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).
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.
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!
Haven’t heard them yet? You will soon, because Snake! Snake! Snakes! is having its first EP release show on August 11, and you are personally invited.
The band was a three-piece for many years, with friends helping here and there to play shows. Finally, they settled on a lineup of Jonathan Messenger (vocals, guitar), Christopher Sanchez (bass), George Rodriguez (keyboard) and David Cooper (drums).
Messenger, Sanchez and Rodriguez were called The Tuning Room for about four years until Messenger decided on Snake! Snake! Snakes! Sanchez added the exclamation points. DPJ talked to Sanchez about snakes, music and Phoenix.
“We’re not into snakes or anything like that,” Sanchez says, putting an end to any speculation.
As the band was starting to craft its first songs, they were having just one problem: finding a drummer. Every time they did find one, they would throw away their songs and start all over again.
“We went through at least eight drummers before we found David,” Sanchez recalls. Cooper was the guy next door who became a bandmate.
“People are starting to dig us a lot more,” Sanchez says after playing regularly for some time.
They were recently on Radio Phoenix, but they’re still new to the idea of getting interviewed and being in the limelight. However, through the power of the Internet, fans have popped up in New York, Hawaii and even Canada.
Their self-titled EP has five old but rearranged songs on it and one that was written only three days prior to recording.
“We ended up liking it so much that we recorded it,” Sanchez says.
Before recording, the band had “never made a real, legit CD,” but had some bedroom recordings, so spending time in a studio was something new.
“We actually recorded this in March,” Sanchez says of the EP. “We’re big-time slackers. It was supposed to come out in June, then July, and now August.”
If you’re too anxious to wait until next Wednesday for the physical copy, you could buy it off iTunes right now, but you should wait for the real deal, because Messenger’s album artwork gives it a better touch than the digital copy.
SSS is planning a tour later on this year, but things aren’t set in stone.
“We want to get on the road real bad,” Sanchez says eagerly.
They band’s goals right now are touring and eventually recording a full-length album, but they have something even bigger they want to check off their bucket list.
“Our big dream and our big goal is to play the Conan O’ Brien show,” Sanchez says. By the time O’Brien’s late-night show debuts on TBS this fall, they may be ready. But if you don’t want to wait until then, why don’t you join me at the show next Wednesday?
The Snake! Snake! Snakes! EP release show is Wednesday, August 11 at the Rhythm Room, with Phoenix locals Gospel Claws, Dust Jacket and Ladylike also on the bill. Tickets are $8, available online here. The Rhythm Room is located at 1019 E. Indian School Rd. in Midtown.
The band, comprised of Charlie Brand (vocals, guitar), Rick Schaier (vocals, drums), Algernon Quashie (guitar, keyboard) and Alex Gerber (vocals, bass), was founded by Brand and Schaier in 2006, and they had friends fill in until they found Quashie and Gerber last year.
The Mini Ts have a few notches on their belt when it comes to touring. They toured for seven months in 2009, playing some notable shows with Ben Folds. This year, they’ve already toured with indie bands Free Energy and The Morning Benders.
Now supporting Fortress on the road, DPJ chatted with Brand as he was prepping for a show in Seattle.
“We listen to a lot of music, read and watch movies,” Brand says about what the band does on tour. They explore the cities they play in quite a bit, too. Amongst their favorites: San Francisco, their new hometown of New York and Phoenix, of course.
In all this time on the road, the band has played around with its sound as well. Brand thinks Fortress will be familiar enough to old fans, but it also expands the band’s sound.
“It’s more psychedelic and has more of an experimental element to it,” he says.
Miniature Tigers got their start playing all over Downtown in their Phoenix days at Modified Arts, The Rhythm Room, The Trunk Space and The PHiX. Now, they have been recognized in music bibles like Rolling Stone and SPIN, and will be playing this year’s Lollapalooza, yet Brand feels their musical success has been “slow and steady.”
Yet they’ve hardly been moving slowly lately, having recently shot a video for their new single, “Gold Skull,” produced by Neon Indian, and readying Fortress and an extensive touring itinerary.
Fortress will officially be released on Tuesday, the same day Miniature Tigers will be in Phoenix to play at the Rhythm Room. The Spinto Band, Owan Evans and Phoenix-based rockers Kinch and are also on the bill. The show starts at 7:30, and tickets are only $10 in advance or $12 at the door.
For a preview, listen to “Gold Skull” now.