Mesa, Ariz. — Stabbing Westward has been rocking out for more than 30 years, but the energy they brought to the intimate Club Red was dynamic, like they were fledglings on their first tour. They brought 90s rock nostalgia to the crowd gathered inside the dark brick walls of the venue after their 14 year hiatus. This performance was part of their 30th Reunion show, which featured local openers; Paranova, There Is No Us, Amnestic and Swindy, who all performed with stamina and grit to wow the crowd.
Stabbing Westward keyboardist Walter Flakus and drummer Johnny Haro prepared for their set by carrying up multiple 12-packs of Coronas to the stage, and vocalist Christopher Hall walked out on stage during the sound check to record footage of the excited crowd for social media.
When Stabbing Westward took the stage, the crowd’s energy rose even more, with Hall embracing the space of the stage to engage the crowd during the opening song, “Drugstore.” During the second song, “Falls Apart,” guitarist Mark Eliopulos was playing so aggressively, pushing his guitar against the mic stand like a capo, that he broke his bottom E-string. When Hall asked him if he needed a break to replace it, Eliopulos replied, “…it was the one at the bottom, you know, the one no one uses,” and he played the rest of the show on only five strings.
They played “Lies” and “Nothing” off their 1994 Ungod album; “What Do I Have To Do?” and “Shame” off their 1996 album Wither, Blister, Burn & Peel; “Sometimes It Hurts” and “Save Yourself” off the 1998 Darkest Days album, in addition to six other songs from their expansive career. In between the songs, Hall poked fun at himself and his bandmates telling the crowd “old people” jokes and attributing it to their current lifestyle. However, with the way Hall strutted his stuff all over the stage and jumped down into the crowd, one could have guessed him only 25-years-old. Hall closed out the show with a proper drop-mic after announcing to the crowd, “We are Stabbing Westward bitches! Good night!”
Prior to headliner act Stabbing Westward, four local bands played opening sets to amp up the crowd. Each band brought diversity to the stage with their original songs and performance styles filled with vigor and moxie. The bands provided an eclectic, yet complimentary sampling of folk goth, industrial, metal and alt-rock styles.
Swindy was on first playing their ethereal folk goth and industrial-rock inspired songs. They started out with “Synergy” followed by the electro-tech “iBegin,” and a new song, “Animal.”
Lead vocalist Randall Swindell’s stage presence oozed sex appeal in his black, wet-look tee shirt and ripped, black denim skinny jeans, and even more when he stopped playing guitar mid-song to run his hands through his cheek-length blond hair.
During the show, it was announced that this would be vocalist Alyson Precie’s last show for a while as she recently enlisted in the Navy. Her strong voice and harmonizing vocals will be missed. Swindy also consists of members Tamara Jenney on keyboard, Mike Jenney on bass, and drummer Steven Escalante.
Swindell’s passion really came through with the song “Reflection,” as he opened his arms to metaphorically embrace the crowd and pull them in. They finished the set with “Just Don’t Like It,” and “Ignite My Love” from their self-titled EP Swindy.
Amnestic took the stage with their industrial electro-hard rock, which they self-describe as “angry robot noises.” Vocalist Brook Thomas’ growlesque screams set the tone for a post-apocalyptic robot revolt. Amnestic comprises two other members, keyboardist Sarah Elizabeth and guitarist Aaron Coldblood. The dark stage and bold red lighting cast a demonic glow over the band intensifying the message of their music. The trio played “Harbringer,” “Desensitization,” “Discipline,” and “Absent Affect” from their current album Future; as well as “Nervous System” from their album Real Bad Day.
There Is No Us
The third band to play, There Is No Us, came at the crowd no holds barred with their opening song, “Chemical Murder,” followed up by “Farewell to Humanity,” which is interspersed with snippets from tragic news broadcasts. Vocalist Jim Louvau’s aggressive vocals are a good representation of the societal angst reflected in their political lyrics.
