Music Features

Three Breakout Stars of the Arizona Music Scene Are Teaming Up for a Can’t-Miss Concert

Jimmy Eat World was started by four Mesa high school kids nearly three decades ago. Indie rockers The Maine celebrated their 15th anniversary earlier this year. And up-and-coming singer-songwriter Sydney Sprague released her first LP in 2021.

They represent three waves of Phoenix music — three acts that show national and international audiences the quality of what can come out of the Valley.

And they'll all be on stage on Friday, October 28, at Arizona Financial Theatre in downtown Phoenix for a one-night-only, can't-miss concert. (Pop-rock trio PVRIS and post-hardcore outfit Thursday are also on the bill.)

The official announcement of the show came during an August 23 press conference in the lobby of the venue. Sprague acted as MC for the hourlong event, which began with Jimmy Eat World and The Maine mock fighting like they were part of a boxing weigh-in rather than a press conference.

In between lighter questions such as "Will the bands wear costumes for a concert so close to Halloween?" (probably not), if Jimmy Eat World bassist Rick Burch will ever play the tuba on an album (he's open to it), where everyone went to high school, and what the musicians' favorite food and drink spots are (eateries mentioned include The Dirty Drummer, Provision Coffee, Belly, Los Dos Molinos, and Gallo Blanco), invited media got an inside look on the workings behind the show and the bands' experiences rising to prominence from the Arizona music scene.

The October 28 concert has its roots in the When We Were Young Festival, the emo-focused event happening in Las Vegas on October 22-23 and 29. As Burch told it, the band was looking for something to do between the two weekends of the festival.

"When we were thinking about when we want to do another show in the market in Phoenix, it seemed really sensible to say 'Hey, there's some really cool bands that might want to play a show in between those two weekends,'" he said. When the band thought of who they should ask to play, "The Maine was at the top of our list just because they're a great band and they're from here, so we thought it would be kind of a double hometown show that would be something that Phoenix fans of our kind of music would really appreciate. So we thought it was a no-brainer. And they were like 'Yeah, let's do it.'"

Jimmy Eat World has played gigs with Sprague before, making her another natural fit for the bill.

"And we just started going through the list of the other bands, bands that we like or we're friends with," Burch continued. "We've played shows with Sydney, we're huge fans of hers ... and that's how the bill came together."

Surprisingly, it's been a while since Jimmy Eat World has played a regular concert in Phoenix.

"The last time we played a proper Phoenix headlining show where we played a full set and it wasn't like us opening up for somebody or doing a secret show at Crescent Ballroom ... was 2015 at the Marquee Theatre," Jimmy Eat World drummer Zach Lind explained. "So that was one of the reasons that we wanted to do this show, because we've sort of neglected our home city and we wanted to make it right."

For members of The Maine, playing with Jimmy Eat World is a dream come true.

"It's an honor to play with Jimmy Eat World, a band that influenced why we're here today," said Maine drummer Patrick Kirch.

"We've been doing it for 15 years but we never would have imagined being able to share the stage with Jimmy Eat World," lead singer John O'Callaghan added. "We started our band probably 10 years after Jimmy Eat World did, so seeing bands like Jimmy Eat World and The Format become bands that you'd see on MTV and that your parents would know, and the fact that they're from here, was a big inspiration in just that it's possible. Till you see it's possible, you don't know where to go."

For Sprague, the relative newcomer, both of the other local acts on the bill have been longtime musical influences for her.

"I've been a fan of both of these bands since I was in middle school. Like a crazy, obsessive fan — I apologize. It's very surreal to get to play with either of them, and both is a lot," she said.

Tickets for the show, which starts at 7 p.m. on October 28 at Arizona Financial Theatre, 400 West Washington Street, start at $49. Visit for tickets and details.

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Jimmy Eat World, from left: Zach Lind, Jim Adkins, Rick Burch, and Tom Linton.
Jim Louvau

Jimmy Eat World Contemplates the Past, Present, and Future

Jimmy Eat World may be celebrating their 30th anniversary as a band in 2023, but they've known each other much longer than that, as frontman and lead guitarist Jim Adkins told the crowd at the August 23 press conference.

Though "we met each other in high school because we all played in different bands, Zach's mother was our preschool teacher, actually, so we all came up in the same public school system out in Mesa," he said.

Adkins, drummer Zach Lind, bassist Rick Burch, and rhythm guitarist Tom Linton reminisced plenty during the press conference to promote the October 28 show, from telling the crowd what it felt like to be an up-and-coming band in the 1990s to talking about the long-gone venues they remember.

