Zack Carmichael, guitar player for The Freeze, remembers vividly why the band moved to Phoenix in 2009.
"I had just moved to the Cape [Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where The Freeze originated] to join the band in October of '08. It was a brutal winter, and we were having trouble booking decent shows on the East Coast, so Dave [Barbee, longtime former Freeze guitarist and Phoenix resident] convinced [Clif Croce, lead singer and the only original member left in The Freeze] that if we moved to Arizona, we could tour the West Coast more often and get better guarantees," Carmichael says.
Croce, who helped form The Freeze in 1979 (also known as "Clif Hanger"), is something of an enigma here in the local scene. If you look closely, you'll see him from time to time at shows, especially at Rips Ales & Cocktails, which is near where he lives. You have to look fast, though, because Croce is a little elusive, and sitting still is not his strongest point.
Many bands who have lasted as long as The Freeze have lost a step (or 12) over the years, and often seem like they are just touring for the money, but for Croce and his bandmates, rolling over and letting age catch up with you or attempting to just "cash in" is not an option.
"If I felt that we were going backwards, I would want to give up. If we were in it for the money, we would have given up after I Hate Tourists [the band's 1980 album]," Croce says.
The current lineup is a mix of desert rats and East Coast transplants. In addition to Carmichael, Cape Cod native Croce is joined by fellow Massachusetts native Joe Koonz on lead guitar, local drummer Aaron Hjalmarson, and bassist Eric DeWolf, who joins the band for local gigs and recordings. The Freeze have had, according to Croce, somewhere around 50 members over the years.
"I try to mine all the talent of every generation," Croce says in the back room of Rips during an interview with four-fifths of the band.
"He's trying to match the number of band members with the number of voices in his head," chimes in Hjalmarson, who at only about two years in the band is the newest member. He was quick to understand why Croce has had so many band members over the years.
"I feel like I understand Clif," Hjalmarson says. "He's a button pusher, and I just got rid of my buttons."
The Freeze recently returned from a U.S. tour that saw them traverse North America and play a variety of venues. In Dover, New Hampshire, one industrious youngster offered his grandparents' summer home, and organizers had the crowd bussed in from the local train station to avoid tipping off the neighbors. Koonz rejoined the band for this tour after Barbee left the band shortly before the tour to spend more time with his young son.
"Being a part of a band such as The Freeze leaves very little room for anything else. I'm happy to have had the opportunity to play with a group of super-dedicated and talented rockers who are tough as nails when things get rough," Barbee says about his experience in the band.
Prior to leaving for tour, The Freeze released a four-song, seven-inch EP on Dr. Strange Records called Someone's Bleeding, but good luck finding it in a local record store. According to the band, the record sold out in about 48 hours. Luckily, though, a Japanese label has been showing strong interest in releasing Someone's Bleeding (and many of the band's previous releases) in Japan. The band is looking forward to a possible tour of Japan in the near future, but don't ask Croce and The Freeze to do anything other than what they've always done — melodic punk rock.
"We're a band that you're either going to get or you're not," Croce says. "And there it is."
The Freeze is scheduled to play Rips on Friday, June 10.