By TRAVIS BRAASCH
Matt Mendez, a former Pima Community College student and University of Arizona graduate, has grown into a successful writer.
His first book, a 2012 collection of stories about working-class barrio characters titled “Twitching Heart,” received widespread praise.
Author Manuel Muñoz wrote, “This is exactly how a winning debut should read—fluid and raw, redemptive and inevitable. Underneath the humor runs a gifted storyteller’s nuanced take on the paradox of the outsider. A triumphant first swing from one of the new stars in the next generation of Chicano lit.”
Mendez was born and grew up in El Paso, Texas.
“Both my parents worked full time, leaving me, my brother and sister with tons of alone time,” he said. “This solitude gave me the chance to make up stories.”
Mendez discovered filmmaker Richard Rodriguez in high school.
“He was the only Chicano I knew of making movies, so I decided I wanted to be like him,” he said.
Mendez started at PCC in 2000 after serving four years of active duty in the Air Force.
“I hadn’t been inside a classroom since high school, and when I moved to Tucson I quickly enrolled, wanting to start this new part of my life,” he said.
He first focused on media communications, creating short Super 8 films for class.
Meeting writing instructor Meg Files, “a mentor who changed my life,” spurred a change of direction.
“Reading poetry and writing poems for Meg’s Intro to Poetry class was where the idea of reading for pleasure first took hold,” he said. “It was something I had done sporadically as a kid but had quit as a young adult. That class turned all that machinery back on, thankfully.”
Files said Mendez stands out in her memories of students.
“I remember him in my poetry and fiction classes as an extraordinarily gifted writer,” she said.
“His work was lively and fresh—and sometimes very funny,” she added. “It’s one thing to have the talent, but Matt also has done the hard work to live up to that talent.”
Mendez also took advantage of Pima Writers’ Workshop sessions.
“I was working on a screenplay and wanted badly for someone to read it,” he said. “The experience of the workshop was great, listening to agents and presenters, to all these writers talk about their work.”
After publication of “Twitching Heart,” Mendez returned to the workshop as an instructor.
“It was great to bring our former student back to the college as faculty at the Pima Writers’ Workshop,” Files said. “I am so proud of him.”
Mendez didn’t decide to become a writer until he was about to graduate from UA with a bachelor’s degree in media arts at age 28.
“I had minored in creative writing to get better at screen writing,” he said. “It was during these creative writing workshops where I first read so many great stories, by writers I would never have discovered otherwise. It wasn’t long before my attention turned from film to stories.”
For Mendez, creating a story or character goes beyond writing about someone he observes. He develops characters with a life story.
Publication of “Twitching Heart” placed him firmly in the Southwest writers’ category. He’s proud to share his culture with readers.
“When many people think of Southwest writers, they first think of Cormac McCarthy or Annie Proulx, tired old westerns and their stereotypes,” Mendez said. “They rarely think of Latino or Native writers like Joy Harjo or Ana Castillo, certainly not of writers like Natalie Diaz and Eduardo Corral, Paul Pedroza or Isabel Quintero.”
People who don’t read have little empathy or insight, he said.
“That’s a big part of the reason so many people are willing to erect a wall in our backyard, are willing to destroy a part of the country and people they have no understanding of,” he said.
For students interested in writing, Mendez offers advice from his own experience.
“Read, learn your craft and get to work,” he said. “I started at Pima in 2000, and my first book was published in 2012. The second is coming in 2018. That may seem like a long time, but I can assure you it isn’t.”
The only thing artists can control is the amount of effort they are willing to give, he added.
“Anything short of all you can, really, will leave you disappointed.”
By TRAVIS BRAASCH
Steven Wilson was born in Kingston, London and has been playing and recording music since his teens. He’s become one of the world’s most prolific musicians in past decades, working with musicians of every genre.
He’s best known as the multi-instrumentalist and singer for Porcupine Tree and Blackfield, and for remastering King Crimson’s back catalog.
Recently he’s begun focusing on solo work, simply recorded under Steven Wilson. His latest album, “Hand Cannot Erase,” has become one of his most well-received, gathering new fans from around the world.
“I am about 18 months into this particular album cycle, so there is always concern if there is anyone who wants to still come see you,” Wilson said. “I have been pleasantly surprised. Most of our shows have sold out.”
Wilson was touring in the United States during the 2016 presidential campaign and saw the reactions of Americans. He drew a connection to events in Europe, including the June “Brexit” referendum in which British citizens voted to exit the European Union.
“We went through the same thing with Brexit,” he said. “Never underestimate the power of the disenfranchised, white middle-class. I guess we are all surprised and disappointed that there are that many disenfranchised and disillusioned people, and this is their protest.”
