The career trajectory of Tucson rock 'n' rollers the Gaza Strip is all but aping the mood of the nation, and that's no coincidence. What was once a hilarious, self-effacing, sharp-witted punk-rock outfit has taken a darker turn. The smarts are still in place, but the funny-factor is a little tougher to pull together. The moodiness, though, is no bad thing.
"We had a hard time taking ourselves seriously at the beginning," says singer and guitarist Geremy Cady. "We just didn't think we could be taken seriously, so we embraced writing whatever we wanted to, again thinking that it wouldn't go anywhere. But it caught on. We got crowds quick. We got shows quick. We loved it. It became natural. It became something we did all the time."
Gaza Strip formed in Tucson in 2006. It was initially a three-piece, though only Cady and fellow singer/guitarist Keith Lamott remain from that original lineup. All were working at a call center and, during break-time chats, discovered that they had music in common. A band was born though, 11 years later, it has been through some significant changes.
"To be honest, in the beginning there wasn't a set goal," Cady says. "We had songs that would sound all over the place, and we found that certain people in the scene all advised the same thing, which was we needed to pick a sound. That was everybody's advice, so we honed in on a grunge sound, just because that was the most natural for everyone. Now, we have a specific sound. It's definitely our sound, but we can still manage to change it up a little. Have some soft stuff and some heavy stuff, some goofy rap stuff, and everybody knows that's not beyond us."
Everybody might be filled with that sort of confidence now, but that wasn't always the case. The 2011 album Makes No Sense ended with a song called "Haha! We're On This Stage," a fairly blatant self-mockery blended with triumphant, glorious show-boating.
"There were times on that album where we tried to hone a sound, hone a direction, and please what we thought were the powers that be," says Cady. "We were getting these incredible gigs that we thought most people would not expect us to be getting. We were pulling great crowds, and that song is the middle finger to all the doubters."
It felt like the band was hitting its stride after Makes No Sense, but there was a six-year gap until the next album, this year's Listen. As it turns out, they have a good excuse.
"The only thing that prompted the breaks was that members kept on having kids," Cady says. "It's like, 'I can't dedicate the time and resources; I have to dedicate everything to that,' and everybody understands that. It kept happening. First, Keith had a kid, then Levi [Misner], the drummer, had a kid. It kept happening. Once it got to a point where everyone was good to go again, we got right back into it and then wrote this last one."
It's a solid piece of work too, though, as previously mentioned, a lot more serious. Any of the bubblegum pop-punk sensibilities and party-boy lyrics have been replaced by some serious crunch and words with weight. The production is superb too—this is the sound of a band that means business.
"I feel like when we first started and were doing the silly stuff, we were all younger," Cady says. "Now, it's a couple of kids later. There's definitely a more serious tone to this third album. We don't try to force any of our writing—we just write whatever comes out. Maybe the state of the world that it's in. I feel like most of that album was being written during pre and right around campaign time and all this craziness. It's just a crazy time."
Talking of crazy times, Cady is impressed with the quality of bands that are still coming out of this area, though he says that's always been the case. The scene, he says, feels the same. Only the names are different.
"It hasn't really changed that much, other than it's new bands coming through, trying it out," he says. "People get older and stop doing it, or they actually move on and go somewhere bigger—L.A. or New York. I feel like it really hasn't changed that much for me since 2006. Venues change and the bands playing change, but downtown Tucson has always been a cool scene. I've never had trouble finding other musicians to play with and finding places to play. It's actually a really cool scene for such a small town."
On Saturday, Nov. 25, they play at Sky Bar, and they return to that venue for another show on Friday, Dec. 15. As is the norm for them, the shows will have their own specific theme.
"We always dress up and pick some theme and encourage fans to dress up however they want to," Cady says. "Whether they do is up to them. I'm pretty sure the theme we're going with this week is religion. If anyone wants to dress appropriately, they're always welcome to, but to each his own. As far as set lists, we try to push the new stuff as much as possible but there's always old ones that we pull out because people seem to like them."
Those two shows will see out the year for the band, as they look to tour in 2018 while writing material for a fourth album. As long as none of them have another kid, there's no reason why they can't keep marching forward.
In closing though, we did have to wonder: Is Gaza Strip ever confused for the GazaStrippers, the Chicago rock 'n' roll band formed by Rich Sims, formerly of the Supersuckers? After all, that band has an international following and a 20-year career behind them.
"I am aware of them," Cady says. "I don't believe I was aware of them when our band was named back in 2006. I'm sure they already existed. My musical knowledge was pretty limited. I was stuck in one small window of music that I was into. So I don't think I was aware of them back then. There's one artist whose name is Gaza Strip, like ours. He's an Australian DJ. There was some confusion there because our names are identical. When we first started signing up online to Spotify, CD Baby and all these online sites, our stuff got mixed in with his for a while. We've gotten that all fixed and situated now."
For fans of quality rock (and Australian EDM), that will come as some relief.