Stunning Tonto Records looks back at a decade of music-making
When he answers the phone, Corey Reidy sounds exhausted but gratified — the record is finally done.
“We’ve been at it all night, putting together the packages and making the CDs and the stickers,” Reidy said. “We’re going all out for this. Everyone’s so into it.” For Reidy and the other chief members of Stunning Tonto Records, this new compilation album and its accompanying Friday release show at Plush have been a long time coming.
As it stands today, Stunning Tonto Records operates more as a collective than any mainstream record label. It acts as a lightning rod for a group of Tucson friends and musicians who have been collaborating for nearly 10 years. However, this week marks the release of a decade-long retrospective for Stunning Tonto — a momentous occasion not only for those putting it together, but also for an entire generation of fans.
“Holding it in my hands tonight, with much humility, it felt as though I was actually giving something back to this town and this scene that has done so much for me. For all of us,” Reidy said.
Formed in 2002 by members of then-active Tucson group Chango Malo, Stunning Tonto was a novel idea from the outset.
“All over the country you had these scenes sprouting up, these groups of bands coming together to try and get their own thing happening,” Reidy said. “So there are these pockets of similar-sounding music and ideas popping up everywhere, and into this comes Stunning Tonto. Except with Stunning Tonto, it didn’t matter what you were playing or what you sounded like. It was entirely based on being inclusive and welcoming to whoever was interested in it.”
Unlike countless other local music scenes that fell prey to interpersonal politics and pretension, by all accounts Stunning Tonto followed through on its goal of bringing Tucson together.
Starting with the crew’s first release, a compilation delightfully titled Happy B-Day Stunning Tonto (2002), Stunning Tonto’s members made significant efforts to inclvude anyone and everyone who wanted to get on board. The Happy B-Day compilation was structured in a manner that emphasized its sense of unity, with each band involved contributing one song of its choosing.
“Most importantly, it was just a bunch of friends and people who really wanted to support each other beyond any of the musical hype,” Reidy said. “Back then all you had to do was give us high-fives and come to some shows and you were in.”
Despite the good vibes, Stunning Tonto came to a halt in 2007 after around 15 releases and countless shows. For all intents and purposes, that was the last anyone heard from Stunning Tonto Records.
Until this past year, that is. In late 2011, Reidy was struck with the idea of recording and compiling new versions of old Stunning Tonto songs in tribute to the scene.
Much to Reidy’s surprise and delight, the community responded. “The fellowship is still alive, but now the deck has been reshuffled,” Reidy says. “We’re all in different bands now, but it’s still very much about creating art and being positive.”
A Kickstarter campaign started by Reidy and company proved lucrative, raising enough money for the entire compilation to be recorded and distributed for the release show at Plush on Friday at 9:30 p.m. It’s clear Tucson is not done with Stunning Tonto just yet.
Reidy said that beyond the opportunity to produce new records, the real blessing is Stunning Tonto’s community of musicians, who by and large are still creating music.
“The scene in Tucson is a diverse ecosystem, and that makes it possible for groups like Stunning Tonto to exist,” Reidy said. “This community didn’t start with us, and it won’t end with us. All you need is great people and a great place to operate.”
Admission to the Plush show on Friday is only $5 and includes a digital download of the compilation, so there’s no reason not to check out Stunning Tonto’s legacy in person.