Fans of all ages attend Wilson’s U.S. shows.
“I am the type of person who enjoys playing to a diverse and collective audience,” he said. “The best vibe is when I have a group of young and old, male and female audience members.”
“Hand Cannot Erase” tells a story about a fictional female character based on the tragic life of Joyce Vincent.
“I first heard about Joyce Vincent when the story appeared in the news in 2006,” Wilson said. “A woman died in her apartment and her body was not discovered for two years.”
Like many people, Wilson initially assumed Vincent was an elderly woman. He learned otherwise after viewing a 2011 documentary, “Dreams of a Life.”
Vincent, 41, had been popular in school but slowly cut ties with acquaintances and erased her internet footprint. Her death went unnoticed.
“This is what led me onto thinking about how social networking, cell phones and all of this other great technology makes our lives convenient but also makes us passive and makes us further apart in many respects,” Wilson said. “I think social networking is actually very antisocial.”
It’s not difficult to imagine disappearing from the world by simply not being an active member of the online community, he noted.
“How easy would it be for someone who is unmarried, didn’t have kids and who did not have a presence online to just disappear?” Wilson asked. “The answer: Very easy.”
Wilson used those ideas to write his powerful “Hand Cannot Erase” album.
“The character was inspired by the circumstances of her death,” he said. “I took the end of her life and worked backwards to create a story of someone growing up, coming to the big city and beginning the process of disappearing from view.”
He called the creative process a gift.
“I tapped into so many different things I wanted to talk about, such as nostalgia for childhood, the idea of regret and social media,” he said.
After spending much of his life working with Porcupine Tree, Blackfield and No Man, Wilson is happy to concentrate on releasing music under his own name. He said it gives him freedom to move into any genre he wishes.
“I’ve still left the door open to return to those projects one day, but there is no doubt in my mind that what I do now as a solo artist is something I want to do for the rest of my life as a primary outlet,” he said.
Wilson is currently on tour and has no plans to slow down. Fans can expect new material next year.
For more information about Wilson and his music, visit stevenwilsonhq.com. His Twitter account is @StevenWilsonHQ.
By TRAVIS BRAASCH
Former Pima Community College student Kathleen Glasgow reached the New York Times bestseller list this fall with her debut book, a young adult novel titled “Girl in Pieces.”
“I’m so grateful for the response that ‘Girl in Pieces’ has received from readers,” Glasgow said via email while on a publicity tour. “I never thought that my first book would be so well-received, let alone become a bestseller.”
The book discusses depression and self-harm. “It affects more than one million young women every year, yet we don’t hear too much about it,” she said.
“So painful, so hopeful. So perfect,” author Heidi Heilig wrote. “The pain of reading ‘Girl in Pieces’ was the most exquisite sort.”
Glasgow, who remains a Tucson resident, comes from a family that loves the arts.
“My parents were readers and collectors of art so we always had a lot of physical art, like paintings and sculptures, in our house,” Glasgow said. “My mother was a voracious reader –that’s where I first learned to love reading. We are all creative in our own ways.”
Glasgow began taking writing courses PCC at age 16 after attending Cross Junior High School. The courses and instructors had a major impact on her work.
“I had very encouraging teachers at Cross Junior High,” Glasgow said. “When I started attending Pima, I took classes with Jefferson Carter and his encouragement was really the seed that I needed to believe I could blossom as a writer.”
Glasgow incorporated many iconic Tucson locations into “Girl in Pieces,” including Fourth Avenue, Club Congress, the Rialto Theatre and Armory Park.
“There is no better place to find wonderful, weird, brilliant, kind and creative people,” she said. “It’s a great place to grow up, especially if you have a yen for music, books, arts. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to feature so many real Tucson places.”
Glasgow spent nine years working on “Girl in Pieces” and went through 14 drafts. During that time, she battled distractions and experienced losses.
“I had a full-time job, I had two kids along the way, my mother and sister passed away and I couldn’t write for awhile,” she said. “Life happens. But I never gave up.”
Now “Girl in Pieces” is a bestseller and Glasgow has received national attention. She has spent the past few months on a book tour across the United States.
“Touring was very exciting and I loved getting a chance to meet readers in so many cities, and to hear their stories,” Glasgow said. “I think my favorite cities have been Savannah and Nashville.”
Glasgow offers encouragement to anyone looking to become a writer.
“If you want to write, write,” she said. “Stay up late after the kids are in bed. Get up early before the kids get up or before you have to go to work. It might take one year, or five, or nine, to get your book published, but it can happen.”
Good books will find an audience, she added.
“Someone out there needs your story,” she said. “Trust me. They do.”
By TRAVIS BRAASCH
Tucson is known for its vibrant artistic community and Pima Community College is no exception.
