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Rockwell Powers and DJ Phinisey release new album, "BUILD"

Build, Tacoma, Build

DJ Phinisey, left, and Rockwell Powers: Stream their new album at Photo credit: Scott Haydon

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From the first resonant chords of piano on Rockwell Powers's and DJ Phinisey's new album, BUILD, it's clear that this is an album that strives to be more than just another album of blustering and posturing. Accompanied by the reading of a poem by Jesse Ann Fouts, opening track "BuildxPoem1" explores the compellingly picturesque idea of a city built of bones and flesh, flanked by seas of fear and longing.

It's an entrancing image with which to open one's album, and Powers follows through on this promise, delivering an album that splits its time between melancholy ruminations about insecurity and spellbinding indictments of the state of music, arts and city. All of these themes are played out over a bed of tastefully restrained beats and washes of electronics.

Rockwell Powers is the stage name of Zach Powers, an active participant in community arts and politics. In addition to working as director of marketing and communications for The Grand Cinema, working on the Tacoma Arts Commission and, it must be said, freelancing for the Weekly Volcano, Powers has also managed three political campaigns in Tacoma. While his community involvement doesn't make itself explicitly known, the passion he displays in caring for the arts and the betterment of Tacoma plays in the background of BUILD.

"I don't try to write with a particular image, or a particular type of hip-hop," he said. "My head is constantly filled with these things - trying to build and expand Tacoma's arts community, being critical of our local civics and government, and both of those things on a very local scale ... I think that's how most great rap is written, just what you surround yourself with and the shit you think about."

"Strong" is Powers and DJ Phinisey at their most confrontational, backed by squelching bass and augmented with a stuttering chorus that reps for Tacoma with the refrain, "Backpack and hoodies on, this is how we carry on. Talk shit, throw stones, Tac-City strong." It's a slightly tongue-in-cheek ode to Tacoma pride, and it features two of the album's several guest contributors, Cruel (from the Breaklites) and Micah B. Other contributors include Grace Sullivan (Apartment Lights), Aaron Stevens and Emily Ann Peterson (Goldfinch), RA Scion, Jay Barz, Xperience and Tad Monroe.

But the real all-star of the album is DJ Phinisey, who provides not only the music, but also his own soulful vocals as he provides the hooks for several songs.

"DJ Phinisey owns and operates a studio in East Tacoma called Remedy Recording," Powers said. "He's always in there making all sorts of music - hip-hop, pop, things for soundtracks and publications, and all sorts of things like that. For the most part, these songs were pieces of production that I picked that weren't necessarily made for this album. But his output is incredible. He can make as many as a dozen to 20 or 30 pieces a week, so his catalogue is huge.

"(DJ Phinisey) was on an opera scholarship at PLU, so he's just this bonkers singer. I would bring in lyrics and kind of awkwardly sing them to him, and then he would go into the booth ... Those are the more gratifying parts of recording with him, is listening to him sing lyrics that I write."

The best song on the album, "Alive," showcases the greatest strengths of both Rockwell Powers and DJ Phinisey. Its stomping beat, clattering snare, and strident piano act as an anthemic bed for Powers's laid-back MC style. Phinisey's soulful vocals take the hook and push the song over the cliff and into an affecting freefall. It's the kind of song that's somehow weighty and breezy at the same time, practically demanding you to restart it as soon as it fades out.

The release show for BUILD is all ages and will be held at downtown's Grit City GrindHouse - a skate and art shop.

"I came into hip-hop at this formative age - 13, 14, 15 - and it was a guiding force in my life," Powers said. "I hope that my music touches younger people than me, in the way that my life was touched by hip-hop. So, it doesn't make sense to do a release show when none of those people can come ... It's important to me to try and broaden the audience of local hip-hop, and there's not a regular venue that supports that, now."

BUILD just may become your guiding force.

ROCKWELL POWERS AND DJ PHINISEY, w/ the Breaklites, RA Scion, Mr. Melanin, Saturday, Oct. 12, 9 p.m., Grit City GrindHouse, 311 S. 7th St., Tacoma, $7 advance, $10 door. For more info, visit

LINK: Preview BUILD tracks

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