Sunday, December 21, 2014 Featured Artist Sneak Peek - Luke Dorsett

Photographer Luke Dorsett
By Matt Marn

Published by

Luke Dorsett has lived and traveled the world over, from here in Phoenix to Japan, Brazil, Australia, and beyond. His camera lens and eye for storytelling have followed him on his countless adventures, and his work continues to draw attention wherever he goes.

As we sit, reviewing picture after vibrant picture he has captured along the way, they display more than a great eye for beauty and detail; the stories told by the images point to a fearlessness - an adventurous spirit, ready to follow wherever the road turns next.

Ever since he was very young, Dorsett knew tomorrow is never a given. When he was 4, his appendix ruptured, but the doctors didn't believe him, since they had never seen a case that young. He was misdiagnosed at first, and it almost cost him his life.

"I realized, life is short - your days aren't promised to you," Dorsett said. You've got to live each day for what it's worth. I think that realization has made me fearless, in a way, to go after what I want."

Ever since, he has applied his tenacity to everything in life, including what he does and where he calls home.

A camera has been in Dorsett's hands from a very early age, when he grew mesmerized by View Masters and kaleidoscopes, and the vivid colors and images behind the lens. By the time his parents gave him a starter Kodak, he was more than ready for the world of photography.

Dorsett also has experience in music, as an electronic DJ, and his music was featured in Australia, Mexico, Japan, and Brazil. But eventually, he found his way back to his first passion, telling stories a thousand words at a time.

"I really dug the visual stuff since I was a kid," he said. "I got sick of the music I was mixing and producing... headphones and speakers forever. Photography is quiet. It gave me the Zen feeling of being at peace. It's almost like a form of meditation: looking back on my work later, going back to revisit those captured moments. Those moments I capture, they are components of my life... things I live and experience, in and out of this country."

Read the rest of this article on Luke Dorsett at!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rockabilly group Whiskey Kiss set to release debut album - and more than a few surprises ...YabYum Sneak Peek

By Matt Marn
Published by YabYum Music and Arts

It starts with a slow, sultry tempo, with a woman's voice singing, "I gotta stay low, ain't nowhere to run... If he looks at me, I'm already done... I gotta stay low... he's a dangerous one."

And with that, the tempo picks up, and never seems to let go. But then, Whiskey Kiss is like that.

With a taste for classic rockabilly but with a new twist, Phoenix rockabilly group Whiskey Kiss is set to release their long-awaited dabut album, Dangerous One. And for their release party - November 29 at the Blooze Bar in Phoenix - they have more than a few surprises in store.
whiskey 02
Nick and Niki White of Whiskey Kiss

While it began as a few music lovers getting together to follow their passion, Whiskey Kiss has grown into something else entirely, thanks in large part to phenomenal support from their fans.

Led by husband and wife duo Niki and Nick White, Whiskey Kiss is gaining major attention, and with good reason. Niki's powerful voice and stage presence, paired with Nick's musical skill, gets the crowd cheering right away. And alongside the duo, the recently announced official updates to the Whiskey Kiss roster: Bruce Legge on trumpet, Wesley Hinshaw (of the Quakes) on drums, and new addition Tommy Collins - known for many top rockabilly bands on the upright bass - not to mention perhaps the biggest surprise: Nick moving from upright bass to lead guitarist. All this onstage together, and you have a mix that will keep the crowd cheering all night.

Read the full article on Whiskey Kiss at

Thursday, October 16, 2014

PSA Art Awakenings and Warehouse 1005 offer help, healing through artistic expression - Sneak Peek

By Matt Marn

Published by

Warehouse 1005 artist Barbara Proctor
From the moment you walk in, colors and sounds seem to surround you. Everyone is busy; artists are deep into their easels and paintings, canvases and sculptures fill every wall. In the middle of the main hall, a group of musicians practice. The acoustic guitar player works through his chords while the woman on the microphone sings the words, and the drummer keeps the beat on time. The three are surrounded by spare guitars, maracas, and you guessed it – more artwork. And despite their music filling the room, the painters and sculptors at their workstations are not bothered in the slightest – they concentrate on every stroke. It almost seems like the music helps them, even encourages them to push on.

And maybe then you consider why each artist is here at Warehouse 1005, that encouragement they feel from one another is not that hard to understand.

Organizers describe PSA Art Awakenings as a program seeking to promote empowerment and recovery through the power of creative expression with children and adults who face behavioral health changes. Whether the individual is challenged by serious mental health, general mental health, or substance abuse conditions, PSA Art Awakenings provides safe and supportive environments that foster exploration and development of artistic skills.

In late fall 2000, PSA Art Awakenings was born out of PSA Behavioral Health Agency, a local non-profit organization. From Phoenix to Tucson to Bisbee, these Art Awakenings studios are a new kind of assistance – they help participants deal with issues through artistic expression and art.

“PSA Art Awakenings helps community members deal with serious mental health issues through art,” said David Reno, Director of Marketing and Community Relations. “We always encourage our artists to seek medication and counseling, but for some, that alone won’t work. This program is a kind of ‘psycho-social’ rehabilitation: unlike conventional therapy or counseling, this form of rehabilitation doesn’t just encourage a person to keep moving on, but it gives the person a reason to keep going, to keep fighting.”

Read the rest of the article on PSA Art Awakenings and Warehouse 1005 at!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Individual World Poetry Slam headed for Phoenix - YabYum Music and Arts Sneak Peek

By Matt Marn
Aaron Hopkins-Johnson

Published by YabYum Music and Arts

The Individual World Poetry Slam is a chance for poets the world over to meet and compete with their original work in a respected competition of peers. And soon, Phoenix will get a chance to host this historic event.

