Gardner Cole: Music Producer

Gardner Cole, music producer, photographed at his home studio in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Gardner Cole, music producer, photographed at his home studio in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Gardner Cole
twitter.com/GardnerColeHits

Valley music producer and songwriter Gardner Cole is responsible for some of music’s biggest hits, including Madonna’s “Open Your Heart,” which she performed in recent years at the Grammys and Super Bowl. It’s also been featured on television show Glee, and Cole’s thousands of tracks have been on 100 million albums — yes, 100 million. The prolific songwriter isn’t just a hitmaker — he’s also performed with groups a-ha and ABC, as well as had his own solo album deal with Warner Bros. Records.

Now, the 52-year-old Phoenix resident is producing local songwriters, as well as gearing up for charity shows and work in film. Read on for how he got into the music industry and where he hopes to go from here, and watch him name his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley.

What brought you to Arizona?

I bought the house I live in now in ’94 as an investment and met my wife in ’97. I had come out with some friends and loved the proximity to Los Angeles and Vegas. I was living with the Jacksons’ before I moved here, working with Tito and his kids. My wife and I were trying to have this relationship, and it wasn’t working when I was out in L.A. My brother had been living in my house, and I moved him out and moved my wife in.

I was born in Flint, Michigan. I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, and from there, I moved to Los Angeles. I spent time in London working with some groups based in Europe (ABC and a-ha) before moving to Los Angeles to make albums and write songs for Warner Bros. I stayed there for 15 years. Continue reading

Liz Mays: Author of ‘The Get-Ahead Guide,’ ‘What’s Your Magic Power?’

Liz Mays
twitter.com/theeditress

Liz Mays wants to help young women achieve all they can in the creative field, which is why she recently wrote two incredibly helpful books about how recent grads can find success in the professional world: The Get-Ahead Guide: Go From Job Zero to Successful Career Professional and What’s Your Magic Power?

The 37-year-old Scottsdale resident, an L.A. native with a theater educational background, became a successful self-made journalist, writing for publications across the country, as well as editing Arizona Foothills Magazine. Now, she’s the Outreach Director for the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU and is always thinking of her next book idea.

Learn what she thinks are the most important tips for young women to succeed in the workplace, and keep scrolling to hear her name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley.

What brought you to Arizona?

It was the beauty of it. I really loved the lifestyle. It’s an easy place to commute. There are jobs. It’s a nice metro full of professionals.

The arts are really attractive to me, and the great part is you don’t have to go the distance from one side of L.A. to the other side of L.A. to experience what Scottsdale has to offer. It’s big, but at the same time, there are a lot of things that are central. I really love the center of Scottsdale and the way it’s walkable.

I moved here about 10 years ago and had always wanted to move to Arizona since I drove through it a long time ago. I must have been 22, and I was going to grad school in Illinois. I passed through Arizona and thought, “Well, this is where I would live if I didn’t want to be an actress,” which is what I was planning to be. Over the years, I realized I wasn’t meant to be in acting and was meant to be in publishing.

Long story short, I ended up moving with my now-husband to upstate New York, and we lived there for several years. I did nothing but freelance, though I burnt out on that for awhile. We moved to Illinois where he had some family ties, and I said to him, “I’m going to make four phone calls, and I’m going to call every publisher in town. If I don’t have a job by the end of the day, we’re moving to Arizona.”

On the third phone call, I landed a job interview, and by the end of the day, I had a job. It was a small-town situation, and after a year, we were ready to move to Arizona. Continue reading

Nikki Metzger: Owner of BODI Gym

Nikki Metzger, owner of BODI boutique gym in Scottsdale, photographed at BODI, by Nicki Escudero

Nikki Metzger, owner of BODI boutique gym in Scottsdale, photographed at BODI, by Nicki Escudero

Nikki Metzger
twitter.com/ScottsdaleBODI

Nikki Metzger is one strong lady. Not only could she kick your butt, at the age of 28, she’s already a successful Scottsdale business owner after opening her boutique gym BODI less than a year ago. The Scottsdale resident and Nike Master Trainer whips her students into shape, teaching more than 20 classes a week in a boot camp style.

