There & Back Again: In the Studio with The Black Moods

Texting Josh Kennedy from the garage, as I pull in after work:

“Hey, I’m off work, text me address and I’ll head your way.”

“Sure man, we are just unloading the van. Come hang out.”

“Sounds hot. What beer do you want…. something wet?”

“Haha, yeah, sounds good.”

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So I jumped on Ghost, and away we went, flying down US-60 from the shadow of Superstition Mountain back into the hustle of Tempe, Arizona. But first, a stop at Sun Devil Liquor.

Just a quick aside, if you have not checked out Sun Devil Liquor, or its subterranean wine bar and lounge, (that you would never know existed unless you ventured inside the most fantastic local liquor store in Arizona) then you are missing out! Remedy this! The place is pretty cool, and it has been around forever! Right in downtown Mesa.

Sixer of San Tan Lime Leaf tucked under my vest, I rolled across the city line from Mesa to Tempe and headed to the address Josh Kennedy had provided. Tucked in a completely nondescript neighborhood, is a row of storage units. I rolled up the row, and sure enough, there was The Black Moods van, but there was not a soul in sight. The place was deserted. I pulled my bike up next to the van, and killed the engine. Double checking the address, I headed to a metal door beneath the unit number Josh had texted me.

I felt like I was in a creepy black and white scene from Rear Window.

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Tepidly, I knocked on the steel door. It was a dull thud, but I could imagine it echoing with the boom of an Adam’s Family knocker on the inside. Nothing. I texted Josh again:

“Hey man. I’m outside. I think this is the right place.”

I saw the buzzer to the right of the door and pushed the button. Silence. But not a minute later, Josh Kennedy, lead singer and guitarist of The Black Moods opened the door, and with a huge Midwestern smile said, “Hey, cool, come on in.”

And all of a sudden I stepped into the Wardrobe in the Spare Room, and slipped into Music Lover Narnia.

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Chico’s iconic Black Moods drum-kit was set up immediately at the front of the studio; the opposing wall was tiled with mirrors. Around the corner was a small hallway past a fridge (where Josh stopped and grabbed frozen glasses from the icebox) and then an abrupt 90 degree corner opened up the studio space to an incredibly lush and comfortable office/studio/lounge. “Holy Shit!” I whispered just above a whisper.

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Josh again laughed, that pure, easy laugh that is so common in other areas of the country, but sadly, something I have found lacking upon returning to Arizona. (In the mid 90s I lived in Kansas, City, Missouri for a few years, and as an Arizona boy away from home for the first time, I was immediately blown away by the overt friendliness of the Midwest vs. the more overt distance, and privacy of the Southwest.) “If we aren’t out playing, we are rehearsing, and working in the studio. We spend a lot of time here, you might as well be comfortable. In fact,” the tall, lanky, blonde haired, Plant-esque, guitar player continued “when we were working Bella Donna with the acclaimed, Johnny K (producer: Shinedown, Disturbed, Deftones) he crashed right there on that couch!”

There was this amazing sense of good ole boy, neighborly, friendliness about Josh Kennedy. Nothing in his demeanor seemed contrived, fabricated, or disingenuous, in the least. Quite the opposite is true, actually. He is ready with a hug, a smile, a kind word, and even as The Black Moods are poised for National fame and success, already on the radio in almost every major market in the country…. except Phoenix….. hmmmm…. (What gives KUPD?) he exudes a sense of honest humility that instantly made this small time, indie writer feel comfortable and at ease.

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We clinked our beer glasses, “Cheers, man. Thanks for hanging out.” He sat in an office chair that looked like the Captain’s chair on the bridge of a musical Starship Enterprise. If Captain Kirk was a bit more….. Stairway to Heaven. And if Spock was a small in stature but huge in personality and beatsmanship Mexican named Chico Diaz.

I drank a long pull of the ice cold, summertime ale, locally brewed at San Tan Brewery of course!, and took in the room. The cool pictures of iconic personal moments to Josh on the walls. A to-do list written out on a white-board in a code that looked like something between Egyptian hieroglyphics and Chemistry. Books lined a shelf, and the huge computer monitor was open to a music/ song recording program. Amps, receivers, mics, and all manner of multi-colored, blinking coolness lined the whole curve of the desk behind the singer. Over all, the Warhol-esue rendition of Marilyn Monroe watched.

