Songs In The Key Of… Tucson, Arizona

XIXA by Puspa Lohmeyer
XIXA by Puspa Lohmeyer

XIXA: Gabriel Sullivan and Brian Lopez, take us into the soundscape of Tucson. Photo: Puspa Lohmeyer

Gabriel Sullivan and Brian Lopez of XIXA assume the role of tour guides as we head into the Arizonan desert

XIXA are a band who take their desert and Latin roots and turn them into something unique. Their dark, cumbia-tinged psychedelic rock is a sound which embodies their home of Tucson, Arizona and allows them to weave gothic storytelling into their grinding rhythms. The six-piece recently returned with a new four-track EP, The Code, a quartet of songs which further refine their sound, distilling the more expansive strokes of last album Bloodline into the true sound of, “The New Southwest.”

Here, co-lead vocalists and guitarists, Gabriel Sullivan and Brian Lopez, take us into the soundscape of Tucson, an alluvial plain in the Sonoran Desert which is surrounded by five minor mountain ranges – it’s no surprise it’s the home evocative music, though it does make you wonder why Jojo was in such a hurry to leave. To listen to all 10 tracks in one go, check out the Spotify playlist.

Gabriel Sullivan

“These dudes have all been staples in the Tucson and Arizona music scene. Every band and project they’ve each taken part in seems to find its way to the front of the pack in no time. Their last LP, Sonoran Depravation, is absolutely one of my favourite heavy records to come out of Arizona and holds true to their description of their music as, ‘Sonoran Death Metal.’ The violent music scene in Tucson is thriving and these dudes are heading it!”

“Karima has for many years been one of my absolute favourite artists in Tucson. She knows no limits in her creativity and explores all sonic paths ranging from singing classic American country music to performances based around pure sound design and lack of melody. A mesmerizing and angelic voice to boot, she’s surely representing a fragile and perfectly delicate energy of our lands.”

“I’ll never forget the first time I saw Lana Del Rabies perform. I walked into a club that was flooded with video projection and a woman shredding her vocal cords on top of a monstrous orchestra of metal scraping and grinding. It was one of the most terrifying and exciting performances I’ve ever seen. There is an urgency and a hurt and a violence in her music that I so often miss in music from Tucson. The desert is a dark and protected place. It is designed to hurt if you don’t pay attention.”

“The project of XIXA’s key visual artist, Daniel Martin Diaz, Trees Speak is an exploration into the subconscious and the unseen. It is an improvisational-based project that interchanges members and centres around the world that Daniel has created with his art and philosophy. It sounds like no other from this area.”

“Billy Sedlmayr is without a doubt one of my favourite songwriters. A man who helped birth the Tucson music scene in the 80s has lived a life no writer could ever dream up and has come out the other end, continuing to pen some of the finest poetry put to music I have ever heard. He is the resilience of the desert. He is the tower of creativity and perseverance that I so often look for. And for some, Tucson does indeed kill.”

Brian Lopez

“Giant Sand has enjoyed a four-decade run of constant output. As a songwriter, Howe Gelb is about as prolific as they come, having released 50 albums or so (just think about that for a second…!) This particular song is from my favourite Giant Sand album, proVISIONS, and features some clever Gelb wordplay to go along with that erosion-rock sound, and happenstance production which Giant Sand wears famously.”

“Perhaps the biggest Tucson export, Calexico broke out onto the international scene in the late 90s/early 2000s and have never looked back. To many fans worldwide, their sound is now synonymous with the Southwestern United States. Many listeners would cite their “Mariachi” or “Spaghetti-Western” leanings, but I tend to gravitate towards the darker, more cinematic songs in their vast catalogue. Black Heart is an example of Calexico at their cinematic finest.”

“Sergio Mendoza is the leader of this mambo/cumbia Latin big band. We all came up in the music scene together as kids in the mid-2000s, and Cumbia Volcadora is a good indicator as to where Sergio and his Latin-infused big band are at these days. If you ain’t dancing to this, I don’t know what your problem is…”

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“Cumbia is a way of life in Tucson, Arizona and Vox Urbana are most authentic ambassadors of the genre. Any time there is a Vox Urbana show in town, you can be assured that there’s a mofo dance-party going on. Cuentan Los Cerros provides some of the key melodic and rhythmic elements that make cumbia so damn infectious.”

“I just love Matt Rendon’s 60s pop sensibilities – as a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and as a producer. I’ve rewarded longevity in my picks here, and Matt has been putting out music for many, many years. Music which, in my opinion, has never gotten the attention it deserves. Perhaps because his sound does not resonate (no pun intended) with people’s romanticized notion of a “desert sound”. But a good song is a good song is a good song. So there.”

The Code is out now – you can watch the official video on YouTube – and for all the latest news on the band, go to

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