Refuting Forbes, Courting Millenials, and Sticking it to the Man

A Conversation with Wyves

Seamus McCaffery’s in Downtown Phoenix may be one of my favorite bars in town.  It has this great Departed-esque vibe with all of the patches of law enforcement officials lining the upper shelf behind the bar.  The place feels Irish .  The mood is sombre, the lighting is low, the wood is dark, and you can almost forget – just for a second – that you are in the Valley of the Sun.  It feels like a couple of Hooligans could be at a back table drinking Jameson, Mick police officers could be lining the bar drinking Guiness, and Corey Gloden could be jamming an acoustic guitar and helping your Black Orchard (spin on a Snake Bite with Angry Orchard Cider and a Stout float ) go down easy.  I walked in late on a Thursday night, and Corey called out to me after his current song, “Hey Ryan!” and busted in to Bitch Has Got Problems.  It was going to be a good night.

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In order to lock down Wyves, one has to be prepared to surf through the schedules of four very busy men.  Corey plays acoustic gigs around town four or five nights a week (to say nothing of his side project Dry River Yaught Club), Brenden teaches music: Guitar, Ukulele, Piano, and Drums (also to say nothing of his side project Treasurefruit) , Evan plays side project gigs for Sponsored Cover Bands, and Nick Sterling is a full time dad during the day, a columnist for Modern Guitars Magazine, and plays night gigs with Corey from time to time.  Luckily, going to a bar to listen to a gig, have a few beers, and wait for other members of the band to come in shifts for our conversation sounded like a perfect way to spend an evening!

On May 3rd of this year, Ross Gerber, contributor to Forbes Magazine, released an article entitled How the Music Industry is Putting Itself Out of Business.  If you choose,  read the article while listening to the above song and realize something is definitely not right in Denmark.  Gerber, after beginning the article proclaiming facts without giving one example of a “mid-range” band, would have readers believe that:

“Times have changed.  Besides a handful of superstars, it’s impossible for bands and musicians to generate significant revenue taking the approach of putting out a record, selling a couple thousand copies and then going on tour to promote it.  And the reason is simple: because of streaming services consumers won’t pay much for music.”

Gerber’s thesis is simple: album sales are necessary for a band to achieve super-stardom, and because of music streaming, less albums are being sold.  Therefore, the music industry is dead.  He continues by projecting the assumption that these steaming services, jump-started by Napster {oh Lars Ulrich, there you are!} back in the 90s, “produc[ed] a generation of listeners who didn’t value music because they were able to download it for free.”  Gerber perpetuates this assumption by following it up with, “Another irony is that music has been devalued at a time when there are more what that ever to promote it.”

Problem: this is an argument from fallacy, or an argument that assumes a plank is true in order to prove its conclusion.  His assumption: music has been devalued.

Brenden McBride was playing with his band Treasurefruit, so he arrived late to the shindig at McCaffery’s.  When asked about the modern state of music, he answered almost immediately:

“You don’t get there without Spotify.  Sure, you have to reach out on Facebook and other forms of social media, but there is simply too much competition to not have quality content.”

Wyves are releasing the follow up album to Spoils of War this summer.  If you do not already own this album, it is an absolute MUST for Rock n’ Roll fans – Get the album HERE !!!! Dude… 12 bucks ??!! You can work an hour for THIS!  While you are at it, click the album cover, and listen to it’s first single: “Puppycat”.

I have incredibly high hopes for this band, but the point is – who will be these next “mid level” or higher bands?  The greats are all aging; who will replace them?  Wyves… New ChumsJane n the Jungle: these are the bands that are bringing the passion back to music, and these are the bands that will rise in that Echelon of Musical Power.  Perhaps Gerber is right on one level: the high-end-money-making-scam of the modern music industry is being forced to Change or Die, and that is certainly not a BAD thing.

THE INDIE ANSWER

Wyves describe themselves as “Unapologetic Rock n Roll”, and of course, that in and of itself, begs a question.  Corey finished his first set, and came over to my table.  “How are you bud?  I’m sorry we gotta do this in shifts during a gig.”  This of course is to be expected from a hard working independent music artist – you gotta work.  So, not wanting to waste the opportunities that he could take a break, I asked the obvious ice breaker:

“What is unapologetic rock n roll?”

Something in the late night air, the din of the bar, and the low lighting mostly disguised Corey’s momentary look of panic.  “Shit man, I don’t know,” the front-man laughed.  I was prepared, as I had googled the term earlier, and simply jotted down some of the “Image Search” list.