Aaron Hopkins-Johnson, the owner of Lawn Gnome Publishing in Phoenix, is thrilled by the news the Individual World Poetry Slam (iWPS) is coming to town. A former slam poet himself, Hopkins-Johnson was the one who submitted Phoenix into the running for host city of this year's competition.

Hopkins-Johnson got into performing slam poetry during a speech and debate class at NAU. After graduating, he felt he had gained enough experience studying and performing some of the best slam poets that it was time to start composing and performing his own works.

Read more about Aaron and his bid to bring the iWPS to Phoenix, and learn more about how to see the competition in Phoenix, at YabYum Music and Arts!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Diana Lee releases debut jazz album "Mentor," thanks her teachers by making the music her own - YabYum Music and Arts Sneak Peek

Diana Lee performing during her album release party
By Matt Marn

Published by YabYum Music and Arts

So often someone comes into our lives to help teach us something that shapes our lives forever, and so often we never get to thank them. Phoenix singer Diana Lee has managed to pay homage to her mentors, and in a big way.

Lee has recently released her debut jazz album, "Mentor," in which she paid tribute to all the great musicians around the Valley who helped her grow into the great performer she is today.

"I can't explain it to you - to have these amazing people in my life at those exact times," Lee said of her many instructors and mentors. "I remember their names, what they taught me... It was huge to be able to say thank you. Art is very difficult. Music is very difficult. Somebody should say thank you. I really am so happy, so glad I got this opportunity to thank these people, these guides."

Read the rest of this article at YabYum Music and Arts!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Four Chambers Press, Spreading the Love of Writing Throughout Phoenix - YabYum Sneak Peek

By Matt Marn

Published by YabYum Music and Arts

Photo credit: John Haas
You may have seen it in storefronts around Phoenix, or at a booth off Roosevelt and Fifth Street one First Friday. You may have come across pages and pages of stories, prose, and artwork from hundreds of contributors. Some contributors are experienced writers, some are just having fun. But many of them are local, from right here in the Valley. And if you haven't seen Four Chambers Magazine yet... you will.

And who knows - you may be one of the authors published inside the pages.

Jake Friedman, founder and Editor-in-Chief of Four Chambers Magazine, didn't start meeting people right away when he moved to the Phoenix area almost 3 years ago. He didn't feel truly at home until he started attending local poetry readings and open mic nights.

"The interaction you have with people at those types of events - you get such a strong bond interacting with them; a bond you don't get from walking down the other side of the street," Friedman said. "Literature is how I met my friends here. Creating a bigger variety of events, a bigger physical existence of literature... we really are trying to build a community here, where people can come together and share something substantial and meaningful."

Read the rest of the article on Four Chambers Magazine at YabYum Music and Arts!

Jazz Vocalist Holly Pyle sings to her own beat - Sneak Peek

By Matt Marn

Photo credit: Bill Goodman
Singer Holly Pyle walked into an open mic one Friday night with a set of cables, a microphone, and a loop pedal. When her turn to take the stage arrived, she stood silent before the room, focusing on the beat in her mind. One hand ready on the pedal, the other hand began to wave back and forth, her head nodding to her own beat. She sings the beginning of a rhythm and loops her own voice with the loop pedal, each measure adding another layer of her voice to her track. Her stylish, improvisational jazz captivates the room, and the crowd applauds at the end, pleading her to stay for another.

"The loop pedal is a brand-new adventure," Pyle said. "Growing up, I recorded my voice into the computer, and I loved harmonizing with myself. In college, I used Garage Band. I had the idea of using a loop pedal, but I just didn't take the leap. But once those kids encouraged me, I went for it and bought a loop pedal. I went to an open mike in Tempe. I messed up the first time, but they loved it. They invited me to do an artist spotlight - that day."

A complex relationship with music

Pyle has had a complex relationship with music for many years. She calls it just that - a relationship - because it has ran through a wide range of emotions, from love to hate, and everything in between. But she loves that it takes work to nurture her craft.

"There are those points in music, in the relationship, where I have a great moment, where it is all bright and happy, and I think I'll love it forever," Pyle said. "And then there are moments when everyone critiques and gives their own opinion, influenced by their own relationship with music. I tried to conform to other people's wishes, so my own love with music started to feel less real."

Check out the rest of this article at!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

YabYum Sneak Peek - New Dawns Await Tucson's Sun Bones

By Matt Marn
Published by YabYum Music and Arts

Every song is different. Ask Tucson group Sun Bones, and they will tell you all four members had a big role in writing different parts of the songs on their debut album, Sentinel Peak.

"It's really different from song to song, from person to person," said Sam Golden, vocalist and lead guitarist for Sun Bones. "It feels very comfortable writing for our group. We've been together for so long, we can play to our strengths and vocal harmonies. We can read each other's body language, and even just listening to each other. We know each other and the songs so well, it's easy to go off the beaten path of how we do our songs... It keeps us on our toes."

Golden said once the group writes a new song, it is only the beginning - they also continually change older songs to play them in new ways.

"I would not want to be in a band that plays the same songs gig after gig," he said. "It's constantly evolving... I hope to give the fans a fun new experience every time they see us."

Read the rest of the article at YabYum Music and Arts!!

Friday, August 22, 2014

YabYum Music and Arts Sneak Peek - Banana Gun

Photo by Trystan Trenberth
Banana Gun channels live energy onstage, in album

By Matt Marn
Published by YabYum Music and Arts

Kevin Loyd - vocalist, guitarist and banjo extraordinaire for Phoenix rock group Banana Gun, firmly believes songwriting can happen in a variety of different ways. But if you ask Loyd and the rest of the Banana Gun crew, there is only one way for them to record a truly great album... live.

"We are still perfecting our studio recordings," Loyd said. "But playing live, that's easy for me. There's no wrong way or right way to record an album, we just did what worked for us. I love the experience of this last record."

