I spent some time this spring observing and participating in the Albuquerque music scene, and I had the privilege of experiencing hands-on some of the most talented performances by brilliant musicians in New Mexico. That fascinating experience was a highlight of a lifelong pursuit of music, and has inspired me to work towards getting the voices of these talented people heard.
I interviewed several local musicians via Facebook, and here is the result:
To start with, could you tell me a bit about the music you play, what got you started, and your biggest influences?
Scott Steele: I am an original singer-songwriter. My band plays in Santa Fe regularly at the palace for the last 2 years my dad was a singer songwriter here in Albuquerque and I followed in his footsteps, I can play multiple instruments, and have been in bands all my life. My current band is called Scotty and the atomics you can check us out on Facebook if you’d like. Some of my biggest influences I can remember stopping at the North 4th Street flea markets back in the 70s and being influenced deeply by the new Latin bands coming out, Carlos Santana the Rolling Stones and Johnny Cash has influenced our band and some of our songs we are coming out with a second album in January.
Franklin Yazzie: I do vocals in a band called Under Exile from Shiprock NM. We play metal, heavily influenced by bands like Lamb of God, Trivium, Machinehead, The Black Dahlia Murder, etc. We started out in 2013 as high school students. We just bullshitted around with the idea of making music until around 2014 when we got our first bigger show with Chelsea Grin at Top Deck in Farmington. Since then we really started seeing the potential in what we were doing and started pushing our music and writing even further. Since we’ve expanded to neighboring states playing with bands like Attila, Chelsea Grin, Devildriver, Phil Anselmos Superjoint, Mushroomhead, Hed(pe), All That Remains, Whitechapel, Suicide Silence, etc.
John Baird: I play acoustic hip hop with saturday night riot. We started out playing deathcore in 2006. This was not the most natural progression. After sharing the stage with numerous touring acts and a few touring ventures of our own, we did call it quits for a few years and reformed as a two piece. As a two piece we did decide to drop the heavy metal and play something a bit more marketable. Some of our biggest influences has been Dance Gavin Dance and The Dirty Heads
Angelo Sanchez: I’m a rapper/producer/audio engineer. I have been using FL Studio since 2010. I make rap mixed with chicano and dark influences. What got me started is the genuine love for making music. I picked up my first guitar at five and music creation was my soul ever since. My biggest influence has to be all the old school chicano rappers from the 90s in Cali. I draw so much influence from their flow and sound. Along with Memphis and Texas sounds. I can’t pinpoint my influence to just one artist. More like an entire sound. I record, engineer and produce all my beats as GOHT and rap on my songs as YUNG HEAR$E.
Judi Dench: I make experimental R&B/Soul music under the moniker, Vasillus, which is something I started back in Brooklyn, NY, but really got to hone and fine tune it in New Mexico. My biggest influences are architecture, Scott Walker, the Cocteau Twins, Isaac Hayes and Nina Simone.
Austin Torrez: So, I mainly have been making experimental electronic music for the past couple of years, but I got my start in an odd punkish funky band my senior year in high school. Before that I just had music lessons and the whatnot. Influences have to include Oneohtrix Point Never, and Swamp Dogg.
Brian Dole: I am a 24 year old lyricist with heavy ties into basically all forms of hip hop, new and old. I have been doing this about 13 years but would write poems and stories for as long as I can remember, in highschool i started trying to record on audacity all freestyling. When I was about to turn 18 I started working with this group, Triple Stack Boyz, that were signed to mac dres Thizz Nation. They mentored me got me beats and would hit the studio with me. We eventually grew apart. I went on my own and met the dude I made my group ad6 with at a job. Basically [we] were just acquaintances trying to find studio time somewhere as I was still using audacity while he was using FL Studio with a RockBand mic (his setup was better) anyway we linked up to some dude running a studio angel stitch, shit was cool and developing working together until the dude running the studio got drunk and crazy, I was currently on probation and homeless so I would try to stay at studios as much as possible.