Lind said the support that bands received from each other back in those days was crucial.

"Just having that core group of bands was really important for us, because it was like, there's stuff going on. There's something happening around this group of people, and the fact that they're on stage and we're on stage and we're cheering each other on — because in the early days, half the people in the audience are the other bands waiting to play — that kind of connection and camaraderie was really important to us," he explained.

In those days, Jimmy Eat World performed and watched bands at places such as Modified Arts (it's still around, but no longer used as a music venue), Green Room, and the Silver Dollar Club.

"The old Nita's Hideaway is probably the epicenter for the group of people that we were closest to. RIP," Adkins said.

Besides those metro Phoenix mainstays, "When we were starting, there was like a string of semi-legal places that were open for seven or eight months," Adkins said, "I think if we saw any of those places now, we'd be horrified, but there's some thing special about when you're discovering things for the first time that makes it elevated."

Jimmy Eat World have long since been elevated out of the local music scene and onto national and international stages; besides the October 28 concert and the When We Were Young Festival, the band have been touring around the country this year and even has some Australian dates booked in 2023.

However, they're not touring to promote an album. The band haven't put out a full-length album since Surviving in 2019, and post-pandemic, they're pivoting to a different way to share music. Rather than releasing LPs, they're going for individual songs to reflect the way that people listen to music today, Adkins said in a post-press conference interview.

"Right now, we don't have a record label, and for a while now, we've been trying to figure out what the best way forward would be in that," he said. "We came upon the idea of trying to meet people where they're at with how they consume music. It seems, more often than not, it's by track or on playlists. ... And there's so much competition for your time, so it's sort of a lot to ask even your most hardcore fan to sit down with an hour for your new record. ... But just about everybody has time to check out a song. This is something we've never done before, so that's exciting."

Their latest song is "Place Your Debts," which came out just this week.

Songwriting happens "a few ways," Adkins said. "Sometimes I'll come to the group with an idea that has a vocal melody to it but maybe not finished lyrics to it. That might be a full arrangement of something; it might be just a part. It'll go through the band editing process and get fleshed out, get developed into something for songlike. And that's true also from anyone else's scrap ideas. ... Basically, someone does something, another person will say, 'Do that again,' and embellish it and it just turns into something bigger from where it started."

The same can be said of the band themselves, who are starting to make plans to celebrate their milestone next year while continuing to stay fresh and creative.

"For us right now, we're trying to figure out, for the things we want to do specifically for the 30th anniversary, what do we want to do?" Lind said. "Because it kind of has to fit in existing ideas of what we'll be doing that are unrelated. We want to do something cool, but we also don't want the entire year focused on that."

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The Maine, from left: Jared Monaco, Patrick Kirch, John O’Callaghan, Kennedy Brock, and Garrett Nickelsen.
The Maine

The Maine Talk About the Value of Sticking Around

The Maine have released eight studio albums and have their own biannual music festival. They've published books, sell all kinds of merch from puzzles to T-shirts to nail polish, perform around the world, and celebrated 15 years as a band earlier this year.

But lead singer John O'Callaghan hasn't forgotten his disastrous first show. He remembers feeling embarrassed because he felt like he gave a bad performance. He didn't even face the crowd during the set. Then, the band's former singer gave him some advice.

"What he told me was, there's a difference between 99 percent of the people that you're playing with and the 1 percent of people that just continue and don't give up," he said during the press conference. "You can keep going and keep trying, and it's going to be hard, but there's a lot to learn from every experience you have. I think as a band, we took that to heart," he recalled.

A decade and a half later, the five members of the band (O'Callaghan, lead guitarist Jared Monaco, bass guitarist Garrett Nickelsen, drummer Patrick Kirch, and rhythm guitarist Kennedy Brock) are in their 30s, some with wives and children. And not giving up has paid off.

Besides the upcoming concert that they're stoked for, the band recently released "Box in a Heart," their latest single, and are on the bill for the When We Were Young Festival in Las Vegas.

Since the latest 8123 Fest, a local event that draws fans of The Maine from around the world, was held earlier this year, there won't be another one till 2024, allowing the band plenty of time to work on their upcoming album. (The number 8123 represents the address of a parking garage O'Callaghan and his friends used to hang out in when they were younger.)

