MUSIC

They never fit in on the Phoenix music scene. Now they're opening for Maynard James Keenan

Ed Masley
Arizona Republic

As an aspiring hip-hop artist doing all she could to gain some kind of foothold in the Phoenix rap scene, Kristen Martinez used to dream of one day playing Arizona Federal Theatre, although she knew it by its former name.

“I saw so many great acts at the Dodge,” Martinez says. “I was like, ‘One day I'm gonna play here.’ I had no idea how I’d ever do that, though, ‘cause no one wanted anything to do with us.”

It was hard enough trying to line up an opening spot on a local bill for the experimental noise-rap she and her friends were doing as GAHEDiNDIE.

"Even at Modified Arts and places that were independent, underground, First Fridays and stuff, for whatever reason, people just wanted nothing to do with us," she says. 

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Kristen Martinez of Moodie Black

In 2009, after three years of struggling to make something happen in Phoenix, Martinez and her crew moved to Minneapolis, drawn by the edgier underground hip-hop scene embodied by Rhymesayers Entertainment and the Doomtree collective. 

Thirteen years later, Martinez, guitarist Sean Lindahl and visual artist Jamee Varda are headed back to Phoenix with their new group, Moodie Black, as the opening act on the Puscifer tour that's playing Arizona Federal Theatre on Saturday, June 11.

"It means everything to me," Martinez says.

"My family still lives there. I have a better perspective now on all the stuff that happened back then. But even now, if it wasn't for Maynard giving us the opportunity, no one would have anything to do with us or want us to play that theater."

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How Moodie Black landed the Puscifer tour

Maynard is Maynard James Keenan, the voice of Puscifer, Tool and A Perfect Circle, who launched a side gig as a winemaker with Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards after leaving L.A. for Jerome, Arizona, in 1995.

Keenan credits his wife with introducing him to Moodie Black.

"She always gets to pick the soundtrack for her birthday during harvest," Keenan says. "And that was on it. So we kind of did a deep dive on them. And it seemed like a good fit."

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Moodie Black

It was about six months ago that Keenan's wife reached out to Moodie Black on Instagram.

"She was like, 'We've been playing your music on our playlist to grow our vines in our vineyards,'" Martinez recalls. "So that was weird. But I was like, 'It's awesome that you do that.'"

As they got to talking, Keenan's wife said she was sending someone from the winery to check out MB Foodhouse, the Minneapolis taco shop Martinez opened during the pandemic.

One Saturday morning, a guy from Caduceus Cellars showed up at the food house, ate a bunch of tacos, bought some merch and hung out for a while.

"We talked for an hour and a half about touring and all the stuff he does for Puscifer," Martinez says. 

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When Maynard James Keenan reached out

"And at the end of our conversation, he was like, 'If you get hit up in the next couple days, I just want you to know it's completely legit. Like, we might hit you up to do a tour, blah, blah.' A few days later, Maynard just reached out directly on Instagram."

They struck up a friendship based primarily on talking about food.

"We don't talk about music," Martinez says. 

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Maynard James Keenan of Puscifer

"He sends me pictures of his espresso machine. But he asked if we wanted to support the tour, and I was like, 'Of course.' We had been looking for an opportunity to do a major tour for, at that point, 15, 16 years. And here's the call."

When Tool played Minneapolis in March, Keenan dropped by the Foodhouse for tacos. 

Martinez says she's hoping Keenan has a chance to catch their set while they're on tour together. 

"We kind of want to tie up all the loose ends," she says. 

"And I think when he sees us live, it'll make a lot more sense to him — like who we are and all that stuff. It makes a lot of sense for us to be on the Puscifer tour because it's  such a different vibe and they're so weird and theatrical. It's a perfect fit for us."

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Coming out as a transgender woman

Martinez came out in 2016 as a transgender woman, having said as much two years earlier in the lyrics to "Linen Funerals" on the Moodie Black "Nausea" album without many people really noticing.

"I just got to a point where I was like, 'I can't hide it anymore,'" she says. "And because Moodie Black was getting a little bit bigger, I didn't want somebody to out me. I wanted to be in control of that narrative. So I was like, 'OK, this is who I am." 

She also felt it was important as an artist. 

"I started to consider how can I continue to write and make music if I can't have my full perspective at my disposal?," she says. "So that was really what pushed me. It was like I can't write, I can't perform, I can't do anything if I'm not me."

There's been some fallout. Her best friend isn't talking to her anymore. Some other friends are now "quieter" friends. It's emerged as the dominant theme in music articles.

"It's been tough," she says. "There's ups and downs with being trans in the music scene, even more so nowadays." 

Which makes it that much more important to be part of this Puscifer tour. 

"It helps to infiltrate these standard cis dudes' spaces and show them we can do these tours. We can do this stuff. It's not about trans or not. We're touring with Puscifer."

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Why Phoenix show is a full-circle moment

The tour, on which they're joined by drummer Bentley Monet of local synth-punk nerd-rap duo Snailmate, is also an amazing opportunity for Moodie Black, and there's something especially sweet about playing a major theater in downtown Phoenix. 

"I think we just got off on a bad foot," Martinez says of her relationship with Phoenix. 

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"I didn't have any connections in the hip-hop community when I first started doing music. And I quickly realized that most of the time when you ask to be an opener, people will ignore you. You've got to know somebody that knows somebody to be an opener."

That didn't seem fair to Martinez, who was barely out of Desert Vista High School at the time.

As she recalls, "I was very outspoken about it. I was vocal about the clique-ishness within the scene, in the hip hop community."

She felt her group was being blacklisted for being too far left of center musically. 

"So I was like, "I think it's messed up that we're doing weird, crazy music so we don't get the opportunity to play in front of large rooms because we're different,'" she says. "We made a lot of people angry, I think, because we were kind of aggressive."

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Hindsight being 20/20, she can see that her reaction to rejection wasn't helping. 

"I was young," she says. 

"And probably a lot of it was my fault. I was ego-driven, saying things that I look back on and try to take responsibility for. I was really bad at communicating. I keep my circle very small. I'm not extroverted. And that hurts you in this business." 

Coming back to perform is the full-circle moment she needed. 

"I'm such a different person now, in a lot of ways," she says. 

"So it's awesome to be able to go back there on a larger platform and perform. It means a lot to be able to try to iron things out and say that I'm OK with all the AZ stuff that happened and that I really embrace it. To me, that's where I'm from."

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Moodie Black with Puscifer

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, June 11. 

Where: Arizona Federal Theatre, 400 W. Washington St., Phoenix.

Admission: $39.50 and up.

Details: 800-745-300, ticketmaster.com

Reach the reporter at ed.masley@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4495. Follow him on Twitter @EdMasley.

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