I laughed, “Would you like to hear what Google has to show?” and I began to read the list:

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As I started the list, Corey almost blushed…. not really, just almost.  He smiled and laughed, “Really?”  When I got to his band’s name he interjected again, “Seriously, we’re on there?” By the time I ended the list he was nodding, and obviously pleased with the company.

Evan Knisely came in during the early moments of the list of Rock Unapologetics.  He didn’t lose a beat, slipping right into the conversation.

“One might argue that it wasn’t the right time to do an old school, throw back, rock n roll sound; we disagree, but it doesn’t really matter.  We write what we want to write, and play what we want to play.  There isn’t enough of this going on in music.”

There is simply something of a disconnect going on between the failing of the music industry, and the passion that practically bleeds from Wyves when they play.  They bring the party each and every time out of the gate: if you go to a Wyves show, you know they are going to show up.  Their fans are passionate, and their talent is obvious, so obviously the industry at large does not have its ear low enough to the ground.

Alison Wenham, CEO of the UK’s Association for Independent Music wrote her article, “Independent Music is a Growing Force in the Global Market” in July 2015.

“The power dynamics between the major record companies and the independent music sector, and with artists, are changing.  The major record companies, it seemed, held all the cards and could manipulate and orchestrate the marketplace to do whatever they wanted. Until now.”

Nowhere is this changing fact more pronounced and obvious than “the confirmation by Apple that independent music is fundamental to its brand.  This acknowledgement is seismic”, continues Wenham.

Rich Bengloff, of the American Association of Independent Music, explains this trend in digital sales, as reported by Claire Atkinson in her article “Indie Artists are New No. 1 in Music Industry” for the New York Post.

“Bengloff believes the availability and popularity of music streaming — which grew by 24 percent in the first half of 2013, while digital sales slipped 4.6 percent in the period, its first-ever decline — is exactly why artists are opting for indie status and why their power is growing.”

Coupled with this fact, Atkinson reports that Tim Westergren, the founder of Pandora, “has been wooing the independents. Songs from outside the major labels make up 50 percent of the content streamed on the 14-year-old service. On broadcast radio, it’s 13 percent.  Independents are supportive of Pandora because it’s a level playing field, not a walled garden, says Westergren.”

This disconnect, between the failings of the old music business model and the stubborn refusal of big business to acknowledge change, is based on one substantial fact: technology and the speed with which it changes is empowering one group more than any other.  Millennials.

The Millennial Consumer

One of the things that really impressed me as I as talking with Evan, was how close he was to simply watching trends.  I for one, have a tendency to be one of these counter-culture types that mocks just about every trend that we see hit social media and then all of a sudden take over the world.  I mock that all the time: everything from everyone in the world needing a beard to a dog as an accessory.  Come on; it is easy to mock!  But Evan, showed me an entire different side of it, and although he didn’t label it as such, Evan Knisely was explaining liquid attention.

While discussing unapologetic rock n roll, and Wyves’ desire to make exactly the kind of music that they wanted to, Evan made an a very interesting observation:

“Besides, everything is throw back right now.  Everything is vintage.  Vinal is back!  Look at the number of Nirvana shirts, Gun n Roses shirts, Johnny Cash shirts on people you can never imagining listening to Johnny Cash.  Even in fashion, the designs, the styles, everything is sending this vibe to a better time, like a throwback resurgence.  So in that respect, there has never been a better time for Wyves.”

He’s right…. absolutely…. BUT….

Huge thank you to JOHN RIGGS for the use of one of his images.

I hesitate to say it – but in a previous era, following trends and courting brands was only referred to in one way: selling out.  In this respect, Gerber was also correct:  ”

“Because of this, musicians have had to adjust. Some have begun to focus their efforts on brand building.  Megastars like Beyonce and Lady Gaga, and Michael Jackson before them, have always done this, pushing everything from soft drinks to clothing to fragrances. But more and more, musicians from across the spectrum are pursuing this path to prosper. One good example is Gary Clark Jr., a talented artist but hardly a household name who has endorsement deals with Lincoln and John Varvatos. In the past, purists probably would have called him a “sell out.” Now, it’s called getting paid.”

Returning to Mr. Gerber: it is not that he is absolutely wrong, it is that he is not labeling it correctly.  His article, which has garnished quite a bit of attention in the last couple of weeks, is a good one, and it does take a hard business look at the music industry.  But it misses when it comes to showing the EXCITEMENT of that change.  Rather, Ross focuses on the ENTROPY of it.

“The old music industry is dead.  We’re standing in the ruins of a business built on private jets, Cristal, $18 CDs and million-dollar recording budgets.  We’re in the midst of the greatest music industry disruption of the past 100 years. A fundamental shift has occurred — a shift that Millennials are driving.  This is the reality of the new music industry, which is built off of liquid attention, not record sales. – Writes Thomas Honeyman of Elite Daily.”

