It's easy to imagine the sounds of Tempe in the '90s dominated by jangle, over-driven amps cranked, and melodic singers crooning a Mill Ave export that would crack into the mainstream. But listening to Half String, a Tempe-based band that featured Brandon Capps, Tim Patterson, Matt Kruse, and Kimber Lanning of Stinkweeds (and now known for spearheading the small business initiative Local First Arizona), it's easy to imagine a parallel universe of "Tempe sound," one cloaked in reverb and shadowy British post-punk textures.
Brooklyn label Captured Tracks, operated by Mike Sniper of Blank Dogs, clearly has a love for those sounds. The label releases records by current bands like Beach Fossils, Minks, and Wild Nothing, and with its Shoegaze Archives series, documents the shoegaze scene of the '90s, the series features Deardarkhead, Should, Medicine, Grabbel & The Final Cut, and with its latest release, Half String.
Maps for Sleep, a new double LP collection of the band's lush, obscured pop, is out on the label now, featuring packaging designed by Bruce Licher of Independent Projects Press.
"[Sniper] emailed me directly," says Lanning from behind the counter at Stinkweeds, which she's owned and operated since 1989. "When he said he wanted to reissue some stuff I wasn't really clear on the scope, nor was I clear on who else he had selected. It's an honor to me to be one of four selected for an American shoegaze collection along with Medicine, Should...those are just outstanding bands."
Lanning contacted the rest of the group, which is now dispersed across the country in places like Milwaukee, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco area. Lanning hadn't listened to the band's recordings in ages, she said.
"It had been forever. Brandon [Capps] is the one who did all the heavy lifting. He sorted through hours and hours of old tapes. He sent me five CDs worth of stuff to consider. We used to record ourselves quite often. So there was a lot of material to sift through, but we all had a voice [in what unreleased tracks would appear on the compilation.]"
The band didn't fit into the "Tempe sound," but it wasn't long before they started creating their own scene. The band hosted occasional festivals, dubbed "Beautiful Noise," and united diverse bands from across the state.
"We were definitely doing something different," Lanning says. "We tried to pull together all the strains if you will, the people who didn't fit in the "Tempe sound" for the Beautiful Noise festivals. Alison's Halo, Loveliescrushing from Tucson, Six String Malfunction...all of these bands started raising their hands saying 'We don't fit anywhere, either.'"
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While the gauzy, hazy sounds of the record secure it in the nebulously defined "shoegaze" genre, the Half String material has a strong pop sense, and though Capps' vocals are buried under sheets of distortion and effects (sort of par for the course in the genre), they occasionally bubble up to reveal him as a more confident singer than many of his peers.
Lanning says that the band was influenced by import CD singles and British records, and that her record shop was sort of a clubhouse for the kind of people who appreciated those sounds.
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"Creation Records just boomed in the early '90s. We did so many import records out of Stinkweeds. We'd get our import records box on Fridays, and we'd have a line of people waiting for whatever. Moonshake, Moose, Telescopes, Catherine Wheel...Slowdive was huge. Stinkweeds was definitely a hub for all of that stuff going on."
Listen to a mixtape of sounds that inspired the band, assembled by Brandon Capps, at Captured Tracks.
Maps for Sleep is available at independent record stores and online now.