By Chelsea Young and Gabby Richman
Photos by Mark Morgan
There’s no doubt that music is a universal language, something that transcends our differences and has the power to heal, uplift and, of course, entertain. And the Valley’s music landscape is ripe with talent across many genres, from country and hip-hop to indie-folk and jazz. Here, we highlight the sounds and melodic stylings of seven bands and musicians – and where on the local scene you can hear them play.
With a poetic grace in their lyrics and melodies, The Waters – comprised of singer/songwriter and rhythm guitarist Krystal Baker and guitarist Sturgis Waters – are a duo self-described as “where love and music collide.” Not only have they been playing together for 16 years; they’ve been married for 10 of those. Their acoustic sound has roots in folk and rock with elements of ethereal textures, amplified by Baker’s haunting vocals juxtaposed with Waters’ colorful guitar melodies. Playing both original songs as well as unique arrangements of other artists, their love of music is evident and provides a universal connection for audiences. Simply put, The Waters believe in the power of music, stating, “We do what we do because we can’t afford therapy, and because it’s the best job in the world, even when it’s not.” The duo can be seen every Wednesday at Center Stage at Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch and most weekends at Arizona Biltmore or jade bar at Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa. Sometimes joined by a bass guitarist and drummers, the full band plays regularly at Kazimierz World Wine Bar, Crescent Ballroom and The Rhythm Room.
Though only 19 years old, Jacob Morris recalls the sound of a seasoned country crooner. Taking influences from artists like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Alan Jackson, he seeks to make music reminiscent of those who have laid the path of country music before him, music that is a foot in the past and also a step into the future. With a comfortable mix of modern and traditional sounds, Morris’ music is very story-oriented; the singer says he fell in love with country music at a young age because the songwriters were storytellers at heart. Now, as a musician himself, Morris wants those who hear his music to feel the experience of where a song came from or why it was written. He says, “I make music for a higher purpose. Getting a response from a fan who has received a song of yours on a much more personal level is the most gratifying thing an artist can experience. I’m addicted to that feeling, and I’ll continue to chase it.” You’ll find him performing at The Montauk on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons, as well as other East Valley locations including Whiskey Row.
With music that’s irrevocably jazz, House of Stairs also draws from funk, soul, electronic and pop influences to create a distinct progressive sound. Because their music is so multifaceted, it has been described as an “aural, visual and emotional Rubik’s Cube.” Others call it chamber soul or Erykah Badu meets Radiohead. Regardless of label, there’s no doubt House of Stairs is a one-of-a-kind collective – their instrumentation is unique (there is no guitar or bass guitar); they play in every meter, from three to 13; and vocalist Holly Pyle loops her vocal harmonies live. The result toggles the line between art and music while weaving in poetry, generating an imaginative exploration in sound that the band hopes will serve as inspiration for people to be their authentic selves and seek out what they most desire in life. House of Stairs frequents many venues, including Crescent Ballroom, Valley Bar, The Nash, The Rebel Lounge, Musical Instrument Museum, The Rhythm Room, Kazimierz World Wine Bar, Sheraton Grand Phoenix, Twisted Lizard Tavern & Grille, The Vig Arcadia, and Casablanca Rooftop Lounge.
You might recognize this five-member band if you attended last month’s Bon Jovi concert at Talking Stick Resort Arena; LUXXE was selected as part of a contest through Live Nation to be the opening act for the rock band. Consisting of Seth Smades, lead vocalist and acoustic guitarist; Devon Quartullo on drums; Nullin Hassan on keys; Michael Gessert on lead electric guitar; and Evan Yuen on bass guitar, the self-described “Americana pop folk” group takes inspiration from bands like One Republic and The Lumineers. Their debut EP, Rolling Thunder, which contains five original songs is currently out, though their live performances are what captivates fans and embodies who they are as artists. Dubbed high-energy, the group diversifies their sound when in front of an audience, characteristically playing songs that range from acoustic ballads to high-energy rock, and sometimes even flute solos. On any given day, you’ll find LUXXE on the schedule at Crescent Ballroom, Valley Bar, The Rebel Lounge, Marquee Theatre, or Pub Rock Live.
Though Sincerely Collins is known for his hip-hop sound, he draws inspiration from all genres. Exposed to oldies and smooth jazz by his grandparents while growing up, the artist fuses those sentimental sounds with his love of authentic pop records and alternative music to create a genre all his own. Sincerely Collins emerged on the scene with his single Light Work, which hit No. 1 on Phoenix’s Power 98.3 and 101.9, and his new single, Possible, is following close behind. The 15-year songwriting veteran takes inspiration from his life and translates his experiences into his work, saying, “Music was there for me in the darkest of times, and music has now blessed me with a life that others dream of.” And now Sincerely Collins is paying it forward – you can often find the meditator and vegan giving motivational speeches and seminars at local Valley high schools. When he’s not inspiring people with his speeches, you can typically find him inspiring them through his lyrics at Livewire or Marquee Theatre.
In 2015, The Breaking Pattern emerged and was immediately welcomed with high praise from fans and critics alike. In fact, the four-person band (vocalist Derek Hackman is pictured) has been dubbed the face of the emo revival movement in Phoenix, with a flair for fusing flowery, introspective lyrics with melodic guitars and ambient sounds. Described as atmospheric pop, The Breaking Pattern incorporates hyper-poetic language, a signature part of their sound that lends a thoughtful element and speaks to the soul. It’s this space – where poetry meets melody – that has garnered them such a cult-like following and accolades from the likes of The Huffington Post. When asked why they do what they do, Hackman’s poetic nature is found in his answer. “It just feels good to contribute to a culture I love through a community that accepted me. If I can successfully convey an idea that someone else is struggling to express, then I have succeeded in my responsibility as an artist.” Find them taking the stage at The Rebel Lounge, Pub Rock Live, Crescent Ballroom, Valley Bar, FiftyOne West, Nile Theater, and many of the all-ages venues.
Singer and songwriter Taylor Upsahl – who goes by the stage name Upsahl, which also serves as the name of her band – seemed destined to be a performer. With a father in the local music scene, 18-year-old Upsahl got her start at an even younger age; by the time she was a junior at the Arizona Academy of the Arts, she’d already headlined Crescent Ballroom. Upsahl recently released Unfamiliar Light, an evolved alternative album, though her sweet, soulful sound has also been described as poppy indie-folk with a maturity well beyond her youth. Upsahl writes about complex situations, resulting in relatable content that continues to intrigue audiences. And in her lyrical creations, she finds solace for herself. “No matter what hardships or challenges I’m dealing with or how stressed I am, music is always my source of stability and comfort,” she says. “I think that this goes to show the power that music has and its ability to impact people in such a crucial way.” Upsahl will hit the road on a West Coast tour this summer, but you can frequently find them at Crescent Ballroom, Valley Bar and The Rebel Lounge.