Chicha Dust, Prom Body and Weird Womb — bands generating national buzz — have very different styles and backgrounds and one common variable: Tucson.
All work relentlessly to master their craft regardless of where they are in their careers and to make it in the competitive world of music. Veterans of the same Tucson music scene, they are all familiar with each other’s bandmates, backgrounds and sounds.
Chicha Dust is working on recording its second album after the widespread popularity of the first.
Prom Body released its second album and completed its first tour this summer. Its success grabbed the attention of CMJ, a New York City company that hosts annual music showcases. The band was invited to perform at the CMJ Music Marathon this fall.
Weird Womb was conceived in Tucson but the band’s birth was in Brooklyn, New York, where the members live. Fresh off the release of its third album, Weird Womb continues to spread its sound across the country with a just-launched East Coast tour.
Chicha Dust, Prom Body and Weird Womb harness the quirky, dusty body and soul of Tucson, reflected in the musicians’ collective personalities and the bands’ sound. And each is taking the uniqueness of Tucson and its sound nationwide.
Don't let the name fool you. This is not your traditional Peruvian chicha band.
Dual singing front men and guitarists Brian Lopez and Gabriel Sullivan infuse the rhythmic melodies of chicha’s psychedelic guitar with Led Zeppelin-influenced rock-n-roll.
They added drums courtesy of Bob Dylan’s one-time drummer Winston Watson to make the songs louder and more aggressive. Chicha Dust still uses the traditional accordion played by Jason Urman, who also plays the farfisa organ. Bassist Geoff Hidalgo and Efren Cruz Chavez on the timbales and congas round out the band.
Lopez describes the music as “fun, easy to dance to, and carrying a lot of emotion,” which explains the band's mass appeal to rock-n-rollers, punks, Latinos and fans of all ages and backgrounds. “You can see everyone’s musical background come through,” Sullivan added.
In 2011, Lopez and Sullivan, fresh from solo tours in France, launched Chicha Dust. Their hope was to play restaurant gigs and be successful enough to avoid “real” jobs.
Their first time playing together: Lopez’s grandmother’s 92nd birthday party. Their first practice was just before the party circled around a 30-pack of beer in the backyard.
A couple restaurant gigs into Chicha Dust's career, the band quickly began receiving more attention than Lopez and Sullivan’s solo careers. Realizing the project’s potential they began taking things more seriously and played three-hour sets at venues such as Che’s Lounge and the Rialto.
They were low key, but in 2012 an official invite from the music and film festival SXSW gave them the impetus to make a Facebook page and do some self-marketing.
They recorded their first album, “¡Live At The Dust Ballroom!,” on June 9, 2013 at Wildcat Storage with the help of Jim Waters who owns Waterworks Recordings.
“In true Chicha Dust fashion, we threw it all together last minute,” said Sullivan. They invited their friends and families to party, enjoy free beer and dance to the rhythms of psychedelic cumbia. The CD begins with “Cheers everybody and thanks again. Let’s party,” while an animated crowd shows its enthusiasm.
Their first album consisted of eight cover songs from the “Roots of Chicha” compilation. Currently at work on their next album, they already have 14 original tracks.
Lopez describes the upcoming album as “taking authentic Peruvian chicha and filtering it through what we do naturally. By definition we are an indie rock band with less beards and plaid shirts.”
Nowadays Chicha Dust rehearses regularly. Whenever the whole band can, they block off five days and spend 12-hour sessions writing and recording in their newly refurbished studio on 22nd Street and Highland Avenue.
Still, there are no big dreams of super-star success.
“It’s important to stay super ambitious, said Lopez. “But we don’t have any expectations because that’s how you let yourself down.”
Prom Body’s first tour consisted of 18 venues, 16 cities, seven states, two countries, a $2,000 tow and a few ridiculous “it cannot get any worse” moments.
Michael Fay, lead guitarist, singer and front man, started the band in August of last year. Prom Body’s albums are written, played, and recorded entirely by Fay, who performs the songs live with band mates Matt Baquet on drums, Ryan Chavira and Gilbert Flores on guitars.
But when it comes to recording, Fay is a solo act. He writes and records each track in his bedroom, where he plays all the instruments and sings. He doesn’t start a second song until the first is finished. “I … just wanted to maintain a real at-home, in-my-room feel,” said Fay.
Prom Body’s ‘70s and ‘80s pop-influenced sound has gained national attention from major media such as NPR, Noisey, SPIN and Stereogum. The band's music is part of the regular rotation at local radio station 93.1 KXCI and top independent radio station KEXP, based out of Seattle, Washington.
Prom Body started the recent tour with a release concert for their second album, “Naughty By Natural,” on July 29 at Topaz. It sold more than 100 tickets and 50 records. “Tucson came out and supported us so well I was tricked into thinking the whole tour would be like that,” said Fay.
Riding the momentum from the first show, the bandmates boarded an RV full of couches, booze, snacks, music equipment, a dusty VHS collection and a pair of dumbbells to keep in shape in case they got the urge. They were headed to Phoenix for their first out-of-town show. “It was huge. We were all sprawled out on the couches in the back watching TV,” said Fay. Caleb Gutierrez, a longtime friend, was driving the RV, which they'd borrowed from his dad.
Twenty minutes into the drive, just outside of Marana, the RV broke down. A quick fix to the air filter put them back on the road. A complete break down shortly after that stopped them again.
That meant a cancellation of the Phoenix show and a sleep-over at Baquet's parents house. One day, two breakdowns, and stuck on the side of the highway in 100-degree heat: this did not seem like a good omen for the rest of the tour.
They exchanged the RV for a borrowed truck and continued the tour up the California coast — Los Angeles, Fullerton, Oakland, San Francisco and Stockton — into Oregon and Washington before Vancouver and back into Boise and Salt Lake City.
Things went smoothly.
And then they didn't: On the way back to Arizona and the final shows in Flagstaff and Phoenix, the truck began to shimmy. They were on a single lane highway 10 miles outside a tiny town in the middle of nowhere Utah.
A passing tow truck shuttled the band and their broken truck to a mechanic in the closest town.
The shop was closed. It started to rain. Then hail, small at first, then gumball sized. They found shelter in a one-bed motel room that reeked of stale cigarette smoke.
With the truck fixed, they were back on the road. Then they broke down for the fourth time. The same tow truck driver cruised by, took them back to the mechanic, and they got more bad news: repairs would take seven days.
Feeling defeated and fighting mild colds, the band decided to cancel the rest of the tour and go home. The tow driver drove them and their broken-down vehicle to Tucson. The cost: $2,000.
Still, the band isn’t discouraged. The west coast tour was a success and convinced Prom Body that the band should do the same on the East Coast — once they pay back Baquet, who shelled out the money for the tow.
Prom Body is flying to their next show at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City, at the same event as Weird Womb. Fay, ever the optimist, said they would still drive for future tours.