With a name like The Constellation Branch, it’s hard to guess what kind of sound the listener should expect.
The Phoenix-based band has just finished recording and making its new EP, Mirage, which is set to release September 17. Yet compared to its previous full-length, The Dream Life, The Real Life, The Empty Glass…, the band has gone in unexpected directions. For example, Downtown folk songstress Country Marie Andrews is screaming at the top of her lungs on the EP’s finale.
“It’s not a concept like the first album was,” vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Jordan Cruz says of Mirage. “It’s really diverse. The first song is instrumental and ambient, but then it leads to dancier stuff.”
Cruz likens the theme and lyrics of this album to a mirage.
“Something in your life that you believed was something for so long, but then realize it’s nothing like what you had planned it to be,” Cruz reveals.
Although The Constellation Branch — Cruz, Bryce Hill (guitar, keyboard), Aaron Motley (bass) and Stephen O’Sicky (drums) — is just now getting its name out, the band has been around the Valley for quite some time. They debuted in 2006 with only Cruz and Hill, and Motley and O’Sicky came on a year later. The result is a sound that is a dark indie experimental combination along the lines of math rock like At the Drive-In, yet the keyboard adds softness to the mix.
Over the years, The Constellation Branch has played at places like the Modified Arts, The Trunk Space, The Rhythm Room and Yucca Tap Room, but they’ve had their fair share on the road as well. They have traveled all over the West Coast and played at South By Southwest, but never got the opportunity to play a highly sought-after showcase at the festival.
“The people we did meet were all fantastic, and we did gain new fans and made some really great contacts,” Hill says of SXSW. “But in the end, I am not sure we would play again unless we were playing an official showcase.”
As with many other bands, The Constellation Branch hit a speed bump on the way home.
“We were pulled over for speeding,” Hill recalls. “Apparently it’s a crime to drive 65 at night in Texas.”
The police ended up searching the van and came back empty-handed, except for O’Sicky.
“The most memorable quote would have to be when the cop was searching Steve and he found his drum key in his pocket,” Hill says. “The officer pulled it out and said, “What’s this? Some sort of cocaine separating device?”
Police must find some interesting paraphernalia in Texas…
Back in Arizona, the band has signed a digital distribution deal with Downtown-based River Jones Music. They’ll stay busy in September, playing at Holga’s on First Friday at around 9:30 p.m., before embarking on a brief California tour to promote Mirage. They’ll be back in Arizona in time for their EP release show with Small Leaks Sink Ships at the Sail Inn in Tempe on September 17.
Want to check out The Constellation Branch on First Friday? Holga’s is located at 821 N. 3rd St. in Evans Churchill (light rail at Roosevelt Station).
Alwun House kicks off its 39th season
Not far from the bustle of Roosevelt Row is one of the original Downtown arts spaces, the Alwun House. Tucked away on 12th and Roosevelt streets, the historic home opens the fall season this First Friday, September 3, with an art-jazz performance of Aebi-Coulson Jazz + The Beautiful Show on its garden stage. Linda Cushma flirts on the edge of interactive dance and runway fashion in this performance art show. Inside, artist Jenny Ignaszewski’s solo exhibit of paintings and portraits will “reflect a whimsical and charismatic outsider aesthetic.” Not to be missed!
Alwun House is located at 1204 E. Roosevelt St. in Garfield. The First Friday opening party is $3. Light refreshments will be provided.
Arizona Theatre Company 2010-11 season tickets on sale next week
The renovations on the Herberger Theater Center are nearly complete, and a full lineup of performances extending through spring 2011 are set to go on sale next Tuesday, September 7. This season’s performances include “Backwards in High Heels: The Ginger Musical” (October), “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (November), “Romeo and Juliet” (November), “Woody Guthrie’s American Song” (December-January), “Ten Chimneys” (February-March), “Lost in Yonkers” (March-April) and “The Mystery of Irma Yep” (May). Tickets start at $30 depending on performance and seat location.
