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How the West Was Won

Baby Gas Mask Records closes its anthology series of Tucson music with a bang

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Baby Gas Mask Records is wrapping up its three-year project to document the Tucson music scene with a mega-release party.

A genre-spanning nine bands will perform Saturday, representing the latest batch of 7-inch vinyl records in the West Foot Forward series, showcasing everything from Americana to hip-hop, paired together.

Between musicians, visual artists and the behind-the-scenes contributors, the West Foot Forward series of 10 split 7-inch records brought together more than 80 people, making it a community art project as much as a musical anthology, say Seth and Melissa Mauzy of Baby Gas Mask, who helmed the project along with engineer Chris Levesque.

"We wanted to do something a little different with it," Seth says. "We tried to break it up and get the effect of a compilation without just having one CD."

The breadth of the project reflects both the diversity of Tucson bands and the capabilities of Baby Gas Mask Records' Studio 42, where all the tracks for the series were recorded.

"One of the things we wanted to showcase was the sound of the studio," he says. "We got a lot of different musicians in to record and have a good time. We've got a great studio sound and I'm happy with what we've been able to accomplish."

Having the series on vinyl instead of CD not only fits with the aesthetic of the vinyl-centric label, but allowed for much more more creative visual elements. But with vinyl surging in popularity over the course of the West Foot Forward series, that extended the time frame for each release, and ultimately changed the original plan for a release show celebrating each two-band record. One single was more than a year in the making, and Baby Gas Mask finished the series working with a different plant than the label had at the start. But, Seth Mauzy says, now that the records exist, they're a permanent artifact of the bands.

"You can always go back to the records," he says. "I've always been a record collector, so that's the instinct that guided me as a producer and label head, to make something that is more permanent than any band."

The music swings from Americana to heavy rock to psychedelic to quirky, with the thoughtful band pairing serving as another way to capture the breadth of the scene, not only in terms of sound but also in terms of individual friendships between musicians

"We wanted each side to make sense paired together. Especially with the earlier ones, we'd get one band first and they'd recommend another bands," he says. "A lot of it was based on who's friends with who."

The series was produced on all colored vinyl, with each individual record looking different. The covers were all spray-painted by hand as well, so inside and out, every record has its own unique look. Visual artists who contributed to the series include Danny Martin, Donovan White, Adela Navarrette, Jacob Breckenridge, Alexsey Kashtelyan, Marina Cornelius, Lana Rebel, Bridgitte Thum, Addie Beechwood and Rusty Boulet-Stephenson. All record covers were screen printed at Tanline Printing on uniquely painted paper.

"It's kind of motley, like Tucson is," Melissa says. "We really vibed with Tanline so well because they're devoted to these old methods, using them as artwork. It's the same with vinyl. Is it outmoded? But it's a work of art at the same time it's a product."

The four previous releases included Best Dog Award with Sun Bones, Ghostal with Garbowski, Katterwaul with Head Over Heart, and Mik and Scott with Gamma Like Very Ultra.

The final batch includes Laura and the Killed Men with Rising Sun Daughter, Wight Lhite with Hermanitos, Human Behavior with Trans Van Santos, Acorn Bcorn with Golden Boots, Naïm Amor with Louise Le Hir, and the last record (as yet released), Foxx Bodies with Lando Chill.

The goal was to make each record work individually as well as together in the full series.

"It's really an anthology of what the Tucson music scene sounded like from 2013 to 2017," Melissa says. "Some bands along the way have broken up, some bands have moved, some bands rarely play. There really is a life cycle. If you don't capture bands in their time, they move on."

They cherish many of the smaller details about the series (including what's written in the inner groove of each record). Sun Bones' "Never Going Back" is the only recording of the band when it briefly included five members. Human Behavior's "V" was recorded while the band still included Karima Walker, who's gone on to see success as a solo artist. And while the series purposefully excluded the biggest names in Tucson music, Naïm Amor's "Wandering" included bassist Thøger T. Lund (of Giant Sand) and drummer Bruce Halper (of the Sidewinders and Sand Rubies).

"We were trying to focus on a particular slice, but in a weird way, that brings it back around full circle with some of the most famous bands from Tucson," Seth says.

The Mauzys (who also play in the band Deschtuco) say the series definitely shows Tucson music through their lens as musicians, fans and label operators.

"Tucson is an amazing place musically," Melissa says. "We didn't include the more well known bands on purpose. We wanted to get bands that felt new to us. There's so much else out there, but it's what we knew and could make happen."

They see the project as part of a continuity of different record labels over the last few decades in Tucson,

"You look back at what Tucson sounded like in the '80s and '90s, there are some really cool compilations to go back and listen to and I hope this becomes like that," Melissa says. "Fort Lowell Records was definitely an inspiration to even become a label. If you pair all that with this and Lonesome Desert and Wooden Tooth and Topaz, they really get a well-rounded picture."

In the end, the series became more of an art project than a record production project.

"I'm really proud of it," Melissa says. "Lots of compilations have tracks recorded all over. The fact that we were able to go from the very beginning to the end in our studio, do it all on vinyl, do all the artwork, it becomes an expression of ourselves at the same time. In the end it's a collaboration of about 80 people, but for Chris, Seth and I, it was our vision. Somehow we brought all these people together and I love that."

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