Banana Gun's bassist, Ross Troost, said the group had talked about doing things a little differently when they went into the studio to record their latest album, Love.Instinct.

"We wanted to bring more of the live element, do as much of the songs as possible live," Troost said. "We are a high-energy, grind-it-out band. I'd love to say we stepped up our game with this record, but we really just played to our strengths - playing live. We talked to the record label about doing this record live, and they told us, 'if there's a band out there that can do this, it's you.'"

Follow the link to YabYum Music and Arts for the full article!

Monday, August 18, 2014

YabYum Artist Spotlight Sneak Peek: Ryne Norman - This Tempered Tongue

By Matt Marn
For Phoenix guitarist and songwriter Ryne Norman, every new opportunity is a chance for something great. Every new fan, each potential collaboration with another local artist means so much to him, he gives everything he has to each new adventure – and to every word he writes.

“Internally, I am really challenged,” Norman said. “I am challenged to make sure the crowd is engaged, following me… Challenged to make sure I’m more than just another songwriter up there. There’s something about when people come to hear what you have to say, when people want to hear your music. It’s about the experience. I want this to be an experience.”

For Norman, the biggest part of that experience is the lyrics he works on so hard to make sure each word is perfect. Norman said he spends so much time on each line of every song, it can take weeks to write a second verse. But while finishing the piles of half-done songs can be a challenge, it is that much more worthwhile when he does.

“Knowing I have slaved so hard over every word to know it is truly finished is something to be proud of,” he said. “To me, lyrics are the most important part, what I take the most pride in; I want people to be able to connect with me.”

Read the rest of Ryne Norman's spotlight article at

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Gus Campbell, local rocker, earns fans at 15 - YabYum Sneak Peek

Photos by Trystan Trenberth
Young guitarist Gus Campbell rocks crowds across Phoenix, shoots live music video

By Matt Marn - Published by YabYum Music and Arts

The crowd is packed into Last Exit Live - more so than it has probably been in a long time. Phones and cameras are out - no one wants to forget what is about to happen.

Gus Campbell is about to take the stage, and shoot his first live music video.

From original tunes and instrumentals to blues and rock favorites, Campbell takes command of the stage with great presence and expertise. The crowd is cheering for him through the entire set.

Read the rest of this article at YabYum Music and Arts!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

New Adventures for Old Hours - YabYum Sneak Peek

By Matt Marn
Published by YabYum Music and Arts

Nathaniel Walberer and Anna Carlson want to not only tell a story, but also connect with everyone who listens to their music. And with the vast range of attitudes Old Hours display over the course of their album, Even in the Sun, every one of those listeners are sure to find something that will resonate.

Walberer (acoustic guitar, drums/percussion, vocals) and Carlson (vocals) say we are all on a constant emotional cycle, and odds are, at least one song on the album will truly hit home.

"Somber, sad, angry, hopeful... You may like all of our songs, but we hope you connect with them - grab something to like and feel connected to, wherever you are in life," Walberer said.

Go to YabYum Music and Arts to see the rest of the article, and read all about Old Hours!!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Moovalya stays true to high-energy roots with new EP - YabYum article sneak peek

Here is a sneak peek of my latest article, reviewing Phoenix punk-rock group Moovalya. It is published by YabYum Music and Arts. Take a look, then head over to their page to read the whole thing!!

By Matt Marn

Phoenix punk rock group Moovalya is proud of its new EP, Sixer. With these songs, the performers are pushing themselves musically, and staying true to their high-energy live shows – not to mention their love for the music.

Ben Jones, guitar and vocals for Moovalya, said the group got great feedback from their last album, which also was a great showcase of the power and energy they show during their shows. He said they used that same energy they give to the crowd live to record Sixer.

“It’s what we love, what got us into it,” Jones said.

Jones said in their EP Sixer, the group wanted to push the boundaries of the music as far as they could with their instrumental talent.

“This is really pushing it for us,” he said. “We’ve accomplished so much – we’re happy with what we’ve done.”

Visit YabYum Music and Arts to read the rest!!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Hollow’s debut EP shows real emotion, great songwriting - Article sneak peek

Here is a sneak peek of my new published article, reviewing acoustic guitar duo The Hollow and their new EP release, "Let Me Never Be Complete." Check out the entire article over at at the link below:

Published at

The debut EP from The Hollow, the Phoenix-based duo of Shane Hunt and Jon Watkins, could prove to possess a very appropriate title. The album, Let Me Never Be Complete, may well leave you wanting to hear more… and even setting the album on repeat for many spins to come.
The duo began their partnership as simply one guitarist joining another to help provide lyrics for an incomplete original song. The bond has since grown to a number of shows, a brand-new EP, and more fun than either of the two expected...

Read more at the link to!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Captain Squeegee rocks Marquee Theatre, ready for more
By Matt Marn

Fans who packed The Marquee Theatre in Tempe caught a great double feature, cheering on the funk-master George Clinton as well as local openers Captain Squeegee from Mesa. The two groups had styles all their own, but each left the crowd cheering for more.

Danny Torgersen, lead vocalist and trumpet for Captain Squeegee, led the group through their phenomenal set, including tracks from their newest album, To The Bardos! The crowd was thrilled during their whole set, but once Torgersen put down the microphone to return to his trumpet to hit the band’s last note, the venue seemed to lose control altogether.

When he went out into the crowd after Captain Squeegee wrapped up their performance, Torgersen was instantly met by fans ready with hugs, high-fives, and congratulations.

Torgersen has played The Marquee Theatre many times before with Captain Squeegee, often booking an evening and recruiting other local groups to open for them. But not tonight – tonight the venue called him about opening for Clinton.

“This George Clinton show has got to be the biggest show in the last 4 years for me,” he said. “It went great; it’s always nice when people dig it as much as they did. Clinton personally reviewed our material and confirmed his slot. That’s huge! I mean, George Clinton invented funk. I kept fantasizing about him letting some of our horns onstage for the finale.”

