Last year, local musician Ben Schneider and a large team of organizers, including Leann Cornelius of Acorn Bcorn took downtown Tucson to Old Tucson Studios for Night of the Living Fest, which he designed to serve as a celebratory gesture during the weekend of Tucson's annual All Souls Procession, or the Day of the Dead. It was a terrific event, with great musical performances, art and entertainment for children and adults, all in a fantastical location, but unfortunately it fell short of financial expectations, which has led to this year's NOLF to be held in the city at La Cocina. The Weekly caught up with Schneider recently for the lowdown on the upcoming festival.
THE LOCATION CHANGE
"The idea was getting out of downtown Tucson and hearing stuff in a new location that's not normal. My original idea was to have it in Dunbar/Spring, which I think is a very vibrant community ... especially after the Porch Festival—everyone in Dunbar/Spring just has their own show; there were bands everywhere. (The performance schedule) was a rough timeline but it ended up with people just meandering around Dunbar, just wanting to hear music and talk to people.
"I think I was maybe a little wrong with (the idea) of taking it away from Tucson—there's just so many parts of Tucson that aren't being utilized. Old Tucson, for me, was something that nobody in the rock 'n' roll community utilizes as a possibility, you know? The place was made for a festival, pretty much. They were a little hard to deal with and they didn't want to do it again; I would have loved to have it there again. I kind of set new parameters; I think they would have been into doing it again if I had done it the same way as I did last year, which is a certain thing that I decided wasn't good for the future of the festival. I proposed a new idea which I thought was very fair and they denied it. So because of that, I had the idea of doing it at Dunbar, and kind of doing this blowout festival, but the investors sort of fizzled out and I ran out of money.
"I had the idea to rent out a warehouse and create my own little world, and have the festival go on for nine or 10 days. We found a warehouse but in the end, a neighbor complained and there were too many hoops to go through to get a liquor license.
"I work at La Cocina and my mom owns it. La Cocina seemed to be the only option that made sense if we were gonna do it. So, that's why it's there and I think it's the best thing that could possibly happen at this point in time. I'm totally excited about it, but it's the second generation of a fall-back plan.
"The warehouse ... That's something that's still very important to me--the fact of not having to rush stuff, and having more time to actually build into a space instead of conceptually building into a space. Like, you can take pictures and measurements of a space but you're never quite do it as if you were there. ... That's not an idea that's fizzing out."
"I think I tapped out a lot of bands last year that I'd want to play every year, but I needed to change it up a bit to keep things fresh. We also didn't have as much money to play around with this year to get bigger bands. Some of the bands like Deerhoof (who played last year) were crazy expensive and I just couldn't justify it this year (financially) so it made sense to me to have this localized, 'repping-Arizona' festival, and it's all these bands that are amazing that don't get to play bigger stages, except for Chicha Dust and Prom Body. But there's so many great bands that are totally underground and it's cool to showcase these people."
"There's gonna be a bunch of projectors--we're gonna do a projector installation throughout the fest and we are building carnival games that are also art pieces. More interactive stuff. They're actual games that you play and win prizes but they have an aesthetic. We're renting inflatables and there's a 37-foot slide. You don't understand what that's gonna be like.
"There's a pretty big crew; it's a lot of the same people as last year. Leann and I work side-by-side on everything. There's a lot of stuff from Parker Arriaga—we've been doing a lot of the carnival buildouts. Christian Ramirez keeps my head together. So, I kind of do different things with different people.
"We're closing off the streets around La Cocina—it's kind of gonna be a horseshoe around the courtyard, a huge block party. This year is more about simplicity and what's around us. Just having base-level fun."
A GUIDE TO THE BANDS
One of Tucson's most popular rock 'n' roll bands, Prom Body originally came to prominence in the summer of 2013, as a recorded side project of then-Sleep Like Trees drummer Michael Fay. Fay's off-kilter take on gaudy and garish 1980s mainstream pop-rock—he regularly cites Roxette as a musical influence—was grafted onto the nervous energy and threadbare velocity of the Buzzcocks for Prom Body's debut "Creep the Strange," which Fay recorded at home by himself. Within a few months, Prom Body was a full band, with Fay's ragged pop songs given vibrant new life in theatrical, exciting live performances. For this year's "Naughty by Natural," Fay refined Prom Body's metronic pop-punk further and the national music community took notice, with positive write-ups from Spin, NPR and others, and the band recently performed at CMJ's annual showcase in New York City.
Chicha Dust is a somewhat of a local supergroup—the sextet is fronted by Brian Lopez and Gabriel Sullivan—and has both revived and popularized South American psychedelic cumbia music in and around Tucson during the last two years. The band has built up a formidable reputation as a live band—cumbia, to oversimplify things, is a bit like the funkier Latin cousin of '60s garage rock—and serves as a viscerally light-hearted counterpoint to Lopez and Sullivan's individual solo work.
As a primary member of both the Minutemen and fIREHOSE, it's hard to overestimate Mike Watt's influence over the direction of the last three decades of indie and alternative rock. With these bands, especially the Minutemen, Watt and his collaborators split hardcore punk open and filled the chasm with folk, jazz and, later, funk. After his 1995 solo album "Ball Hog or Tugboat," Watt toured with Iggy Pop and the Stooges, among others, and has been recording and performing with organist Pete Mazich and drummer Jerry Trebotic as Mike Watt and the Secondmen for the last decade.
THE NIGHT COLLECTORS
Though it's tempting to call The Night Collectors "Tucson's Best New Band," such praise usually doesn't end well around these parts and The Night Collectors are really just an amalgam of members of other fantastic local acts like Dream Sick and Katterwaul. The Night Collectors are probably the logical endpoint of Tucson's psychedelic revival—it'll be difficult to follow or expand upon the sheer mania of their disorienting jams—but the unsettling dislocation prevalent in the band's wailing guitars and saxophone is the sensation of being sucked up into the eye of a hurricane and watching calmly as the world disintegrates around you.
It's not a coincidence that Hermanitos' members run a specialty record store and an old-style printing company because the quartet's measured and simplistic approach to rock 'n' roll is both reverent and true to the music's inherent irreverence. Which is to say, Hermanitos treat the sound and legacy of Buddy Holly and Bo Diddley as interactive museum exhibitions to insert their own visions into, making music that feels timeless and universal while remaining intensely personal.
In certain respects, sisters Leann and Marina Cornelius (the former an equal partner with Ben Schneider in organizing NOLF) of Acorn Bcorn are Hermanitos' transgressive and sometimes nefarious older siblings. But instead of adhering to the traditions of rock 'n' roll's roots, Acorn Bcorn gloriously dismantle it with electrifying touches of blues, no wave and righteous anger.
This trio, featuring Schneider, is an absurdist treatise on '80s and '90s R&B, where the songs are almost live dance-club kitchen-sink mixes of New Jack Swing, early House and even country, over which swaths of stoned-to-the-bone vocals recite sex jams that would've made Beck blush back in his "Midnite Vultures" era.
Phoenix's Treasure Mammal also reshape the lock-step computerized dance beats of '80s and '90s club music, but their take on it is far more aggressive, jagged and hallucinatory than Whoops'. Using a polyrhythmic foundation for outrageous and indelible party anthems, Treasure Mammal is always exciting, and recently collaborated on the Flaming Lips' "Sgt. Pepper" tribute/cover album, "With a Little Help From My Fwends," although they ended up getting bumped from the final version.