Come Original: The Phoenix music scene is about more than cover acts
Come Original: The Phoenix music scene is about more than cover acts

Come Original: The Phoenix music scene is about more than cover acts

By Laura Latzko

When multiple bands come together to make great music, something electric happens.

During an upcoming show at Last Exit Live on Friday, December 20, music fans will have a chance to hear four local bands founded by Arizona music scene veterans.

The lineup will include Shawn Johnson and the Foundation, the Parlor Birds, Doug Preston and the Soul Searchers and the Real Fakes. Johnson often performs with a revolving lineup of musicians, and the other three groups were recently formed.

The musicians in all four groups have played with different bands throughout their lives, and their love of music drives them to continue to make original music.

“All of the musicians in all of the bands have been playing for a long time, have a lot of respect for each other and appreciate different projects that everybody’s been a part of,” says Kevin Prier of the Real Fakes.

Johnson, who helped organize the show, wanted to showcase local groups making contributions to the local music scene.

“Everyone is a great songwriter. Everyone is doing their own thing.  We are all friends. We’ve all been doing it for a long time,” Johnson says.

Preston hopes the four-band bill will help attract bigger crowds. He says it has become more challenging to get people to come out for live music.

“That’s always the tricky thing is getting enough people that are into live music to go out and check out a show. That has become increasingly difficult over the years,” Preston says. “I’m guilty of it myself. My couch is really comfortable.

“It’s hard to do stuff and get people interested, but I don’t know what else I would do. That’s what I keep telling my wife: ‘This is all I got.’ I will keep playing. I just hope somebody listens.”

Guitarist Jarrod Compton of the Real Fakes has been playing locally for the last decade. He says it takes dedication and hard work to build up a presence in the music scene.

“I’ve been grinding for a long time. It’s playing every weekend, every weekday you could possibly get your hands on just to get to where you need and want to go. It takes years to get to that,” Compton says.

On December 20, Doug Preston’s power-pop/alternative rock group and the Parlor Birds desert rock/blues duo will release singles.

“We’ve been working on an album for a while now. We just finished it,” says Mike Chapman of the Parlor Birds. “We thought it was such a great lineup of bands, and a really cool venue, so we decided it would be a good opportunity to release a single and release an album probably in early 2020.”

The Real Fakes recently released “The Steampunk Sessions,” which features the single “Desert Rats” and B-side “Afraid to Crash.” “Desert Rats” juxtaposes an optimistic sound with lyrics about living in Arizona with nothing, and the introspective “Afraid to Crash” is about the fear of crashing and desensitization.

“These songs are representative of who we are and what direction we are going,” Prier says. “It comes from real stuff. It comes from personal experiences.”

Preston, Prier, Chapman and Johnson have had a chance to be part of different scenes.

Prier started out in Missouri at age 16 with Chalmers Green, a group that later became The Black Moods.

Before moving to Phoenix in 2002, Preston played in El Paso and opened for the Flock of Seagulls with his former band Cotton. In Arizona, he has been part of different groups, including Jesse Nova, Mister Lucky, the Low Men and Ruca. Briefly, at the end of 2017, he released a solo album, but he also started his new band around the same time.

Chapman moved to Los Angeles for a time with his band Dirty Lingo, which he was with for 15 years, but ultimately decided to return to Phoenix. He co-founded the Parlor Birds about three years ago.

Johnson has been part of the Phoenix music scene for over 20 years. Before that, he had performed in Massachusetts. He says he really started to pursue music as a profession after moving to Arizona.

Nearly two years ago, Johnson had a stroke and had to relearn everything, including playing music.

“It was super frustrating. It was really scary,” Johnson says.

Music has always been one of the most important things in his life.

“There was never anything else,” Johnson says. “Most of the musicians I know, that’s the case. It’s not just a job. It’s kind of religious. When I was first starting, I lost jobs because I was writing songs. Nothing else mattered like that, not women, not anything until I had kids.”

For him as a songwriter, it is important to bring personal music with which others can connect.

“I’m not afraid to be honest about myself, which is the kind of music that I like. I like music that’s honest, and you believe in what the person is saying,” Johnson says.

Many of the musicians in the four groups work full-time jobs by day and play music by night. Some are also raising young children while pursuing careers in music. Balancing the two worlds can be challenging, especially with little ones in the mix. A few of them taken breaks from music or scaled down on touring when their children were younger.

Chapman, the father of a 1-year-old baby, says his passion for music pushes him to continue despite his hectic schedule.

“I was telling my wife that if I didn’t feel compelled to play music, it would be really easy to just stop,” he says. “I’ve been playing music for 20 years now. I just can’t imagine not doing it. I don’t know who I would be.”

Shawn Johnson and the Foundation w/the Parlor Birds, Doug Preston and the Soul Searchers and the Real Fakes, Last Exit Live, 717 S. Central Avenue, Phoenix, 602.271.7000,, 7 p.m. doors and 8 p.m. show, Friday, December 20, tickets start at $20.