Torgersen was thrilled to be lined up to open for Clinton. He said that like Clinton’s group, Captain Squeegee is very unique, and finding groups to play alongside can prove tricky.

“I don’t really try to describe Captain Squeegee as a certain kind of band,” Torgersen said. “I just let other people describe it. I don’t really care what genre we are – just making sure what’s in my head matches the band’s interests.”

Torgersen said Captain Squeegee has been evolving as a group the last several years, including their roster. Not one current member of Captain Squeegee is an original member of the band.

“It’s kind of like how the Olympic torch is carried,” he said. “You don’t know the first few people, but the fire is burning, so you may as well run with it. It’s been called a dynasty, a legacy of sorts.”
Torgersen is excited how everything has started to fall into place over the last few years. And the biggest part of their success is their fans.

“We’re trying to develop a cult following – one hundred true fans are worth more than a million likes on Facebook,” he said. “True fans are who really matter. As a band, we really try to hang out with our fans. A lot of people gripe – they just want fans to materialize. Maybe they’re not big fans yet, but when they hang out with me, and I drive all the way across town to drop off tickets for them, and then they see me onstage… It really clicks. It makes all the difference.”

Torgersen said Captain Squeegee’s new album is by far their best yet.

“We’re really happy with it,” he said. “The fans really helped us there – our fundraiser for the album raised over ten thousand dollars. Things are great – we’ve got to pump out a couple more records like that. We’ll never sound mainstream totally, but we’re starting to penetrate into mainstream music. It’s only going to get more accessible… but still maintain the weird.”

As a group, Torgersen said Captain Squeegee has an undeniable bond, especially after this tour.
“All I can say to the fans would have to be… I can’t wait to give you more. If you think Squeegee has taken it to another planet, there are other galaxies. We’re going to see some shit. We’re not stopping.”

Monday, April 28, 2014

New group “The Skeleton Keys” knows the secrets to success as a team

The Skeleton Keys

By Matt Marn

Published in YabYum Music and Arts, 4-27-14

For Shane Hunt, music was always a conduit not simply for self-expression, but a way to relate to others.

"Music is the best catalyst for conversation I have ever discovered," Hunt said. "You instantly have something to relate to anybody with. I can channel all that energy, enthusiasm or anguish and create something that not only helps me, but will touch or affect others also. Music transcends language barriers, religious beliefs or ethnicities - it's a universal dialect. It's not difficult to be enthusiastic about that."

Shane Hunt, Sydney Sprague, and Sam Mitchell make up The Skeleton Keys, a new group in Phoenix ready to leave their unique mark on the Valley. Hunt plays guitar/mandolin, Sprague plays guitar/ukulele, while Mitchell plays violin/mandolin, and all three contribute on vocals. What's more, Hunt's comments show performing is something more to the trio than just playing music - they want to connect with their fans and make them feel something new.

Shane Hunt
"I tend to describe my songwriting as an attempt to encapsulate a particular moment or emotion," Hunt said. "It's like exorcism - you try to take an energy that is pervading your spirit and drive it out. Songs are a binding agent for that spirit. I look at where I am mentally and emotionally, feel what the tone of the song is, and imbue the melody and lyrics with the feeling I have currently, or with a past feeling that stands out to me."

Another sign of great performers is how easily they adapt to change. The Skeleton Keys have changed since they first began, and have risen to many challenges. When Hunt was first performing, he played solo, but once he saw Sydney Sprague perform at a local "Chicks with Picks" showcase, he just had to introduce himself.

"We had very similar interests and songwriting styles," Hunt said. "We blended very easily."

When Hunt and Sprague began playing together, it quickly became a natural fit. Later, while Sprague was working as an intern at a recording studio in Austin, Hunt began writing for a music journal,, covering groups in the Valley and national acts.

Sam Mitchell was playing violin for one such group when she crossed paths with Hunt. But while Hunt was present to watch the group perform, Mitchell's skills kept his attention through their whole set.

"I mentioned to her I was recording songs, and I would love to hear what it sounded like with her violin on them," Hunt said.

And later, when Mitchell parted ways with her former band, Hunt asked her if she would still be interested in working on the material together.

Eventually the three met and clicked instantly. The Skeleton Keys were born.

Sydney Sprague
"When we met, Sydney and I were instant friends," Mitchell said. "It's not fake, everybody is really into it - everybody loves playing music. It's music for music's sake. I wrote stuff that fit in with their music, and went from there. We did a lot of covers, along with their owns songs, to set the tone and develop our own rhythm and dynamic."

Hunt agreed, saying when groups sit down to write a set, there is often conflict regarding band direction.

"But with us, it was instant chemistry," he said. "Everyone got along great. When we first walked in, we played a blend of my songs and Sydney's songs... but we started to see the dynamic change. As a singer/songwriter, you write simply and for yourself, but I started to change in the way I approach songwriting. I write with the group in mind now, leaving space for Sam's violin or for Sydney's vocals."

Mitchell adds she truly believes strings elevate and provide depth to rock music.

"I was determined to show everyone violin will fit into rock music," she said. It does fit into rock music. It was hard getting into a band - first, because I'm a girl; second, because I play violin."

With the Skeleton Keys, Mitchell is thrilled to have found a group who appreciates her skills on violin, as well as builds their set around giving her a chance to shine.

Sam Mitchell
Before, in other groups, the fit just wasn't right," Mitchell said. "I came into this group now with bad experiences based on prior situations, but I was really blown away. I came home saying, 'I really like doing this! I really like music again.'"

Hunt said there is a tangible difference between Sprague and himself playing as solo songwriters compared to the dynamic of when they play together.