The Herberger Theater Center is located at 222 E. Monroe St. in the Downtown District — light rail station at 3rd St and Washington/Jefferson. For full ticket and show information, see the Arizona Theatre Company’s website.
The true mark of a vibrant urban core isn’t the popularity of special events like ball games, conventions or even First Fridays. Rather, it is the events that fill the gaps in between these. It is the creation of a 24/7 culture where things are going on every day (and night) of the week. While I wouldn’t say that we have quire arrived there, we are a lot closer that it may appear.
Here are 10 of the less heralded activities that are occurring in Downtown Phoenix on an almost daily basis.
1. Live music
2. Movie Monday at Revolver Records
No-admission movie screenings with special deals every Monday at 8 p.m.
The Torch Theatre is one of Phoenix’s best-kept secrets. Shows vary through the week, but make sure to check out the Saturday night Cage Matches!
4. Phoenix Public Market
Every Wednesday and Saturday, the lot at McKinley Street and Central Avenue becomes our local farmers market.
5. Over-the-Hump Day, open mic
Local wordsmiths and folk musicians perform every Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Conspire at 5th and Garfield streets.
6. The Downtown Phoenix fitness walk/jog
Get some exercise by walking or jogging around Downtown Phoenix. Start and end points are the Phoenix Public Market every Saturday at 7 a.m.
7. Community Yoga Project
Bring your own yoga mat, towel or blanket every Saturday at 10 a.m. at Civic Space Park.
8. GROWHOUSE Garden Days
Volunteer in the garden at Garfield and 6th streets every Sunday from 8 to 10 a.m.
9. Fair Trade Café Sunday brunch
The Fair Trade menu features challah baked French toast with choice of yummy toppings, rosemary country potatoes, baked egg casserole with veggies or green chilies and biscuits and gravy. Every Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to noon.
10. Sunday Service
Every Sunday at SideBar, DJs spin until 2 a.m., accompanying Downtown’s best drink discounts.
We are certainly missing a lot of other events that occur on a weekly basis. If you would like to add anything to the list, please add a comment!
This post was inspirited by the Roosevelt Row newsletter. To be kept up to date on what is going on in and around Roosevelt Row, click here to sign up for their newsletter. For a whole smattering of Downtown Phoenix events, see DPJ’s calendar page.
Most people don’t have the money or time to venture off to other states to stumble upon up-and-coming talent, but Phoenician music fans got that chance this week. Portland, OR’s Archeology is a calm, tap your toes and sway from side to side, indie band, and they rocked the Rhythm Room last night.
Daniel Walker, Jason Davis, Zachary Dilday and Ben Hayson make up Archeology, but only two of them have an actual love for archeology.
“Sometimes, we just go onto the desert and hike around,” Walker says. “We drag the other guys along and they say they like it, but I can tell that they don’t.”
During an archaeology dig, Walker and Davis met and began talking. Shortly after, the two were playing in a band together. In 2009, they began writing and playing a lot, but by the end of the year, the band felt like they needed some change.
“The music we were playing then… felt really forced,” Walker remembers.
Walker and Davis, both brought up in Evangelical backgrounds, soon spun off and started Archeology.
“I was raised in church,” Walker says. “My dad was the pastor from when I could remember. In my early 20s, I just kinda sat back and reconsidered about what I was taught.”
For all the questions they never got answers to, they wrote it out in lyrics. That’s where Memorial, their first full-length album, was born and was released earlier this year. And that’s how Archeology was quickly mistaken for a Christian band.
“We got a lot of e-mails from this album saying, ‘I don’t know if I could write on this Christian band.’ and I was like, ‘Whoa, we’re not a Christian band,’” Walker recalls.
In April, they did a quick West Coast tour, and now they’re embarking on their first national tour supporting Memorial.
The tour has been quite a journey for the band. They left Portland thinking a van with no air conditioning would be OK until they hit that blistering summertime heat.
