Howe Gelb, Calexico, Neko Case and (of late) Iron and Wine. These are the musicians and groups that have gotten most of the musical press coming out of Tucson, and with good reason--they are all extremely talented.
However, there is something vaguely troubling about such accolades: To the outside world, Tucson appears to be a hotbed of indie rock (in all its varieties) and little else. Although this praise is deservedly earned, it overshadows the rest of the Tucson music scene, particularly the outsiders.
And just who are these outsiders? A band like Ph8, for example. Never heard of them? You're not alone. Although the group has played together, in varying degrees, since 1998--officially forming in 2002--there has been barely any ink about them. The loud, powerful quartet, which consists of vocalist Marcus Davis, guitarist Fernando (Nando) Rivas, bassist Andy Pyle and drummer Michael Hummer, has far too long been overshadowed by other, more like-minded Tucson artists.
Ph8 (pronounced "fate") could draw comparisons to fellow Tucson hard rockers The Bled, but that's being shortsighted. As Ph8's new album, Fortune Favors the Bold, suggests, they are difficult to strictly define. Upon first listen, the opening track "Shallow and Cynical" rips open with a blistering sound, reminiscent of other hard-rock acts like Tool and Pantera. Yet by the second track ("Addictionary"), the group proves to be a bit more complex as a funky bass line and playful "pro-drug" sound clip create trouble for listeners seeking any easy, singular categorization. Davis, like the rest of the band, wishes to avoid any such pigeonholing.
"We're just heavy," Davis said. "I call us 'groove-rock,' because the groove is just beat, solid and heavy."
And he's exactly right. From start to finish, Fortune Favors the Bold is bolstered by a thick, propulsive groove that--thanks in part to the throttling rhythm section of Pyle and Hummer--cannot be effortlessly pegged. Whenever the band seem to be yielding to the conventions of hard rock, they pull a rabbit from their hat with a track like the world-beat instrumental "Intelligent Decline." And it's not just a tight drum and bass combo that leads to the album's overall cohesive feel.
"(Fortune Favors the Bold) just shows how much we've progressed and grown as musicians, and, more so, just bonded as a band," Davis said. "Things like Fernando and Michael knowing when they're going to change now. They just automatically change together; they're just symbiotic like that."
Of course, it doesn't hurt that the group comprises nearly lifelong musicians. Davis has sung since his childhood in Nebraska; Pyle has played bass since the seventh grade; Hummer has drummed since he was 5, and Rivas has played the electric guitar since he was 14. Perhaps most impressive is the members' ability to record music, play shows and, through self-promotion, get the word out, all while maintaining full-time jobs.
Ph8 have used their determination and perseverance to build up a rather rabid fan base--no doubt attracted to the band's wild, live energy and showmanship. However, despite their devoted following, Ph8 have been fairly ignored by the Tucson press, which has kept them underexposed and, mostly, under the radar. Davis believes the band's distance from the downtown scene makes them outsiders, a fact that they don't particularly mind.
"Ph8 has pretty much had to do it all on its own, as far as the crowd and the people who come out goes," Davis said. "When you first said 'Tucson music scene,' I thought of a clique. More of either the Calexico sound, or the Greyhound Souls and Chango Malos, and it is very cliquey. Not that we discount them in any way, or not that it's negative, but we've just kind of done it our own way, I guess."
Rivas agreed and, strangely, cited the group's strong friendship as one of the biggest factors in their inability to bond with other bands.
"I think it's played a part in our longevity, because we're very, very tight," Rivas said. "Not that we don't associate with other bands, but we've never really found a band that we could actually compare ourselves to in how tight we are as friends. It's weird, but we've never really clicked with the scene."
It's that outsider mentality that may make Ph8 one of Tucson's most dangerous bands. They aren't in it to make the kind of fickle alliances that dominate the musical world.
"We just kind of do what we do," Davis said. "We come out and play our style of music and do what we do. To be frank, we just never really gave a rat's ass what people thought of what we sounded like."
Nonetheless, it'd be too simplistic to think of Ph8 as completely carefree, with all the energy they put into their own publicity, their music, their Web site (www.Ph8.net) and their fans. Thankfully, such efforts are not in vain, as the band is being rewarded with a CD release show at the Rialto Theatre. This won't be the band's first stomp on the hallowed stage--in fact, one of their fondest live memories is rocking a packed Rialto at a sold-out Linkin Park show--and with any luck, it'll be far from their last.
"We do know that having this CD release in Tucson isn't going to be anything really to further our careers," Davis said. "It's really going to be a celebration, kind of a 'thank you' to all of our fans here in town, and hopefully to get people out who've never heard us to see what we're all about."
Davis went on to speculate about what the future might hold for Ph8--who will be releasing a live DVD sometime later this year aimed at tiding over fans from distant places, since the group cannot afford to tour.
"I think it kind of goes with the album title," Davis said. "Not to sound cheesy or anything, but I'm finding I'm using it as a mantra lately. We're going to go all out, and we'll either fall on our faces, or it's going to be a huge success, but either way, in the end, we want to say we all did our best."