When it comes to prolific musicians in this town, folks typically point to Howe Gelb and other desert rock associated acts. For whatever reason, born-and-raised Tucsonan Matt Rendon tends to get overlooked, despite two solid decades of music under his belt. Although he's one of the forebears of the Old Pueblo's psych scene and has spent much of the last year making other local acts sound good at his home recording studio Midtown Island, he's also been working on something new and that project, perhaps, is the thing that will make Tucson finally take note.
Back at the beginning, Rendon started his musical life humbly enough when he made a homemade drum kit out of some coffee cans. He later upgraded to a cheap starter kit courtesy of his parents when he was around 11 years old. Like the cans, that first kit didn't last Rendon long.
"I destroyed that kit" Rendon says. "I think I had it for about a year or so."
Rendon's love of music flourished while listening to his older brother's tape collection, which included the bands that would later shape his sound as a musician like The Beatles and Herman's Hermits. Despite his early proclivity for playing, Rendon didn't start a high school band like so many kids do.
"I was the only guitar player at my school. It didn't really interest me at the time to be in a band," he says.
In 1991, he started The Resonars with Eric Royer, Dustin Moyer and Mario Cordova. Unfortunately, there wasn't an ingrained audience for psych rock then as there is now and the band ended up playing shows to no one. After a few months they disbanded and Rendon moved to Sodus, New York for a year. When he came back to Tucson in late 1992, The Resonars rebanded minus Cordova who was replaced by Forest Dunn.
That iteration of The Resonars had a good four year run until the band redisbanded and Rendon began recording all of The Resonars' albums himself—playing all the instruments and taking over most of the production duties. Between recording albums, he also played in other bands like The Cheap Shots and Al Perry and The Cattle. In 2000, he was asked to play drums with Seattle band The Vultures, pulling him from his home for the second time. That gig lasted about a year before the band dissolved while on tour.
Every so often you can still catch a sporadic Resonars show, but it's what Rendon began in 2012 that truly cements him as both a shepherd and tastemaker in the local scene. It's in 2012 that Rendon began building his studio, modeled after the one he had in his parent's backyard. It took three months to construct and then Midtown Island was born. Since, he's recorded larger national acts on Burger and Lolipop Records as well as locals like Louise Le Hir.
Playing in Freezing Hands and Harsh Mistress, Rendon has stayed in the musical consciousness of this town. However, for the man who psyched before psych was revived, his newest musical endeavor is perhaps his true tripped-out opus. The high-concept studio project titled Butterscotch Cathedral is a beautiful homage to '60s harmony-based psychedelia. And Rendon said it all began back in a cabinet factory.
"I worked as a truck driver for a thrift shop and one day we had a pick up at a kitchen cabinet manufacturer. Two display models were set next to each other with the names 'Butterscotch' and 'Cathedral,'" Rendon says.
After mentioning the name to Bill Roe of Trouble in Mind Records, the idea began to take shape with lyricist Chris Ayers and producer Jim Waters in tow. There are hints of Smile-era Beach Boys, Sell Out-esque The Who and even some Thirteenth Floor Elevators peeking in As a longtime patron of the genre, Rendon shows the difference between an adept and informed psych rocker and some kid who just bought his first Brian Jonestown Massacre record.
Rendon has an ear for harmonies, first and foremost, which give him the freedom to be more experimental in his arrangements now than in his time with The Resonars. It seems this first release could have actually been recorded in 1967. It might have been an instant hit or a lost classic that audiophiles would frantically scour the vinyl bins at their local music shop for. Either way, it'll take you on a journey if you allow it.
The album, which was recorded at Waterworks Studios, begins with the "Flood of Mendoza"—an 18-minute kaleidoscope of sound with constantly evolving aural phases. It begins mellow with buzzy synth that fades in before Rendon asks, "Won't you come inside the Butterscotch Cathedral?" With beautiful hypnotic, harmonic vocals paired with a harpsichord and some background "oohs" and "ahhs," the structure builds for nearly a minute until acoustic guitar, drums and bass fade in for the next section of this epic song. Channeling The Yarbirds briefly, the song then breaks down into a single synth line until the next phase begins, which uses Rendon as a conduit for Mamas and the Papas vocal stylings. The song devolves into field recording sounds of an ocean and seagulls accompanied by finger-picked acoustic guitar before returning to a full rock section, punctuated by a blistering guitar solo which crossfades the piece back into the intro vocal melody but with the additional sound of machineguns.
Yeah, that's just the first song. While that song is nearly as long as a modern sitcom minus commercials and takes up an entire side of the record, flipping will uncover equally masterful "Loud and Heavy Sun" and the 17-minute "Lisa's Dream." "Loud and Heavy Sun" is a crunchy, gritty rocker that sounds like what The Beach Boys would have sounded like if they had been raised in a barn in the swamps of Louisiana living off of gator tail and swamp-berries. "Lisa's Dream" closes the album with pieces of earlier songs layered into one single piece of music. It's truly mind-melting music and immersive in a way that you want to throw headphones on and drift away.
You can take that trip yourself by picking up a copy of the Butterscotch Cathedral's self-titled debut release starting Friday, Oct. 2 at PDQ (2432 N. Dodge Blvd.), Wooden Tooth (415 N. Fourth Ave.) and Zia Records (3370 E. Speedway Blvd.) or online via Trouble in Mind Records at www.troubleinmindrecs.com.