"At this point, we're gearing up and we're writing new music, which is exciting," O'Callaghan said in a post-press conference interview. "Being able to stand up and play together and write, that was a refreshing reminder of what it was like to write as a band, and I think that's been really inspirational and really motivating going forward. We don't know exactly what sound we'll be, but we know that it's not going to be the same. It's never the same."

Kirch added, "I think our focus, besides the show, is going to be on really making the best album possible. And I guess the word 'album' is the highlight in that. It can be easy to piece a record together and record a song here or there. I think really making a body of work that is one thought, that's where our heads are at. We're going to work hard until we make our best record."

Working hard is part of what's led to the band's wildly devoted fanbase, thousands of people around the world who love The Maine consider themselves part of the 8123 Family. Search the #8123Impact hashtag on social media, and you'll find fans getting together to champion mental health and participate in charity projects such as working at food banks and picking up litter.

Even the band couldn't have foreseen the way the fanbase has connected with each other. At the last 8123 Fest, Nickelsen said, it was incredible to see "all these people come together from all over the world, and it was so much more their thing than ours. We just happened to be the background music to their hangout, in the best way."

But none of it would have been possible if the band hadn't stuck it out through the early years, the pandemic, and the rest of their decade and a half of musical stardom.

"We've played shows for zero people, played shows for two people, and just kept going," O'Callaghan said. "I think that's a big determining factor. There are plenty of people that think it's too hard and give up, and a small portion of people who decide that that's what they're going to do no matter what."

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Sydney Sprague performs at Innings Festival in February 2022.
Neil Schwartz Photography

Sydney Sprague Is on Her Way Up in the Music World

It's hard to believe it's only been about a year and a half since singer-songwriter Sydney Sprague appeared on the cover of Phoenix New Times on the strength of her debut LP, maybe i will see you at the end of the world.

A lot has happened for Sprague since then, including touring with the likes of Dashboard Confessional, Jimmy Eat World, and The Front Bottoms, racking up well over 1 million streams of the album and almost 85,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, and taking the stage at Tempe's Innings Festival in February.

But despite being practically the textbook definition of a star on the rise, she doesn't see herself as such.

"It's just very surreal and I don't feel like my feelings about who I am and where I'm at in my career have changed at all," Sprague said. "I still feel like a 15-year-old navigating through these really insane dream experiences, so it doesn't really feel real. I still have a hard time accepting that this is actually happening and I get to do all this stuff. Even the press conference, standing between Jimmy Eat World and The Maine — I don't know how that happens. That's crazy. I always have been a little bit of a nervous person performing and doing this kind of stuff, and the stakes keep getting higher and higher and I'm just trying to like breathe."

In between breaths, Sprague found time this summer to head to Seattle for three weeks to record her second album, one that promises to be noticeably different from maybe i will see you at the end of the world. The songs on that album were somewhat pensive and written before COVID-19; the new album contains tracks that, though written during the pandemic, are "definitely a lot more fun," she said.

The album is "loud and crazy — it's still angsty, but in a different way. I wrote a lot of the songs in 2020 and 2021, and there was so much actual horrible stuff going on that I kind of had to fight my normal songwriting instincts of being sad all the time. I needed an outlet to escape the sad. So it's definitely a lot more personal, introspective, and a lot of writing about other people, which is something I haven't really done too much before, just to distract myself from the horrors of reality," Sprague explained.

Even though her songs talk about romantic struggles, insecurities, and the unfortunate state of the world, Sprague said songwriting is her favorite part of the creative process.

Songwriting "is where it all starts, just being alone with the guitar in my room playing around. I think that's where my primary joy from music comes from. But playing the live shows is a very close second, especially with a band. It's just the best time," she said.

The October 28 show will be another great time for Sprague, she said. When Jimmy Eat World and The Maine reached out to ask her to be on the bill, "how could I ever say no to that? It's a crazy lineup. Being first of five is kind of crazy for a non-festival show, so I'm super-stoked to see how it goes." Though she can't reveal some of the surprises in store, she said that she'll play some songs from the new album.

Besides the Jimmy Eat World show, Sprague and her band will go on tour for a bit in November with Movements, and later in December, with The Front Bottoms.

And between the two, she's performing at the inaugural Zona Music Festival in downtown Phoenix on the first weekend in December. And moreover, she'll DJ for the first time at Emo Night, one of the festival's afterparties. But even though she's never spun records, like everything else coming down the pike for the artist, she's taking it in stride.

"I've never DJ'ed. I'm very familiar with emo music, though, so I feel like my playlist is going to be lit," she said. "I don't know what I'm going to do with my hands, but I'll figure it out when I get there."