"I tend to write songs so I can still squeeze all the emotion, impact and intensity out of an audience I can when I play them by myself with an acoustic guitar," he said. "So when I started to write for the band, my process started to change a bit to incorporate Sam and Syd's strenghts and sensibilities into my own style. There is a definite contrast to things I've written on my own to what we are writing together now. There is space created for solos, and there is a lot of room for harmonies, for example."

The Skeleton Keys are ready to spread the word they are performing around town, and will soon head into the studio to record an album.

"Living off something we love so much would be amazing," Mitchell said. "We've played consistently for a few months. We plan to get photos, merchandise and our album going very soon. I don't care if we don't get crazy big; I just want to get where we can do this for a living."

Being an artist professionally is a major hurdle for most musicians, and Hunt knows there are many who are quick to condemn and sometimes dismiss performers. To every musical hopeful out there, he is just as quick to remind them for every criticism, there is a hand reaching out to offer help and support.

"You can't allow your expectations to dictate your action in the music business," he said. "You have to just exist in the moment and allow things to happen to you... it's an incredibly scarring and simultaneously intensely fulfilling experience. It's like being in love with someone - it has the capacity to make you rapturous or completely devastated... so much of it is contingent on the type of energy you take to the situation. So if you're open to good things, they will find you eventually."

The Skeleton Keys aim to open many doors in the music industry and in the minds of their fans for the foreseeable future.

For more information on The Skeleton Keys, visit them on Facebook and YouTube.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Art of Busking with Jon Renner of "Tiger Heist"

By Matt Marn

As posted by Yab Yum Music and Arts

Jon Renner of Tiger Heist tries to play his guitar live every day. He practices, plans out his set list, dresses up, and heads out to play and spread the word about his performances. But the difference between Renner and many other acts is he plays wherever he wants, whenever he wants.

Renner is a member of the Phoenix "busking" community, a term for street performers. He brings his guitar out onto a street corner or near a busy concert or sports venue, and performs for passersby with an open guitar case for welcome tips.

"A lot of what I do is street performing," Renner said. "When there is a show at US Airways Center or Comerica, I go camp out and play. Fifty people have their eyes on me, and I'm a little nervous, but as soon as I start playing, it's all great."

Renner has been playing since September 2013, and January was his first solo gig. He plays as much as he can, sometimes more than one place or gig each day.

"I played 60 times in the summer - sometimes two or three a day," he said. "It really helped. Performing is only one part; the networking is great, too. I try to meet and talk to people whenever I play."

Learning the Ropes

Renner pointed out that now that music is his full-time job, a lot more goes into the craft once the food on your table depends on how well you can perform.

"You have to warm up and prepare for every time you go out and play," he said. "When you play and sing as well, it's a different muscle group. I can't just bail on the gig... it's my life. Also, when you get sick, it affects a lot - you have to cancel gigs, take time to recuperate. I also make an effort to dress up when I head out to play - to set myself apart."

Renner explained looking the part truly makes a difference. The first time he went out to perform on the street, he dressed casually for the heat, wearing jeans and a T-shirt... and didn't make much in tips.

"Later on, I went with a Johnny Cash look," he said. "I put on a black button-down shirt, nice looking shoes - and did a lot better. If you dress with confidence, the crowd picks up on that."

There are a lot of things he learned from experience from street performing. There is a proper etiquette among the busking community as a whole - a mutual respect which must be show to one another. He also had to learn on the fly about technique, amplifiers, what songs to play and when to play them, and so on. Most of all, he learned about how much you can make in tips, compared against the amount of foot traffic and people that stop to hear your performances.

"The secret is covers," Renner said. "At first, covers weren't what I wanted, but I got a lot of insight on great composers and artists. Learn a lot of songs, how chord progressions work. Then you can take that and adapt it, make it your own."

Renner has a number of original songs under his belt, as well. As for the inspiration behind his songs, he said it always varies based on the song, and what is happening in his life at the time.

"Some of my original songs I've been writing for years, while others I finish on the spot, before the hour is up," Renner said. "I usually start with a good chord progression - I've always been better starting with chords and melodies, then matching words to them, rather than the other way around."

An Early Start In Music

Renner said music had always been around his household. His father played guitar fairly well - he wanted to learn, too, but was afraid to ask. When he was in fifth grade, Renner's mother forced him to play the piano.

"I played nursery rhymes... I hated it," he said. "But I guess looking back, even that helped me learn the importance of practice, and it grew my ear for music."

He began to play guitar early, but it just wouldn't stick. Renner's true passion was revealed when his classmate took up the drums, and he followed soon after.

"My friend introduced me to Travis Barker, the drummer from Blink-182, and I tried the drums - and it just clicked," he said. "I loved it. I spent a lot of time practicing to get better. My friend taught me beats during the day at school, and I went to Guitar Center every day in the afternoon to practice them in the drum room."

Renner loves playing the drums, but in addition to drums, guitar, and a bit of piano, he also knows keyboard, ukulele, bass, and is trying to learn the violin. He used his talents to form a group during his school years first, where he played the drums, and brought in a guitarist and some other players. They played hip-hop/indie rock fusion, and called themselves "Tiger Heist."

"Honestly, we just picked the name because it sounded cool," Renner said. "We looked up the name to make sure it wasn't taken by another group. As it turned out, it was a slang term for an inside-job bank robbery back in the 40's and 50's. That locked it for us."

Unfortunately, the group as it was then did not last, but Renner kept the name as he went out on his own as a solo performer. He has since quit his job and devoted everything to music.

"I didn't have a set list or a plan... my first seven months, I lived on friends' couches, truly living the 'starving artist' lifestyle," Renner said. "I knew about street performing, I knew I could do that. But it wasn't until I heard about the performer Passenger - and saw his successful performances and videos on YouTube, and all his CD sales just from street performing - then I knew it was possible. I knew I could do it. I got the gear I needed, and started marketing myself as a street performer."

