In 2007, my brother Chris and I decided to make a movie about the Phoenix music scene called Dreams are Essential.
The name came from the lyrics of a duo called De Capulet, whom Chris spent several months documenting as they wrote an album and were courted by major labels. I was working at Arizona State University’s campus radio station, hosting a local music show called The Basement. I interviewed bands like Dear and the Headlights, Alive in Wild Paint, and Peachcake, who all signed deals that year and were playing around and outside Phoenix. Thanks to platforms like MySpace, fans were able to find new music faster, and labels were able to see tangible growth without having to be in the same city as the bands they signed.
We set out to capture that moment and spent several nights a week (and most weekends) with a camera in hand, traveling to The Trunk Space, Modified Arts, Last Exit, The Sets, Yucca Tap Room, and The Clubhouse — as well as DIY spots like Peacetree House and open mic events.
In those parking lots, we’d corner musicians like Matthew Gilbert from Poem, Scotty Johnson from Gin Blossoms, and Pouyan Afkary and Steve Kirby from Scary Kids Scaring Kids. We met with Jim Adkins from Jimmy Eat World at the band’s Mesa studio while they were finishing up the 2007 album Chase This Light. They told us stories about recording with local legends like Bob Hoag, touring, and trusting your bandmates when making music is your only option.
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When all was said and done, we had a feature-length film and 17-song compilation album, featuring The Maine, The Stiletto Formal, Oh Doctor, and Porches, among others. We celebrated on March 24, 2007, with a show at The One Place featuring six of the compilation bands — Alcoholiday, Micah Bentley, Andrew Jackson Jihad, What Laura Says, The Via Maris, and the band that started it all, De Capulet. Now, the film’s hosted on YouTube as a time capsule of where the scene was at the time.
Ten years later, Phoenix New Times revisited the scene in 2007 and talked to some of the people who were in the trenches as Phoenix made noise beyond the desert. (Note: Some quotes have been condensed and edited for brevity and clarity.)
Frances Michelle Lopez, owner, Fizzle Promotions/Tiny Panda Records: There was a very specific atmosphere in Phoenix in 2007, a kind of exuberance and community that was special and precious. The DIY punk ethos of helping your community, offering bands a place to crash, lending each other gear, and collaborating was very common.
Matthew Reveles, musician: I remember there being a huge camaraderie among virtually every band in town and across pretty much every genre that was represented. In fact, I may or may not have sanctimoniously referred to that summer as the “Summer of Love.”
JRC, co-owner, The Trunk Space: People would meet other like-minded people. Within a month, they’d form a new band together, or record their first demo, or move into a new house together and start putting on their own concerts.
Dario Miranda, Stinkweeds: I was mostly going to shows at Modified, Trunk Space, and Rhythm Room, with the occasional house show or trip to Tucson venues like Solar Culture or Club Congress. Everything was tiny and cozy and awesome.
Lopez: I always had my money on AJJ, then Andrew Jackson Jihad, and French Quarter (Stephen Steinbrink). Both of these bands have seen great success and continue to amaze me.
Austen Mack, musician, Captain Squeegee: I had my money on What Laura Says, Dear and the Headlights, Peachcake, Scary Kids Scaring Kids, Eyes Set To Kill, and The Stiletto Formal.
David Moroney, musician, What Laura Says: The urban sprawl made everyone so spread out, making it difficult to have one big cohesive scene.
JRC: If there were more places hosting shows — like there are now — then people [would] see those options, see them as robust and diverse, and get used to the idea that going out to see live music is a normal thing people do. It may sound strange to have to say that, but it was uncommon in Phoenix.
William Reed, DJ and promoter: Everything I ever did in Arizona stemmed from the lack of it existing previously. Instead of complaining about the absence of a particular culture or scene, I just created it. Phoenix was kind of a blank canvas.
JRC: We were making a good connection to music/creative scenes in California, and I remember seeing a lot of acts that were based out of places like The Smell come and play our space. Not only did we serve a lot of the same touring acts, we also “exchanged” local bands back and forth.
Abby Hertzel, owner, Peacetree House: We met a singer-songwriter from San Francisco who told us about her house concert series. Originally we thought we could give traveling acoustic acts a cool venue option. We did many shows and had no issues with people getting too rowdy and the cops never shut us down. I never felt worried about my house even with complete strangers being there.
JRC: We never booked a touring act without also including local performers. [They] are key to introducing new or out-of-town performers to the local audience. Not only does it help to bring in a curious audience, but it also helps create connections to other communities throughout the country.
Miranda: There was a sense that all the hard work of touring and recording could pay off, if you had a unique voice. I think music lovers had shed the old model of “listen to whatever the radio tells you to listen to” and were doing their own research and then sharing those bands with their friends.
Joel Marquard, musician, Dear and the Headlights: We recorded at Bob Hoag’s old studio, which was in this shitty industrial complex off Stapley in Mesa. It just had concrete block walls and a motorcycle shop across the street, which would be making a ton of noise usually. Bob’s feral cat broke a key on my cheap keyboard which we used for the song “Grace” because someone scared it and it ran right into the keyboard.
JRC: The old marketing axiom that you need to hear about something seven times before it registers is still true, but now you have to hear or see it more like 25 times. Never assume that people living in the suburbs — Mesa, North Scottsdale, Glendale, Chandler — aren’t interested in what you’re doing. Never assume that adults, parents, senior citizens, tourists, tweens aren’t interested in the art you present.
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Hertzel: Word of mouth was also a big part in getting an audience to our shows, so the community helped in that aspect as well.
Marquard: We got the word out by playing lots of shows.
Ryan Avery, musician, co-founder of The Good Shows: [That] was a really amazing year for Tempe music. Foot Ox, French Quarter, Splinter Cake, Tent City, Soft Shoulder, Chris Corwin all put out amazing [albums] that year.
Lopez: AJJ’s People Who Eat People Are the Luckiest People in the World was my favorite local album of that year. It’s a classic, and judging by their sold-out tour across the country to commemorate its 10th anniversary, it’s definitely resonated far beyond Arizona.