METROnome: Phoenix blog showcases both indie musical talent and Arizona scenery

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Freddie Paull and Mandi Kimes are the creators of Underground Alt, a music blog that strives to spotlight talented artists. (Sierra LaDuke/DD)
Mandi Kimes and Freddie Paull are founders of Underground Alt, a new music blog that spotlights talented local artists by filming them perform in different Arizona settings. (Sierra LaDuke/DD)

It requires little for Phoenix’s world of downtown arts and culture to captivate a person. Our community structure is intricate, enrapturing — a net of interwoven families and friendships tied together by artistic expression. But this is contrary to popular belief.

When it comes to Arizona, national media outlets have blared about political backwardness, as well as recent cases of measles and the Super Bowl. Headlines have failed to acknowledge the physical identity of Phoenix itself and, equally important, the growth of an up-and-coming culture: Phoenix music.

From the need for the world to understand the aesthetic beauty of Phoenix and its music scene, Underground Alt was born.

Founders Mandi Kimes and Freddie Paull saw limited awareness of local arts as a chance to carry out their mission: to showcase undiscovered musicians and local destinations at an international level through live, intimate sessions. Since the launch of their music blog on Jan. 5, the founders have done just that.

The videos shot by Underground Alt display the raw talent of musicians visiting or living in the Phoenix area, ranging from local acoustic duo Vinyl Station to Canadian band The Bros. Landreth. After Kimes (director of operations) recruits the music artists, Paull (director of production) films them against a unique Arizona backdrop.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Jake Greider performs “Shapeshifters”

“In addition to exposing local artists, we’re also exposing our city,” Kimes said. “National bands, most of the time, will not book here, because Phoenix is a secondary market, so by us showcasing the mountains and the desert and the sunset — places that we have here — we’re showing them. Yes, we’re not LA and we’re not national, but we’re different than that. We’re something much more passionate than that.”

These backgrounds, which have included the stunning Hole-in-the-Rock at Papago Park in the sunset, emphasize the musicians’ styles. Acoustic sets are placed in more naturalistic environments, whereas the more electric band Ana Log will be filmed in Cartel Coffee Lab‘s brewery for an upcoming video.

“When it comes to the bands, we are very meticulous about where we place them, where we film them,” Paull said. “We always try to pick a place that matches their sound, and image, and style.”

Similarly, the idea of private live sessions was carefully thought out by the founders.

“I think there’s a phenomenon where you may not like an album, but if you go and watch that album performed live, it’s hard not to like aspects of it,” Paull said. “I think the same thing can be said for having live bands perform these acoustic sounds in person. I think it’s a good way to show someone’s favorite band in a more intimate environment, in a way they’ve never seen or heard that music before.”

Kimes and Paull have also worked to strengthen the community of Phoenix musicians, challenging featured artists to creatively cover fellow local bands. Underground Alt’s latest video, in which Longbird created an a cappella rendition of Northern Hustle’s percussive “Empty Notes,” is the perfect example.

Longbird performs Northern Hustle’s “Empty Notes”

Although the founders just recently began this not-for-profit music project, they have years of experience within the music industry.

Kimes has gone from playing in local band Emby Alexander and majoring in music business to writing her own blog, Mixtape Mandi. She currently works in marketing and promotion for Danny Zelisko Presents.

Paull — who says he found a passion for music through his father’s CD collection when he lived in England — melded his musical appreciation with his passion for film by founding Electric Legend Pictures in 2009. With this production company, he has shot various music videos, notably for local band Bogan Via. He and Kimes met through their mutual connection with the band.

“No matter what music is playing, I just have a very visual mind when it comes to it,” Paull said. “I just see things. I see camera movements. I see events happening. I see interaction between people, and so that very much helps me conceptualize these things.”

Though Kimes and Paull fully coordinate Underground Alt, they admit this venture was largely a result of Jonathon McDonald, manager of the Crescent Ballroom. McDonald expressed the need for community members to be proactive in getting Phoenix music out there.

“He was the spark that lit the fuse,” Paull said.

The founders, seeing the importance of benefitting the local art scene, primarily utilize social media to spread the word about deserving, undiscovered talents.

“It’s really hard for an artist to make money these days because there are so many vultures in their industry, just sapping that money from them, because they know they can get away with it,” Paull said.

Alongside a plan to get McDonald involved in the future, the band has hopes to film international bands covering Phoenix musicians. Though Kimes spoke of a “hesitation factor” for musicians receiving Underground Alt’s proposals, due to its recent creation, they also dream to feature and bring greater exposure to some of their favorite musicians — Hozier for Kimes and Dr. Dog for Paull.

For now, the founders’ satisfaction is purely derived from a passion for aiding musicians.

“My goal, personally, for Underground Alt, is that whatever bands we expose out there get ahead in their career because of us, as well as their hard work and dedication,” Kimes said.

Kimes believes that Phoenix already has a strong setting; its artists only need a push to grow into a nationally recognized community.

“In Phoenix, what I’ve noticed in particular is that our sense of community is so strong. Bands are friends with other bands. We’re not here to tear anyone else down.”

Contact the columnist at Emily.Liu@asu.edu.