What Honeyman is able to capture in his article, How One Generation Was Single-Handedly Able To Kill The Music Industry, that Gerber misses is the actual breakdown of how the new model – the new superstars – the new Grassroots Greats…. are being made.  You see this is the thing, when we are young, and following our bands, and full of piss and vinegar and unfounded ideals, judging our roll models is very easy to do.  When one is having to pay the bills, and wants to do so by LIVING and doing what they LOVE… perspectives and definitions change.  Read Honeyman’s article…. it is great, and I am not going to simply repeat it here.  In short, he and Evan mimic each other; after all, great minds think alike.  In a nutshell:

“The new music business model is based on four inherent things.  First: Demand.  Just like any other business, it follows cash.  A new generation of artists has hit the scene and they thrive on attention rather than units of music they sell.  The attention has become just as valuable as our likelihood to purchase, as it leads to festival and performance attendance. What brands understand is that music is an important part of Millennials’ identity. It’s more than entertainment for us. The music we listen to can be as important as how we dress and influences who our friends are. – Honeyman”

Ross Gerber makes one horrible assumption right out of the gate, but, he does write for Forbes so perhaps it should be expected, and that assumption is that the new generations have DEVALUED music.  As you can see; that is 100% false.  In many ways music is being valued more than it ever has been, it is simply that the way that value translates is shifting faster than business can keep up.  This does nothing but empower the independent artist.

Which leads to the second plank of the model which is supply.  Supply has never been easier or more affordable.  “All that’s required to make a modern record is a computer and a piece of affordable recording software. Technology is cheap and high-quality learning resources are free. As the result, artists have massively successful records without having set foot in a recording studio,” Honeyman explains.

It should be noted, that what I am seeing here in Phoenix is not so much a refusal to use recording studios: it is more that there are a bunch of really awesome Independent Options to record music without having to have an agent or a label.  Check out Flying Blanket if you get a chance Or STEM Recording with Curtis Grippe or 80/20 Records.

Keep in mind that the Forbes article blames Spotify, Pandora, SoundCloud, and other streaming services for what it calls the death of the music industry.  As Brenden McBride explained, “You don’t get anywhere without Spotify”.  The new business model is being missed, the third plank of which is discovery.

“Music discovery is at an all-time high.  Platforms like SoundCloud have more than 250 million active users each month and Millennials discover their music predominately through these digital platforms. Incidentally, when digital natives produce new music, they release it first on the digital platforms.  This is how Millennials are playing both sides of the field: They’re creating more music than ever and releasing it onto platforms where their peers go to discover music. – Honeyman”

What is happening is a grassroots takeover of music.  The middle players: agents and labels have been not so much completely replaced, but changed, into a conversation.  Trends.  Likes.  Shares.  Views.  Clicks.  These are the new currency.

This hyper connection that is possible in social media can be nerve racking.  If it is used improperly, it can simply make the entire world wish that it had a pause button… or a mute.  But used with an agenda, it is insanely powerful and leads directly to the fourth and final plank of the new model: Team Building.

“Production teams are one of the main drivers that keep the superstar artists on top. Working in teams allows these writers to churn out tons of highly listenable pop tracks.  Now, Millennials are breaking down this final barrier, too.  Services like FindMySong are connecting independent musicians so they can form their own dominant songwriting and production teams.- Honeyman”

Viktor Koem, reporting for The Economist, writes, “Profits are too high.  America needs a giant dose of competition.”

Nowhere is that competition more obvious, raw, and vibrant than in Phoenix, Arizona!

Sticking it to the Man

I am a new writer to the Phoenix scene.  I am having a great time getting out, exploring, and writing – after all, that is what I love to do.  First hand, in less than two months, the explosion I have witnessed in my own brand – my own work – is almost mind boggling.  It is so fast; faster than I really ever dreamed possible.  Why?  Because of the model described above.  Because of networking with other independent artists trying to do exactly what I am trying to do: reach a fan base, be exciting, and as Kody Dayish said, not get boring.

We are all verifiable proof that art on all levels IS NOT DEAD.  We are a combined force, a group of connected artists helping to promote each other, and work together for the betterment of our own endeavors.

Ross Gerber was right… the old business model is dead.

And one of the best things about it is that Music FEELS fun again.  The bands meet you, hang with you, enjoy a beer or two.  We are REAL PEOPLE.  Creating REAL ART.  For the REAL WORLD.  In ways that are more empowering to the individual than ever before.

PLAY ON!