A Tough Gig, Indeed

Street Performing has come with its own set of challenges for Renner, including a territorial street performer from another corner, drunken pedestrians yelling into his microphone, and rough crowds.

"With street performing, you never know what will happen," he said. "Once, I had people not digging my music, and a really mean-looking guy walked right up to me and turned off my amp, right in the middle of my song. I guess you never know what might happen - but I still love doing it."

Another obstacle buskers have to work with can be legal barriers to performing. While Renner is fairly certain Phoenix accepts and welcomes street performing, other cities have more strict policies, particularly when it comes to performing plugged into an amplifier.

For example, Renner found out the hard way that in Arizona, some cities require a permit to play with an amp. He was stopped in Tempe by the police after 25 minutes of performing and told he needed a permit. When he tried to ask about getting a permit, he was told playing in Tempe with an amp requires $130 each time you play, and to get the permit, you have to state in advance where you want to play, and for how long.

"I would love to see the laws on street performing relaxed," he said. "I know the laws are there for a reason - if you take them away, a lot of people (who may need more practice first) might turn their amps way up, and hurt the reputation of street performing overall. And we don't want people with not enough experience or skill giving street performers a bad name, but on the other hand, they have the right to play, too... It's definitely a tough call."

A New Start for Tiger Heist

Renner has recently finished writing the songs for his upcoming album, and is now playing a number of pre-arranged performances at local restaurants, like Potbelly Sandwich Shop in Phoenix. While he continues to perform on street corners, he know performing in set venues is another great way to network and spread the word about his performances.

"You lose a lot of freedom playing in venues, but it's more professional," he said.

A lot of his attention is also moving toward getting his album recorded, as well as his CD release party, with a tentative date set for May 16.

"For me, it's a set date, but we've got a lot of work to do to get there in time, he said.

Renner also hopes to get a blog started, full of tips and advice on busking for street performer hopefuls. His dream for later on is to start a non-profit dedicated to sending used guitars to other areas, such as Africa, where they can find new life teaching new people to play and love music.

But for now, his advice to people hoping to learn to play guitar, or work their way up to street performing: Just do it.

"Ask someone - someone who won't just tell you what you want to hear," Renner said. "Ask them if you're ready to play in front of others. Memorize 10 to 15 songs, minimum. When you master those and get bored wiht them, then you're ready. Being on the streets is awesome, you get so much free exposure... I wish I'd known about street performing earlier."

Find "Tiger Heist" on ReverbNation, or catch him every First Friday in downtown Phoenix.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Rockabilly band '56 releases new album, Steppin'

By Matt Marn

The upbeat swinging tunes of local rockabilly band ’56 has had the crowd cheering for years now, but now they can bring them home with their debut album, Steppin'.

 is a superb example of capturing the rockabilly spirit with classic style. From their nine original songs to the rockabilly staples they cover in the album, their fast-paced beats have something for everyone. Bret Kaiser leads the group on vocals, Tom Mein shreds on guitar, Austin Case lays down the rhythm on the upright bass, and Jeff Garten sets the pace on drums. Together, they make a blazing, sharp-dressed rockabilly team, headlining music venues and events all over the Valley.

Mein remembered when lead singer Bret Kaiser came by Mein’s solo performance and proposed he join Kaiser in a new musical group.

“He told me he liked my playing, and wanted to know if I would be interested in joining a group,” Mein said. “He already had some really great, pro players I knew about, and I love rockabilly so I was excited to join.”

Mein has been playing professionally for the better part of his 40 years guitar experience. He was in a rockabilly band of his own called The Level in Detroit in 1980 or ‘81, just before the Stray Cats got their big break.

“We played all around town, mostly crappy little places, and then the Stray Cats hit MTV, and we started getting better gigs. That band didn’t last too long, but it happened during a formative time in my musical career, and I developed a deep affinity and respect for rockabilly and roots music. I really like a lot of different styles of music – I play a lot of jazz, and especially enjoy vintage, swing-era jazz. I also dig traditional country, bluegrass, rock, punk, and blues. Rockabilly kind of has elements of all those styles – at least the way we play it – so it is perfect for me.”

Mein’s favorite part of being in ’56 is that everyone in the band works so well together.

“The rhythm section – Jeff, Austin and I – really listen and play off of each other,” he said. “And I’m an improviser, so these songs evolve over time because I never play them the same way twice, and Jeff hears me and plays off of what I play. Not all musicians are great at listening like that. It makes for a tight, fun band.”

Mein is always impressed by Bret and his great showmanship and his stage presence, not to mention how the rest of the band wows the crowd on a regular basis.

“We have a lot of little things we do onstage together that are fun and look cool,” Mein said. “We never rehearse that stuff; it just comes up at shows and develops over time.”

Mein loves everything about music and performing live.

“Interaction – with the audience, with other musicians… creating, improvising, working really hard on a difficult passage and nailing it in performance,” he said. “Jumping off the drum riser, OVER Austin’s bass, and landing in a power slide on my knees into a guitar solo. Hopping off the stage during a solo and dancing in the crowd. Making good music and spreading it around to as many people as possible. I love it all – everything but hauling the gear after the show.”

’56 finishes the album strong with a cover medley, starting with “Harlem Nocturne,” an instrumental cover. They slow it down a bit with this haunting melody. Mein’s powerful soloing keeps it in great balance.

Halfway through the track, Kaiser’s voice reclaims center stage, and jumps right into “I Put a Spell on You.” His howling “Because you’re mine” is a tremendous finish to an album everyone can enjoy.

Whether you are a die-hard fan of rockabilly music from back in the day, or if you just love moving along with great tunes from fantastic performers, ’56 and their debut album,
 Steppin' will leave you cheering for more. Like they say in the song: “If you don’t like high-speed chases, you’d better not come along for the ride!”

