By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
Too many bands—the Caesars, the Datsun 4, the D4, and every other act that proves that socialized, Second World health care torpedoes credible rock & roll—bought their '60s retro sound where they bought their '60s retro furniture: IKEA, where everything comes cheap, clean, stylish and flawlessly mass-produced. But Tucson's Okmoniks are proud that their '60s garage-rock sound came at a '60s garage-sale price, salvaged from the lonely thrift stores and bargain bins of their adopted desert hometown.
The Okmoniks start their music with such back-to-basics bargains and then just keep . . . going . . . back. "We wanted to do real DYI—wait, did I say 'DYI'?" asks singer/vintage-organ player Helene 33, who, with guitarist Sammy, drummer Justin and bassist Trent, is happy to be part of one of the few exciting things in Tucson that doesn't involve methamphetamines, miniature golf or scorpion bites. "I'm kind of DUI right now."
But it's that kind of tipsy, haphazard, do-it-yourself personality that makes the Okmoniks so charming—and cheap. Their first single, produced on their own In-Fi Records for a $50 donation and a pizza, repeats on both sides, just like their subsequent single. "If you scratch one side," notes Helene, "the other side is ready to go!" They found a better way to pinch pennies with the next record. "We put it on mixed-color vinyl, which is called 'trash vinyl,' which is run-off from other vinyl." So, your records are made from the blobby leftovers of other peoples' records? "Exactly!" says Helene.
The savings don't stop there. Helene twists her perky-to-manic-to-Freddy-"Boom Boom"-Canon organ lines—the cornerstone of the Okmoniks sound, and arguably the hook that keeps the rest of the band from slipping into surly lo-fi obscurity—out of a vintage Hammond Sounder that she picked up for $20 at a thrift store. The band made a few modifications, though, but even $80 and a sheepish trip to the organ-repair shop later, they still got away obscenely cheap. Tally that with Helene's much-lauded mod wardrobe and a house full of discarded Space Age furniture, and you'll realize the Okmoniks have almost managed to completely detach themselves from the 21st century—or insert themselves into that swingin' plastic go-go 21st century that never happened. When Helene explains that the most modern—and most expensive—thing in the house is a $300 Pac-Man arcade machine, that's everything you have to know: the Okmoniks don't just live in the past, they pay rent there.
"If we lived in the '60s, it'd be so much better," says Helene. "Sixties Tucson had a really interesting scene. The Dearly Beloved, the Grodes—who we cover—and Alice Cooper's first band, the Spiders From Phoenix. Speedway was the main drag, where people would go out and see shows. Now it's obsolete."
But the Okmoniks must love obsolescence—as part of a tiny Arizona hipster minority, they're living in an Omega Man paradise of trash, a retro wet dream where everything that no one else pays attention to belongs completely to them. They can rip their shtick ("The shtick is that we write two-minute songs, and we never keep any song that isn't incredibly catchy and pretty fast," Helene says) right out of early '80s Boston garage-revival band the Lyres' first genius EPs—all the way down to that cardboard guitar sound—and appreciative but clueless locals will congratulate them for sounding like the Rolling Stones. They can declare themselves "Tucson's No. 1 Party Band!" and get away with it simply by opening the barn doors of the garage where they rehearse and handing cans of Schlitz to passersby. They can get really good by playing to their 30-years-out-of-date records and trying to keep their jaded, sunbaked friends from getting bored.
And when they themselves need relief, there's one place they can go to get away from it all. It's got good music, and the people there understand them—yeah, it's the thrift store.
"We go at least four times a week," Helene says. "Saturday will be the big day. I get all my retro dresses at the thrift store—I think from the old people who die, and their clothes are left over." Isn't that a little morbid? "A little bit," says Helene. "But the funny thing about Tucson: there's all this hip, cool stuff . . . and nobody really to appreciate it!"The Okmoniks perform at the Doll Hut, 107 S. Adams, Anaheim, (714) 533-1286. Fri., 7:30 pm. $7. 21+.