“Corey was kind of coming on here in Phoenix at the tail end of the old guard greats: The Pistolleros, Dead Hot Workshop, Ghetto Cowgirl, Roger Clyne, Gin Blossoms.  There was this lull in the Phoenix music scene, but over the last few years, yes – there is a definite pulse going on in the Valley” Evan explained when I asked him if he could feel a real vibe in the Phoenix music scene.

“Oh yeah, man,” Brenden continued, “and it is diverse!  It is easily recognizable and you have this awesome, wide variety of really good music.  Bands like Banana Gun, Ruca, Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra, and Decker.  You just can’t go wrong now in the Phoenix music scene!  There are great artists all around in every genre.”

GET OUT!

FEEL THE PULSE!

Old Amigos by 3 AM

A Conversation with New Chums

I’m sitting in the Yucca Tap Room, nursing a Lagunitas IPA, and reading Benjamin Leatherman’s article in the Phoenix New Times, “25 Legendary Tempe Music Venues: Then and Now”. Nina’s: Minder Binders: the Electric Ballroom; most of them are gone, but the Yucca is pretty much the same. There is a picture of The Refreshments performing back in 1996, and as I glance around the bar, my view settles on the wooden sign with black lettering advertising Roger Clyne’s Mexican Moonshine Tequila. Twenty one years went by in the space of that glance, and I realized that the Yucca was a time machine.

Reading of the legendary Arizona Indie Music scene, sitting across the bar from P.C. looking at each other from time to time with a familiar nod – like a silent toast between members of a bygone cool kids club – my attention is pulled back as a new band, takes the stage beneath the back-lit sign of a Tempe icon. I am caught wondering if they even know who Roger Clyne is. Their fingers grace the strings, and their sticks slam the snares, and once again…. I am an ageless man, sitting in a shadowy bar, listening to the aspirations of another group of artists with big dreams.

As I lined up the bands that I wanted to feature on this new blog endeavor, this particular show was of special interest. The New Chums were playing again after a several month hiatus as they regrouped, and the Wyves, another band that had quickly gotten my attention previously when they opened for the Pistoleros (speaking of Tempe music legends) at The Crescent Ballroom. Tonight they were playing together. My plan was to focus on Wyves, giving the Chums a chance to play and grow together, before doing my interview and feature. Sometimes….. the best laid plans …

Then they debuted their new guitarist, Matt Lloyd, and their new Bassist, Cassandra Clark, and a new sound, a new vibe, a new energy. It was like hearing the Chums again for the first time… once again “new” Chums. So I made a decision to move the New Chums up on the slate. The Wyves are Great. Go See Them. They are next up on Keep The Greasy Side Down, but the energy of The Chums, debuting a completely new vibe… seemed like the #indie thing to do! So…. give me a few weeks, the Wyves are coming… and I promise, they are worth the wait!

In the meantime… why not make some New Friends?

If you had asked me before to describe the New Chums, I would have put them along a spectrum between The Strokes and The Killers. Think that jingly jangly Johnny Marr vibe, that groovy dancy thing that The Smiths completely mastered back in Manchester, and then layer it along with those swanky guitar riffs – like on the song “Under Cover of Darkness”, and marry it with the lyrical depth of The Killers “When you were Young” and you start to catch the vibe of the New Chums.

I immediately liked the band, and quickly made friends with Seth and his mates. One of the things that I love about music, is that once people see the depth of appreciation and legitimate love you have for their craft, they enjoy talking to you. I am not a groupie…. or maybe I am, but one of the best kind. The kind that just wants to listen to your poetry, have you electrify me with your sound, wants to talk about music all night, and doesn’t even want to sleep with you or steal your drugs. It’s a beautiful thing. One of my first conversations with Seth, was when he asked me what I really thought of Tuolumne, the band’s first EP.  Here, combined with a really nice sit down chat with him at the next show, the soul of the New Chums began to come into focus.

Have you ever had that thought, sitting there, watching some entertainment show or reading an article about one of your favorite icons, and you think, “Man, I would love to just sit and have coffee with this person.  We wouldn’t have to talk about business or their work or anything – we could just hang like old friends”?  This is what I want my articles/ interviews to read like, not so much a list of questions and answers, but more a conversation about a topic where the band takes the role as specialist and expert in terms of sourcing the article.  This is much more interesting.

When it comes to Seth Boyack, a friend immediately realizes that they have sat down with an artist, a poet, an introverted wordsmith, and the juxtaposition that takes place between an artist among artists and their desire to sell their band to the masses is very interesting.