If you want to see ’56 in action, visit them on their
 Facebook page, or head to their website (WARNING: music automatically plays. -Eds) to check for local performance dates. You should also check out the Steppin' promotional video on YouTube.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Community Spotlight: Benevilla's Friendly Visitors program brings comfort, friendship to the community

By Matt Marn

Beverly first walked in the door to meet Frances in 2007 expecting to help Frances with some of her paperwork. Neither expected they would grow to be close friends, let alone become like a member of the family.

Frances has lived in the area for 17 years now. She called Benevilla for help because she was familiar with the name, and called them to ask for someone from the organization to come and help her organize her paperwork.

“They said there was no fee, and I even argued with them,” she said. “I don’t want them doing anything free for me. Then came Beverly.”

Beverly came in expecting to help Frances fill out her medical and tax forms, but her role has expanded to a friendly visitor, another Benevilla service, where a volunteer can come into a participant’s home and talk – just be a friendly face to help light up the participant’s day.

“We started laughing – we clicked right that instant,” said volunteer Beverly on her first meeting with Frances back in 2007.

Frances and her husband Hal moved into the Valley of the Sun in 1971, when Hal was moving much of his factory’s operations to the Phoenix area. Since Hal passed away in 1997, it has grown difficult to keep up with her maintenance of the property and other housekeeping. Beverly is a welcome help getting to her doctors’ appointments, and a good friend to sit across the table and share coffee with.

“We share everything. We go to shows together, shopping… we have just been great friends,” said Beverly. “It works out perfect. Sometimes we don’t even do anything, we just sit there and talk.”

Beverly loves volunteering for the programs Benevilla offers because it gets her out of the house, as well, and she is contributing to the community.

“It’s a wonderful program,” she said. “I just love it.”

Frances said she would recommend using the various Benevilla programs to anyone.

“A friendly visitor is a marvelous thing to take advantage of. These volunteers, they are knowledgeable, and want to help people who are home-bound or can’t get around on their own. We’re not strangers anymore – not even volunteer and client. We’re family. This is the best thing that has happened to me since I got here.”
Frances wanted to speak for this article because she wanted to help get the word out about Benevilla and the services they offer the community.

“I want to let people know, people who need to volunteer and people who need these volunteer services,” she said. “It’s sad people don’t take advantage of it. You hear these stories of people sad and alone… What are you doing? Call Benevilla! It’s up to you; you have to make a bit of an effort, too. I’m sorry I didn't find out about it earlier, when I was working in nursing. I would have recommended this to them, too!”
For more information on Benevilla and their wide variety of non-profit services, visit

Community Spotlight: Benevilla volunteer brings hugs, help to everyone around her

By Matt Marn

When Shirley B. moved into Sun City with her husband in 1991, she knew the pair wanted to find somewhere in the area to volunteer their time. What she did not know was they both would have a tremendous impact on the Benevilla community, and lives all across the area.

“We went in for training when we heard that Benevilla was welcoming new volunteers and that instilled in us the sense of commitment,” she said. “If you’re going to do something, do it. Volunteering should be something you really love.”

Shirley has volunteered with Benevilla ever since, along with her husband. She holds games and events at the St. Clements day center, such as her “Baloney Bingo Parlor,” where she calls bingo games for anyone interested in playing, and provides prizes for the winners.

“I try to make everything fun,” she said.

She got another idea from another staff member who picked up and read a newspaper to the participants during some down time one day. She now reads the newspaper often to the day center participants, calling that activity “Good News.”

“Not all of the participants read the newspaper or are up late enough for the ten o’clock news on television, but they still want to keep up with the news,” Shirley said. “I read them any article I can find: heartwarming stories, a little humor, and even some controversy, like what’s happening in the courts. It also gives the staff some time to catch up with other tasks they have.”

Her husband was very involved in Benevilla, as well. He even created a garden for the St. Clements’s day center. She said it started as a vegetable garden, so the participants could plant and stay involved in keeping the garden growing.

“Everyone loved it so much, they were always out there,” Shirley said. “I came in one day, and the place was empty. I called out, ‘where is everyone?’ I heard, ‘we are all out here!’ They had dedicated a plaque for the garden. It was wonderful.

Before Shirley’s husband passed in 2002, she took some time off to be with him, but after his passing, she didn’t go to counseling – she went straight back to volunteer for Benevilla. Bringing a smile to other people was therapy enough.

“Not long after, at the annual volunteer recognition dinner, Michelle Dionisio – Benevilla’s president and CEO – revealed the surprise recipient of the Volunteer of the Year Award. During the presentation, she said ‘this person greets everyone with smiles and hugs when they come in the morning.’ And I thought, I am so glad I’m not the only one that does that. But when Michelle said, ‘And this person came right back to volunteer after her husband passed away...’ I knew it was me. It was a huge honor. I don’t do this to be recognized, but being recognized really is a very big honor.”

Shirley encourages anyone able to volunteer who is considering contacting Benevilla to do so, and see what an impact it makes on the lives of others – not to mention your own.

“It’s such a little time out of your life,” she said. “Mother Theresa said this about the poorest of the poor, but I feel it applies to everything we do: ‘What you can do, I can’t do. What I can do, you can’t do. But together, we can do wonderful things for the Lord.’ Together, we can be truly great. That’s what Benevilla is all about.”

Shirley said she has been very blessed with good health, and feels the reason is so she can keep volunteering.
“I think that’s the Lord’s purpose for me,” she said.

Shirley has truly brought light to many lives along the way. She always loves to give hugs and a smile to everyone in the building. And sometimes, the result can surprise even herself.

