Valley Fever has become a Phoenix country music institution, thanks to DJs Dana Armstrong and Johnny Volume. I heard of the Yucca Tap Room ritual by way of Tony Martinez after interviewing him before his farewell show at Valley Fever, where he talked excitedly about how important those Sunday nights were for him.
But other people have probably noticed Valley Fever's attention-grabbing posters, reminiscent of vintage ads and old movie posters with nods to country music stars like Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, and Emmy Lou Harris. These country singers serve as inspiration for the outlaw scene Dana was interested in exposing to the Valley when she started Valley Fever in 2006.
Up on the Sun chatted with Armstrong about her vintage posters and her nod to "yesterday's records, today's bands, and tonight's good time."
Up on the Sun: What is the background on this poster for Valley Fever? Dana Armstrong: This is a flyer for the Marshall Tucker Band. So I just used this image to fit the Valley Fever schedule on it.
You just took the image and superimposed the font on it? Yeah, a lot of times with these schedule ones, I'll do that. Some people thought that was Tony Martinez.
It does look like him. It's Toy Caldwell from Marshall Tucker Band and [from looking at the photograph], I think that people thought, "Oh, that's who hangs out at Valley Fever."
Right -- that's what it looks like. Which is fine by me. I wish they did!
The Al Foul was one of the first posters that I made. That's one of my very favorite ones. It's very minimal. It also has a real stark feeling -- like a Johnny Cash-style song, and that's what Al Foul's music is, really stark. It's just a guitar, his drum, and him, so it fits his music, too. Kind of iconic. See that next one? That was when I first started doing the Hatch print style. I first experimented with Flathead and Chip Hanna.
It gives off a vintage fairground-style flyer vibe. It's more in the style of the old print shop in Nashville that did the Elvis and Johnny Cash Hatch flyers.
Is that one of the styles you take inspiration from for your posters? Yeah, because those are classic. The aesthetic fits Flathead, again, because they have kind of a 60s country trucker rock type of style; the Hatch print just goes with that band. It's still simple; it's the same thing. It's clean and classic.
Moondog is fun to do flyers for, but he's very specific on what he likes.
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Did he ask for it to be specifically like this, with the pose and everything? It's always a collaboration when Moondog and I do flyers together because he's actually really picky.
Did he ask you to choose this picture? I take all the pictures. I take the majority of them because I have an idea of what I want it to look like, so I have to make them pose that way. I think he wanted to pose that way; he's got his own style.
You book the bands for these shows, right? What's your process like? Are you already establishing a vision for what the outcome for the poster will be when you set up the shows? I think in the beginning it took me a long time and it was really time-consuming and tedious. I'd be trying to make it so perfect and then over time it just . . .
It's not going to be perfect? Yeah--it'll get the point across. And that's probably when I did get into my minimal phase, because its so much faster and it was more effective too. Did you see last year's Quarantine show poster? That was my favorite poster that I've ever done. We put it on T-shirts and Moondog is right in the center of it.
I just like that it looks like an old movie poster like Cannonball Run, or something like that. It took forever to cut out every person, but it just looks most authentically "old" one.
Valley Fever hosts Quarantine every year? Dana: Every year, we do an all-day and all-night show, so there's like 12 to 15 bands, and it starts at noon at Yucca. We do a honky-tonk Halloween, too, every year.
Do you also do art for other events? I do a lot of the stuff for the Western. I use the Hatch aesthetic for them. I've also done a lot of album covers for bands. Sometimes I'll do posters for other people.
What albums have you made art for? I've done Snow Songs, Junction 10, Chip Hanna, Ryan Taverna, Barefoot and Pregnant, and Jimmy Pines & Washboard Jere.
Right now, Tony Martinez is staying out with this lady in Nashville, Tennessee, and I found this picture like two years ago and I posted it because its awesome. Weird thing is, that is the lady Tony is staying with, but you know, this is her 30 years ago.
That is really weird. Her name is Candy Arnold. I posted this even before we even knew her. And then we went and stayed with her and she brought out that picture and said, look at this picture, and I was like, I posted that picture on the Valley Fever Facebook.
How did you find that it? Sometimes I'll just search for old images. Old magazines, vintage ads, websites, or just random Google searches for whatever I'm looking for inspiration-wise -- or to post random pictures cause they're funny.
I'm kinda shifting into '80s country now. I've become a little more accepting of musicians from that era, such as Randy Travis and John Anderson. Some people love '60s country and hate the '70s, they hate the '80s. The country music world is so picky, so funny. People are feuding all the time, now, about what's real country, what's not.
And you have your neo-traditional country in the '80s, which I'm kinda getting more into. And this is besides the point, but it is reflective of what I'm trying to do. Kind of just what I feel, what world I want to be in at the time. 'Cause that's really what I'm doing, is just trying to create a world to live in.
You have a certain palette that you like to work with. Yeah, I think I go in phases with that, too. Like with the fonts. I just get tired of one, and then if I feel like doing something else, I go into that phase. Or whatever fits the poster.
I feel bad cause I feel like I haven't been paying enough attention to the posters lately. Except for the Western posters. Those are all like that Hatch print style.
