Gin Blossoms. The Refreshments. Dead Hot Workshop. The Pistoleros. The Meat Puppets. Gloritone.
What do all these bands have in common? Two things: The '90's and Tempe, AZ. The 1990's were an incredible time for music and produced some of the most influential bands in the last 30 years. We received Nirvana, Green Day, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins and countless others. Amid the din of all the grunge music and plaid shirts of Seattle, Tempe, AZ was busy having their own musical uprising. A handful of bands were gaining notoriety not only with the locals but nationally as well. Any record company looking for the next big thing to come out of Seattle, had an eye on Tempe,. Some people even went as far as dubbing Tempe “the next Seattle” from all the talent surfacing.
Mill Avenue was the epicenter of the the Tempe Sound and at it's heart was Long Wong's. Long Wong's on Mill was your typical dive. The name is almost synonymous with hot wings to locals but perhaps better known as where all the above listed bands played and were discovered by many. Sadly Long Wong's on Mill closed its doors in 2004 but the musical legacy that it left behind is still alive today.
So what exactly is this so-called Tempe Sound? Truthfully, it's hard to describe. It's easier to say, “let me play you a few songs and you'll know”. Gin Blossoms' “Hey Jealousy”, The Refreshments' “Banditos” or “Down Together” or The Pistoleros “My Guardian Angel” are perfect places to start. One mark of the Tempe Sound is Mexico. Whether it's the mention of the country, mariachi horns in a song or spanish in the lyrics or title, Mexico is a running theme. You'd be hard pressed to find a Refreshments (or Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers) song without some reference to Mexico. The sound also has a pop/rock feel to it. This is widespread amongst the bands in that time. Catchy choruses, upbeat riffs and hooks that could ensnare anyone..even if you hate pop/rock. One listen to the albums Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big and Buzzy (Refreshments) or New Miserable Experience (Gin Blossoms) and you can't deny that these guys have talent.
After mentioning a couple albums I feel I need to give you more suggestions to add to your music library if you don't already own them (which you totally should):
Gin Blossoms – New Miserable Experience
The Refreshments - Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big and Buzzy
Dead Hot Workshop – 1001
Gloritone – Cup Runneth Over
The Pistoleros – Hang On to Nothing
This list, while not entirely comprehensive, is awesome. Five CD's that shaped the way I listen to music today. When I was younger my world revolved around these bands and in some ways it still does. I now crave bands that have this sound but my searches are often fruitless. There are some who choose to keep this sound alive rather than try to mold it into something else. A good friend of mine is the drummer in a band called Elvis Before Noon. They have an awesome track called “Loss of Words” (among other awesome tracks) that blows me away. Solid vocals, a great chorus and writing make this song great (and having Scott Johnson on guitar helps a bit, too). This song has Tempe written all over it, and I love it.
Though relatively short lived in its day, the Tempe Sound marked a time of music that was less “production” gimmicks and still had more raw talent than Katy Perry or Justin Bieber could ever hope to find. Take my advice, listen to these guys. If you like them, pass them on. Spread the word to those who missed them in the 90's. If not, no harm done – just don't tell me. Also, we can't be friends anymore.