Cindy Banh is a Tucson native who has attended PCC part time since 2011 after completing high school at Flowing Wells. She finished her undergraduate prerequisites last spring.
Her mural design won first place last spring in a contest held by the West Campus Creative Writing Center and she completed the mural over the summer.
“I was very grateful,” Banh said. “Being able to do this project was very validating.”
To some, art seems like a leisurely way to spend a Sunday afternoon but in reality a project like a mural takes hours of planning even before picking up a paint brush. There’s also a level of stress that comes with taking your art to a public venue.
Meg Files, chair of the West Campus English and Journalism department, sponsored the mural contest.
“It can be a little scary to submit our art, our stories, our poems to contests and journals such as SandScript,” Files said. “But I encourage students to take the risks of showing and sharing their creative work.”
Banh estimated she spent 50-plus hours on the mural, working two to six hours a week due to time constraints.
“It took the whole summer to complete, right up to the week before school actually,” Banh said. “It’s a little embarrassing, but at least it is done now.”
Files praised Banh’s effort.
“She worked very hard—and in the intense heat,” Files said. “She’s a dedicated, talented artist.”
Banh comes from an artistic family. Her brother received an arts degree from PCC and focuses on digital design for video games. Her younger sister dabbles in traditional art. Her cousin also focuses on art and is an architect.
Her parents have been supportive of her choice to become an art major.
Banh is no stranger to recognition for her work.
“I started back in third grade when I won my first grand-prize ribbon at the Pima Community Fair,” she said.
While Banh has been interested in art from a young age, working with paint is relatively new.
“Painting was never a real skill set until college,” she said. “That is the time I fell in love with watercolor. Acrylic is hard to master and translate onto canvas for me.”
An observer will notice the level of depth that Banh’s mural reaches.
“I get inspired when I do big scenes that actually mean something for the character being depicted,” she said. “There has to be a story derived from the image.”
Banh has her sights set on another medium she wishes to explore.
“I seek to tell stories in the form of graphic novels,” she said. “That has always been where my heart lies. I doubt this dream will ever change even as I get into this new chapter of my life.”
She offers advice for those considering an art degree.
“I’d want to make sure they are serious about their decision,” she said. “There are a lot of consequences and a lot of difficult obstacles in the road ahead.”
Banh is still struggling to become a graphic novelist, but considers that OK.
“Growing into an artist takes time and it takes perseverance and heart,” she said. “As long as you can keep your chin up, do it. If it’s where your blood and grit is, do it.”
Manage sacrifices, forge ahead and remember why you started the journey in the first place, she urged.
“Strengthen and grow with your art,” she said. “Your style is yours, so own it. Don’t give up and don’t stop doing better than the day before.”
By TRAVIS BRAASCH
While many musicians and bands continue to create music in the same vein as when they first started, Ceremony has broken free from the constraints of hardcore punk and continues to evolve with each new release.
Ceremony started in Rohnert Park, California, in the early 2000s.
The group released its first EP, titled “Ruined,” in 2005. The EP showcased a faster style of hardcore music often labeled as power-violence.
Shortly after, Ceremony released its first full-length album, “Violence Violence,” through the hardcore label Deathwish Inc.
Band members have known each other as far back as middle school and many members have played together in bands since their teens.
Guitarist Anthony Anzaldo’s interest in playing music goes back to his childhood, when his father worked for MCA and Elektra records as a record promoter.
“His job was to get songs played on the radio,” Anzaldo said. “Before becoming a record promoter he worked as a radio DJ, so music has always been a major part of my family. I was exposed to various types of music since birth.”
For many musicians, an artist or band sparks an interest in creating music themselves. For Anzaldo, Prince made a lasting impression.
“I discovered Prince when I was 8 years old and it opened up a whole new world of music for me as far as the way I would listen to and enjoy music,” Anzaldo said. “He was the one who first inspired me to play music myself.”
While Ceremony found success within the hardcore and punk community with a blend of fast tempos, noisy guitar blasts and rapid-fire lyric delivery, band members found themselves growing and evolving as musicians.
“With fast hardcore music like “Ruined” or “Violence Violence,” it’s only done well when you’re young,” Anzaldo said. “That youthful angst is what makes hardcore and punk music great.”
Ceremony released two records under the well-known punk label Bridge Nine that showed a change in style.
The album “Still Nothing Moves You” reflected interest in textures and layers of sound. “Rohnert Park” began to sneak in spoken word passages and vocalist Ross Farrar used a more traditional singing style.
“It was definitely a natural progression for us to move away from hardcore music,” Anzaldo said. “We all grow up, change and evolve, and our records reflect this. It’s worked out for the best.”
Fan Eli Hernandez said Ceremony’s lyrics are still punk.