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And then there were the guitars! “I’m not a singer man, I’m a guitar player”, Josh said as we discussed his side gigs around town with his old band Chalmer’s Green. “It’s a great chance to rest my voice, but still be out, playing, honing my chops. I love it! You know about our gig in November right?”

“Of course. My wife and I were on the Facebook Event bandwagon the day it was announced.”

He smiled, and nodded, his curly blonde hair framing his face and waving with a golden glow as he sipped his beer. “Cool!”

So, yeah…. the guitars. Several beautiful guitars stood, lined up in a stage case bridging the gap between the technology of the desk and the luxury of the coach and sitting area. All done in somber tones, sables and crimsons, under the watchful gaze of fellow Missourian, Brad Pitt (or shall we say Tyler Durden) and Alfred Hitchcock. As I said, Hitchcock Presents… Narnia…. Rock n Roll….

I was in Heaven.

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Ryan B. Clark: Alright my man, let’s get started. Question numero uno. As I have referenced in most of my recent conversations with local artists, we all know that business of the music industry has changed. We have all seen the Forbes report, broadcast from Rolling Stone and others. Very little profit these days comes in the ways that it used to. Knowing that… our friend Brian “B Nizz” wants to know, “What does success look like, now, for The Black Moods?

Josh Kennedy: What we are doing right now, man. We are doing it. We are playing rock n roll music. We are traveling the country. We are meeting thousands of new friends and fans. We are playing our hearts out for absolutely anyone who will listen. We just got back from a small Radio tour, playing live in studios around the country. We are doing it.

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Ryan: Sure, but when we look at the numbers, it is obvious that the days of huge jets screaming around the world for massive world tours…. at least for newer bands…. are limited. So it is a matter of reality to kind of gauge our dreams against that dose of real, I think.

Josh: Of course. Let’s say, if we could play Marquee Theater size venues (1500 capacity approx.) across the country, that would be a massive accomplishment and a goal that we see as absolutely achievable.

Ryan: Right on. Great answer! My wife, the ever devout fan of all things Gin Blossoms, Chalmer’s Green, and the derivatives of, has a fun question for our numero dos. One day, when you are running for office, or coming out onto stage to accept some prestigious humanitarian award, and they play an entrance song. What is it? Here you come, killing it across stage, and what blasts through the speakers?

Josh: Oh, great question (then, with a moment of contemplation and a gulp of cold beer) definitely Hair of the Dog by Nazareth.

Ryan: Yes!

There is laughter, and drinking, as both of us have a momentary flashback of Marc Norman at The Tempe Tavern on the day his illustrious mug was being painted on the side of the building. It was a work in progress, and at first, Marc was terrified that he looked like he had some sort of crisis….. it was hilarious, and both Marc and I were texting Josh getting in on the laughs before the rest of the Wednesday night crew came in to play. The cool thing is by then the painting was done, and all of Marc’s worries were for naught…. and the finished product is freaking fantastic, and a wonderful homage to the Local Loki of Tempe, Arizona….. who may or may not be running for public office. The jury is still out, and Marc and I still have to finish that conversation. Stay tuned.

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But… I digress.

Ryan: Tres. Of all the cool events you have been part of: playing South by Southwest, the multiple trips to Circus Mexicus, and most recently as a main stage headliner, to two national tours as opening act for Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers, to now playing local Oktoberfest festivals and Apache Lake Music Festival. That is quite the list of accomplishments. Which one, Josh, has meant the most to The Moods?

Josh: It is impossible really to explain just how much Roger Clyne has meant to our band. I can remember playing with him, years ago, I think it was 2006 at the Marquee Theater, and we were a young, crazy rock n roll band, I’m sure he looked at us with a bit of a raised eyebrow. But after that, he saw something in us, and through him venues opened, markets opened, new fans opened. Playing with Roger Clyne, whether in Mexicus or on the road, but certainly playing that main stage at Circus Mexicus, has meant more to us than we can really express.

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Ryan: It amazes me, as a long time follower, fan, and frankly distant student (at least as a mentor of how to be a successful independent artist, of Roger Clyne be it as a member of The Refreshments, The Peacemakers or through Mexican Moonshine… how often he comes up in Arizona as not only an inspiration, but someone who really does give back to the communities that have given him so much over the years. He certainly is one of the Legends of our state, that will go down in history for his influence.

