The music scene doesn't happen on its own. What we see on the surface is the result of passionate people behind the scenes, writing, creating, organizing, promoting, and working tirelessly to bring music to the venues, bars, and houses of Metro Phoenix. We will look at 25 here, some familiar, some new . Be sure to check out our 100 Tastemakers and 100 Creatives as well.
Andrew Jackson Jihad. JJCnV. Diners. Dogbreth. Mr. Mud and Mister Gold. Okilly Dokilly. The Oxford Coma. Gale. Twin Giant. Hug of War. Citrus Clouds.
Those nine Phoenix bands are mostly quite different from one another, ranging in genre from doom metal to garage rock to folk punk. But they have one thing in common — they chose to record their music at Mesa's Audioconfusion studio with owner Jalipaz Nelson.
You see Audioconfusion popping up in the liner notes of locally produced albums more and more these days. Musicians seem to appreciate Nelson's hands-off recording style, in which he puts musicians in his studio that he built outside his house and lets them work to their best ability.
"I don't consider myself an engineer," Nelson says. "I'm not very technical with what I do. I really just trust my ears, and there's a lot of trial and error. I keep doing things until I hear what I want to hear."
Nelson didn't move to Phoenix so much as arrive here in 1994. A friend asked him to hitchhike with him from Florida to Alabama, and Nelson just kept going, bringing his pet ferret along for the journey. When they got to the Arizona-California border, Nelson learned the rodents are illegal Golden State, he pitched his tent in Tempe — literally.
"I camped in the riverbed where the Tempe Town Lake is now," Nelson recalls. "I had a tent on the riverbed there because the cops wouldn't bother me there, since it was Native-owned. So I slept on a bed of rocks.
Then I met my wife, and the rest is history."
He started recording bands just a few years after he first arrived. Some musician friends spent $20,000 to record an album and were only mildly pleased with the result. Nelson thought he could do better.
"I listened to it and I said, 'Damn, this is mediocre at best. I could do this for way less,'" he says.
So he built his studio piece by piece while developing a hands-off yet effective style in the studio: just let musicians be musicians and provide them with the best possible vibe and equipment to work with.
"I always used to say raw [to describe my recording style], but my partner would say, 'I don't think you're raw, you're natural.' I still think raw sounds cooler. But that's what I try to keep," Nelson says. "You listen to those Diners recordings, and they don't sound like they're in a room. They don't have this over-compressed, suffocating sound. They're still natural and raw."
New Times spoke with Nelson about his opinions on the analog versus digital debate, his philosophy on compression, and the biggest problem facing the music scene today.
Where's your heart when it comes to music? Well, I'm not a musician. I don't play guitar or bass or drums or keyboards. I just record bands. As far as where my heart is, I enjoy everything.
Why are you involved in the Phoenix music scene? I just want to help these starving artists put out some good, interesting records. I hope I help them out.
What makes a good song? I tend to think that the best songs written are the ones that somebody didn't put a lot of effort into it. They just came to them. There's really no guidelines. It's the ones that come to them naturally.
What do you think the music scene needs most? For the Valley not to be so spread apart. We're all from all different places. We're from the West Valley, the East Valley, downtown — we're just so far apart from each other. They put up this train and it takes forever to get anywhere and it doesn't go everywhere. It doesn't really help the scene at all. That's the thing that no other city struggles with.
What's the best concert you've ever seen in Phoenix? I'm into really weird music. I just went to FilmBar earlier this year and watched this band from the '70s called Negativland. They're not your normal band. They're very noise and sample-based. ... I'd say probably the earlier [Andrew Jackson] Jihad shows, when they were just acoustic guitar and upright bass, were some really special shows.
What's your favorite venue, living or dead, in the Valley? I would say Hollywood Alley. I hate standing for a long period of time and I love booths. And they have booths. They had food. The food was really good, and their sound was really good.
What are your thoughts on the trend of recording directly onto tape? Well, I look at tape as an effect. It's an effect I can get with a little bit of working the sound. It doesn't even take that long. I just don't think it's really necessary anymore. I hear two things about tape. One is the mechanical-ness, the actual process of the tape running against the head. The actual tangible sound — it's smooth or something. The other thing I hear, and Jack White even said this — with tape, you don't have the chance to re-do things. So you have to commit. I think that's the dumbest thing. Just use some discipline, man. That is just idiotic.
The 2016 Noisemakers so far:
25. Matty Steinkamp
24. Blaise Lantana
23. Justus Samuel
22. Andy Warpigs
21. Trap House
20. Jalipaz Nelson