Phoenix has plenty of things going against it when it comes to uniting the local music scene. The venues that most often book local acts are often miles and miles apart, forcing fans to hop on freeways and drive up to an hour to see their favorite bands.
Some of the biggest artists with the most potential to hit the mainstream (we're looking at you, Nate Ruess and Miniature Tigers) pack up and move to New York City. And unlike Chicago and Los Angeles, a plethora of multimillion-dollar brands aren't waiting in the wings to pepper their advertisements with local bands who might break on a national scale.
One thing the Phoenix music scene does have going for it is projects like Scattered Melodies, a rhythm duo that employed nine different singers and several guitarists for its upcoming album, A Collective Agreement. The album is a testament to the current buzzing within the local community, a growing, diverse collection of talented artists who span a variety of genres.
These are the artists who make it a point to head to The Sail Inn, the Rhythm Room, and Yucca Tap Room each night to support local bands. As Last Exit Live marketing director Matty Steinkamp says, within the past five years, the Phoenix music scene has witnessed a transformation in how bands support one another — and the Scattered Melodies project is a perfect example of new alliances being formed within the Phoenix music community.
"Scattered Melodies is an amazing, selfless act of compassion," Steinkamp says. "When you involve a community in the business, it's a great thing for the rest of the community and the culture in your city, because love and positivity grows. In turn, the music grows."
Scattered Melodies was created by drummer Josh Montag and bassist Jake Johnston, both 25, who played together in now-defunct A Morning After and have known each other since attending Gilbert's Mesquite High School together. The pair funded the project themselves with the intent of helping unite the local music scene, and they reached out to singers and guitarists they wanted to support, regardless of how commercially successful they were. Some were artists the duo had worked with before; others were simply musicians they admired. The guys hope the project will help display Arizona's talent outside the state.
"I think Phoenix is lacking national recognition for some reason," says Montag, who also plays in The Wiley One and Ruca. "I'd like to see more bands from Arizona getting recognition out of Arizona, and I think the best way to do that is to work together."
The songwriting process for the album varied; some songs were built in collaborations, while others were solid ideas when the project began.
"We didn't have a lot of expectation of what we wanted out of them," Johnston says. "We were more excited about what we could do together."
While the styles on each song vary from reggae to rock to soul, the duo used transitions before and after tracks to make sure the album flowed. For some of the artists involved, working on Scattered Melodies was a way to try something new musically.
"It was a huge challenge for me, and way out of my comfort zone," says Anamieke Quinn, who plays in Treasurefruit and Ruca and contributed the song "All That You See" to Scattered Melodies. (Other bands whose singers performed on Scattered Melodies include Catfish Mustache and The Broken Rhodes.)
"It's way different than anything I would ever write for my other bands. I think it's really cool they're cross-pollinating with so many different branches and styles and sounds and coming up with something totally unique."
Local producer Jack Howell, who owns the WilloDisc Production House recording studio in Phoenix and performs in Ruca, says this is the first local collaborative album of its kind that he's heard of. But just because Scattered Melodies is new, that doesn't mean the guys skimped on quality when it came to choosing their collaborators. According to Howell, who produced A Collective Agreement, all the musicians featured had the right intentions in mind when it comes to making music.
"Bands in Arizona might get disappointed they don't have a mob of people flocking to see them, but I think the ones that are dedicated will play to chairs and not care," Howell says. "I think those are the kinds of bands who are on this album."
The Scattered Melodies release show this weekend will be yet another example of Phoenix musicians coming together, as every single one of the nearly 20 musicians featured on the album will be performing together at The Sail Inn. Previous Scattered Melodies shows were fundraisers in which the guys garnered more than 300 pounds of food, plus a car full of clothes, to donate; helping the community in ways beyond music is one of their priorities, too.
Other artists in town are committed to the same mentality of working together, instead of just competing. Miss Krystle, an electronic pop artist who grew up in the Valley, would be just fine performing to a backing track, but she handpicks established local musicians to back her performances at venues like the Marquee Theatre. She says supporting other musicians through promoting or attending their shows is important, and that working together on projects like Scattered Melodies is also strengthening the local scene.
"Some of the most incredible experiences and successes I've experienced as a Phoenix musician resulted from people agreeing to volunteer their time on my projects," Krystle says. "Likewise, by being the 'yes woman' to any request to collaborate, I become exposed to new experiences and people to work with in the future. Musicians worry about their time being attenuated from involvement in too many things, but productivity generates productivity. In order for the Phoenix music community to really make a name for itself, we need to become a 'yes woman' city."
Indeed, just hearing about Scattered Melodies and projects like it is enough to ignite excitement in local musicians. Singer/songwriter and producer David Jackman, who is a member of bands The Premiere and Peachcake, calls Scattered Melodies "a prime example of forward-thinking for Phoenix," which needs collaborative culture to compete with more established music scenes on a national scale.
"With iPods, streaming music, and never having to really leave your own house to find out what's going on, there's really not a lot of incentive to explore and discover musical ideas with people from different persuasions," Jackman says. "Something like Scattered Melodies makes music all about community, which is nothing but good for Phoenix."
The duo hopes to release more Scattered Melodies albums, with new singers and musicians for each album. Besides allowing artists to expose their sounds to new audiences through Scattered Melodies, the band is one way to motivate Arizona artists to stick around locally — until the next album release party, at least.