The five person band consists of Andy Gerold (former guitarist for Marilyn Manson) and Jared Bakin on guitar, Eddie Lopez on bass and PHEET on drums. They played “Kings & Queens,” and “Angels Face with Devils Hands,” which Louvau described as a love song. Louvau finished out the set screaming at the crowd to throw their fists in the air for “In Violence We Trust,” getting the crowd pumped for the headlining band.
Right before Stabbing Westward, Paranova took the stage. Vocalist Owen Doheny walked on with an instrument one does not usually see at a rock or metal concert, a saxophone. They opened with the song “Lazarus,” and guitarist Dylan Ewing executed a flawless guitar solo. The band followed with “Hyperhollow” and “Sanctuary.” Bass player Erin Sperduti’s intense bass lines and drummer Logan Dolezal’s punchy drumming really bring their sound full circle.
The band covered NIN’s “March of the Pigs,” then finished out with their original songs “Enfilade,” and “Headline.” During the last song, Doheny pulled out the sax and gave it a short-lived appearance playing it for 15 seconds right at the end of the song. All songs, except the cover of NIN’s “March of the Pigs,” are on their album Hyperhollow.
The entire show was a high energy rock fest for the mid-size Club Red. Each opening band brought their original style and sound to the stage to work up the anticipation for Stabbing Westward’s performance. Thirty years together, they know how to put on one hell of a show. They’ve kept fans satiated, and gained new fans, as The Dreaming for 17 years. It’s unknown how long the guys will continue to tour as Stabbing Westward since their 2016 reunion kicked off, but it was a pleasure to have them back in Arizona playing the 90s rock that made them famous.
It takes a great deal of tenacity, creativity, business savviness, drive and vision in today’s world of entrepreneurship. The music industry is well acquainted with these core elements being a must for artists to obtain their goals.
The fascinating thing, though, is the variety of paths musicians/artists/bands take along the way to find the groove that fits them best. As Randell Swindell moved along his journey, it seems to have brought him full circle to his creative project, his band Swindy.
Musician Randall Swindell tells us about Swindy in a Q & A with Burning Hot Events…
Talk a bit about Swindy and how this idea came about, as the Arizona scene knows your name Randall Swindell for the band Ensphere.
Swindy spontaneously spawned out of ENSPHERE. When ENSPHERE got back together after a few years’ break, we were preparing our old material to perform again. I had a ton of new material that I was bringing to the table – complete songs and a whole bunch of seeds – and my new sound had a much heavier pop influence than the rest of the band was used to hearing from me. I wanted to steer ENSPHERE in a more mainstream and pop-influenced direction, and I gathered that other members of the band had different ideas of where ENSPHERE should go.
The very moment Swindy began was when ENSPHERE was offered an opening slot for Lethal Injektion at the Rialto theater in Tucson. I wanted to say yes to that show, but the rest of the band differed. I decided to say yes to the show offer and throw together a solo act. While I had originally intended on performing ENSPHERE music live with backing tracks, I just went full on with all of my new music. My plan was to go out there solo with my laptop, play my backing tracks, and sing and play guitar by myself. When asked what name I would be performing under, I thought quickly… Swindy, Just call me Swindy.
When I started practicing for this show, I was hanging out with Jeff Sargent of 51 Peg. I convinced him to learn some of the guitar parts and perform with me. He suggested that I reach out to Mike Jenney from Alter Der Ruine and pull him in as a live drummer – and that’s just what I did. We were all excited about the project, and before I knew it we had assembled a new band. From there, we kept getting show offers, and I kept saying yes to them. It felt really good to move at the speed I wanted to. With all the catching up I had to do, it felt good to just say yes.
It has been cited that pop music came heavily into play between the two bands you are affiliated with. How did that influence come about?
