I was privileged last night to witness (and take part a little) in the dual CD release party of Phoenix, Arizona bands Wizards of Time and Wooden Indian. The event took place at the very unique venue of The Icehouse in downtown Phoenix. It’s a huge open room with the coolest mirror ball I have ever seen way up in the high ceiling. It is July so it’s quite hot but we all managed. I was there early for sound check but people began to gather outside on a mellow Thursday summer evening. Everybody had their chosen beers in plastic cups and a hippie, happy vibe ruled the air.
I have been friends with lead singer, Andrew Levi Hiller, from the Wizards of Time for over ten years now. The second band I was ever in was with him. We were an instrumental, post rock kind of group called Love Not Human. It was a brief period where I lived in Phoenix and the pop-punk/emo scene of the early 2000′s was at the height of it’s depressing tyranny. Andrew and I made our music in rebellion of all that downer culture and it was a beautiful time. From there I moved away and Andrew continued to find his artistic voice in the desert state of Arizona. After spending a season as a full-time painter in a downtown arts house he began his return to music. He had played in a band called Mr. Kline and the Wizards of Time. Once Mr. Kline went off to med school the band continued as the Wizards of Time.
As the group crafted their psychedelic pop they also began to form a unique art community with other talented musicians and creative people around downtown Phoenix (Wooden Indian, Yairms, DS Yancey amongst others). One of the main examples of this is their practice space/venue The Dressing Room where bands share gear and occasionally invite people on the street to impromptu jam sessions (I witnessed and took part in one of these last year). An artist needs freedom and The Dressing Room is the kind of place where that can be found.
Despite the inspired creativity of this community it seemed much of the city took little notice. I will not speculate as to why. The Wizards recruited the indie-famous Scott Solter to produce their first full length album in North Carolina. I talked with Andrew throughout this process and they weren’t fucking around. They were architects of sound. The band and Solter were experimenting, tape-looping and breaking down the already well-written songs. Andrew created a narrative on the album of a post-apocalyptic world where the protagonist faces profound hardships and soul searching. The result of this effort is Will The Soft Curse Plague On? which I can pretty much guarantee already is one of the best albums of 2012.
It just so happens that the band and fellow Dressing Room friends Wooden Indian both had their albums ready for July. They set up a dual record release party to celebrate their recordings together which is very fitting considering everything else they have shared over recent years. I was able to make it down for the show. The night did not disappoint.
Wizards of Time donned robes and hoods and if you did not know the band you probably assumed you were about to hear some form of doom metal. The people filtered in and the lively, intense sounds began. I saw everything from punks to hippies in the audience…even some acid/hippie dancing was going on. It was one of those crowds that can be seen at shows these days. So many cultures have influenced each other at this point. That fact is considered negative by some but I love how genres and cultures have synthesized to create new fashions, sounds and ethics. Last night we experienced the joy that can come when genres are mixed and you hear the influences of hip-hop, psychedelic rock, punk, new-wave, world music, metal, ambient, prog rock, reggae and electro music all within two groups! We danced, we meditated, we grooved.
The songs ranged from psychedelic pop to Dead Can Dance-ish percussive jams. The balance of fine-tuned, rehearsed compositions and live improvisation is done very well with both Wizards of Time and Wooden Indian. I was able to join the Wizards for their pop tune “Above the Everglades”. Playing with these guys is a joy and I wish I had more time to create music with them.
As the band went into their finale Andrew led the audience outside where he instructed them to stone him with tomatoes at a certain moment in the song. As the signal was given Andrew was pelted to the point of losing breath and having a hard time singing. He struggled on with a smile and finished the song chanting “my feet are off the ground”. It was one of those times in modern life where everyone pulled out their i-phones and cameras to catch the surreal spectacle but even the technology couldn’t ruin the moment. I heard someone say behind me, “this is too artistic for me”. What they don’t understand is that the line between art, joy, humor, social commentary, fun and philosophical questioning are all blurred with Andrew Hiller. The Wizards of Time contain all of this. It was a memorable ending to a moving performance.
Next up was Wooden Indian and the percussion sounds really came out. The entire band went from their instruments to all kinds of toms, maracas, cymbals, tambourines and snares. The feeling reminded me of what could happen if Talking Heads and The Grateful Dead made music together. Vocalist Wally Boudway played guitar, drums and sang…sometimes all at once (no joke). This was like a post-punk jam band and the audience was in. You can see why the two groups have shared so much life and creativity together. The joy of music, art, friendship and freedom is a reality for them.
I return to Seattle even more inspired to make music with my friends in the Northwest. We can create sounds, films, stories, paintings, dances and whatever else as we follow our intuition and receive inspiration from other artists around us. Art community is where it’s at.