Aaron Lewis: I play classical guitar music that I compose myself. I also perform my original songs in the group “sunlight”. I always had a desire to play music it started when I was 5 years old and was taken to the toy store and walked out of said store with a vinyl album. I played drums in 6th grade band. It was not my cup of tea (never practiced) and then went to a friends house after school one day who had an electric guitar and the rest was history, I have had an affair with the guitar ever since. I will give you the influences as they came and changed my life to be what it is. first was Kiss, then John Lee Hooker, Tom Waits, John Williams the Guitarist, (not the star wars composer) the Kronos Quartet and ultimately Igor Stravinsky.
Will Byrne: I play in a band called Train Conductor, which is a dark psych band. Sunshine, good feelings and talented friends got me started in New Mexico. My biggest influences are failure (not a band), dead skeletons, king gizzard and lizard wizard and holy glories (NM).
Kron Jeremy: I make and perform hiphop music. I was always like the super uber rap nerd growing up but felt like i had no business ever trying to pick up a mic (because im from moriarty lol) . I think around sophmore year in highschool i went to visit my sister for the summer in denver. she had a downstairs neighbor named Jerod. He was into all the elements of hiphop like breaking and tagging. He was the first one to sit me down, listen to a beat, and write a song. At that age i think kids are just looking for something they can be good at, and for me. Having dude say, “Hey you’re pretty good at this”. After that, it was on. I came back and tried getting my friends into it, and just really fell in love with the craft. Its like an alternative universe, where if you can word it right, you can do anything. Anybody can say they can fly, but if you can write about dodging powerlines, and wind blowing your face at intense speeds while a flock of birds is flying right at you at the same time. It makes it seem like you really can fly if you can word it the right way without it being corny. Its a beautiful thing, to be able to use your imagination and knowledge to make something thats truly yours, and see other people enjoying it. I rap, but I get alot of influence from other mediums and genres. I really look up to cats like Bob Dylan, Bill Hicks, and Hunter S Thompson when it comes to writing.
What has your experience been like in the local music scene?
Scott Steele: Well, we have been playing New Mexico for the last 4 years and like any music scene it’s tough and you have to hang in there and a mother musics dues are quite high sometimes, the Albuquerque scene is a little rougher because it doesn’t pay its bands as well which is why my van love playing our gig up at the palace in Santa Fe because we always make good money. The festivals are fun, and probably like anywhere, some gigs are very rewarding and others take a pound of your flesh, but overall we are shooting upward. I believe in this next 12 months we will be getting some very good big breaks that we have been looking forward to, our goal is to make good live performing music and have good albums but we are also looking forward to bigger and bigger stages, it is an exciting ride and not an easy road, we perform 3 hours on Friday nights at a vigorous and energetic nightclub act and it takes quite a bit of energy from the band but we all love it and love what we are doing and looking forward to the bigger stages
Franklin Yazzie: It’s definitely diverse, with different areas dominating certain markets. In a lot of other places, there are so many people and the diversity of musical interest is widespread. With less people in NM, there are just a lot less of that diversity which is why a lot of tours skip over New Mexico. Metal is definitely alive here though, even more so than other markets.
John Baird: It’s been. Alright. Lol. I basically only play open mics in town because a lot of venues don’t take care of artists. Open mics are pretty much the only place to play to an audience that isn’t already mine.
Angelo Sanchez: I used to be a part of the metal and punk scene which I won’t really discuss, but the rap scene out here has been really cool to me. I’ve made friends like my boi CBRD (Las Cruces to ABQ), Oseyerus, Dmize, and Sepsis. All good people. There’s definitely some snakes in the grass in the rap scene here too don’t get me wrong. I just keep my eyes out nowadays. I rarely play shows here now though. I just make and release my music online.
Judi Dench: It’s definitely more intimate in scale [compared to Brooklyn, NY], and fluid in terms of how many different projects people get involved in at once. I love that we have different festivals and showcases for artists in town, and the relationship between visual artists and musicians specifically, has been a really fun, beneficial relationship in the community.
Austin Torrez: …It taught me a lot about evil, and occult shit, and probably has possessed me in some form or another. Lately I’ve been playing a lot of guitar tho, somewhere in between math rock and Tom Morello. I got tired of synths trying to talk to me.
Brian Dole: I got more love from NM after I left than when I came back, but coming up when I wasn’t a threat to any artists I got a lot of love from anybody I was on a show on. I love my state but the way the people show their support is rough, you gotta fight for people you know personally out here to share your link.