“My brother was just a bit older than me, and I grew up listening to all of his music.  Bands like The Smiths and New Order formed the early inspirations for myself as a songwriter.  I can play guitar, but I am not a great guitarist.  That is why I need Matt, but I see myself as a songwriter bringing my ideas and a melody to my band to help me flesh them out. “

Seth Boyack relocated to Phoenix after growing up in Tuolumne County, California, and via Craiglist formed the nucleus of New Chums with his drummer Ben Hedlund, who himself relocated to the Valley of the Sun from Boston, Mass.  In fact, if you can indulge the old-school guy, one more time, the relationship between these two reminds me very much of the camaraderie between Roger Clyne and PH Naffah,*** a song-man and a drummer, forming the bright-line that goes through changes and decades. Obviously, New Chums have a long way to go before they take a ride through that Yucca Taproom Time Machine, but the comparison is one that gives a music fan a world of hope.

But, dear reader, as I am apt to do and you are apt to forgive, you have allowed me to digress.  Tuolumne.  First, it is  a great album {click on the album picture above, follow the link, TOTALLY GUILT FREE FIVE BUCKS).  Second, lyrically, the poetry created here is very reminiscent of the lyrical themes one finds in those old Smiths albums.  The imagery and emotions of a young, introspective lad growing up, asking questions, and trying to figure out the answers to life – whether in questioning authority in “For the Cause” or musing with the poets in “Cemetery Gates” – whether in prowling the open spaces around Yosemite or the industrial sprawl of Manchester – is a welcome and refreshing connection in a world of music that is often critiqued as losing much of its soul.  Thirdly, however, although Tuolumne is a solid first EP offering, it does not even begin to show the force and energy the Chums have when they play live.  I told Seth that, but I followed it up immediately with, “But, that’s a good thing man.  Think about it, we have all been to shows where you may as well have just listened to the CD in the parking lot.  The artist brought nothing new or original to the live experience, and that sucks.”.  He nodded, but the poet in him looked perplexed.  Let me put it to you this way, Seth is just the artist to figure out how to channel that “live” vibe into a CD!  The Chums are back in the studio this summer, this time recording with Flying Blanket Recording, and I fully expect this dialog to be one of the top areas of concerns for the introspective and quiet lead-man.

To understand why this is such a quintessential issue for the New Chums, it is important to look at the two basic ways that an indie act tries to attract fans.  There is the school of thought that says you have to take over the market.  You need to become a staple, a household name, so you try to put yourself out there every chance you get.  The other school of thought is that as an independent, chances are you still have a day job.  Additionally, you may have a family or school obligations.  So marketing yourself becomes more about making the largest bang for your buck each and every time you do put yourself out there, not necessary trying to jump on every single opportunity.

One’s place on this spectrum says a lot about that individual as an artist.  “When it comes to success then, what is your threshold for compromise?”

“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves when it comes to trying to bringing the best of what we have to offer to a show or to a project.  When you are mixing life, and family, and work, and responsibilities, as well as your personal hopes and dreams – you want each trip out of the gate to be right.  I am constantly concerned with how we sound.  It is more important to me to be in the right place, on the right night, and nail it – sonically – so that people at the bar are asking, hey – who are these guys again?  I have a tendency to think of each show as a chance to make that impression with somebody who may never cross your path again – so I want it to sound good.  I don’t want it to be the tail end of a moment, buried at the end of a commercial break, or a song on your CD that just doesn’t capture the magic that you know that song is capable of, so it is instantly forgettable.”

What is awesome, is that with the addition of Cassandra and Matt, the Chums take a massive leap forward in their evolution.  Cassandra instantly reminded me of one of my favorite bassists, Simon Gallup of The Cure.  She can lay down a mean bass line, that is no question, but what is awesome about great bassists is when they seamlessly provide this foundation for everyone else to build on, but they do it in a way where you almost don’t even notice.  Perhaps, just perhaps, the bass guitar is one of the most overlooked aspects of music, because of this.  Cassandra has a connection with her band mates, she is the pulse under their shenanigans, and she is having fun enjoying herself – and it is obvious.

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A lead guitarist, however, is not quite the same thing.  Matt’s addition to the band is in no way subtle, and I asked him about his first listen of Tuolumne.

“When I first heard the EP, I thought Seth was a great songwriter and that they really had something special going on.  However, when listening, it did seem like there was a a lot of open space for more guitar parts to come into play.  As I got talking with Seth and Ben, I found out that this was because they were without a second guitarist when recording the album.”

This realization takes us back to that conversation with Seth about Tuolumne not capturing the energy of their live shows.  And frankly, after seeing the New Chums live, both times that they have played with this new lineup, I cannot wait to see what we have in store when the Chums team up with Flying Blanket.  This excitement is only heightened when one really gets a feel at how organic the Chums are when it comes to writing songs.

“I trust their opinions,” Seth told me.  “If there is ever a disagreement about the creative direction of a song, I have every confidence with Ben, Matt and Cassie that it is for the betterment of the song.”