“As soon as we hit Vegas and got over to the Midwest, it was like hell,” Walker says. “We’ve gotten use to the heat really quickly. I think we’ll be tougher for it.”
The band has mostly been accepted with open arms on their tour, except for a stop in Charlotte, NC. The band pulled into a campground at around 4 a.m., exhausted and a little tipsy, just wanting a couple hours of sleep. (Mind you, the park closed at 10 p.m., but they thought it’d be OK and smart to rest for a while.)
An hour later, Hayson was woken by an officer. The band was detained and surrounded by a park ranger and two more police officers.
“They told us to go to the church parking lot to sleep,” Walker says.
The officers were puzzled on why the band would sleep at a campground when there was a perfectly good parking lot down the road. Because nothing screams comfortable like asphalt. Other than that, the tour has gone well for Archeology.
“We’ve been stranded a few times,” Walker says. “The van has been picky on when it wants to go. We are a good 5,000 miles over for an oil change.”
The band likes playing in and visiting Arizona. Walker loves going out and exploring what our desert landscape has to offer.
“It’s the Indiana Jones in me from my childhood,” he says.
If you’ve lived in the Valley long enough, you’ve probably seen “Psyko Steve Presents” stamped on many a flyer and poster. But who is this Psyko Steve?
Stephen Chilton, an Arizona native, has been promoting shows for a decade, and has showcased so many bands that Coachella might even be jealous.
Every promoter has to start with what they’re familiar with, so Chilton started his promotion career with friends’ bands.
“Really, it just started by helping bands in high school,” Chilton recalls. “I kind of just fell into it.”
And that’s when Psyko Steve was born.
“It was just a dumb nickname in high school and it stuck,” Chilton says of his “psyko” moniker, as easygoing as ever. “There’s no cool story about it.”
Chilton grew up in the East Valley, and hit his stride in 2000, when he started promoting. Back then, the Nile Theater in Mesa was still going strong, but a new venue was on its way up in Downtown Phoenix. The venue? Modified Arts. Chilton started booking shows there with bands like Before Braille, Fight Shy and others.
“Modified was just the small place that everyone could do anything,” Chilton says. “It was kind of the perfect place to do that stuff.”
For nearly a decade, Chilton and Modified had a close relationship to say the least. Before being converted into a gallery space late last year, Chilton put together Modified’s last shows, including a surprise Jimmy Eat World show.
“To see a band of that caliber in Modified was crazy,” Chilton says of the multi-platinum Mesa band.
Jimmy Eat World wanted to grace the iconic Downtown stage before its conversion, and no one knew about the show until the day of. When word of mouth hit everyone’s ears, the show was pushed far beyond capacity.
“We had to turn away more than 1,000 people,” Chilton recalls. So much for it being a secret.
Psyko Steve has promoted countless up-and-coming bands before they found their way to thousands of iPods. Cold War Kids, All-American Rejects, Motion City Soundtrack and Thrice have all visited Arizona in conjunction with Psyko Steve Presents.
But Chilton isn’t the kind of guy to demand credit. It seems like he’s doing his civil duty by helping bring a band from nothing to something. And he always likes to bring the attention back to his home state. He planted an Arizona seed at South by Southwest by putting on the showcase called “I Heart AZ” featuring only Phoenix bands like Kinch, Dear and the Headlights, Miniature Tigers and What Laura Says. The showcase attracted about 2,000 attendees.
“One of the things I like about Phoenix is that there are all types of different bands that are doing well,” Chilton says. “There isn’t one sound that is a Phoenix sound.”
Phoenix bands have grown so much throughout the past 10 years, and the scene has definitely progressed toward Downtown Phoenix. Chilton, who lives in Garfield, aims to promote Downtown as much as possible, and regularly books shows at Downtown spots.
Last year, he put on nearly 100 shows, and this year he thinks he’s on his way to the same. Be on the lookout for Psyko Steve Presents shows around Downtown and beyond!