Longform

Concealed Weapons

When The Pistoleros singer Lawrence Zubia decided to kill himself after years of depression and drug abuse, for some reason the familiar buttes of Monument Valley came to him in a cocaine-addled haze. Zubia had no gun. And he'd already ingested enough drugs to kill a normal person. Instead, he thought of the desert's monoliths as a way to do himself in.

"I was thinking of driving my car off something appropriately large," he says.

But before he could drive himself to oblivion, he'd first need to get out of his house, which was encircled by Tempe police.

His then-future wife, Janna, had called the cops, figuring it was the only way to prevent Zubia from offing himself. Officers assured Janna that they had Zubia cornered.

But Zubia managed to slip out, and for an hour the cops guarded the house while Zubia's roommate, bassist Scott Andrews, slept soundly inside with a pair of earplugs.

"They had me surrounded," Andrews says laconically today.
Zubia ran to a friend's house, where he called a sister and then hid in some bushes.

He'd put off death yet again, something that Lawrence Zubia and his Pistoleros bandmates have nearly made into a career.

Twice recently, The Pistoleros have been cited by Valley music writers as examples that the celebrated Tempe music scene is dead.

When Disney-owned record label Hollywood Records dropped them last fall, the roots-rock fivesome seemed proof positive that the music industry's fascination with the Gin Blossoms and its numerous Tempe spin-offs had ended for good.

The Pistoleros themselves say it was hard enough dealing with losing a record contract. With only a tenuous connection to the Blossoms and little musical semblance to the jangle-pop that has characterized the Tempe sound, they didn't need to be poster boys for the town's musical obituary.

Besides, they point out, reports of the death of the band have been greatly exaggerated.

Just as they and their music scene were being eulogized, Mark and Lawrence Zubia and their bandmates were doing studio work, had inked a publishing deal with London-based industry giant EMI and were writing new songs with established recording veterans.

Meanwhile, Tempe hasn't been the only musical source to see record contracts dry up. Chaos in the music business brought on by megamergers and mass firings have meant the end of contracts for solid musicians across the country. And even for others who've managed to avoid the ax, such as Gin Blossoms spin-offs Pharoahs 2000, the chaos has put them in a state of limbo as albums are held up from release.

If The Pistoleros have been emblematic of anything, it has less to do with the ebb and flow of the Tempe scene than the rough seas of the music business itself. Their story is less about their connection to the Gin Blossoms than it is about a tight group of five talented musicians fronted by perhaps the best vocalist in the Valley. It's also the story of the perseverance of men in their 30s who might have given up playing in bars for low pay a long time ago. But mostly, the story of The Pistoleros is about two Mexican-American brothers growing up playing mariachi music in white Scottsdale who barely survived their own self-destructive natures to emerge with a greater appreciation of their ethnicity, their talent, and, mostly, their resilience.

"Let's grease one," says Rob Seidenberg, a bespectacled A&R man sitting at a control board at storied Ocean Way Recording Studios in Los Angeles. Seidenberg's paid by Hollywood Records to scout for and develop bands for his label. In the studio before him, Pistoleros drummer Gary Smith wears headphones and prepares for tape to roll and record his take on "Love Street," a new Pistoleros song written by Lawrence and Mark Zubia. It's taken two hours, but Smith and Seidenberg have finally found a snare drum with just the right greasy sound they want for the song, and now it's time to lay down a track. Smith, 34, waits for his cue, his eyes frozen in a manic glare. His bandmates jokingly refer to him as "Chip Manson," saying that with his eery gaze and long hair, Smith could pass for Charlie Manson's long-lost love child.

Meanwhile, bassist Scott Andrews and lead guitarist Thomas Laufenberg sit behind Seidenberg, waiting their own turns, picking at their instruments in preparation. Tall and solidly built, Andrews has a shaved head and looks like he could play in the NFL. The 36-year-old father of three is the group's oldest member. Laufenberg, at 31, is the youngest and the newest addition to the band. With his blue eyes, narrow face and Jesuslike chin hair, he seems almost fragile--until he rips into a guitar riff.

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Tony Ortega
Contact: Tony Ortega