Owning her own gym has been a dream of Metzger’s since she was only a kid, and she prides herself on providing all-encompassing healthy lifestyle motivation for her clients. Read on to discover what fuels her love for fitness, and check out a video of her naming her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley below.

What brought you to Arizona?

I was born and raised on the Wisconsin/Minnesota border in Amery, Wisconsin. The town was only 3,000 people and I didn’t even live in the town – my house was on 150 acres of land in the middle of nowhere.

I was in Chicago the past seven years. My husband and I randomly vacationed here like five or six years ago and just loved it. Ever since then, we’ve come twice a year. Both of us are very warm weather people and hate the cold, and we wanted to move somewhere that had character and wasn’t just a suburb with a lot of franchises. We chose to move here in December last year. Continue reading

Rodney Hu: Owner of Yucca Tap Room, Arizona Distilling Company

Rodney Hu, owner of Yucca Tap Room and Arizona Distilling Company, photographed at Yucca Tap Room, by Nicki Escudero

Rodney Hu, owner of Yucca Tap Room and Arizona Distilling Company, photographed at Yucca Tap Room, by Nicki Escudero

Rodney Hu
twitter.com/YuccaTapRoom

Rodney Hu is responsible for some of the Valley’s biggest gems: one of the longest-standing live music venues, Yucca Tap Room, and purveyor of fine local spirits, Arizona Distilling Company. The 39-year-old Tempe resident is proud to be a native Arizonan, which is why he put so much passion into his businesses that show off the state’s talent.

Hu works tirelessly on his ventures and is gearing up for Yucca’s 42nd anniversary, to be celebrated this fall. He’s successfully combined his businesses by serving up Arizona Distilling Company spirits at Yucca, including Copper City Bourbon, Arizona Distilling Co.’s Desert Dry Gin and Arizona Distilling Co. Desert Durum Wheat Whiskey.

Sip on one next time you’re at Yucca, which features live music every night. Keep reading to find out what drives Hu’s work ethic and why he loves being in Arizona after all this time.

What brought you to Arizona?

I’m a native. I was born in Phoenix, went to high school at Marcos de Niza and received my degree in finance from ASU. I moved to New York City and worked at a couple different investment banks – I also did sales and trading before moving back to Arizona about 11 years ago. Continue reading

Anthony Desamito: Stand-Up Comedian

Anthony Desamito, Phoenix-based stand-up comedian, photographed at Monkey Pants in Tempe, by Nicki Escudero

Anthony Desamito, Phoenix-based stand-up comedian, photographed at Monkey Pants in Tempe, by Nicki Escudero

Anthony Desamito
twitter.com/AnthonyDesamito

Anthony Desamito is instantly lovable. The local comic and 26-year-old Tempe resident is constantly smiling during his sets, making people crack up with his tales of messed-up romances and hysterical views on life. The Mexico-raised comedian has steadily grown his audience since he got his stand-up start four years ago, having performed at the San Luis Obispo Comedy Festival 2014 and Phoenix Comicon 2014. He was also a finalist in the first annual Arizona’s Funniest Comedian 2014.

Desamito, who by day is a videographer at ASU in the School of Engineering and teaches video at ASU in the School of Art, is polishing his material for two big upcoming shows: the first, his birthday show, is Thursday, August 28 at Monkey Pants in Tempe. The free show starts at 8:30 p.m. and also marks Desamito’s four-year comedy anniversary. He’s also performing at the Queer Queens of Qomedy show Thursday, September 18 at the Tempe Improv, opening for the Poppy Champlin.

Desamito is a busy guy: he plays a gay comic in a college town on Serious About Comedy, premiering September 9 on Trends TV throughout U.S. colleges. He also writes and performs in The Freakin’ A’s, a YouTube video sketch comedy group, and performs funny videos on his own channel. He regularly performs longform improv with groups Funnel Cake and Brunettes On the Run at the The Torch Theatre, and he’s also a writer for satire news magazine, Grown Up Recess.

Read on for why he got involved with stand-up comedy, and to watch him name his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley.

What brought you to Arizona?

I lived in Mexico until I was 8 years old. I was born in El Centro, California, right on the border of Mexicali, Baja California in Mexico. I was basically an anchor baby. My mom had me here in the U.S., and when I was 8 years old and able to say “American citizen” and walk across the border, we moved to Yuma.

