Q&A: Mike Trujillo
By August Edwards
Mike Trujillo is a radio personality, an accomplished music archivist, entrepreneur, and a familiar face to regular ABQ show goers. I had the opportunity to catch up with him about the recent goings-on, speculate about the future of shows, and check in about his business, Arise Music & Coffee.
Trujillo operated Arise Music & Coffee with talent promoter and Red Mesa drummer Roman Barham. Located at the historic Sunshine Building, Arise was a place where a solid group of people felt at home. Band and show posters lining the walls, a smattering of music magazines and National Geographics on the coffee table, Mike and Roman with friendly conversation always at the arsenal, tons of records to look through and pretty great coffee, it was the ideal hangout. Arise existed to support both local music and the Downtown scene.
Through Arise, Trujillo and Barham held fundraisers such as back-to-school and Halloween drives at the shop and a Thanksgiving food drive show. They both spent years finding ways to promote musicians and their community in their own unique ways. As they were only in business for two years and survival largely depended on selling presale show tickets through a partnership with HoldMyTicket, Arise closed its doors permanently in the face of COVID-19.
Mike is a busy guy, and he's not easily hampered. I hope you’ll check out this interview with him to see what he has to say. He's going to become a voice here at Albuquerque Green Room as he will start writing some album reviews for us, so keep a lookout for that!
ABQGR: What kinda stuff are you listening to these days?
Trujillo: In the pandemic, you kind of fall in this rut of listening to everything you’ve been listening to for years. Fortunately, because I do media myself, I get a bunch of recommendations and emails, publicists sending me stuff. What I’m listening to right now—When the Deadbolt Breaks, who I’ll review for the Green Room shortly—a lot of stuff from Desert Records. Other local music, I'm listening to Antonia Montoya, she's a singer/songwriter, her new project is called Alonerly. As far as what I was listening to last night, it ranged from Steely Dan to a lot of hardcore. So, I’m listening to just about everything every day.
There’s not a day I don’t go back to my back room, that’s where all my vinyl and music is at, my record player and collection. I found some old Beefcake in Chains—I’m finding older stuff that I hadn’t listened to recently. Maybe ten, fifteen years that stuff’s been sitting there. I just was going through it, and like I said, Beefcake in Chains—that was an old hardcore metal band. They were kind of a take on Gwar, real good stuff. So yeah, that’s what I’ve been listening to, just about anything and everything.
How has COVID impacted your work and your job within the music community here?
As you know, I was co-owner of Arise with Roman Barham, and we recently closed. We tried to stick it out through COVID-19, but as each month would pass by, we [revised] some decisions. And due to the [small] size of the shop and that we were partners with HoldMyTicket, and all shows had stopped, we decided the best thing right now is to go ahead and shut down, unfortunately. The risk was not worth the reward.
We miss the place, obviously. We were open for two good, solid years. We were approaching our anniversary in April. Like I said, the pandemic came, and we shut down right when everyone else did. So that was impactful.
I also worked part time at Launchpad as security. Not very much, but I did. And I worked at Route 66 as a camera person. Shows went by the wayside, so that is no longer.
Fortunately, my day job is working with the Sports Animal, it’s 95.9 FM and AM 610. I co-host the afternoon show, which is called the Sports Bar, with Michael Carlyle. Thankfully, that stayed afloat. It was kind of touch and go there for a minute, but it stayed afloat. We’ve been working out of home.
With the business, it was a tough decision. We did not take it lightly. Initially when March [shutdown] hit, we were like, let’s revisit this in July. July might be better. Well, July came rapidly and still we were like, no, it’s not worth it. “Let’s try August.” August didn’t work out either. At that point, we kept it going. As we saw the second wave getting ready to potentially hit, we were like, “yeah, let’s just call it a day.” We wrapped up at the end of October. We’ve been closed now, permanently, for about a month. We worked with our consignees, we let our renters and partners know, and that was it.
Tell me a little bit about your journey with Arise. High points, low points.
The two years, to be honest, there were not a lot of low points. Besides closing it. The first year was exciting. It was a lot of trial and error. We were learning a lot along the way, Roman and I. I’ve dabbled in some business before, he has as well, and still does with his booking of Monolith on the Mesa. But it was a lot of learning on the fly.
Right when the pandemic hit, we were starting to build up a regular clientele, and I also realized a lot of new people were coming in. They were getting familiarized, first coming in to buy tickets. For the most part, it was a really good experience. We learned a lot, had a lot of fun there. Met a lot of cool people. Sometimes because of the concerts at Sunshine, we had random national artists come in, like Dave Lombardo from Slayer. Suicidal Tendencies came in. So those were the highlights.
I don’t wanna make it sound like everything was perfect, ‘cause there were times when we would clash a little on decision making. But it was a shop. It was a music shop—what can you really clash about? So Roman and I had a good working relationship. Like I said, the only real lowlights came from deciding to close. Right when we were starting to kick the door open and business started getting better, we had to shut the door because of COVID.
Every time I talk to you, you seem optimistic about what’s going on and what’ll happen. Do you think that, potentially, a lot of good could come from everything shutting down?
Yes and no. I am optimistic because we’re getting closer to vaccination, but it’s still a ways away. The way I liken it to—a sports analogy, ‘cause that’s what I work in—is that we’re in the beginning of the third quarter of the pandemic, and I think this is gonna go into overtime. There’s not really anything good with businesses shutting down, but here’s the thing. COVID-19 is not gonna last forever. Once the vaccination starts getting distributed and people start taking care of it, things will arise again. They will thrive. I think a lot of people that are dealing with this right now—myself, you—we appreciate what we don’t have. And when those floodgates open, man, it’s gonna be a lot of fun. I think people have a lot of ideas and I think that we’ll see the economy get better. If you’re keeping score against COVID-19, we’re down 28 – 3. We got a lot of catching up to do. And I think that’ll happen.
