Even for those born in Tucson, those who've lingered around on the edge of the desert their whole lives, the landscape that emerges beyond the city holds a distinct and bewildering power.
It's captivating, no matter how you experience the desert, either looking at the wide expanse of strange life, or zeroing in on the stranger details. That space, and its aura, holds endless inspiration for XIXA, in ways both direct and circumspect.
For Brian Lopez—one half of the creative duo behind the psychedelic, mystic, Latin-flavored band XIXA—a recent trip to see friends way out west, far beyond the city limits, where blacklights are necessary to illuminate the dangers of scorpions, speaks to that inspiration.
"I've been living in Armory Park too long," he says. "I get out into the desert and it's insane and prickly and fierce. There's beauty to it, but it's bleak out there, and ruthless. I think about the music we're making like that."
After a two-year cycle that saw the band tour relentlessly after the release of its debut EP Shift and Shadow and follow-up LP Bloodline, finding a particularly enthusiastic reception in Europe, XIXA settled into its home base of Dust & Stone Recording Studio early this year to write and record for the next phase.
With Lopez and Gabriel Sullivan, both on guitar and vocals, joined by Jason Urman on keyboard, Efren Cruz Chavez on percussion, Winston Watson on drums, and Hikit Corbel and Geoffrey Hidalgo on bass, XIXA has steadily evolved from its early days covering psychedelic cumbia tunes as Chicha Dust into a hard-to-quantify rock band, with a killer live show.
"The root of everything we've done with this band is pull and extract everything we can from the types of music we love," Sullivan says. "Even through all the touring, it felt like we're still figuring out what XIXA was. On stage, the Bloodline songs take on a more natural feel. It's this gothic western, mystical, magical world that we didn't quite understand when we were recording."
The first hint of the band's next phase is "Tombstone Rashomon," which the band originally wrote specifically for the film of the same name. After local DJ Carl Hanni introduced filmmaker Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy) to the music of XIXA, the director asked for a song, though it ultimately wasn't used. With its dark lyrical imagery and epic music, the song tells the story of the famous O.K. Corral gunfight, in XIXA's own unique way.
"It was fun to go to that narrative, to write through that different lens," Lopez says. "It's very Spaghetti Western, but still has a lot of our personality to it."
Different than Bloodline, the new song marked a certain point of departure for XIXA, with a cinematic sweep that places the band in new territory, but with the confidence and natural, lived-in sound that's developed playing every night on the road.
"We've been touring for 18 months and played the shit out of Bloodline. The second time around, you're just trying to assess what those 18 months were," Lopez says. "With 'Tombstone Rashomon,' it did help us concentrate on a focal point and a sound going into this follow up and what we're going to be about in the long run. There are some blatant Western things, but it's still touching on the cumbia and the darker psychedelic thing we have."
XIXA has tons of new music in the works, with plans for an EP to release in the fall and a new full-length record coming this winter. The band considers "Tombstone Rashomon" as the "flagship" for what those next couple releases will be.
"Before we started writing for the new record, we wanted to put it out as a single and get the ball rolling for a new album. This single is a big start for something that will crescendo as the year ends," Lopez says.
That burst of creativity and songwriting is made possible by Dust & Stone, which gives the band the luxury of working out ideas at their own space, which would be cost prohibitive to try anywhere else.
"We've never not worked an idea. Whenever anybody brings something in, we work it," Sullivan says. "There are all kinds of ways and paths to getting a song. We might have 100 ideas that don't make it on the record, but you never know. It's certainly a place formed around XIXA. There's so much energy in that room, so many different instruments that all made their way onto XIXA songs. There's definitely a lot of mojo in there."
"We've done so many different things," Lopez adds. "So we have to be open to anything now, be fluid and ambidextrous as far as the creative process. We have someone like Gabe, who's a proven producer, so it's pretty amazing to be in a band that has someone who can piece things together. So we're just able to go in there every day. When you get there, it's dark and familiar, but you're in a new world. Right when you show up, you know you're working. It's like any other job, except you want to be there."
A new video directed by frequent XIXA collaborator Daniel Martin Diaz & Lesli Wood (for AnonymousSourceFilms) accompanies "Tombstone Rashomon."
Over time working on the art and photography that accompanies XIXA's music, Sullivan and Diaz have discussed how approaches like blacklight scorpion photography and time-lapse panoramas of the night sky have "a weird way of capturing the desert inside out," Sullivan says. "That's descriptive of where we're heading sonically."
"Definitely, this marks a new visual realm for the band, and a new stage aesthetic," Sullivan says. "Daniel has been integral and continues to be. When we're creating music for XIXA, his aesthetic world is floating around in my mind at all times."
"And I've spoken to Daniel and for him, it's the opposite, he says 'The music you're creating is in my mind,'" Lopez counters.
"Tombstone Rashomon" is the perfect starting point for this new phase of XIXA because the band got to concentrate on a single song, self-release it, and control every aspect of the product. The only physical release will be 133 lathe cut records, with each cover screen printed by hand.
"It felt like we were really taking hold again of everything we do and really creating an extremely artistic little capsule, with the video and the song itself and now the physical product," Sullivan says. "The song itself is so powerful and epic, it would overshadow any other songs that sat next to it. 'Tombstone' is trying to find all the dark and mystic energy that's clearly here in this environment. It's a well that hasn't been tapped yet."