Stories by POLLY HIGGINS
Austin, Austin, Austin:
You might have South by Southwest, the 20-year-old music festival that has grown to more than 1,400 acts from around the globe.
But we here in Tucson have something as well: I-10. And because the six-lane interstate crosses through the Old Pueblo, we get a lot of bands en route to SXSW.
Monday and Tuesday night will be the inaugural West by Southwest, with 27 groups playing at five venues – Club Congress, Vaudeville Cabaret, the Red Room at Grill, Solar Culture Gallery and Plush – in the downtown and Fourth Avenue areas. The majority of acts are headed to Austin; some locals of note are included as well, though our own The Beta Sweat is performing at SXSW.
“It’s clearly a modest start to something that could be really big,” Club Congress entertainment director David Slutes says, adding that future WXSW events are certain and might be longer and include panel discussions.
“If you’re interested in new music, you’ll get a good deal, because these bands have all been handpicked by South by Southwest,” he says.
Trio may have musical moxie for an outside break
Many months ago, a friend mentioned that if any band could break outside of Tucson, it would be The Beta Sweat. (Actually, he said “The Sweat Band,” but the trio changed its name last month due to a proliferation of Sweat Bands.)
That’s super high praise, of course, but it might not be that far off.
The concrete reasons are many (hard work, drive, talent, local support). Less tangible but just as important is the chemistry the three – Jake Bergeron and sisters Marina Cornelius and Leann Cornelius – have garnered over the two years they’ve been working Sweat.
“It was probably the first band I was in where we didn’t say, ‘Let’s go after this sound,’ ” says Jake, sitting next to his bandmates in the Fourth Avenue-area warehouse where they rehearse. “Knowing each other so well, it’s easy. . . . We all have equal say. There’s no one person calling the shots.”
Maybe three is a magic number as there’s no real room for dead weight. All contribute equally, they note, in terms of splitting duties of booking shows, maintaining the Web site (betasweat.com) and creating band artwork.
Despite the strain of practicing up to 12 hours weekly in addition to full-time jobs, the three have been lucky enough to avoid creative dry spells. “We’re not really up and down. We’re really steady. That’s probably why we’re still together,” Marina says. “And we like playing.”
If there’s one thing the self-taught musicians need at this point, it’s a CD. So far, The Beta Sweat has only a limited-run vinyl 7-inch available, though a couple of weeks ago they recorded four songs with Nathan Sabatino of Loveland Studios that may end up on a full-length.
“They’re definitely probably one of the quickest bands to do stuff with,” says Sabatino, who’s helmed both recordings. The recent analog recording took maybe five hours, he says.
“They have a good idea of what they want to do. They pretty much did it live,” Sabatino says. “They’re well rehearsed.”
Thanks to the band’s fairly active performance schedule, downtown-club-minded Tucsonans already know that The Beta Sweat’s uncluttered blues rock, fronted by petite Marina’s often huge voice, is passionate and solid. Last summer, they took the TAMMIES Critics’ Choice Award for best new band. More enviously, perhaps, is the string of sweet opening spots The Sweat has earned, warming the stage last year for The Sights and Detroit Cobras, and, March 23 at Plush, for The Dirtbombs and The Black Lips.
Love of Sweat has expanded beyond the Old Pueblo, as the group plays South by Southwest in Austin March 18. The trio will also be part of the local West by Southwest festival, with an 11:30 p.m. Tuesday slot at Club Congress
Despite the odds of being accepted into SXSW, Marina says, “We just decided to try.” Nearly 8,000 bands applied to play the music festival this year and about 1,400 were accepted, meaning that less than 18 percent were found worthy.
Bassist Leann, drummer Jake and guitarist Marina will sweat more when they return. They have three shows within seven days. In addition to The Dirtbombs gig, look for them March 25 at Vaudeville Cabaret and March 30 as part of the Queen tribute at Plush where, yes, they’ll tackle “Fat Bottomed Girls.”
Montreal’s We Are Wolves knows value of luck
Some bands have all the luck. Some toil for years without recognition, while others get noticed on their very first outing. Like We Are Wolves.
Talent, of course, helps. So does being at the right place at the right time, and in the past year or so, Montreal, Canada, has served as a nice platform. With the successes of The Arcade Fire, New Pornographers, et al, the spotlight has turned at least momentarily to the island city.
Certainly helping the circulation of the trio’s debut, “Non-Stop Je Te Plie en Deux,” is how fun it is. A bit like Clinic when that band is feeling extra excited, We Are Wolves isn’t afraid of gray areas, of crossing from serious to not-so without really cluing in the listener. Pairing fairly straightforward beats with fabulous old synthesizers, singing (ranting, really, in this case) is secondary to encouraging movement.
The three met at art school in 2000, says keyboardist Vincent Levesque, who is currently pursuing a college degree in painting and drawing. “We didn’t form as a band. We formed as a side project exploring another medium,” he says in a phone interview. “The sonics came later.”
They were, however, clear about the sound they wanted. “We tried to get the same punk feeling, the same aggressive feeling, with electronics.”
Their album, out on Fat Possum (Bob Log III, The Black Keys) last September, was recorded in the fall of 2004 “all over the place. We recorded some stuff in a guy’s living room, and then some of it in a studio.” We Are Wolves should be back in the studio at the end of the summer, Levesque says.
The group’s done two U.S. West Coast tours, opening for The Gossip on one, International Noise Conspiracy on the other, and plays Plush 9:30 p.m. Tuesday on its way to Austin.
if you go
What: WXSW Music Festival
When: 8 p.m. March 13-14
How much: $7 for both nights; wristbands available at participating clubs
Details: Call 622-8848
Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. (622-8848)
Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. (788-1298)
Red Room at Grill, 100 E. Congress St. (623-7621)
Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave. (884-0874)
Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St. (622-3535)
’80′s dance night
8:30 p.m. – The Soft.Lightes (Los Angeles)
9:30 – El Ten Eleven (Los Angeles)
10:30 – Irving (San Francisco)
11:30 – The Plimsouls (Los Angeles)
Red Room at Grill
9:30 p.m. – Zack Hexom (Los Angeles)
10:30 – Campo Bravo (Tucson)
11:30 – Minmae (San Diego)
Solar Culture Gallery
8:30 p.m. – Tom Freund (Los Angeles)
9:30 – Talkdemonic (Portland, Ore.)
10:30 – The Velvet Teen (Santa Rosa, Calif.)
11:30 – Scout Niblett (Nottingham, England)
8:30 p.m. – The Okmoniks (Tucson)
9:30 – Knockout Pills (Tucson)
10:30 – ZZZ (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
11:30 – DMBQ (Tokyo, Japan)
8:30 p.m. – Bellyachers (Los Angeles)
9:30 – The Cops (Seattle)
10:30 – Pink Mountaintops (Toronto, Canada)
11:30 – The Beta Sweat (Tucson)
8:30 p.m. – Cortina (Aukland, New Zealand)
9:30 p.m. – We Are Wolves (Montreal, Canada)
10:30 – The Willowz (Anaheim, Calif.)
11:30 – Bob Log III (Tucson)
Red Room at Grill
Scratchy Records w/ DJ Carl Hanni (Tucson)
8:30 p.m. – Cold War Kids (Los Angeles)
9:30 – Marked Men (Denton, Texas)
10:30 – Golden Boots (Tucson)
11:30 – The Joggers (Portland)