“All of the songs have been fun to dive into and re-imagine”, Matt continued.  “Seth and Ben have been great, and I am thankful to be working with them.  My style as a guitar player has always been to try and write guitar parts that people can hum along with and that can get stuck in your head just like a vocal hook would.  I’ve learned over the years that there will always be better guitar players out there, but they can’t all do that – write a riff that is hummable and fun to remember.”

These New Chums have played live two times.  The growth just between the two shows at the Yucca Taproom in April was astounding.  Seth looks more at ease than I have ever seen him on stage.  He is laughing, and smiling, and having a great time.  The synergy between the band mates has elevated all of them to new levels of distinction in their craft.

Keep the Greasy Side Down, my friends.

 

Welcome to the Jungle – circa 2017

A Conversation with Jane ‘n the Jungle

JT’s Bar and Grill in the Arcadia District of Phoenix is a rather unassuming kind of place. It is small, just a hall way more or less where the bar runs the length of one side, and the seating is lined along the other. Patrons spill out the front door, and the air is thick with joviality. Nobody seems to care that the place is packed; that is the point, JT’s offers some of the best wings in town.

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As a guy who prides himself on being an Arizona Native, I have to admit,  I am not a Phoenix native. I have been prowling around the Valley of the Sun more or less for the last twenty years, but in many cases, as is the case with just about anywhere I am sure, you don’t know what you don’t know. So when Brian Dellis of Jane ‘n the Jungle suggested the grub and suds location, I readily accepted without necessarily knowing the treat that was in store.

Some months before, on a whim, I went to see a lineup that would eventually pave my way back into paying attention to the Underground Arizona music scene. Jane ‘n the Jungle were playing a show at The Rebel Lounge along with Civil Youth, New Chums, and IAMWE. It was Jane’s first time being “the headliner”. It was a great night, and once again I felt something of an electricity that just needed the right catalyst, and these kids were ready to explode to amazing places.

Sometimes a story comes along out of the world of music that makes you believe that perhaps, just perhaps, music still has a soul worth saving.  Whether it is the pure insane and immediate genius of Jimi Hendrix or the never ending drum-god debate between Neil Peart and Jon Bonham.  Sometimes, music can still catch your soul on fire.  Such was the case that night at the Rebel in Phoenix, that I first sat down with Billy and Jordan and heard their band Jane n the Jungle. At the time, I didn’t realize I would be sitting having wings with the band talking about the Arizona Indie Music less than a year later.

Jason Keil recently wrote a piece for the Phoenix New Times highlighting some of the bands that you really ought to be paying attention to in 2017; Jane ‘n the Jungle made that list. You can take the time to peruse the article here.

Years ago, I was a staple of the Tempe Music Scene here in Arizona.  Stephen Ashbrook and Satellite were playing around town, Roger Clyne was still the Refreshments, and the Gin Blossoms were on the radio.  Long Wongs on Mill still held the cultural diorama of the scene: a hand written “blog” scrawled on the bathroom wall chronicling the rise and fall of a very iconic time in Arizona’s musical history.  Not since the mid 90s, have I felt this degree of excitement for the level of creativity coming out of Phoenix!

One of these days she is going to get tired of my sharing this story, but I was sitting with my wife at the bar that first night at The Rebel, and we got talking to the beaming, proud, father of the lead singer, Jordan White.  He was a cool dude, and we enjoyed talking to him.  What I was inspired by, as a father, was the man’s sheer glowing over his daughter’s stage prowess, hard work, and business acumen. As I got talking to his daughter and her charismatic guitarist, months later, it was easy to see that it was exactly those qualities noticed in her by her father, that are proving to be Jane ‘n the Jungle’s golden ticket when it comes to raising from the ranks of Indie Obscurity.

The fact that I had sat and visited with Jordan and Brian before, certainly chipped the ice off of doing an actual interview quickly, and before I knew it, conversation had whipped up around the table as we waiting for the waitress to bring us our drinks. I had come with an outline of questions, but I was more concerned with having a real dialog and taking some notes, than I was about asking specific questions and getting specific rote answers. I quickly established that the two of them were long time friends, and Arizona natives, who grew up together and attended Shadow Mountain High School in Paradise Valley.

So, some history”, I asked, as Jordan’s wine arrived just ahead of Brian’s Dos Equis and my own Modus Operandi. “Whose garage was the first garage, and talk to me about the name Jane ‘n the Jungle. I have a hard time believing you are both just awesome Tarzan fans!”

