How Five Phoenix Musicians Have Practiced for the Return of Concerts

No Refills take their time together quite seriously.
No Refills take their time together quite seriously. No Refills
Venues Valley-wide are booking shows well into early 2022. It's a great change of pace, even if we all aren't out of the woods quite yet. But amid the many preparations, there's one component that's mentioned less than some others: band practice. After 18-ish months with few or even zero gigs, local artists are having to get back into performance-ready status pronto. So, how do they prepare, and does it at all look like a training montage from Rocky? We asked five local artists to share how they practice and how it's been shaped out both pre- and post-COVID. Here's hoping all that hard works pays off come showtime.

Quotes have been edited for clarity.

No Refills

Testing the Waters: We have always practiced twice a week, but during COVID, we were down to about once a month as we all needed to get a negative test back before practice. The wait times for getting results varied a lot early on.

Getting Going: Post-vaccinations, we are back up to practicing once a week, but hope to add the additional day as soon as we are clear to perform again (we are hoping to start booking in the fall to ensure we don't add to the problem).

A Whole Process: Practice means more now than it would if we were preparing for shows as we have used the months following vaccination as time to write new music, reflect on previous material, and even rewrite and fine-tune some of our personal favorite tracks that didn't make it past the demo process to be recorded professionally.

The Power of Cohesion: When we find ourselves falling behind on our practice schedule, it shows in the music. Even stepping away for a week or two greatly affects our togetherness throughout each song. That "tight" sound just gets lost when you break routine. With less practice, we sound less like a band and more like three musicians just sort of jamming to their songs.

The Dual Approach: We have two types of practices: One revolves around tightening a setlist for a performance, while the other is focused on writing. When we do not have shows lined up, we focus on the writing sessions and only use a few of our existing songs to warm up.

Beverages Required: Beer is a must-have at every No Refills practice. It just wouldn't feel the same without it.

Be Prepared: Matt [Bacsalmasi] and Tyler [Drosendahl] both sing, so they have vocal warm-up routines that they typically do — it definitely shows when one of them does not warm up prior to practice.

Working Hard: If we know we have a performance scheduled, our practice looks and feels like a performance (minus the banter between songs). But if we are just writing, then it is a very relaxed practice that feels more like going to the pub with your friends than actual "work."

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Veronica Everheart leads a full band.
Alyssa Song.

Veronica Everheart

A Band Thing: Before COVID, my band and I would consistently practice, probably about once a week. In early 2020, I finally had a full band consisting of a backup vocal/additional guitarist (Jessie Wickersham), keyboard player (Shamika Moore), bassist (Noah Nacinovich), and drummer (Connor Adams). We were preparing to play a few shows right before the pandemic. However, because of COVID we weren’t able to play, and with the uncertainty of live music, practices fell by the wayside.

Up and Running: Now that live music is back, my band and I had the chance to finally play as a full five-piece. We played a couple times at Rebel [Lounge] and the turnout was amazing. I'm really lucky that I had the opportunity to play with them before going to college on the East Coast.

Making The Most of It: Our practices had more riding on them since I knew our time together was limited. I think the knowledge of me moving pressured us to work harder and perfect our parts for the handful of shows we did have together.

The Organic Approach: Practice is key for anything, especially in a group of people. Even if you don’t have any upcoming shows, now that we are (hopefully) moving past COVID, there is always a chance one may spring up on you. It’s important to not get rusty and strengthen your bond with your bandmates. Practice can also give you the opportunity to flesh out new ideas and receive feedback.

Building Up Muscles: Since I am technically a solo act in the sense that I write all of the music and book the shows, I’m constantly practicing. However, when there wasn’t the promise of any live music during COVID, my band and I didn’t really practice. I didn’t even practice my songs alone, since they’re somewhat drilled into my brain. I kind of regret that, though.

Getting Weird: My bandmates and I like to have fun. We joke around, take breaks when needed, and have snacks and whatnot. It feels more like a hangout with music being played occasionally. It always gets done though, even though we’re having fun. If something really needs help, we work on it.

Sweet Treats: I guess the routine of packing and unpacking is always the same. The dread of dragging my 40-pound amp in and out of my trunk in the 115-degree heat is always there until it’s winter. Iced coffee is always involved, and most of us eat a lot of Salad and Go during practice, too.

All Charged Up: What people at our shows see is much more energetic than practice. We practice in our drummer's house [Connor Adam]. It’s a pretty small room after you fit all the equipment and five people inside, so there isn’t much room to be the way I am on stage. That’s okay, though, and I like to save that energy for an audience, anyway.

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AJJ face logistical challenges during practice.
Steph Carrico

Ben Gallaty, AJJ

Logistics Galore: We would typically get together for two to four rehearsals in the days prior to a big show or tour. Since we have members in different cities and states, it is difficult to practice more often than that.

The Rarity of It All: Sean [Bonnette guitar and vocals] and I have gotten together a few times to work out new material or do a livestream, but those instances were pretty rare.

