two reasons -- to save some money, but also to keep my ass from watching CNN or Fox News eight hours a day, maybe read some books instead.

I've got everything I need technology-wise at work, but it's still been a sacrifice. No more porn on demand, no more online poker games, and, perhaps worst of all, no more leisure time catching up on the gossip on Luckily, though, the third edition of the compilation CD is about to hit a record-store shelf near you, and the impresarios behind the Web site were kind enough to hit me off with one in advance to sate my withdrawal.

I've mentioned my affinity for the AZPunk Web site before; I'm mostly enthralled with the site's message board, where the 20,000-plus members trade barbs, pimp shows, and talk shit. It's also a comprehensive resource database, where bands can post their bios, venues can book bands, and promoters can hook up shows. But the site's founders, Chris Lawson, Bryan Sandell and Micah Elliot, haven't limited their philanthropy to screenheads. For the past three years, AZPunk has sponsored a local band stage at the Warped Tour, which provides a welcomed respite from the homogenized pap that usually graces the main stage of the festival. Additionally, the formidable trio has put out the AZPunk compilation series, the third of which drops this Saturday, November 13.

Lawson, Sandell and Elliot were nice enough to vacate their keyboards and monitors and spend some time talking to me about the new compilation and the Web site over beers (Crown Royal for Elliot) at Casey Moore's on a recent fall evening. At 33, Lawson is the oldest of the trio, and he's also the mastermind behind, which boasts a database of more than 45,000 songs ("We're hoping for a copy of that hard drive for Christmas," Sandell told me). Sandell, 27, and Elliot, 25, also have musical endeavors outside AZPunk, playing in the Last Action Zeros and Family Secret, respectively.

The 'Nix's trinity of punk rock spent several months sorting through the 100 or so song submissions they received for inclusion on this latest installment, AZPunk.comp V3. As a result, about three-fourths of the bands on V3 are new to the compilation series, quite an accomplishment considering that this edition has 35 songs, the previous had 34, and the first had 30.

"We don't always go for the best sounding," Sandell said of the vetting process. "We're all locals, nobody has any money, so if it's a good song and you can hear everything on it, it's got a really good chance of getting on the comp. We try to pack them on."

The comps are also AZPunk's primary moneymaker, though at a retail price of just three bucks a pop, it's obvious no one's getting rich. When I jokingly ask them if AZPunk's popularity has translated into big money, Sandell sarcastically replies, "Yeah, we're all driving Bentleys. I just got off work -- I don't know what you're talking about."

Still, the compilations provide the sorely needed capital to pull off events like the Warped Tour stage, the sporadic AZPunkaholic meetings, and merchandise printing. "A lot of times our initial sales almost get the comp paid off," Elliot tells me. With runs of 2,500 copies each, that's saying something. The trio proudly reports that the last compilation was on Zia Records' Top 10 list for almost a year.

The compilations provide an opportunity to trace the trends in local punk rock. As Elliot explains, the first one "was kind of at the end of that pop-punk phase, so the first comp has a lot of pop-punk kind of sounds. The second one got a little harder, and this one's definitely the hardest out of them all. 'Punk rock 'n' roll' is what I call this comp."

Indeed, V3 is a lot more rock-oriented than its predecessors, with nary a pop-punk or screamo band among its inhabitants. It's got the recently resurrected Fuck You Ups, from Tempe, doing a rollicking, whiskey-soaked rocker called "Deadbeats." My favorite macabre spook-rocker brothers Calabrese contribute an uncharacteristically hard track called "One of Us."

A couple of bands that don't really need the exposure were included as well; the legendary Jeff Dahl Band throwing down a midtempo barrage called "Dense Pack," and Mesa's Authority Zero dropping "Broken Dreams."

Casket Life, which has an LP soon to drop on local Stomping Ground records, also made the cut, as did local favorites Smoky Mountain Skullbusters, Oktober, and Stood Up Shot Down.

With the success of the three budget-minded comps, I naturally wondered if the AZPunk triumvirate has any interest in expanding their endeavors to putting out single bands' records, and making some real money.

"It would kind of ruin what we're doing here," Sandell replied.

"We'd probably burn some bridges that way," Lawson added. "We try to stay as open as possible to all bands."

"Yeah, that's the main focus, being the entity that combines everybody together," said Elliot.

I should have known better. is like our own punk-rock utopia, where everyone's equal and has access to the same resources. And though I currently can't spend unlimited time browsing through the site, I have V3 in my CD player, like a security blanket.

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Brendan Joel Kelley