When Tony Martinez was talking about Valley Fever, he sounded so enthusiastic that it made me check out the Facebook page. I didn't really know anything about it. The posters were the first thing that struck me because they are in this very nostalgic, retro style. Yeah, and that's what the night is. I mean, the bands are new, but they play country music that sounds traditional. [And] we all hate new country, so it all kind of works together. I try to cultivate a certain aesthetic for each band, whether they like it or not. You know what I mean? I kind of push them in a direction through their posters.
At least in my mind -- in my little perspective for that night. A lot of it is vintage Arizona, stuff that I remember as a kid and old books and pictures that my dad had.
Do you go to a lot of thrift, vintage, and antique stores? Yeah, definitely. It's always been a big part of my life, probably since I was in middle school. That's how I got into collecting records and buying old clothes. And back then, of course, it was easier to find that stuff because that was a long time ago. But yeah, I just kind of mostly stay in that era.
Did you grow up in Arizona? Yeah, my family's been here a long time, so I think that just informs a lot of what I do with Valley Fever and everything else. Sometimes the bands will make the posters, which sometimes is nice, but then I get a little territorial over the aesthetic. It's amazing how much you learn over time, though. Just what's better. And like I said, you just kind of realize that simpler is better.
It sounds like you think of the poster from the perspective of a composition. Totally. Especially with posters and ads. Kind of like what people can read in two seconds, what pops out at them. We're kind of losing our good country musicians: Tony Martinez is gone. Junction 10 is not playing. Ray Lawrence Jr. is gone.
Where have they all gone? Junction 10 is just on hiatus. I don't know what they're doing, for sure. I've been pressuring Bobby to get back together, but Ray went to Illinois, and then Tony went to Nashville.
I was actually just talking to someone else about this -- and this is not even just with music, but with art or any subculture in Phoenix. People get amped to try to make things happen in Phoenix, and then they just get frustrated when things aren't picking up and move. Yeah, I think it's always been like that. I have theories about it. One of them is that because of the summers here, everyone loses momentum and everything is kinda halted, so nothing can build and people wind up leaving. Tony, for example, he was gonna stay and try to make people come here, and make this like a draw for people, because why shouldn't it be, you know?
Like, Marty Robbins is from here; this was Waylon Jennings' favorite place, Buck Owens lived here. You just get to a point where you kinda have to be both; at least now you can do both. You can move away, you can come back, and there's the Internet. It's not like it was before. You can still be from somewhere by working somewhere else. You know what I mean? It's more of a gray area now. But it's true. It's sad.
It's interesting, because people end up in those little hubs of big cities, and in Tony's case, he went for where all the action is country music-wise. I know -- but then, you know, especially right now, the big deal being like outlaw country vs. Nashville country. It's like this huge deal.
Can you just briefly talk about that difference? Well, in the '70s, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, and all them moved to Austin because of the Nashville system that was in place -- they didn't want to have to adhere to it. So it's kind of like how everything is cycling is happening again now, so everyone's rejecting all this new country crap that's on the radio.
Even country artists who are on the radio are criticizing other people that are on the radio, just cause of their stupid subject matter and stupid music. So to sum it up, I guess we were kind of thinking like, oh, how about everyone move to Phoenix? You know what I mean?
But I don't know, it's hard -- like, I also have theories about why the old country thing isn't as popular here as it is in Austin or even L.A. I think people are afraid. There's like a stigma attached to country, I think, if you don't know much about country. So I think that that's what prevents a lot of people here from getting into it. You know what I mean? Like, my brother, he hates country. He absolutely hates it.
How did you start Valley Fever at Yucca? I used to love the band that would play there on the weekends called Coyote, they did, like, classic rock covers and stuff. I just thought it was a perfect place to do an old country night, because of the setting with the old wood on the walls. This was before they opened the new side.
So it's just like a classic 70s Arizona bar, and it worked perfectly. It took a little while to get in there; they didn't want to have DJ's. I think I was the first DJ there. I think it was because it was a Bindlestiff show and I DJ'd for them.
If you had to give someone tips on how to make a great flyer what would you say? I would say, have a good image and keep it simple. Keep the lettering simple. Stop using Mesquite or Bleeding Cowboy fonts for country bands.
You also came into it having a background in art, right? Yeah, I guess that's true. But it takes a while to translate that idea into a digital medium. It was trickier, but it's a lot faster. And you can do a lot more things with it and you can make things funnier.
Why do you think great flyers are important? I think it's important to Valley Fever, and to me, to integrate the whole aesthetic of the posters with the vision of the night, and it blends them together to get the idea and feeling across . . . and that's all I try to do.
I want to try to create a world that I want to live in, that doesn't exist right now or doesn't exist any more. I'm not even trying; I have no choice.
Is it similar to this world that you go into when you are listening to records alone at home? Yeah, kinda like that. I make these flyers in the hope that I get the idea across to other people when they feel the same thing. Sometimes it's a lot easier to do that then to write it all out to try to explain it to people.
Right. They're all very visually striking, and emotive. Lots of other flyers don't work that way. I think some people don't even realize where their eyes go. I like to make them more... like iconic, but it's also because its so funny. These are just local guys and I make them look like these huge country stars. In my mind they are! [Laughs]
It's awesome to be able to do that because a lot of musicians don't have access to designers or the money to do it. I guess in a way the bands are like my muses, because it inspires me and also it's just fun.
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It's great to be able to support local bands in that way. Dana: Yeah, and that's one of our whole goals, to try to make people come out and see Arizona country, because there are a lot of good bands. There's a good community now surrounding this scene