“What do I think volunteering is all about? Well, once there was one participant who was in a wheelchair; I could never understand what he said. Whenever he needed something, I had to ask one of the aides or staff to tell me what he needed. Well, when I put the cloths around the necks of the participants at lunchtime, I give them all a little hug along with it. One day, with this man, I came in for my hug at lunchti
me after putting on his cloth and he turned to me and said – as clearly as I am talking to you now – he said ‘you are an angel.’ I was so moved; I had to step aside for a moment. That’s why I do what I do."

For more on Benevilla and their variety of non-profit services, visit

Friday, January 17, 2014

Jazz vocalist Holly Pyle sings to her own beat

By Matt Marn

Published by

Singer Holly Pyle walked into an open mic one Friday night with a set of cables, a microphone, and a loop pedal. When her turn to take the stage arrived, she stood silent before the room, focusing on the beat in her mind. One hand ready on the pedal, the other hand began to wave back and forth, her head nodding to her own beat. She sings the beginning of a rhythm and loops her own voice with the loop pedal, with each measure creates another layer to add to her track. Her stylish, improvisational jazz captivates the room, and the crowd applauds at the end, pleading with her to stay for another.

“The loop pedal is a brand-new adventure,” Pyle said. “Growing up, I recorded my voice into the computer, and I loved harmonizing with myself. In college, I used Garage Band. I had the idea of using a loop pedal, but I just didn’t take the leap. But once those kids encouraged me, I went for it and bought a loop pedal. I went to an open mike in Tempe. I messed up the first time, but they loved it. They invited me to do an artist spotlight – that day.”

A complex relationship with music

Pyle has had a complex relationship with music for many years. She calls it just that – a relationship – because it has ran through a wide range of emotions, from love to hate, and everything in between. But she loves that it takes work to nurture her craft.

“There are those points in music, in the relationship, where I have a great moment, where it is all bright and great and happy, and I think I’ll love it forever,” Pyle said. “And then there are moments when everyone critiques and gives their own opinion, influenced by their own relationship with music. I try to conform to other people’s wishes, so my own love with music started to feel less real.”

Pyle related communication to a form of art.

“You can read words off a page in a monotonous tone, or you can connect with the words and put your emotions behind it, like color choices for a painting… That’s what is so interesting about being an artist; your music is a part of you, and you beat yourself up worst of all when it doesn’t sound right to you.”

And there were times like that when she doubted herself. But one day, when she was working in a facility that helped at-risk children, she mentioned that she sang, and the kids asked her to sing to them.

“They loved it,” Pyle said. “They even convinced me to try out for The Voice. Those kids told me I needed to do music. It gave me strength, and I got my love of music back. I’m being true to myself, true to what I want to do. I listen to feedback, but at the same time, I don’t let it cloud what I do; I don’t let it cloud my own relationship with music.”

An early start toward the stage

Pyle started her relationship with music when she was five, and played along on the piano with singers she admired. She took choir in school, and was always the loudest singer in the class – to the point where she had to learn to scale back a bit. She loved R&B music, and idolized Mariah Carey, listening to all of her tracks.

While she began studying at Northern Arizona University with a focus in opera, her focus shifted to jazz choir in her second year.

“I had no experience, and I was originally the weakest link in the choir,” Pyle said. “I am a good musician, and I have a good ear, but I was such a square. I wanted to quit, but I had a one-year obligation. My instructor gave me a solo piece, and when I worked on it, I decided to go back to my Mariah Carey roots, and put that into my solo. I got really good results and feedback. I was even invited to sing at a bar in Flagstaff. I kept getting great reviews there, too.”

Her love for jazz has only taken off from there. Pyle said she does not get very nervous performing jazz, especially due to her extensive experience.

“I get nervous with new tunes, and also I get kind of dyslexic memorizing new lyrics,” she said. “That’s another reason jazz is comforting to me – everyone has their own sheet music in front of them, and I can keep my words in front of me.”

Making mistakes beautiful

Pyle said jazz is full of mistakes, but yet they are welcomed, even celebrated.

“It’s all about making those mistakes beautiful,” she said. “Nothing is wrong, just different. It’s not the details or wardrobe you dress the song up with, or nerves or anxiety of performing; it’s the soul of the song that matters. It doesn’t matter if the tone is off or the guitar chord is wrong – you are expressing love, sorrow… you are expressing something to someone else. That is the most important thing; that you care so much that you have to share it.”

She often performs with other jazz musicians in the area, including “The New Wrecking Crew.” Pyle said she truly enjoys performing with the group, as they have been incredibly supportive.

“The effort they took just to let me know they liked what I did was so amazing,” she said. “It’s been this cool, collaborative effort. I’m overjoyed – it’s been very therapeutic. I've always been hesitant to ask for help, it felt like a burden. But I feel they genuinely enjoy what I do. And the band, the dynamic… there are no mistakes, it was all supposed to be there… we all adapt. It’s something I've never encountered… especially if you’re as self-critical as I am.”

Pyle advised to treat music, or whatever craft you work at, like it was your three-year-old child.
“It’s an ever-growing child that you’re fostering, raising. It can’t grow with criticism or negativity. It grows, learns, but negativity shuts it down. Every person is unique, and has their own artistic fingerprint. Being open to the artistic fingerprint, the expression of others… that’s where genius comes out.”

But above all else, Pyle stays true to herself, and loves what she does. And she does it for herself.

“I think a lot of musicians get really jaded, trying to do something and be something they’re not,” she said. “Doing that all day for five days a week… you can lose yourself. I would rather sing something I care about than sell my soul for music I have no connection to. I know – I feel secure – that what I do is truly something special, and that it has a place out there. I feel like I’m healthier now than I have been in a long time, and that’s because I’m doing it for me.”

Videos of Holly Pyle performing are below. Visit Holly's website at


"Better Now," an original Holly Pyle

"In the Air Tonight"