When ENSPHERE broke up in 2012, I was devastated. I tried to keep the project going by myself but I could not. Emotionally hurt and feeling a little lost, I stopped caring about what my goals were with ENSPHERE. I was hanging out with different people and I began allowing myself to just listen to the pop music that they were listening to. I opened up to a whole new world of sound, and it felt good – I started singing along with Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Kesha, Lady Gaga, and David Guetta on the radio. These songs sounded so rich and uplifting… I guess I just needed that music in my life at the time. It told me that everything doesn’t always have to be doom and gloom.
Eventually, as I started writing music again, I wanted to see if I could create pop and Electronic dance music – and so I started teaching myself how with my computer. I trained myself to create pop music for a few years from 2012 to 2015. Ultimately what ended up happening was sort of a fusion with my pop attempts and my rock/industrial ROOTS coming together. I just really wanted to broadcast a positive message. I feel strongly that this world needs as much positive energy as possible.
With Swindy coming together and your first music video, “Reflection,” really creating quite a storm nationally in the press – what role has your good friend Mike Jenney (Assemblage 23) played in Swindy?
Mike was there with me from the beginning of Swindy‘s live debut. He is a musician/producer who I have always admired. Our bands played together in the past, and I think there is a mutual respect for one another. Once we started jamming together, we felt the synergy. He began advising me on how to program my live shows, he taught me a lot about electronic music, he showed me the ropes of how to successfully combine backing tracks with live musicians. I learned a ton from him very quickly. We played about 20 shows together and then started writing new music. As it turns out, he and I have a symbiotic relationship when it comes to writing. We complement each other’s strengths, and we developed a process that allows us to quickly generate new songs.
There is a great flow when the two of us are in the studio together. Mike Jenney is a very gifted producer. He will play a beat he came up with, I play guitar for 20 minutes, then we listen back. He cuts up all my guitar lines and starts looping different things in different places. All of the sudden this whole song structure starts coming out. He has a great sense of arrangement and some incredible tools in his bag. Once we realized the chemistry we had together in the studio, we prioritized the writing process. We are currently working together to write as much music as possible. And it is flowing big time – there is just this explosion of new songs coming out right now. And thankfully we have a great process in place to capture it all. At this point, Swindy has evolved into less of a solo project and more of a band. Mike Jenney is absolutely an equal part co-writer in the new music we have coming out in 2018.
Moving forward will there be a building of a relationship between you and Mike?
Yes, we are conceptualizing many different possibilities right now. I will continue with Swindy always. I am super thankful to have started the project, but we may be needing to launch yet another band in the near future! I say that with utter excitement! I will still release solo music as Swindy. I have a ton of unreleased music in my own repertoire. But We are all on to something that needs to come out.
How about other musicians who have become a part of your sound for Swindy?
Jeff Sargent was the original guitarist for Swindy. As momentum picked up, Jeff realized that he was not going to be able to commit full-time, as he is the lead singer of 51 Peg, East Coast industrial band. I brought in Jonathan Russell as a second guitarist for a few shows, but mostly I have just been playing guitar on every song when it comes to the live performances. Mike Jenney started out as a drummer in the band, but he has moved over to the synthesizer position, and he is kicking ass there. Matt Lundgren joined the band as a live drummer early on as well. He performed many of our first shows with us. Matt is a great drummer, and he is still considered part of the band. Steven Escalante joined the band in spring of 2017 and has performed every show with us since his first show. Steven’s hip-hop and drum and bass roots are perfect for the sound I am going for. And he has locked in with everybody in the band. The live band has always had an open policy, and a rotating lineup strategy and members have come and gone frequently. Everybody is invited, nobody is excluded. We had our first live bass player, Matt, join us for a few shows recently.
Last but not least, I met Alyson Precie at a Swindy show in August of 2016. She was singing songs from The Fifth Element. I immediately recognized that she was a talented vocalist. Soon thereafter, Alyson joined me in the recording studio while I was laying down vocals for a cover song we do, “I See Right Through to You” by DJ Encore. She started singing harmonies with me, and the engineer and I were both like “wow! You need to get in the vocal booth right now and lay those vocals down!” She did without hesitation and she nailed it. I got chills listening to her, and I invited her to perform that song with us on stage for the next show. She did and got a great audience response. From that point on Alyson has been a live vocalist with the band, and eventually learned every song. She has such a strong voice and a great live presence on stage. She has expanded Swindy when it comes to the live performances. She also writes her own music, what I would call Goth Folk. Needless to say, Alyson was so amazing I fell in love with her immediately, and now we are married. She continues to assist me with vocal melodies and lyrics. Mike, Steven, Alyson, and I are the core of Swindy right now. We are looking for that perfect bass player.