Brian laughed, “Jordan’s house was the first and only garage: complete with both entertained and non-so-entertained neighbors.”  The band’s original name was Skybrook, and under that title they played their first gig at Whiskey GoGo, just over two years ago. Soon after the name was changed to Jane n’ the Jungle, and it was on a suggestion from a friend that they needed a name that would almost characterize Jordan as a character in her own experience.

Jordan is non assuming, non emotive, pixie-ish, and quite possibly underestimated. She almost seems like a porcelain doll from a beautifully civilized place lost in a jungle of business… sheer business. Like Tarzan’s Jane, underestimating the quiet Jordan, is only easily done for as long as it takes to watch her burst to life on stage where she is a commanding presence, and in all ways at home in the jungle she had chosen to grace with her talent and tenacity. As Jane n the Jungle, the band’s first gig was at North Mountain Brewery.

One of the recurring elements in our conversation that stood out to me was the number of times various eateries were mentioned as gig locations. “When I think back to the hey days of the Tempe Music Scene in the mid 1990s”, I asked trying to seem much more Peter Pan than Old Guy asking questions about a bygone time. “Several live music venues immediately jump to mind: Minder Binders, The Electric Ballroom, Long Wongs on Mill, Bash of Ash, Nita’s Hideaway: these places defined the large part of a decade for me, going to ASU, learning to love live local music, and watching the town literally have a pulse with the vibe of the music scene.” Not for the first time, sitting there visiting with my two young friends born in 1989 and 1990, I wondered how many of my references were simply too far out of the frame of reference to be relevant. “First, would you say that there is a new pulse in the Phoenix music scene, and if so, what live venues form the new core of that scene?”

Brian quickly nodded an affirmation over a bite of the recently arrived wings. (And the wings! Oh my! Like I said, I had no idea the treat to which I was being subjected, but those double done wings are to die for JT!) “Absolutely there is a very real pulse in the Valley for music.”

Jordan continued from her story about North Mountain Brewery from earlier. “Because of the variety of venues, there are many indie showcasing radio shows, the local news is very supportive of local arts, and with so many restaurants and breweries providing live music venues it is easy for a band to find places to play if they have the tenacity to chase after the gigs.”

Above shows Jane ‘n the Jungle on Fox 10 with their feature promoting Independent Music in the Valley.

Both agreed, almost immediately as to the heart of the Phoenix music scene. The Crescent Ballroom, The Rebel Lounge, and the Rogue Bar…. there it is…. from the horses mouth…. those three venues will show you the pulse. Personally, I was excited to have the information, as …. well….. many of the old dives have gone into history, and there is much to be sad about when one thinks of the inevitable passage of time. Just the bathroom wall of the men’s bathroom in Long Wongs on Mill was enough to be considered a museum piece for a time when Tempe was just about on the cusp of a Seattle-esque explosion in the 1990s.

With food on the table, and conversation rolling naturally right along, I began to segway from the historical aspect of questions to those themed more around the influential nature of music. Brian mentioned both Third Eye Blind and Brand New as influences both musically and lyrically. In terms of guitar, the band Jawbreaker also deserved mention: much to my delight! Jordan then threw me for a loop admitting that she has seen Celine Dion in Las Vegas twice with her parents. I chuckled through my wings, but seriously…. what better influence for a girl who from a very young age wanted to grow up and be a singer? Jordan followed it up by voicing her appreciation of Florence and the Machine… and the vision was fairly complete. Jordan is the rock star; she is the beautiful singer commanding the stage with a powerful and versatile voice. The influence of Celine has done her well…. and then Deloris D’ Riordan, Alanis Morrisette, and Florence growls out and one is fully able to see it is a musical versatility that molds together in an artist to meld into something new.

It was when we moved on to talk about live shows, and one of my worst fears about music was somewhat realized. I asked the question of what touring bands, like big bands, they would like to go see. You know, like what concerts do the concert performers get excited about. “We don’t really take in many shows”, said Jordan. “Most of our nights are writing, working, resting, or touring. Playing shows. The bands we see are the bands we play with.”

So Lollapallooza has kinda become our thing”, said Brian. “That is the one show we try to clear out our schedule for and allow ourselves to be able to take in.” The answer made me a bit melancholy, honestly, but it reminded me in many ways that no matter what any of us do, we in many ways all labor in our own salt mines. As a music fan, I would be totally bummed to remove live music, being able to feed off of that energy, from my slate of fun outlets, but Brian and Jordan somewhat forced a reality check about thinking about that world from the perspective of those who actually put off that energy.

