Music News

How Phoenix's Smokus Pocus Accidentally Joined the Sound Strike Boycott

The name Smokus Pocus doesn't exactly stand out on the list of Sound Strike artists, next to acts Taboo (a.k.a. The Other Black Eyed Pea) and Trent "My Band Is Actually on Hiatus Anyway" Reznor. It's nestled in there among "over 300" mostly obscure and unimportant acts, innocuous enough that the guys in the band figured no one would notice or care. And they wouldn't — Smokus Pocus would be just another Chachi On Acid or NEVERODDOREVEN — save for one thing.

They're from Phoenix.

Oh, and they played at Scottsdale's Rogue bar two weeks ago. Also, they'll be playing the Lost Leaf on August 21.

"I shouldn't have done it," says guitarist and vocalist Mickey Maguire, who unilaterally put the band's name on a list of artists agreeing to boycott Arizona and refusing to play shows in the state until controversial Senate Bill 1070 is repealed. "It was a communication problem."

Maguire admits he was wrong — which is a good thing, because the other guys who play in his band aren't necessarily on board.

"It involves all of us," Maguire says. "But for once, Arizona was getting press, when usually it gets pushed to the side. I guess I got caught up in the glamour of being on [the list]."

Now, he realizes, "We all need to be on the same page, plain and simple."

The trio met as teenagers in the late '90s, after frequently seeing each other at the same shows at the Nile in Mesa, but did not come together as a band until December 2008. The name was a longstanding joke about what to call a stoner-type band, but it eventually stuck. Because of the name, people might think Smokus Pocus is a Bob Marley or Sublime cover/tribute band, but they actually blend elements of garage, psychedelic, and experimental punk sounds into their music.

After playing for over a year together and recording a demo album, they released their first EP, Reality Acid, in April. Like any band, they've had some disagreements. Such was the case with the Sound Strike — the two other band members understandably and vehemently opposed Maguire's decision to add them to the list.

Though he opposes SB 1070, vocalist and bassist Andy Francis says the band can't really boycott the state where they live, work, and pay taxes.

"I hate the Sound Strike," he says. "There's no better venue to preach your opposition than ground zero."

However, he is conflicted about the proper course of action for bands to take, whether they're from Arizona or other parts of the country or world. Though he wasn't born in Arizona, he grew up in Phoenix and remembers vividly the controversy surrounding Public Enemy's refusal to perform in Arizona until the state recognized Martin Luther King Day.

"It worked then. Everyone pitched in and it worked," he says. "But I'm against losing this vital ground to preach [opposition]."

So it turns out the band isn't boycotting — even if it could. Not that you can tell from the list on the Sound Strike group's website.

Just how does someone get on the Sound Strike list anyway? It's pretty easy, actually, which is why the Smokus story is funny.

All it really takes is a name and an e-mail address to sign up on the Sound Strike website, which is followed by a confirmation e-mail from a "do not reply" address. When Maguire read about the Sound Strike on Pitchfork a few weeks ago, he wanted to voice his opposition to the bill by signing its online petition. At the time, he also added the trio's name to the rapidly growing cast of characters on the official boycott list, from Kanye West to Chris Rock to Bright Eyes singer Conor Oberst.

Though he considered it "a step in the right direction," when he later discussed it with his bandmates, they disagreed with his having added them without a conversation.

Who would have guessed that promising to boycott your own state would prove controversial with friends and bandmates?

Drummer Mark Mustacci found out about it from a friend, rather than from Maguire, and Francis said he found out his band was boycotting Arizona after receiving a text message from a friend asking if they put themselves on the list as a joke.

Maguire is, he says, big on getting his band added to mailing lists and websites so he can get their name out to people. With mixed results. So far, they have only 58 plays on one of their MySpace songs. On the other hand, they are receiving media attention.

Despite the internal disagreement about being on the list in the first place, the band is still on it for one simple reason: It's difficult to get off the list.

"We tried to get off of it, but there's no contact information," Maguire says.

Javier Gonzalez, a Sound Strike organizer, says artists can e-mail him directly at [email protected] for removal from the list.

Landing themselves on the list without a simple way to get off it has gotten these three guys the fuzzy end of the lollipop, for sure, but it has provided them with a valuable lesson about democracy.

"I've been taught that we have one vote and one voice all my life, but people are making decisions around us that I have no part of," says Francis.

However strong their individual opposition to SB 1070 may be, Smokus Pocus didn't mention the bill or the Sound Strike at their performance on a recent Saturday night. Francis says that their members disagree with the bill, but that they, as a band, didn't feel right making a public statement about it at their shows.

"There's a fine line between musicians and politicians," Maguire said.

People in other local bands have noticed their name on the Sound Strike list, but Smokus Pocus has had no negative feedback from other local artists or concert promoters, since most people who know them assume they did it ironically to begin with. Phoenix concert promoter Stephen "Psyko Steve" Chilton said he laughed when he saw it but hasn't given it much thought, given that he has since worked with them to book shows.

"I'm sure that them being on the list is nothing more than a dumb joke," he said. "I have a show with them coming up in August and they have not mentioned once even thinking about not doing it."

Ultimately, whether the band stays on the list or not, they did what they (sort of) set out to do: get their name out more widely.

"There are so many different sides to this," Maguire said. "I never thought it would actually come up, but if people think we're stupid for it, then whatever."

"And if they think we're cool, even better," adds Francis.

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Lindsey Holder