Localized: Azon, The Willkills, Digna y Rebelde

photos by David Newkirk

March’s Localized features three punk bands with very different styles. Prepare to be blown away by the musical stylings of the speedy and heavy Azon, the reggae- infused Willkills and hardcore openers Digna y Rebelde.

Carrie Wakefield - Vocals
Travis Nelson - Bass/ Backing Vocals
Levi Lebo - Guitar
Julie Stutznegger - Guitar/ Backing Vocals
Gavin Hoffman - Drums
Felicia Baca - Keyboards

“[Touring with] All Systems Fail is what propelled me to start AZON,” Julie Stutznegger says. “I hadn’t ever played guitar in a punk band until All Systems Fail, and it was loads of fun.” Stutznegger started experimenting with the concept in late 2006 but says, “the band didn’t gel with real members until 2007.” The band played their first show that spring.

The members of AZON (pronounced with a long “a” and a short “o”) have been playing music for about 20 years so it’s no surprise that they’ve collaborated long before the current project. Stutznegger, Carrie Wakefield and Felicia Baca all played together in Stilleto. Gavin Hoffman and Travis Nelson recently collaborated in Iodina. Nelson and Stutznegger played together in All Systems Fail and Stutznegger and Wakefield both served time in Subrosa. Not to mention the individual projects that the members have been involved with or anything that occurred more than five years ago. “The five year-plan is easy. The 22-year plan is probably more difficult,” Nelson says about the massive musical history of its members.

This history and the diverse backgrounds of the members are contributing factors to their tight and polished sound. Prior to AZON, many of the members were working with lower-energy bands, so the transition to fast, high-energy punk rock was refreshing. “I love playing with Invaders, but I hadn’t played with a punk rock band since We All Fall Down with Travis in 1999,” Hoffman says. “I love it, and it’s a nice change from playing turtle metal.”

Members of the band also credit their polished sound to the additions of Hoffman in April 2008 and Lebo in Sept. 2008. “Gavin is an awesome drummer, and he kind of pulled everyone together,” Stutznegger says. “[Levi] is a lot tighter and adds a lot of balls,” Hoffman says. Another element of the band’s signature sound is Wakefield’s massive vocal presence. She says she has been influenced by The Gits, The Assasonators, Live Skull, Uzi, 45 Grave, The Avengers and Eli Morrison of The Wolfs. “I don’t sing like him, but that was definitely an influence,” Wakefield says.

AZON recorded with Andy Patterson last fall, but they plan to redo portions of the 14-track album before officially releasing it. Lebo was added to the line up mid-recording and learned every AZON song in about three hours. “It’s not that I dislike what I did, but it will just sound better if I’m playing it all through instead of punching it in,” Lebo says. In the meantime, you can find the music on the band’s MySpace page (myspace.com/azonband) or snag a four-track CD-R from Stutznegger at one of the band’s shows. “We initially did the recording as a demo, but it turned out a lot better, and we don’t want it to go to waste,” Hoffman says. “Rather then just letting it sit, Julie has been making four-song CD-Rs.”

Chris Proctor - Bass/Vocals
Sean Christensen - Guitar
Nika Bennett - Drums
Steve Holmes - Guitar

Chris Proctor started the Willkills in 2001. Since that time, the band has gone through six drummers and five guitarists. In 2005, Sean Christensen became the second consistent member of the band, and Nika Bennett was brought in approximately a year ago. The newest addition to the Willkills, Steve Holmes, joined about three months ago. “We were a three-piece for a really long time, and that worked for us, but our sound was getting bigger,” Proctor says. “After we did our last album, we were listening to it and [decided] we needed a second guitarist,” Christensen says. This type of revolving door might destroy other bands, but it seems to have made the Willkills stronger.

Last summer, the band was signed to Orange-Countybased Old Shoe Records after the label flew out to see the band open for Pennywise. The Willkills just finished recording their second full-length album, Rough Times Ahead, and they are waiting to secure a date for the CD release. The album will also be available on iTunes, Amazon and Interpunk.

Increased album distribution isn’t the only thing that scoring a roster spot with Old Shoe Records has done for the band. The Willkills were flown out to BYO’s annual Punk Rock Bowling Tournament in Las Vegas because their label was a sponsor. During the event, they were interviewed for Fuel TV. This summer the band will tour with the Warped Tour for two weeks. “We have more contacts and opportunities with a label,” Proctor says. “Here in Salt Lake City we’re still looked at as a local band, but on tour, with the label support, we look a little more professional.” There is also the bonus of being paid for gas and food.

Although the band has started to gain some national recognition, they aren’t quite used to it. During BYO’s Punk Rock Bowling Tournament, the elevator of the Palms Hotel was plastered with a giant poster of the Willkills, which Bennett describes as being really awkward. “The cleaning lady was in the elevator with me and asked me for my autograph because I was on the poster,” Christensen says. “You should have signed her boobs - ‘Whip them out I’ll sign your boobs,’” Proctor says sarcastically. Luckily these guys haven’t gained a rock star demeanor since being signed. They seem much more comfortable in the land of boner jokes (they plan to spike other Warped Tour band’s drinks with Viagra while on the tour), harmless pranks (like when Nika poached the KORN drum set in the Hard Rock Hotel on a dare) and playing their anti-Nazi song “Bonehead” to a bar full of Nazis in Huntington Beach, Calif. “I didn’t know it was a Nazi bar,” Proctor says, “We hate Nazis. Hate ‘em.” Apparently “all they heard was the ‘F-word’ and ‘Nazis,’” Bennett says. Maybe it was due to the bar’s bad PA … or maybe a toxic combination of alcohol and lack of brain cells.

AZON, The Willkills and openers Digna y Rebelde will play the Urban Lounge on Saturday, March 14.