Musical duo has big plans for July 13 show at Totah Theater
Sub Horizon will be making rare Farmington appearance
FARMINGTON — Music is an aural medium, of course. But don't try telling that to Stephen Valverde or Jackie Thornton.
The two Farmington natives, better known as the duo Sub Horizon, have been making arresting, interesting music together since 2002, carving out a friendship and creative partnership that has withstood the test of time and various life changes. And one of the things they agree most strongly about is the idea that their live performances should just as much a treat for the eyes as they are for the ears.
"The visual aspect of the show makes for a complete package," Thornton said earlier this week as he and Valverde prepared for their July 13 concert at the Totah Theater in Farmington. The two will be joined onstage by bassist Josh Archibeque and drummer Austin Vidonn.
Their goal with this performance, he said, is to make it "as immersive as possible so the audience doesn't just feel like they're watching a show, they're part of it," Thornton said.
Sub Horizon plans on presenting a multimedia show, one that will feature images projected on a large screen behind the band. The performance also will employ sophisticated lighting effects and lasers that envelop the entire theater.
Valverde vowed those visual effects won't be used simply for eye candy. The idea is to use them to help relate the stories behind the group's original songs, much in the same way the legendary rock band Pink Floyd did for its seminal "The Wall" tour in the early 1980s.
"We're not just putting random things up on a screen," he said.
If all that sounds a bit ambitious for a local band, well, it is. But Sub Horizon is no ordinary local band, as Valverde hastens to point out.
"This is not going to be some band playing cover songs in a bar," he said.
This show will be a rare chance for Thornton and Valverde to perform in front of their friends and family. Despite their long history of playing together, they have played only rarely in Farmington and never in a format such as this. They plan on using this opportunity make an impression on people.
The two realized early on that Farmington's modest music scene wasn't going to be enough to meet their aspirations. As their catalog of songs grew and their musicianship improved, they set their sights higher, eventually moving to Denver and performing all over Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas.
But by 2007, both Thornton and Valverde had tired of that itinerant lifestyle and the grind of chasing the next paying gig. They returned home and settled into more traditional lives that includes marriages, children and careers.
The desire to write and perform songs never left them, however. The two had developed a prolific songwriting habit, and by 2017 they had penned 75 songs together, from which they selected a dozen for their debut album, "Open to Interpretation."
Valverde said he and Thornton have the opposite problem of most songwriting tandems — they don't know when to stop. They had to be urged to halt that process long enough to record and release that collection.
"Our wives finally said, 'Guys, just release the album,'" he said.
The music of Sub Horizon resides primarily in the electronica genre but periodically veers into blues, hip hop and rock, even gospel. Valverde spends most of his time on synthesizers, but that doesn't stop him from picking up an acoustic guitar or other more traditional instrument on occasion to accompany Thornton's soulful but slightly gritty vocals. When Archibeque and Vidonn join them for live gigs, Sub Horizon takes on a wall-of-sound quality that quickly exceeds the sonic and atmospheric limitations of a typical bar.
The problem with that, of course, is that it leaves the group with very limited options for booking local performances. Valverde acknowledged that aside from special events such as the July 13 show, there simply isn't a live music venue or event in the area that is suitable for the group.
Thornton is even more blunt.
"I'm hard pressed to say there's a market for any music here," he said, giving voice to a frustration with Farmington's stunted live music scene.
Both men believe that's because the area is vastly underserved in the nightlife arena.
"There's a hunger in Farmington for any form of entertainment," Valverde said.
Thornton hopes that recent efforts to diversify the economy in San Juan County by focusing on its potential as a film production and outdoors tourism destination bear fruit, and he said nightlife has a big role to play in helping that idea become a reality.
"We're going to need this kind of entertainment to keep people busy when they're not four wheeling," he said.
In the meantime, Thornton and Valverde are hoping to take advantage of the county's fledgling film production industry. Valverde recently composed the score for director Brent Garcia's indie drama "Aurora's Law," which was shot in Farmington, and both men hope to license their songs to film and TV producers. They already have been booked to perform in September at the Mother Universe Runway Show during the Four Corners Film Festival in Farmington and hope that exposure leads to them establishing some valuable contacts with filmmakers.
The two have even waded into that arena themselves with their video for "God Bless My Soul," the first single off "Open to Interpretation." Shot at the Totah and featuring a cast of local actors, including a cameo by jazz bandleader Delbert Anderson, the video is as a fitting showcase for the band's music but also serves as a wry commentary on Sub Horizon's place in the local scene.
It stars Farmington native John Austin, a.k.a. Poppin John, who recently advanced to the Division Finals on the NBC-TV series "World of Dance." His presence already has exposed Sub Horizon's music to a new audience, Valverde noted.
"We recently got a (social media) message from (a Poppin' John fan from) Uzbekistan asking us for an autographed picture," he said, smiling. "Back when we were playing in bars, we never got fan mail from Uzbekistan."
Now that Sub Horizon has broken into the crucial Central Asian market, it hardly wants to stop there. Valverde has written a space opera, and Thornton dreams of becoming the first musical artist to play a concert on the moon. Valverde said the July 13 concert on his home turf is the first step toward realizing those otherworldly dreams.
"We have a definite vision, and maybe sometimes to a fault our vision exceeds what we're able to do," he said.
Culture Jack opens the show at the Totah Theater, 315 W. Main St., which begins at 7:30 p.m., with doors opening at 7. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children younger than 12. They are available in advance at Gene's Home Furnishings, 600 E. Main St. in Farmington.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.