Sassy Star X is a hidden gem in the Old Pueblo, a three-piece pop band you can usually catch at least once a month at the downtown bar 7 Black Cats.
Most people have seen the band's "somewhat sexist" promotional flyers at various Fourth Avenue and downtown locations. The flyers are visual delights that prominently display a sexy woman who invariably draws your eye to the date and location of the show.
Some have heard the name and have, based only on that, assumed the band is "glam rock" or--to be politically incorrect--"fag rock."
It is neither.
Sassy Star X is pop, pop with its various subdivisions. Think Brit pop in terms of Elvis Costello or early Cure, with their dark rhythm section and punk edge. Then think about the ska side of pop and punk, and add alternative.
During an interview at local hotspot Plush, bassist Woodie (with an "ie," mind you) and singer/songwriter/guitarist David Ziegler-Voll described their musical styles.
Woodie: "Yeah, we play ska, faux ska or punk, faux punk."
David: "We'll play '70s early Police-sounding stuff, then a psycho country song."
Drummer Erik Thyblny said in a phone interview that SSX is "kind of new wave, but indie rock too. It's pretty diverse, eclectic. The favorite thing I've heard," he added with a laugh, "was when someone said, after a show, 'You guys remind me of a John Hughes movie.'"
If you are a child of the '80s you'll understand, and like them.
But, for some reason, it doesn't seem to be a sound especially popular among the Fourth Avenue/downtown music crowd; SSX shows rarely have more than 30 people in attendance. It's odd because the band is good. The songs are catchy, the lyrics are insightful and intelligent and the rhythm section moves you--sometimes from side to side, sometimes a bouncy, head-bopping up and down.
SSX shows are a bittersweet experience. On one hand, you want the band to do well. On the other hand, you don't want all those damn people in your way.
David admits that, with more people at a show, "it feeds you energy. It's an energy thing. When not many people are there, it feels like we're practicing--which is good, it's fine. But, what I have noticed is that the people who come pay attention and listen, rather than talking or playing pool. People have said that they enjoy listening to us because they can understand the lyrics."
At the end of last month, SSX performed live on KXCI's Monday night Locals Only show. On air during a tuning break, host Don Jennings aptly described SSX and how it fits in the Tucson music scene.
"While a little bit of tuning takes place here, I thought I'd BS with you guys just a little bit more. We were talking about the style of music that you play and the lack of a label for it. It's a unique sound for Tucson, indeed. The Tucson music scene, while having a wide variety of genres, tends to be heavily favored in the roots rock, Americana or desert rock--if you will. So, it's always refreshing to me to hear something different and you guys are definitely different [from] what the other bands are playing in Tucson."
David founded SSX in 1998, when he had finished college and settled into a career.
"I bought an 8-track recorder, a VS-880, and bought a crappy bass [a Johnson] and drums [cymbal-less].
"I wanted to document my music. I played all the instruments. It was a raw sound. I burned 30 CDs for my friends and they thought I should form a band."
Around the same time, music Web site MP3.com started up and David uploaded some songs. Within a couple of weeks, two of his songs hit the Alternative Top 40.
David's early recordings are indeed raw, but show promise. After Erik joined SSX seven months ago, some of the songs were re-recorded to comprise a 7-song demo.
"After I joined," Eric said, "I pushed them in a more punk direction. Everything we play is a bit harder."
David gives his praise and thanks to local producer Stuart Kupers for his help with mastering a number of SSX's songs, which include the songs on the demo.
Currently, SSX is recording a CD slated for release next spring.
"We are planning on a 3,000-CD run, done professionally," he said. "Right now, the demos we sell or give away at shows are home burned. Five of the seven songs on the demo can be downloaded from MP3.com/SassyStarX."
SSX has good incentive for finishing its recording project. About six months ago, the band was contacted via email by an A&R rep from Warner Bros., who requested a press kit and told the players to keep in touch and notify Warner if SSX participated in any major events or had an upcoming CD release.
Although not performing original work, Sassy Star X will play in the annual Great Cover Up at 8 p.m. Friday, November 30 at Club Congress. The group will do originals Thursday, December 13 at 7 p.m. at 7 Black Cats. Be sure to check out the slick and groovy Web site SassyStarX.com for other upcoming shows.