Basic Elements Play First Phoenix Show Since '89 for KWSS Spring Fundraiser

Basic Elements. L to R William Preston Bowling, Dan Konopka from OK Go, John Denis, and Jonathan Goldman.
Basic Elements. L to R William Preston Bowling, Dan Konopka from OK Go, John Denis, and Jonathan Goldman. Ben Staley
Saturday, April 22, is a spring fling of the rock 'n' roll variety when then-local ‘80s New Wave band Basic Elements returns to Phoenix for their first show since 1989.

The event inspiring this homecoming gig is the KWSS Spring Fundraiser — the independent radio station found at 93.9 and 99.5 FM that has been spinning tunes and supporting the local music scene since 2005.

Jonathan Goldman, the synth player for Basic Elements, has lived in Los Angeles for 25 years but couldn’t be more excited to head back to the place the band formed to support the station and play music for metro Phoenix friends and fans, new and old.

The plan was for this to happen in 2020, KWSS’s morning show host and co-programming manager Dani Cutler tells us.

“I met Jonathan through a mutual friend who knew the band in high school in the ‘80s. She wanted to share their new recordings of their old songs with the station. I think our afternoon host Jay Cairo played them first, but when I heard them, it was love at first listen. Jonathan and the band became super supportive of KWSS and what we are doing in the local music community. We got the idea to bring them back and then, as you know … COVID.”

Goldman also helped pick local acts for the benefit — Paper Foxes and Jenna’s Arrival — who will share the stage with Basic Elements, whose members will be Goldman on synth, William Preston Bowling on bass, John Denis on vocals, and Dan Kanopka, who is also in the band OK Go, on drums.

Cutler tells us that in addition to a night of stellar music, the event has some lucrative raffles, including one for a turntable, a gift card from Zia Records, and $100 toward a new tattoo at Ink Mafia in Mesa. And, of course, she emphasizes the reason to go (besides the lineup) — to support the station.

“KWSS is an independently owned 501c3 nonprofit that supports arts, entertainment, businesses, and indie music in the Valley. The DJs, Licia Torres, Jay Cairo, Brian DeFox, and myself, are all volunteers.”

Goldman, who caught up with Phoenix New Times for a phone conversation, is thrilled to be playing music again. “We formed in ’85 and had our run from ’85 to ’90. I went to Tucson after that for college and then Los Angeles and didn’t touch music until about three years ago,” he says.

The band’s demise, refreshingly, offers no high drama. This crew just started young and, after high school, respectively, started thinking about taking different paths. Goldman and bassist William Preston Bowling met when they were in grade school.

“It was around 1977,” Goldman tells us. “We were like seven or eight and friends because of Star Wars and all that type of stuff — Dungeons & Dragons — movies and games. Then, as we got into our teens, we started listening to music."

Their ears “started picking up on music” that was different from the radio rock of the time that their parents were into. “It was Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, but then every six songs or so, something would break through. Stuff like Gary Numan and The Cars.”

It was pretty significant when these guys heard — and saw — Duran Duran. “To be honest, it was everything to us. Specifically, when 'Hungry Like the Wolf' came out, it had the guitars, but it also had the synths.” It became an adventure in discovery from then on, Goldman explains. “You start getting one thing at a record store, and then someone tells you, ‘Oh, there’s this band Simple Minds, you might like that, too.’”

They loved the outsider aspects of the New Wave scene, from the music to the fashion. So, after taking in a screening of the classic ‘80s flick, Revenge of the Nerds, where a group of misfits proved to be the coolest guys on campus, rocking out with their electro music, this group of Arizona buddies decided it was time to form a band.

They started out playing some covers, including U2’s “New Year’s Day,” developing their skills, and eventually dropping a first original song, “Hide,” which Goldman says is “sort of a protest song.” When the band played recently in Los Angeles, he dedicated it to Iranian women who were fighting to dance in the streets without being executed. “I dedicated that particular song to them because when we wrote it, it was a song against authoritarian rule.”

The song’s fight-the-injustice message is still timely, and the music is timeless. “Hide” epitomizes all that made the New Wave and synth-oriented bands in the ‘80s rise as high as the Aqua Net-laden locks on fans’ heads. It maintains a sense of urgency with a relentless beat. That punchy rhythm sits under the oceanic swirl created by synth and guitar melodies that rise in peaky waves throughout the song. Catchy, danceable, and intelligent.

What’s also remarkable about the recordings you’re hearing is that while it’s true that the band didn’t record them back in the day, these recently captured tracks were touched by the excellent hands of producer Ed Butler.

Goldman, who works in TV in Los Angeles, wanted a producer. So, he contacted his friend Andy (Kubiszewski) from the band Stabbing Westward. “I asked Andy, and he said, ‘I’m not a real record producer, and I know a guy.” That ‘guy’ turned out to be Ed Butler, who’s produced the likes of Slowdive, Suede, Pulp, and Lush, and that’s just a drop in the bucket.

“Ed thought the songs were ‘great ‘80s pop songs – you’ve already done your work, let me do mine,’” Goldman says. So they agreed to surrender to Ed, and he did some tweaking to give them sonic cohesion.

The band also recently unearthed some archival recordings and are getting those remastered. Though some members live in different towns, they are making it work now and having a blast. Videos, recordings, practicing, and more shows are all in the works and part of the future.

In their early iteration, the band got to play on stages all around town, sometimes opening for touring acts like The Bolshoi and Gene Loves Jezebel, and they’d be happy, Goldman tells us, in that opening spot going forward. “We are the perfect opening band. Let’s get a slot opening for an ‘80s legacy band or be a small print band on festivals like Cruel World.”

KWSS Spring Fundraiser. With Basic Elements, Paper Foxes, and Jenna's Arrival. 8 p.m. doors, 8:30 show, Saturday, April 22. Last Exit Live, 717 South Central Avenue. Tickets are $15 to $20.
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Amy Young is an arts and culture writer who also spends time curating arts-related exhibits and events, and playing drums in local bands French Girls and Sturdy Ladies.
Contact: Amy Young

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