Just Having a Blast: Last weekend was the first time our whole band has played together in well over a year. It was incredible! Taking such a long break from in-person collaboration reminded me of how much I love playing music with people.

Still Going to Shine: There have definitely been points in the history of our band when practice was not important. I think that was partly due to being very familiar with the material, and partly not caring if we made mistakes. We also played as a duo most of the time, so there were less parts to coordinate. Now we typically tour as a four- or five-piece band. We often add new songs and the lineup has changed, too, so practice has become a necessity.

Making a Groove: We decide on a batch of songs that make sense for the shows, and play them until they are feeling comfortable.

Making It New Again: Practice can feel like work when we are playing the same songs in the same way that we’ve always played them. We’ve been around long enough that we often have new material or ideas for breathing new life into older songs. That keeps it interesting and enjoyable.

Spontaneity Happens: We typically avoid routines.

Wardrobe Change?: Practice and performance are pretty similar. I guess one difference is that I usually take off my shoes for rehearsals. Maybe we should work on the visual aspect of our shows. Get some bedazzled jumpsuits or something.

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Violet Choir is the latest project from the members of MRCH.
Jake Hines

Mickey Louise and Jesse Pangburn, Violet Choir

Bug Testing: In the before-times we’d practice regularly, but also play a bunch which kept us more on point. As a duo, we rely on a lot of little gadgets to work for our show to go smoothly. In the rehearsal space that’s easy to control, but in a hurried live scenario, it can be tricky. So practice is now having to incorporate a lot more thought about gear and setup stuff. And honestly, we’re still working the bugs out with that a bit.

A New Game: Practices for specific shows have slowed obviously. But, practicing our instruments and writing has become the focus.

Practice Makes Perfect: We want to have that muscle memory going into gigs. The kind you get from settling into a run and being able to just be in the moment and connect with people when you’re playing. After a dry spell, extra rehearsals kind of help us get back on track, but it’s still not a one-for-one. Nothing compares to being immersed in routine for us.

Having Goals: If you don’t practice, how are you going to get better at what you’re doing? We always have something we need to work on.

Go For Broke: [Practice is] a combination of running the set and just sitting down with some challenge on our instruments. Maybe learn a riff or part that’s different than how we write to push ourselves.

Getting Disciplined: There’s no immediate positive outside affirmation that comes from rehearsing. I heard someone say, "Choose discipline over motivation" recently. I liked that. My emotions, especially lately, have been all over the place. So if I can make it through at least like 70 percent of my goals for a rehearsal (especially when I don’t feel like it), that’s a win. Some days it is easy and totally fun too. And that’s nice! But, I can’t just do nothing while I’m waiting for those days to come around, ya know?

Staying Mellow: Practice really depends on what’s on the calendar. What we’re prepping for. We’re flexible for whatever the priority is.

Three's A Crowd: Ideally, [practice and the performance are] very similar. Live has that energy difference, but the intention is to perform how we practice. Have all the equipment work. Help the audience to have a good experience with us.
Singer Katie Mae takes a free-flowing approach to country.
Katie Mae

Katie Mae & The Lubrication

A Real Singalong: Well, we used to physically stand closer together. While we were gearing up to record Yellow Medicine Hills, we just decided to spread out in my backyard. This was in winter and spring, so it was really nice outside, and we usually made a bunch of food, and a bonfire if it was at night. That was a positive and unexpected change. I’m looking forward to continuing that.

Make It Brand-New: We practiced a lot gearing up to the recordings, but especially before we had vaccines, we wanted to err on the side of caution. So, if someone wasn’t feeling well, or if it was raining and we couldn’t practice outside, we’d just call it and try again the next week. That kept the rate a little less consistent.

Building A Buzz: We’ve recorded two EPs since last March, so we were always working toward something. But there’s definitely a lot of excitement about getting back to playing live shows, and you can feel that at practices.

New And Old Alike: We’ve been growing a lot as a band and I’m really excited about the sound. Practice just gives us opportunities to get more creative with the songs. We also have a new bassist joining us as we come back into live shows, so it’s been important to get him settled in.

Same Old, Same Old: Practice isn’t necessarily different, but we practice more often when we’re not performing regularly.

Palling Around: We’re all really good friends, so practice is always a good time. We also all work day jobs. For me, practicing isn’t work in that sense at all. I think the guys feel the same way.

Nectar Of The Gods: Whiskey isn’t a routine, but it’s probably the only non-negotiable for me.

Getting Better At Being Good: When we practice, we can actually talk out sections of a song and dissect it if needed, and we usually play every song we're working on a couple of times. That's what lets us try new things within the songs, and some of those things turn out to be really cool and stick around. Playing for an audience is just a whole other experience in itself, and it brings out the best in all of us for sure.
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Chris Coplan has been a professional writer since the 2010s, having started his professional career at Consequence of Sound. Since then, he's also been published with TIME, Complex, and other outlets. He lives in Central Phoenix with his fiancee, a dumb but lovable dog, and two bossy cats.
Contact: Chris Coplan

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