I was culture shocked. I was like, “Wait, white people? I thought these were only on TV.” I didn’t know my name was Anthony — I thought it was Antonio. The doctor named me Anthony so I could fit in better here when I moved here. After Yuma, I moved to Flagstaff to go to Coconino Community College. I got some scholarships to ASU and moved here in 2010, and graduated two years ago with a degree in intermedia digital art and video. Continue reading

Nicole Royse: Painter and Curator at Willo North Gallery

Nicole Royse, painter, curator at Willo North Gallery and assistant curator at Shade Projects at monOrchid, photographed with her work at Vision Gallery in Chandler, by Nicki Escudero

Nicole Royse, painter, curator at Willo North Gallery and Shade Projects at monOrchid, photographed with her work at Vision Gallery in Chandler, by Nicki Escudero

Nicole Royse
twitter.com/NicoleRoyseArt

Nicole Royse doesn’t just have an eye for what works in an art space as curator at Willo North Gallery and Shade Projects at the monOrchid in Phoenix. As a painter herself of abstract, flower and layer art, the 31-year-old Chandler resident has been a part of more than 60 exhibitions in Arizona and California. She’s currently showing her work at Vision Gallery in Chandler and five15 Arts Gallery in Phoenix.

She’s gearing up for three fun shows for this Friday’s Third Friday Art Walk, where she’ll be making appearances at all of them. Willo North Gallery features a solo exhibition of Daniel Shepherd, a collage artist working with re-purposed materials, whose 6-9 p.m. reception includes a meet-and-greet with the artist, music, hors d’oeuvres and refreshments.

At the monOrhcid, the final round of the THERMAL PHX art competition and exhibition is open to the public, also from 6-10 p.m. She has another painting, Twilight, at five15 Arts Gallery through August 30, with an artist reception Friday from 6-10 p.m. You may also check out Royse’s works Rapture and Vivacious at Vision Gallery through August 29 in its Flourish: Artworks Inspired by Our Gardens exhibit.

Read writing on the arts by Royse in local publications, including LocalRevibe Magazine, YabYum Music & Arts and East Valley Magazine. She also has her own blog featuring local art events, as well as a gallery rundown every first and third Friday.

Learn her thoughts on the local arts scene, and watch a video of her talking about her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley, below.

What brought you to Arizona?

I moved here in high school with my grandparents, when my grandmother was transferred here with her company. I fell in love and was married at 19, and my husband is born and raised here. We both graduated from ASU, where I got my art history degree with a business and marketing background, and we stayed in the area to be near our families, as well as raise our family.

I was born in Las Vegas and grew up in Orange County, California. Continue reading

Simon Nicolia: Co-Owner of Forever Tango

Simon Nicolia, co-owner of Forever Tango in Phoenix, photographed in downtown Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Simon Nicolia, co-owner of Forever Tango in Phoenix, photographed in downtown Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Simon Nicolia
twitter.com/TangoForCouples

Argentina-born Simon Nicolia has been dancing traditional Argentine dances for two dozen years. In Arizona, he’s spreading his love for tango as co-owner, with his wife, Tiffanie Nicolia, of Forever Tango, weekly classes held at 5th Row Dance Studios in downtown Phoenix. The 31-year-old Phoenix resident, who has been teaching private tango classes for couples, and Tiffanie lead students through passionate moves, helping all ages and experience levels during private and group classes Friday and Saturday nights.

Get more information about the classes here, and keep reading to see why Nicolia wanted to teach tango in the Valley, as well as watch him name his favorite reasons for living here.

What brought you to Arizona?

I’m from Argentina. My family and I moved to Utah when I was 16. I moved from Utah to Arizona in February for my job as a program coordinator in the non-profit sector. I’m very excited to be here and get to know the people and enjoy the good weather. Continue reading

Taso Tirkas: Co-Owner of Salut, Co-Founder of Ufficient

Taso Tirkas, co-owner of Salut and co-founder of Ufficient, photographed at Salut, by Nicki Escudero

Taso Tirkas, co-owner of Salut and co-founder of Ufficient, photographed at Salut, by Nicki Escudero

Taso Tirkas
twitter.com/SalutKitchenBar

Walk into Salut Kitchen Bar in Tempe, and you’ll soon encounter Taso Tirkas. The 33-year-old Tempe resident from Cypress co-owns the restaurant, and is constantly seen milling about the space chatting up diners and drinkers and charming them with his enthusiasm and worldliness. The spot has quickly become a Tempe stand-out since its opening last year for good reason — the menu blends cuisines into tasty handcrafted offerings, the beer and wine selection is plentiful, with more than 100 wines offered, and the atmosphere is both relaxed and classy.