Aaron Lewis: I don’t know if there is a scene in Albuquerque. Most live music here is focused on selling beer and food and not sharing music. What I mean by that is this: music is the art of sound and controlling those sounds. In order for what I do to be shared it requires authentic listening. When people go out for dinner or drinks they are not going out for live music they are going out to hang out with friends. You can’t have conversation And listen fully to what a performer is doing, especially instrumental music (which is why I think they invented amplifiers so people would be forced to listen.) It is what it is and I love music so I have come to a point where I accept what is and do my thing outside of the scene. When I play out I travel out of state to do so. I have fans who love my music but don’t have a place i can call home for my music locally. So I play practice and perform for those who are truly looking for something original.
Will Byrne: I have been playing in the ABQ music scene since 2006. 2006 to 2009 I played in a band called small flightless birds. SFBs were notorious for their raging house shows on girard and roma. I left to gain some work experience for 6 years and had to come back to New Mexico’s gritty music scene. I could not get enough of the raw and gritty scene.
Kron Jeremy: Amazing. I remember before i found the scene i knew there were people like me somewhere just working on the craft. Once i found it i was puuumped. I tell people show support to get support, the one thing that helped me more than anything when i first started was that i use to be the nerdy dude in the front row at every show. Even if i wasnt crazy about their music i use to still try to sit in the front and keep my arms up because they were doing something i wanted to do so i had to give them props. Once i started doing shows, the scene took me in with open arms and it was like i hit the ground running like never seen before. It’s awesome though. I have buddies from different backgrounds that would probably never interact in normal life with each other, but the music brings us together, and is kind of like the equalizer. Doesn’t matter if you’re jobless or a CEO, we’re all still just a bunch of local rap nerds. lol
What are some challenges you’ve overcome in music?
Scott Steele: I think the most notable challenge right now is the difficulty it is getting for other people’s schedules together so that we can give frogville Studios of Santa Fe a date sometime in January for us to record our second album, people’s lives are busy and instead of getting in sooner we have had to move it back to later just to accommodate everyone’s schedules. Also a notable challenge always is booking the band sometimes the bar owners are difficult and hard to communicate with and other venues are almost impossible to get in unless you are a touring band which New Mexico needs to change its thinking and start giving its local talent more opportunities.
Franklin Yazzie: As a performer it was breaking out of my shell a bit. I was always the introverted nerdy kid in High School and middle school, so once I had to start becoming a frontman and vocals I had to play the role.
John Baird: A big challenge music has helped me with is ego. I put my heart into this music now for years and years. I’ve played shows where people thought i was a famous hotshot from LA. I’ve played shows where people (literally) thought we were gonna rob them in the parking lot after. Being on tour and going from a gorgeous Airbnb one night to getting kicked out of a parking lot the next night is humbling. Im absolutely in love with it.
Angelo Sanchez: The biggest challenge is the massive waves of kids every year trying to make this music with the hopes of becoming famous. Its an oversaturation of “musicians” that never last anyway because they do it for the wrong reasons to begin with. It’s hard to get noticed when everyone else is doing the same thing. Basically oversaturation hahaha.
Judi Dench: Being pigeonholed as a queer performer, as if queer is a genre of music. I mean, I am very much a black, queer performer, but I wouldn’t attribute a sexuality to the music I make.
Austin Torrez: Probably my own delusions. Also lack of funds. If I had a trillion dollars we’d all have audio implants [if we wanted].
Brian Dole: My biggest challenge was leaving the group I created at its peak, things were picking up and people were listening. That group was my first baby before my daughter, so it was tough. All said and done I wish them the best.
Aaron Lewis: Myself. All the negative things the brain says that others have said. I had a high school music teacher that told me I would never be a musician because I couldn’t read music. I had a college professor told me I would never be able to teach guitar to high school students. Both were wrong I am a musician and I taught high school guitar for 5 years. I don’t know how many people have told me to get a real job, they are just jealous that they weren’t brave enough to chase their dreams. The biggest challenge I have learned is that when you release something it is the next step in the journey not an end all. The most crucial thing from a music standpoint is the art of practicing.
