You might presume that a band that achieves success in a mid-sized city like Tucson would soon be looking to move onto to something bigger, but that’s not necessarily the case.
The city has a thriving local music scene, and some musicians say they have no intention of leaving, except on tour.
“Tucson is a good place to stay and to tour from,” said Michael Fay, of the local band Prom Body. Among the virtues: location and inexpensive living costs, making it easier “to be able to come back here where it’s cheap and you can kind of go jobless for a bit. Tucson’s pretty forgiving that way,” he said.
However, the question remains: can you get exposure and fame as a Tucson musician? With no major record labels or established booking agencies and only a handful of venues, Tucson lacks the major energy of the music industry. Ask around: the only famous band many people can name from Tucson is Calexico.
So why do some musicians say they prefer to stay in Tucson?
For starters, it is the money. For most musicians who haven’t hit the big time, money is not in abundance. Fay notes that rent in Tucson is dirt cheap compared to big music industry cities like Los Angeles and New York. This also allows a band to anchor itself in the desert with more opportunities to tour.
Not that the big cities don’t still attract. “L.A. is calling out to us,” says Paula Catherine Valencia of the band Blind Divine. “It is perfect timing to branch out and explore. Really, most of what we do — music, art, writing — can be done anywhere, but we feel like L.A. is an epicenter for creativity.”
Valencia’s husband and bandmate Daniel Diaz is a local artist who showcases his work around the world and at his personal gallery Sacred Machine on Congress Street. While they are closing the gallery this month Valencia said they are considering opening up shop in L.A. if the right space is available.
“We’ve been doing business there for years and have a lot of friends there who also do what we do, so it’s an exciting move for us,” Valencia said.
Valencia added that she has witnessed bands come and go in Tucson and had the opportunity to play with a variety of talent over the years.
“We have played Rialto, Plush, Congress, our own venue Sacred Machine, and even rocked the Tucson Museum of Art, but want to hit the District and a few other cool venues before we leave for L.A.,” Valencia said.
Still, Tucson will remain a part of the band’s DNA, she said. “We have been writing music for 24 years and the Tucson landscape is in everything we do. Because of Tucson, our music has a wide-open feeling like a road trip at night.”
But bands like Prom Body plan to remain firmly in place. Prom Body began as a solo project with Fay recording pop songs that turned into the first album “Creep the Strange,” which he self-released online via bandcamp.com.
“I wrote an album in my bedroom using limited instruments, a crappy guitar, and a four track recorder,” Fay said, “I didn’t even intend it as full project, just something I wanted to do on my own.”
Prom Body now has a live lineup with Fay, Gilbert Flores, Ryan Chavira and Matt Baquet. Like other members of the lineup, Fay has recorded and performed in various projects such as Sleep Like Trees and JRM. Fay noted that the Tucson music scene is full of friends who are very collaborative and supportive. So that’s another reason for staying close to home: making connections and finding people to play with is much easier than in a bigger city.
Valencia, meanwhile, has some suggestions for the music scene they’ll be leaving: “I would like to see more support for original live music. It saddens me that great venues like Congress have moved to DJ dance nights on the weekends because they make more money, which squeezes out the local live acts.”
While Valencia and husband are moving to the big city, L.A., she said they will miss performing and creating in Tucson.
“The small town aspect is kind of cool. You really get to know the other bands. It’s a great place to create because there are fewer distractions. The down side is that it is easy to saturate the market, so you can only perform once a month to keep people interested in seeing your show. We would perform everyday if we could,” Valencia said.
What really kept Blind Divine in Tucson was Valencia and Diaz’s son- who also plays guitar in the band.
“We wanted him to be raised around our families and be able to build friendships. We couldn’t imagine ourselves on the road while he was growing up, it would have been too chaotic,” Valencia said.
While Valencia and husband Daniel Diaz will be moving to L.A. their heart will remain in Tucson.
“I think change is always good for artists and we’re ready to make new opportunities for ourselves there. We plan on recording our debut album for Crystal Radio with a talented young producer, Gabriel Sullivan here in the Southwest before we leave so we can bring the Tucson vibe to L.A,” Valencia said.
The next Prom Body show is May 9 at Club Congress with Discos, Jacob Hom, and Pete Fine & Friends. Fay said you can expect some element of costuming and a party environment. For Fay, the best Prom Body shows are not just the technically correct performances, but when people get really into it.
“People are crowd surfing and breaking through walls. I got hit in the face at one of our shows,” Fay said, describing one of his performances at the now closed Topaz.
The show May 9 is also a bit of a fundraising effort: “We’re really doing this to save money to get a tour van,” Fay said.
Prom Body hopes to have a van to tour up the West Coast in July, playing songs from their first album and their upcoming album “Naughty by Natural,” a play on hip-hop Naughty by Nature.