While Tirkas is thrilled with the success of Salut, he’s also working on a new venture, a mobile application called Ufficient, which puts users directly in touch with a variety of service providers and allows users to vet them before hiring by perusing reviews and making sure they’re appropriate for the job. The app is currently in beta testing, and Tirkas is confident it will also be a hit.

Read on for how he’s created his businesses, and check out a video of him talking about his favorite reasons for living in the Valley below.

What brought you to Arizona?

I came here to go to ASU for business and marketing when I was 22. I’m from the island of Cyprus, a small island close to the Middle East on the Mediterranean Sea, close to Greece, Turkey and Egypt.

I came here because my brother, cousin and uncle were at ASU. I was choosing between London and ASU for college and had never been to the States. I was at an American college over in Cyprus, the University of Indianapolis, so I was able to transfer all my credits. I had been to London before and didn’t want to go there, because it’s very moody weather. Continue reading

Matt Winkler: Six-Time Arizona Table Tennis Champion

Matt Winkler, instructor at Table Tennis & More, photographed at his training facility in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Matt Winkler, instructor at Table Tennis & More, photographed at his training facility in Phoenix, by Nicki Escudero

Matt Winkler
twitter.com/MattTtplayer23

Whether you’re looking to beat that guy in the office who just always seems to dominate the ping-pong table, are in need of a great workout, or really want impress your clan with your table tennis skills at your upcoming family reunion, Matt Winkler can help. The 29-year-old Phoenix resident is the best table tennis player in the state, with the highest table tennis rating and having won the state table tennis championship six times in a row. He even got to teach Phoenix Suns point guard Goran Dragic a thing or two this year for a video for Sprint, and he hopes to train more professional athletes to help them with their coordination. He also counts comedian Frank Caliendo as a client he regularly coaches.

The USA Table Tennis-certified national level coach ranks in the top 200 of United States-born men, and he has competed in tournaments in California, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Florida, including the US National Table Tennis Championships in Las Vegas every year, and the US Open Table Tennis Championships. He teaches through his business Table Tennis & More, founded by his dad.

See him in action at his next tournament, Sunday, July 27 at Phoenix Table Tennis Club, which is open to the public. Winkler explains why he’s passionate about ping-pong, as well as names his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley, below.

What brought you to Arizona?

I was born and raised here. I went to Central High School and got a business management degree from ASU. Continue reading

Alexi DeVilliers: Creator of Fishliptz Sculptures

Alexi DeVilliers, founder of Fishliptz, photographed at his home in Tempe, by Nicki Escudero

Alexi DeVilliers, founder of Fishliptz, photographed at his home in Tempe, by Nicki Escudero

Alexi Devilliers
facebook.com/Fishliptz

Alexi DeVilliers started his career with wanting to feed the homeless. The 48-year-old Tempe resident creates unique sculptures, such as robots and dogs, made out of cans formerly containing food used to cook meals for those in an elderly shelter. As an artist, he goes by Fishliptz, which he’s been devoted to full-time since November. His art is sold everywhere from Method Art Gallery in Scottsdale and SunDust Gallery & Art Center in Gilbert, to Ian Russell Gallery of Fine Art in Prescott, Arizona, Pop Gallery in Sante Fe and the Children’s Museum of Phoenix.

Find him  on 4th St. and Roosevelt for every First Friday Artwalk in downtown Phoenix, and read more about how he merges his passion for creating art with helping others, below.

What brought you to Arizona?

I’m from Miami, and 9/11 brought my wife and I here around 13 years ago. My wife worked for the airlines, and I worked for a sprinkler company. After 9/11, they started to lay people off and gave her a severance package. We were going to come here to visit my friend John for his 40th birthday, and we said, “Let’s just move.”

I was born in New York, and my parents were born in Cuba. We moved to Florida when I was 5. Continue reading