“We’re living in some strange and unusual times, and the fire just seems to be the cherry on the sundae,” said Jonathan Goldman in September from his home in Los Angeles.
Goldman and William Preston Bowling are the founding members of the Phoenix 80s band Basic Elements, and as wildfires raged across their adopted home state, we took a trip back in time to 1984–85 when the Shadow Mountain High School students first founded their band.
Longtime friends, Bowling and Goldman met in 1977, bonding over their shared interest in Star Wars. Then, along came the 80s and high school.
Bowling: “Yeah, we started out totally focused on science fiction and building models and Legos and then at one point we started getting into music and guitars and synthesizers.”
Goldman: “That would have been early 80s, ’82, ’83, and you’ve gotta remember, this was before, in Arizona, you get like KDKB, KUPD, and maybe every now and then, Gary Numan would break through, or The Cars, or maybe hear some Blondie, so Bill and I grew up on Van Halen and Pink Floyd and rock ‘n’ roll, but there was something about this new sound.”
Goldman: “Honestly, I think it was probably ‘Hungry Like the Wolf,’ and we were just like, ‘What the…’ and then MTV dropped and you saw the marriage of video and music and our minds were blown. So, we went from listening to emulating.”
Goldman: “And back then, if we wanted to look like the people that were making the music that we thought was cool, we had to go to PV Mall and go to the ‘Gear for Guys’ section of Judy’s, or, honestly, I’d go into my mother’s wardrobe…”
Bowling: “I think the funniest time was when my mom asked me where I wanted to go shopping for back-to-school and I said Capezio on Scottsdale Road.”
It wasn’t long before the self-described “scrawny dudes wearing women’s clothing and eye liner” found trouble with their peers. They were harassed and occasionally beat up — they did make some friends, though.
Goldman: “The girlfriends of the dudes that were beating us up were always wanting to hang out with us because we were boys that liked Duran Duran.”
Bolwing: “‘Oh, male Duranies!’”
But then, an epiphany.
Goldman: “Bill and I saw, I think it was at Shea Plaza Cinema, we were just getting sick of getting beat up and snuck into a movie, an R-rated movie, and we saw Revenge of the Nerds, and you know, there’s that climactic scene in that movie where the nerds at the festival; the nerds do their concert, they play their song and they get all the points and they get all the girls. And Bill and I were like, ‘Wait a minute, we should start a band.’ So, it was like a literal revenge of the nerds, or revenge of the new wavers that inspired us to just give it a try.”
Basic Elements was formed with Matt Barton on drums, Bowling on bass, John Denis on vocals, Goldman on synth and David Youssefi on guitar.
The band began by playing house parties and what they jokingly referred to as their “lunchtime concert series” at Shadow Mountain and other area high schools — Chaparral, Horizon and Deer Valley. Then, in a moment of inspiration, their “manager,” Sean McFarland, got them a gig on the stage outside of a Howard Jones concert at the Arizona State Fair. That inspired October night in 1985 is what put them on the map.
Bowling: “We started playing bars after that. Franco from the Jar would call and say, ‘I want that kid band.’”
The Mason Jar (now The Rebel Lounge) was an iconic venue for music in Phoenix, and Goldman recalled playing there at 15 and the owner, Franco Gagliano, telling them, “Hey, great set guys, I need you out of here in 10 minutes.”
The band played many venues around town where a group of teenagers couldn’t linger, and opened for hitmakers of the 80s such as Gene Loves Jezebel (at the Jar) and The Bolshoi, and played alongside well-known Arizona bands like Caterwaul and Gentlemen Afterdark.
Flash forward to today’s “strange and unusual times,” and the band, with all of its original members (but now a graphic artist, a real-estate agent, a sculptor, a TV producer and an attorney), is set to release its first single, “Hide.” The track is the first song the band wrote and played live in 1985. It was their anti-authoritarian fight song, and they felt that it also captures the feeling of the current moment.
Bowling: “To take you back in time, Jonathon and I were wearing Frankie Goes to Hollywood T-shirts and we thought that whole fight between Reagan and Gorbachev, the ‘Two Tribes,’ was kind of a theme we were looking for, ‘Hide from your leader.’”
After reuniting and playing together for the first time since disbanding in 1990, the band played a show at The Mint in late 2019. It felt so right that they decided to make it official and record five original tracks that they first recorded in Goldman’s parents’ garage in 1985.
They took their 1985 cassette and a 2019 iPhone recording to Ed Buller, “synth god” turned music producer. Buller, the legend behind some of the Psychedelic Furs most iconic hits and producer of bands like Suede and Pulp, agreed to come on board.
Goldman: “He was like, you know, these are pretty good 80s songs, man.”
Recorded at the iconic Glenwood Studios, the music goes so far beyond simple nostalgia — it doesn’t just capture the feel of 80s music, it IS 80s music. For those who grew up in the era, “Hide” will feel familiar yet completely new. Younger generations who may be fans of the TV show “Stranger Things” will instantly recognize its pure 80s vibe. So, 35 years after its conception, the single “Hide” drops Oct. 2 on all “major platforms.”
Goldman: “Yeah, they should be able to get it on Apple, they should be able to get it on Spotify. I don’t know what else people use other than that, Amazon?”
Bowling: “Columbia House!”
Four additional singles will be released in 2021. Once complete, the band plans to release a vinyl press of the entire Ed Buller sessions along with a B-Side of the original recordings from 1985. On the horizon, a homecoming show in Arizona (preferably at The Rebel Lounge).
Goldman agreed that, with the release of their original music all these years later, the group really has come full circle in their Revenge of the Nerds tale, concluding, “The only thing that would be better is if people actually listen to it.” |CST