Sights and Sounds

Pop Narkotic headquarters offers a place for small bands and community in the middle of Tucson living room

This is Jimi Giannatti's living room, but certain evenings every week it's transformed into a concert venue and community space that puts the 61-year-old blue-haired photographer right in the center of one of his greatest loves—music.

Giannatti, who's had a long varied career as a Hollywood and rock 'n' roll photographer for outlets such as a Spin, opened his doors last year to create a concert venue for small local and traveling bands.

"Rock 'n' roll is just a garage band that doesn't give a fuck about anything but the music," says Giannatti, sitting calmly behind his desk with late '90's alternative jams playing in the background.

Through his company, Pop Narkotic, Giannatti creates professional posters and photos for bands who often don't have the capital to back up their talent.

"I think everyone deserves to have a bitching poster and a bitching photo," Giannatti says.

The musician playing on this particular Wednesday night is Al Foul, typically a one-man rockabilly band, but tonight he's accompanied by an old school bass and a second guitarist.

As the small crowd trickles into the house, the band takes the stage. The musicians are draped in the glow of LED Christmas lights, a small evergreen tree sits on the piano in the back of the room. The crowd is sitting on the rug in the adjacent room, some are lounging on the couch sipping beer. It's like an ugly Christmas sweater party meets a backyard punk party meets a jazz club as the crowd stares intently at the band's opening song.

They start off with a fast-paced rockabilly twang. In the corner a soft-spoken man in a red jacket catching every second on his recorder. Listening through his headphones, he makes sure he's getting every note for his podcast, Live On Tape. Bryan Sanders started the podcast several years ago to find the sounds and people in Tucson that make it uniquely Baja. He records most of the shows that happen at his long-time friend Giannatti's house.

"There's a lot happening here," Sanders says. "The scene has become really crazy and sick with young talent making all kinds of crazy music.".

Through Giannatti's time at Spin, he's seen all types of fame, from DJ Jazzy Jeff to Robert Plant and Flava Flav. After spending much time in big cities like New York, Paris and LA, he became rather unimpressed with the lure of fame and moved to Bisbee, Arizona, helping put on concerts at venues throughout the small town. It was there that he made his first poster for his late friends , Derrick and Amy Ross, also known as Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl.

"We just thought 'Let's make it seem like you're playing this huge giant gig,'" Giannatti recalls. Soon after he was inundated with requests for posters from other local bands. "People come up to me and say 'Dude your poster was so much better than the band and I'm pissed at you.'"

Escaping Bisbee, he came to the Goldilocks-sized town of Tucson—not too big, not too small. He soon started making posters for Tucson bands, and when they couldn't find a venue he turned his house into a concert hall.

"You can't have Van Gogh come sit down in your house and watch him paint Starry Night in front of you, but you can go down to Congress and listen to Brian Lopez singing. You can go up and squeeze his face," Giannatti says.

For Sanders, the enjoyment comes from finishing each podcast. He spends hours interviewing artists, overlaying their music and getting ambient sounds from concerts, like the one's at Giannatti's. The goal is to try and stay true to the music and the community.

"Everything is so inauthentic," says Giannatti. "just about everything that rolls down this street is bullshit." Trying to convince the small music scene that you're all about the art is hard for people in the industry, especially when you're a promoter, according to Giannatti. They view it as the bad capitalist side of music.

"I don't blame them, looking at some old dude going ,'Hey look, I'm having a party at my house come on over,'" Giannatti says. "They don't realize that we can use our powers for good."

During the small living-room concert, he goes to work, taking pictures and greeting guests, his face aglow with the screen on his camera. Every moment of the concert is documented by Sanders and Giannatti in sound and photo.

"You take money out of the equation and you spend hours and hours, you can make something really cool," Giannatti says. What the future holds for both of these underground musical entrepreneurs of sorts, they don't know.

"If it sounds like it does now in five years, I'll be surprised," Sanders says, of his podcast. He wants to add spoken word and other local celebrities to his shows. He's been branching out to other states as well, and even Mexico.

For Giannatti, taking pictures of local bands is a calling he has only actualized through his years as a photographer in the music industry.

"You can go to Paris or, you know, the Grand Canyon to take pictures, but these [musicians], they are my Eiffel Towers, these are my Grand Canyons," Giannatti says.