“Punk lyrics are personal and are usually from the singer’s life experiences, and they still have that on their newer records,” Hernandez said.
“I never really notice what label a band is on first,” he added. “If a band is good, then I’ll listen to them.”
Ceremony’s progression in sound included signing with the larger Matador record label, which is known for having a roster of bands that play various styles of music rather than focusing on any specific genre.
The group’s move to a larger label garnered criticism from hardcore fans who embrace smaller labels and a DIY aesthetic. Anzaldo said jumping to labels like Bridge Nine and Matador can seem like a big jump, but it’s really not.
“Labels don’t really matter the same way they did in the ’70s and ’80s,” he said. “People don’t listen to a band or musicians just because of the label.”
After joining Matador Records, Ceremony released the album “Zoo” in 2012 and “The L-Shaped Man” last year.
The albums show a giant shift in the group’s style, embracing the sparse style known as post-punk that originated in the ’80s.
“We know a portion of our fan base is made up of hardcore kids who loved our first records but we know that “The L-Shaped Man” is not a hardcore album,” Anzaldo said.
“We make music for us and if you like it then that’s wonderful but we aren’t going to pander to our fan base to just go on tour,” he added.
While the group has scaled back its blast beats and edgy lyrics, “The L-Shaped Man” sounds like a record made by a band knowing exactly what it wants to do.
It calls up memories of a band like Joy Division and The Fall, which paved the way for post-punk music. The lyrics remain personal, however, and the album still sounds very much like a Ceremony record.
“I feel like the album is definitely post-punk but we have always played music that didn’t necessarily fall into one scene or another,” Anzaldo said.
“People who listen to Ceremony cannot be grouped into one niche or scene, and getting to tour with a band like Bloc Party has shown we can play in front of different audiences and people will dig our music,” he added.
Being in an active band for a decade has given band members time to grow as people and as musicians, and their latest album reflects this. Ceremony is functioning better than ever and has no plans of letting up.
“We used to tour a lot more,” Anzaldo said. “When we put out a record, we will do an American tour and a little European run but we actually aren’t on the road anymore.”
Ceremony finished its American tour with Touche Amore last month. The band always has plans to record new music, so fans should keep an ear to the ground for news of an upcoming release within the next year.
For more information, visit ceremonyhc.com or matadorrecords.com.
By TRAVIS BRAASCH
Downtown Tucson has expanded in every direction the past few years, and East Toole Avenue is no exception. In addition to art galleries, studios and small retail stores, the artsy avenue also houses Tucson’s new underground radio station.
Downtown Radio, 99.1 FM KDTD, was established Sept. 13, 2015 with the mission to bring great music not found on typical commercial radio to the citizens of Tucson.
While most radio stations play the same songs over and over, Downtown Radio’s DJs go a step beyond being a robotic voice chatting between songs.
“You won’t find the top 40 or most hits being played,” Program Director Jason LeValley said. “If we play a well-known band, we won’t play their hits. Our DJs tend to look for tracks you may have not heard by one of your favorite artists so you can find new songs to fall in love with.”
Stephanie White co-hosts a Ladytowne program which features female artists and exposes listeners to some they may have never heard before.
“For our show, we carefully pick songs that we have a connection to,” White said. “We try to figure out different themes and make playlists all week, trying to make sure each show has a completely different lineup of music.”
Ladytowne also tries to break the stereotype of women not being in bands, and showcases music outside of the typical riotgrrrl genre that many think of when female musicians are being discussed.
“Some people think of music as a guys-only club where women are either the girlfriend or merch-girl,” said Miranda Schubert, who also co-hosts Ladytowne. “When some people see girls at shows, they make that assumption. In reality, it turns out the girl happens to write all the songs and plays guitar in the band.”
Schubert said she likes to play older music and international music in French, while White listens to lots of newer music.
“I think we mesh well together on our show and bring a good variety of music to the table,” Schubert said.
In addition to bringing a mix of music to the airwaves, Downtown Radio is deeply involved in the subjects of Tucson mental health and health care.
“We want people to not feel alone with their problems,” White said. “Most people find it hard to believe that they are not alone with these issues, and it helps them to hear others share their experiences.”
Downtown Radio networks people who need support facing these disorders to mental health services and options.
The station also invites guest appearances by workers in the mental health field to share advice, and allows listeners to hear from someone who cares about their problems.
“We have a program called Depression Session every Sunday,” LeValley said. The program brings DJs and listeners together to share stories about their depression.
Downtown Radio also brings the Tucson music scene even closer together by regularly featuring tracks by local artists and live performances.
“One of my favorite memories was having The Rifle on the show,” White said. “I was really nervous but everything was great and we had a lot of fun.”