And another drink occurred….. this one over a mutually respected local artist. “Salude!”

Ryan: Speaking of history, one of the things I am really into around town in the Tempe Musical Genealogy if you will. The connections that all seem to swirl out of that early 90s, Long Wong’s on Mill, Minder Binders, Nina’s Hideaway, Bash on Ash….. scene. That scene that seemed to erupt out of Dead Hot Workshop and The Chimeras…. that birthed not only Roger Clyne’s bands, but also Satellight, and then Stephen Ashbrook, as well as Gin Blossoms, The Pistoleros, and then Chalmer’s Green, Ghetto Cowgirl, and eventually The Black Moods. I love this stuff! So, we are familiar with the oft discussed Gin Blossoms/ Chalmer’s Green origin of the name The Black Moods…. tell me about the origin of Chalmer’s Green?

Josh: (laughing. The guy is always laughing, smiling. He was one of the most inviting folks I have ever interviewed. Just a really cool dude.) Oh. So, way back I did this short gig as a telemarketer. It was awful, I kept looking around at these people that had made careers of this, going… oh no way. (His hair waved like a lion mane as he shook his head back and forth.) Yeah, so anyway, a guy that popped up on my list to call was Chalmers Green. He didn’t pick up.

Ryan: So Chalmer’s Green is some random dude from somewhere across the country who did not answer the phone? That is hilarious!

Josh: Yeah, we thought so too.

Ryan: So, what are we at, question cinco? Josh, I have seen you, Jordan, Chico out supporting other bands all the time. I have seen you most recently at The Analog Outlaws show at Rock Bar. You guys are awesome about sharing the love, and supporting the local music scene!

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Josh: Yeah, it’s been awesome to see so many venues moving back to really promoting live music and not just DJs around town. It’s great!

Ryan: On that note, seeing all the ways this new generation is trying to break on thru this Brave New World, with YouTube videos, music videos, single release shows, GoFund Me drives, pre-order sales…. there are a million tactics out there for bands trying to make a name for themselves. What is your number one piece of advice for local musicians out there, like your long time friend Corey Gloden of Wyves.

Josh: Play. Rehearse. And Play. Play as often as you can. Hone your chops. But play.

Ryan: I have often gone on record saying that Phoenix has one hell of a local music scene. Would you agree?

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Josh: Absolutely. And the reason for that, frankly, is you can tell these bands practice. They are playing and they are rehearsing. And it shows. They are not just showing up to a free show at Yucca and expected to be discovered. They are busting their asses to improve their craft. The scene is what it is right now, because bands are practicing, playing, and practicing some more.

Ryan: Final question, Amigo. What is on deck for The Black Moods?

Josh: We are busy man. We have Chandler Oktoberfest coming up this weekend with Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers and our good friends over at San Tan Brewery in Chandler. Then we have Four Peaks Oktoberfest, where we are looking forward to rocking the Lyft stage.

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(Interesting side note, similar to buddies, the Gin Blossoms, The Black Moods would much rather play the side stages at festivals, if given the option, because the barricade is smaller, and intimacy with their audience is such a huge part of what they bring as musicians.  Take note, local bands… those off-the-main stages are a blessing in many ways!)

Josh (continued): After that we are playing with a host of great bands at Apache Lake Music Festival. Can’t wait to rock with our buddies Wyves! Our new single, Bad News releases on Halloween, and look for Bella Donna wine, a tie in to our first single from this new record, coming in November.

Ryan: Speaking of new record….

Josh: The third album from The Black Moods will drop with the third single, next spring.

Ryan: Josh Kennedy, Gracias Amigo. Thank you so very much to take the time to sit down with the small guy.

Josh: You bet. Anytime. Let’s rock soon!

And off I went, out of Narnia and the vigilant eyes of Morrison, and Marilyn, Tyler, and Alfred. I passed the drums, and opened the door that would plunge me back into the non magical really, real world.

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“Dude, is that your bike! That is gorgeous!”

And my friends…. that really explains the entirety of my local rise to prominence. LOL

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Keep the Greasy Side Down, Amigos !!!!

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