Saying Thanks

A band that says it just plays for beer celebrates the release of their first CD

Every band has a story behind its formation, but Tucson's George Squier Orchestra's is more unusual than most.

Colorado transplant Nathan Hendler (guitar, vocals) had a prejudice against local bands, mostly based on the fact that his friends' bands in high school, well, sucked. Even after moving to Tucson in 1995, that attitude stuck.

"This is nonsense," he says, "but I never actually liked local music--I was pretty sure it all had to suck, even though I didn't really even give it a try. I mean, who goes and listens to local music, right? Like, alcoholics and hipsters or whatever. It just wasn't what I was doing."

But there were two annual Tucson events that he attended regularly that helped change his mind.

"I would always go to the Wooden Ball and the Cover-Up. And the Wooden Ball was kind of fun, but the Cover-Up, I thought was just amazing. I was in love with it." He decided to put together a band to perform a set of songs by his beloved Ween at the Great Cover-Up. He took an extra job bartending at Club Congress to raise the money to buy a guitar, despite not knowing how to play it. Once he bought it, "It sat on my bed for a long time, about four years."

But in 2002, he took action. "I was trying to think who I knew that could play music," he says. "I knew Monte (Workman) was really good on the keyboards, and (sisters Bonnie and Melinda Ritter, drums/vocal and bass/vocals, respectively) had been in Clovenhoof. ... So I figured I didn't really have to do anything; I could just put it together."

Hendler downloaded guitar chord charts and tabs, and began teaching himself how to play Ween songs, and the band--dubbed the George Squier Orchestra, after the creator of Muzak--began practicing for the gig. "I started singing some of the songs by default, because I knew the Ween lyrics," says Hendler.

Then they got some bad news: Because they were a completely unknown entity, they were denied a slot in The Great Cover-Up. (Note: As one of the organizers of the event, I was partially responsible for their denial.) Still, they were having so much fun playing together that they soldiered on, and soon began to write their own songs. Just a week after scoring their first gig, one of their guitarists moved away and was replaced by veteran musician John Sweeden (currently also of Electroshockbox), finalizing their current lineup.

The past four years have seen the GSO playing out regularly in local clubs and embarking on a few regional tours, releasing a homemade CD-R and, in 2004, finally garnering that elusive Cover-Up slot playing Ween songs--an appearance so successful that it warranted an encore, a unique occurrence in the event's nine years.

This week brings the release of the band's first proper CD, George, as well as a 7-inch single with two new songs--both released on Bloat Records. The disc contains most of the material found on the earlier CD-R, but with many of the songs re-recorded under the extensive guidance of producer Serge, of The Pork Torta. (The album was recorded in three sessions: two at Loveland Studio with Nathan Sabatino engineering, and one at WaveLab Studio, with Craig Schumacher.) The CD contains 11 songs (plus two remixes) of quirky pop that employ Ween-esque flanged guitar, retro-futuristic keyboard sounds and surf guitar motifs à la the B-52's, with an overall not-taking-ourselves-too-seriously vibe--which also extends to the goofy-in-a-good-way lyrics. Meanwhile, the vinyl single contains the infectious "Shaker," a foray into hip-hop territory, with added spy-theme guitar and some seriously twisted slide. Throughout, the band benefits from male/female vocal interplay, which adds a charming dynamic.

For the GSO's release party, they decided to do something "quirky, like we are," says Melinda. The show will carry a '60s/'70s flight-attendant theme, with animated video projections created by Workman, and guest spots from the likes of Al Perry, Gary Bear, Cobra McVey (Winelord) and Serge, each of whom will sing both a George Squier Orchestra song as well as one of their own compositions with the GSO backing them.

Most of all, though, the band's members are just proud of how far they've come, and they see the release of the CD and single as evidence of that.

"We're just an amateur band that plays for beer," says Hendler, "but I feel damn lucky that we get to play in this town. It's really accommodating. If we hadn't made the friends we've made and had these venues that are encouraging and ask us to play, and other bands who are nice, I'm sure we would have stopped playing a long time ago. Maybe that's what this show is all about--thanking everyone."

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