From the ashes of Arise, I plan on building something. I’ll have an announcement hopefully within the next year, and hopefully the downtime of COVID gives me time to put my project together. It’s a big project, some might think it’s lofty, but it’s doable. It will come to fruition. I wish I could tell you what it is now. Eventually, when the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed, I’ll make an announcement. It’s a community-driven project.
What would you like to see more of in the Albuquerque or New Mexico music community?
I don’t know when shows are gonna happen again. I don’t know what the makeup of those shows are gonna be. They could start at a small percentage [of venue capacity]. I’m thinking when COVID is neutralized, that there will be small shows building up to normal. My hope is that people take advantage of the fact that things are better and they show up to more shows. That they show up to local shows, that they show up and support the local bands. Because again, you don’t know what you got ‘til its gone.
I see a lot of people on Facebook and social media say, “I miss going to concerts, I miss going to Launchpad!” Those people are the ones that had supported the scene for a long time. I’d like to see a higher influx of the general public doing their duty, their due diligence in supporting local shows and local acts. Even smaller shows.
If Slayer gets together, it’s a sold-out show. How many times have people seen them? How many times are you gonna go see a band though - you know, a smaller band, like Voivod - and they’re not sold out?
Get your ass out there. You’re missing it now. This is a clear opportunity to go back and find your way and support. I don’t wanna be on too much of a soapbox in regard to that, but to answer your question, that’s what I would like to see.
What would you like to see less of? Anything that needs to go away?
That one, I don’t know. I guess I’d just like to see more of a scene that’s not so fractured. The scene was really healthy in the early- mid-2000s. [Since then] it got a little bit more fractured. I’d like to see bands crossing genres more.
Other than that—I don’t like some of the negativity you see on social media. There’s a lot of that. So that I’d like people to stamp out. It’s impossible to do that, keyboard warriors and such. But instead of permeating negativity, if you don’t got nothing good to say about a band or a venue, or a person, don’t say it. Bottom line. Unless it’s your job to provide constructive criticism. But that’s different.
How do you know that the music community is doing well and thriving? What are some indicators?
I think by the number of people at shows. That’s when you know it’s good, and you feel a buzz. Often times, when people put out an album, there’s a CD release—there’s a buzz about it. People are talking about it. That’s how you know it’s good.
[Additionally,] you’ll see several shows with different types of bands. You might not wanna have something completely out there—like a singer/songwriter with a metal band. But closer and related genres. I feel like we’ve lost that edge a little bit. I brought up Beefcake in Chains—back in the day you could see Beefcake in Chains and bands like Fatso and Black Maria playing together. They were all kind of the same genre [but still different enough]. Those were parties. That’s what I would like to see—when the music scene is more of a party than just a scene or a business. That’s when you know things are a little bit healthier, because you have more networking going on.
Is there something special about ABQ music in general?
Yes. Absolutely. It’s vastly overlooked and underrated. People should take advantage of the fact that artists in this city and state are very bit as good as everybody that’s out there. Very creative, interesting, fun. You could talk about bands like the Shins or Femme Fatale—those are the two bands that got the biggest out of New Mexico and represented the creativity out here. Then you have bands like Scared of Chaka, and you have newer metal bands like Nocturnal Curse and Red Mesa. All of those are highly impactful groups and a lot of creativity.
I’m always impressed when I see new artists here in New Mexico. That’s some killer shit that you need to hear, and you need to support them. Manhigh, I know they’re still kicking around and doing stuff. One of the all-time best bands—the Talking Hours. Man, they are incredible. Worldwide style music. I think people need to take note of that, and appreciate what New Mexico has and go out to those local shows. The list goes on and on, I’m even blanking out because there’s tons of them.
What kind of advice would you give to an emerging musician or band?
The one piece of advice I would give to an artist or fledgling band is listen to people when they give you advice. Sometimes advice is not warranted. But oftentimes, if you don’t listen, you could miss something that could be helpful. Listen to promoters. Listen to people that review your music. Constructive criticism is far better than nobody listening at all. Maybe there’s suggestions on how to make something better, tighter.
Also, promote yourself. Don’t be afraid to promote yourself. You gotta go out there and promote yourself. Don’t just expect ten, twenty, thirty people to show up if you don’t say a damn thing about it. Go out there. That’s what social media is good for. Those are the productive and positive things you can get out. Even if the two or three people show up, you still know at the end of the day that you put your effort into making sure people knew that you were playing that night.
What’s making you excited right now?
The future project that I have is making me extremely excited. From Arise, I learned a lot about business. I also learned a lot from the Media Arts Collaborative Charter School [of which I am the President]. From those, I learned that my project is doable and that it will get done. It’s keeping me from bumming about not going to shows and seeing my friends.
And I still have my YouTube channel that I do interviews with local and national artists, and that keeps me excited. My YouTube channel is called Zero Hour Squared Classics, and you can see as far back as 1993 all the way up to 2012. I’m excited to break that stuff out because I get to relive it again, and also share it with a totally new generation. I was carrying a big camera that was the cellphone of today. I wasn’t a professional, I’d just go in, drink some beers, record, come back and interview the band. Now I just have that stuff in my archives.
Anything else you wanna add today?
I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. And any musicians out there that have a band, please feel free to email me and get ahold of me. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Or reach me through Facebook for an album review. I’ll interview any artist and musician, any genre, any time. I highly enjoy showing artists to other people.