Will Byrne: The biggest challenge has been to keep people interested with all the talent that surrounds us. We try to keep things edgy and uncomfortable so people can turn their head and say “wtf was that noise” or that was an “interesting transition”.
Kron Jeremy: Trying not to plateau. Trying not to let expectations or other negative energy get in the way of the real world. It’s easy to get burnt out performing the same songs for the same people. It’s a the struggle but it’s also a lot of fun trying to keep things new and fresh.
Do you have any sage advice for the newcomer?
Scott Steele: First and foremost believe in yourself. Second, it’s going to be hard work and not instant success also you’ll be riding high on cloud nine one week and down in the pit the next so you have to find ways to keep your creativity and inspiration going, also because my band sings all original songs, when you perform your music perform it with passion and as if you were playing it for the president for the first time, the public responds to good passionate well performed music, your heart has to be in it every time you strike a note.
Franklin Yazzie: The biggest thing I needed to realize was that I was on stage as a performer. A lot of local musicians forget that there are still the market of people who go to concerts just to go to a concert. I remember being 10 years old and watching a band called Ethnic De Generation open for DevilDriver, being amazed that a local band was playing on that bill and wondering how they did it. Every time we perform I keep that memory in mind and try to reflect a similar memory on the concert goers. Not everyone is in the “local scene” and not everyone is familiar with local music. Especially not local metal. It’s pretty cool to get the average joe concert goer, whose music taste only go as far as what’s on iHeartRadio, turned onto your music.
John Baird: Don’t jump into your set if everything isn’t right. Don’t get intimidated and forget to tune up. Dont book a show if 100% of your band can’t be there. If everything is in place, rock it.
Angelo Sanchez: Practice makes perfect. And don’t ever look at your music like it’s the best. Looking back on all my old stuff, back then thinking it was fire, and now hearing it and thinking about how much I’ve leveled up since then.
Judi Dench: Learn to trust yourself and know your intention with why you want to make the kind of music that you do. And then be proud of it
Austin Torrez: Build a laser harp. I wish I had started there.No actually everyone should have a PA, from as early on as possible. Be LOUD.
Brian Dole: I would say grind hard as [you can]. As soon as you start take every single opportunity available, but most importantly, humble yourself. DO NOT LET AN EGO EAT WHO YOU are I have watched so much amazing talent destroy themselves with a huge better-than-everyone attitude. Do not talk about it, be about it. Let your grind and music speak for itself, keep moving, and make as much music as you can. Most importantly, enjoy it. You are a special person to be able to create and express yourself.
Aaron Lewis: Believe in what you do wake up every day and tell yourself how incredibly awesome you are and put the work in it and you will meet and exceed all of your expectations. Also seek advice on technique and music theory and how it all works together so you can make your music exactly how you want it.
Will Byrne: Be prepared to bring the energy.
Kron Jeremy: Just do it. Its a comfort zone thing. It just takes time to get comfortable onstage. I remember reading an interview with Blackthought from the roots and they asked how they got so good at their live show? He replied, “Lots of shitty shows”. I always liked that perspective on it. It’s funny too because sometimes you don’t want to be too comfortable onstage either though. i always feel like when you’re not nervous is when you need to be nervous before a show. lol. it keeps you sharp.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Franklin Yazzie: Just keep playing music for the right reasons and do what makes you happy. If you’re happy, it will reflect to the people you’re playing for.
John Baird: I definitely wanna shout out David Chavez from the draft sessions open mic @ the Red Door Brewery on Monday nights. He is definitely cultivating for young musicians and giving us a chance to play for new audiences.
Angelo Sanchez: Artists to be on the lookout for: SATCHEL VI, SIXTWOSIX, CBRD, OSEYERUS, DEADDINSYDE, BENDROWNED, and all of VERYDEADCLIQUE
Judi Dench: Psychedelic rock is fine, but there are so many other paths for NM bands! Try ANYTHING.
Austin Torrez: Ouija Boards aren’t to be trusted for anything but poetry.
Aaron Lewis: Music is food for our souls. Let’s help each other eat well.
Will Byrne: Get a job! Do not depend on ABQ music scene for money. You will make better music in the process.