Vocals, who needs 'em? In metro Phoenix, we've got some instrumental acts you should know about, with genres ranging from surf rock to industrial-Americana fusion. Here are six.
We don't have a lot of places to surf in the Valley, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have an instrumental surf rock band. In fact, we’ve had this one for quite a few years. Surfside IV formed in 2006, but has seen some lineup changes since. Guitarist T-Ray is the only remaining original member, and for the last four years he’s been joined by Dick Von Braun on guitar, Fingeroo on bass, and Scotty Bravo on drums. They're currently in the middle of recording a new release.
Together, they blaze through high octane surf-rock originals and covers, serving revved-up riffs delivered with gusto. You’ll find the soul of surf music legends like Link Wray and The Ventures an inherent part of Surfside songs, but they aim to have an original take. T-Ray says they are passionate about instrumental music, in general, and love to change the context of songs, which they do with some covers. “One of the coolest things about the band is that we can, and do, surf-ize any tune we can think of," he says. "We’ve played every genre and mutated it to our liking. It’s so much fun. We are doing a Tchaikovsky number soon for a gig, and we’ve played everything from Britney Spears to The Beatles. It all ends up sounding like us."
He also notes that sometimes audiences are a challenge for instrumental bands; sometimes after they’ve played a song or two, people wonder when they’re “really” going to start, but eventually adjust to the wordless sounds.
For electronic musician E Alo (otherwise known as Erica Aloian), it’s all about beauty. She says that through her original and heavily melodic instrumental pieces, she wants to “touch people’s souls and warm their hearts.” That’s easy to hear in her compositions. Her songs are threaded end to end with melodies that generally offer a sweet and lulling tone. That’s not to say that her pieces have a totally linear vibe. She commands that laptop with focus, and layers in rhythms that take you on little side trips as you work your way through each piece. Everything sounds intentional and meaningful, with a mastery of control that allows you to dwell in the minimal moments waiting to see what happens next.
This ensemble of seasoned local musicians is a great band to get woozy to. Or, maybe they’re the ones causing those woozy sways with breezy original tunes. Their sounds keep you moving; their infectious blend of exotica, lounge, and surf-y sounds are breezy and hypnotic. The band consists of Ruth Wilson on bass, Eddy Detroit on drums and percussion, Andrew Jemsek on organ and accordion, and Jamie Paul Lamb on guitar. Each has a lengthy resume of musical projects.
With a collective wardrobe any respectable lounge lizard would envy, this band doesn’t stick to playing in traditional venues. They’ll cram into the packed downtown tiki bar Bikini Lounge to play right in the middle of the party crowd. Another awesome way to catch them is atop the Clarendon Hotel, performing at the venue’s rooftop bar with the wind carrying their sounds into the infinite view.
Elements of industrial music, bluegrass, and Americana meet in unique ways with this Phoenix group. Noting what each member plays helps paint a picture that there’s nothing typical going on here. You’ve got Pete Petrisko — the conductor — playing shortwave radios, typewriter, and noisemakers. Joining him are Jim Dustan on guitar, bass, banjo, and live sound engineering, and Jocelyn Ruiz Dustan on clarinet, percussion, flute, and found objects. Erik Hunter handles drums and percussion, while Vic Void makes noise on instruments made from salvaged materials. The Dustans and Hunter are also in the local American band World Class Thugs.
The eclectic group creates soundtracks that accompany silent films, often performing live at screening events as well as local music venues. During screening events, RPM Orchestra brings films to life in new ways, as you watch the interplay between the two media. It’s cerebral and generates a bit of fun cognitive dissonance as you think about the choices the band makes to mirror the on-screen action. It’s subtle enough, though, that you don’t lose sight of the film. For Petrisko, the best part is "the overwhelming positive response of audiences to our often wordless music."
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Surf rock so drenched in reverb that you could soak it up with a towel, served up with a ‘60s space-age aesthetic is what you get from The Coconauts. With Tom Armstrong on guitar, David DeStefano on bass, and Kurt Nederbrock on drums, this band's been rocking the desert and beyond, with their originals and covers, since 2009. They rock the classic surf sound, but often take you on detours into outer space, getting a little heady and psychedelic. No matter how the sound veers, there's a crisp, sonic precision that reigns.
Last year, this band took home a Best of Phoenix award for "Best Genre-Bending Band." They also could earn a nod for having one of the biggest lineups around. Hardly a trio, there’s Joel Robinson (guitars, hulusi, percussion), Chris del Favero (bass, guitar, flute, percussion), Jeremy Lentz (drums, percussion), Jessie Demaree (clarinet, percussion), Max Greenwald (guitar), Zack Parker (lap steel, sax), Isaac Parker (bass, keys), Elliot Fox (sax), Torry McDannad (trumpet), Spencer Hawley (percussion), and Sam Plattner (engineering and computers).
Once you get through that roster and move on to the music, you’ll hear the power that comes from such a hearty crew. There’s a large dose of free jazz in the Sunn Trio sound, with saxophones blaring through the mix. Other times it’s noisy and brutal while cranked up and distorted guitars relentlessly cut through the song. Tracks like “Sekhet-Aaru,” from the band's self-titled record, lead you from beginning to end with a pervasive drone that gets a little spirited as flute sounds swirl around it.