“Reflection” certainly has a strong emotive side to it. Lyrically and video wise we can relate. Do you like creating strong emotions for fans to interpret or do you like to draw them a clear picture of what you create?
Mostly I like to leave things open to interpretation. For whatever reason with Reflection, it seemed like a really clear picture. When I wrote it, it was just one of those songs that came through on its own. I was trying to put words to my feelings, and the song just wrote itself as I did that. That happens from time to time. Otherwise I mostly just enjoy writing lyrics that kind of describe the feeling of the music, and trying to interpret what it means. Sometimes I bring the lyrics through a refinement process and they tell a story eventually. Sometimes I apply already written lyrics to a new song. Most of the time I want to leave things open to interpretation. I like creating universal music; I like creating things that everybody can interpret and relate to.
Where was “Reflection” filmed?
“Reflection” was filmed in several locations – Texas Canyon, Dragoon AZ; Sweetwater Trail Tucson AZ; “A mountain” in Tucson; and at the Originate Designs studio.
A little comparison if you would from the Tucson music market to the Phoenix market. How are they the same/different?
Tucson and Phoenix are the two biggest cities in Arizona, they both have fairly thriving music scenes. Tucson is the underdog as I see it – less industry, a bit more culture, some cool underground clubs and a hugely eclectic sound that comes from the city. There’s all kinds of music in Tucson – rock, metal, hip-hop, Folk, Avant-garde, Indie, orchestral, electronic, industrial, etc. etc. Tucson is a great place to incubate your musical seeds and a great place to test out projects for larger markets.
When it comes to Phoenix, I see it as the way out of Arizona. Phoenix has the industry, Phoenix has a ton of talent and the connections that musicians need to thrive in the music industry – something that Tucson lacks a little bit. Phoenix is a great city to take those seeds that have been incubating in Tucson and put them full-fledged in the garden where they can grow to their full potential. Phoenix sprouts and grows its own seeds as well, and there is a movement of music coming out of Phoenix that is pretty cool. I see a lot of industrial, metal, rock, and punk rock coming out of Phoenix lately, as well as some more eclectic stuff. Phoenix has some really cool clubs and great theaters and amphitheaters, a much more up-to-date arena, and stadiums. Phoenix is where you need to go if you want to make it out of Arizona.
I don’t necessarily think Phoenix is the best city to live in – it’s a lot of new construction and a lot of cars, but it’s definitely a place to get great work done! Tucson is a great place to be creative. I think those two cities go hand in hand when it comes to the state of Arizona. Phoenix and Tucson work together. Tucson should feed Phoenix, and Phoenix should eat Tucson. Tucson has great food and probably tastes delicious.
What is Swindy looking to create as you drive this sound/movement towards and on into 2018?
We are going to an industrial dance-rock fusion sound – you know, pop, rock, and EDM all in one. Our live set up is definitely specified for festivals right now. We want to hit the festival circuit, to continue building our following – we want to be part of the future. “The future sound of America”. What will that be? Look at what has happened in music over the last hundred years, and look at where it is headed… We are going that way. And it looks really exciting! Technology is continuing to push the envelope in the music industry. We are a part of that, our sound is a reflection of that, our fans are a product of that. We just want to create the best art we possibly can and be as authentic as we can. We are artists, and art and technology have always gone hand-in-hand. I can tell you exactly what our live show would look like if we had a $200 million budget! But that is a conversation for another interview. We work towards that vision every day.
(Top featured photo by Channing Yazzie.)
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