The exchange solidified how important it is to do something that you truly love with your life. No matter what we chose to do, whether we are rock stars, writers, or stockers at Costco, we give so much of our blood, sweat, and tears to what it is we make a living at. Even creative people. Even the artists. Perhaps especially so, as most of us are doing what we have to do to hopefully discover a way to do want we want to do…. well…. on second thought, that is pretty much everyone’s dream. All of us, regardless of walks of life, are more alike than we tend to acknowledge, and it is cool to have a moment, sitting with people that in many ways you are inspired by, to realize that many of us are having the same thoughts.

Talk to me a bit about the creative process,” I asked moving into my final group of questions. “ Are you a jam band?” I almost laughed out loud at the emotion lurching across Jordan’s face. No. Jordan instantly shook her head like I had broached onto some sort of treacherous territory. I got the impression she locked those shenanigans down pretty quickly. So I followed up with a related question, “Is there a unified vision, or is it more of an organic process?”

It is an organic process, was their mutual conclusion. Sometimes Brian comes in with a rift, and Jordan will see it as a verse or a chorus. “As a poet, I have no problem imagining this type of writing, but I do not hear my verse as a song.” I continued. “Do you hear your words as lyrics, already as a song in your head, as you are writing them?” Jordan nodded, “Yes, always, and for us I think sometimes too much forcing on a particular song just shows that the magic is not there with it. So we set it aside and move on. I like to be able to write and work out a song in one sitting, if it goes much past that – you start to wonder if you are putting too much effort into one that isn’t meant to be.” The writer in me understood immediately, but winced at the loss of possibility. As a writer, Jordan was describing something with which I am intimately involved… too many ideas and not enough time to write them all down. My answer, a list called Next-Project-Up starts to set up in your mind which you are continually chipping away at. Jordan’s answer, a notebook full of Gibberish and passed up moments, so that nothing is lost while she continually chases the muse of inspiration. Not that different actually. That is one of the goals of this blog…. to show the intimate relationship and need for community in Independent Arts.

The wings were almost gone, Brian and I had both ordered a second and final beer, and as our conversation started to roll towards its conclusion, some of the most profound parts of our dialog ensued. My good friend Stephen Ashbrook wrote a song all about the more you think you know the less you learn, and as my interview with Jane ‘n the Jungle turned to the state of modern music, Brian offered me one of those moments when that lyric really resounds. I consider myself a life long learner, and Brian Dellis taught me something that day at JT’s Bar and Grill.

There is this huge disingenuous feeling in music, or rather, there seems like there is this rush to judgment that modern music has become disingenuous,” Brian began as he answered my question about his thoughts about the state of the radio. “I struggle with that. I don’t really want to hear Bieber anymore on the radio either, and he certainly doesn’t inspire me to do much besides turn the radio off, but diversity in art forces a realization about inspiration.”

He had me, and I was simply writing the words down on my note pages as fast as I could so as not to miss what he was laying down.

I don’t have to commit to something to make it genuine to somebody else. I’m not Bieber’s audience, but because I am not, does that make his work less impactful on those who are?”

For someone who prides himself on his open mind, musical taste, and general ability to critically think, sometimes I am humbled by others’ ability to put simple clarity to an issue. I too, as someone who thought the best part of Zoolander 2 was watching Bieber’s ludicrous death scene, have very little appreciation for Bieber’s talent, but perhaps allowing that view to color my respect for musical creativity has cast some shade on my own ability to truly see the beauty if art – simply for the reason that it is art.

So you two have just come home from touring to the South by Southwest music festival. You shared the same stages as some huge acts. You were asked to meet with Snoop about future show possibilities. You have two commercials with Honda running across the United States. What did you learn the most from this most recent tour?” My final question hung in the air for a moment, as two two musicians allowed their thoughts to formulate.

That we are exactly where we need to be”, Jordan answered. “We toured on our own this time, not with another band, and it was awesome to have some time to really ponder on some heavy questions. Are we any good? Are we wasting our time? Do we have fun doing this?”

The answer to those questions was yeah, we are. We are the hardest on ourselves, and that is what is necessary for good artists to get better.”

We learned that everybody has a job, and it is everybody else’s job”, Brian added. “We learned a lot about what we can do and what we can handle. We learned that we have to be a team to succeed. We learned that the most important parts are the human connections you make a long the way.”  Jane ‘n the Jungle will next be seen here in the Valley on June 2nd, at what looks to be just an Awesome, Fun time at Last Exit Live.  Hit the Jump below, for ticket info…. 

 Jane n the Jungle are an Arizona Rock Band with strong, well written, catchy songs: powerful female driven vocals, and an amazingly fun live show charisma that will make you believe once again that the heart of rock n roll is still beating.

They are hugely down to earth and awesome to take the time to work with and talk to a fellow Arizona Indie!  Soo drop them a line; show them some love!  There album and some other really cool Merch can be found here !