Rum Drinker may write songs about tropical paradises and "SNES Heaven," but the band's Shangri-La just happens to be Sunnyslope, the Phoenix neighborhood wrapped around North Mountain. The lo-fi surf punk quartet is fronted by singer/guitarist Josué Rodríguez and keyboardist Paris Tejas, a couple who met in Portland but now live in a quiet, nondescript home they call Casa Butthole.
New Times paid a visit to la casita positioned just across the windy kinks of Cave Creek Road. Tejas was recovering from an illness while Rodríguez was chowing down on Chinese food, and their three cats took turns jumping on my lap. Rodríguez is a Phoenix native and started Rum Drinker in the fall of 2014. After RD's keyboardist bailed to Tucson before a show, Rodríguez "crammed all the keyboard parts into [Tejas'] head," as he puts it. She's been playing ever since, and the two share songwriting credits.
The rest of the band — Manuel Felix Mejia III (drums) and Amber Light (bass) — also share the roof in Casa Butthole, where they practice and record their jangly garage rock tunes, such as the loopy "Spring Break" or the beach-trippin' "Unholy Tide." Rum Drinker's debut self-titled album, with album art by NXOEED, is a patchwork of such exotic tunes, evoking Wavves or Ty Segall with a bit of Dead Kennedys sarcasm.
"It's pretty autobiographical. My dad is Puerto Rican, and he drank rum a lot. My 18th birthday was celebrated by finishing a bottle of rum with him," Rodríguez says. "Just having a kind of slightly cultural thing mixed with a familial alcoholic thing. But I don't drink as much now."
The highlight of the album has to be the demented, scratchy cover of Jimmy Buffett's "Cheeseburger in Paradise," which is littered with patches of Omnichord. It's sort of ironic, but not really — Rum Drinker really does have a thing for the Parrothead singer.
"It's like an ultimatum," Tejas says. "If you want to be a part of this musical project, you have to pay respect to Jimmy Buffett, even if you have no feeling for him in your heart."
Casa Butthole is more than just a band's party pad — it also serves as HQ for Casa Butthole Record Collective, a fresh, up-and-coming DIY unit that's making waves. As a pay-what-you-can collective, CBRC offers its members access to a lo-fi recording studio and the ability to produce cassettes, among other things. With big plans for 2016, including delving into low-budget filmmaking and producing their own version of Kidz Bop, Casa Butthole promises to be one of the weirdest, most experimental labels to emerge in recent memory.
"The really strong DIY ethic is something I don't necessarily see in Phoenix, label-wise, yet," Rodríguez says. "A lot of the labels I know have a pretty strong amount of funding. What I see with our label is a lot more true participation from the bands and members . . . with us, [artists have] 100 percent control."
CBRC's first compilation cassette, The Slope Volume 1, was released in November 2015 and features a dozen local artists, including The Doyenne, TK & The Irresistibles, Dinosaur Love, Hug of War, Jerusafunk, and Andy Warpigs, among others. Moses Fidal of Pages Per Content, a local anarchist zine, has offered his printing services to the project.
"Possibly one of the biggest things that sets us apart from other labels is that we are focusing on predominantly releasing music by people of color," Rodriguez says.
"We're not exclusive about it — obviously, there's white kids working with the project, too — but I think our label is probably 75 percent non-white, and we're really proud about giving weirdo musicians of color an outlet."