Boulder's Asalott: Exploring Musical Worlds

By: Will Baumgartner

Oh you trancey, huh?

Boulder-based group Asalott (pronounced Ocelot, like the wild cat) is led by the quietly unassuming local genius of the hammered dulcimer, Forrest Lotterhos. The hammered dulcimer, a rarely seen instrument capable of complex patterns of rhythm, melody, and harmony is what Lotterhos composes Asalott’s songs with. The group then takes these compositions and adds some electronics, various acoustic and electric drums, and an electric bass played in an unusual way. The resulting music is like a swirling, sometimes meditative, sometimes ecstatic rhythmic journey to strange and exotic worlds.

 Asalott's Forrest Lotterhos behind the hammered dulcimer. 

Asalott's Forrest Lotterhos behind the hammered dulcimer. 

Asalott grew out of a collaboration in 2013 between Lotterhos and drummer Cody Hart (of Boulder funk-rock band Cold River City). Depending mostly on the venue in which they’re performing, their shows range from the quietly introspective to all-out explosions of polyrhythmic dance music. And while they perform in different configurations from duo to trio to quartet, they pack the biggest punch in their full quartet form. So if you’re more into the gentle dreamy feel, catching them as a duo or trio might be more your cup of green tea, but if you really love to dance, best to go to a show where they’ve got the full arsenal going. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Lotterhos to find out more about Asalott, and their hypnotically irresistible sound.

Forrest- your Facebook page describes your music as "tribal breakbeat". Can you expand on what that term means to you?

Many people ask us what genre of music Asalott is, and that’s a difficult question to answer because of our unique instrumentation. Breakbeat is typically used to describe electronic, trance, or drum and bass music with heavy percussive influence. Three out of four of our instruments are percussion instruments and though we don’t utilize any electronic production, our sound takes on an electronic music feel and a tribal quality with danceable beats, and a trance-like quality with the hammered dulcimer riffs.

 Matty Schelling on the beats. 

Matty Schelling on the beats. 

I've been a fan of your hammered dulcimer playing since you used to come into Burnt Toast, the legendary restaurant on the Hill that was home-away-from-home for so many artists, musicians and poets. At that time, you performed solo. How did this project come together as a band, and when? 

I’ve been performing [on the] hammered dulcimer both solo and in various bands in the Boulder and Denver areas since 2008. Burnt Toast was the beginning for me. In 2013 I reconnected with Cody Hart and we began busking on Pearl Street and playing shows as a duo with my hammered dulcimer and his cajon. It was an instant connection and success. We didn’t even have to practice; it came together on the spot. By taking my solo compositions and developing them with Cody’s drum rhythms, [our music] started to take on a new life.

Matty Schelling was a mutual friend and fellow percussionist who joined the group in early 2014, bringing in electronic drum pads and auxiliary percussion. About a month or so after Matty joined us, Joe Braun [came aboard] with his uniquely unhinged bass guitar. Together, the four of us have been playing shows in Boulder since the fall of 2014. We’re still in our early stages, refining our sound and our compositions, but with such eclectic instruments and improvisational roots, we always seem to put on a great show. 

I hear a lot of different styles within the Asalott sound, some of which I can't readily identify. What musical traditions and artists would you say have influenced you most? 

As individuals, we all have different and varying influences, but collectively, we have been influenced by electronic musicians and producers who integrate acoustic sounds and live instruments such as Emancipator, Bonobo, Shigeto, Govinda, and Beats Antique.

Personally, I was influenced at a young age from folk, bluegrass, and old-time music. In my teens I began to listen to a lot of progressive and indie rock bands like The Mars Volta, who utilized complex drum rhythms. In my twenties, I got into listening to and producing electronic and hip-hop music. My hammered dulcimer playing is, at its core, harmonically rich in folk and traditional Irish music and simultaneously rhythmically complex with ever-expanding patterns, taking on a progressive and trance-like persona. I also have to give a shout-out to legendary hammered dulcimer player Jamie Janover, who I saw perform with Zilla back in 2007 and then again at Burning Man in 2009 with Lynx. His integration of live hammered dulcimer with EDM production really inspired me to take my dulcimer playing to another level, and I began to write my own compositions and expand out into playing with different bands and exploring various genres. Needless to say, there is a convergence of many musical styles in Asalott.

 Lotterhos, Hart, & Schelling. 

Lotterhos, Hart, & Schelling. 

You've got a great group of players in this project, including drummer Cody Hart of Cold River City and Matty Schelling of Whiskey Autumn. Can you tell me a little about each member, their instruments, and how they fit into the overall sound and feel of Asalott? 

I play the hammered dulcimer, and depending on the show, a Nord synthesizer. The dulcimer is the lead instrument in our band, and most of the compositions center around it. It has a harmonic resonance unlike any instrument, and as a percussion instrument, it sets up the rhythmic cadence for the songs. 

Cody Hart plays two different sized cajons, which are often heard in Flamenco and Afro-Peruvian music. Cody brings a fat bass downbeat and an abundance of rich tones that characterize [his instrument]. Cody closely follows and supports the complex rhythmic patterns of the dulcimer while upping the dance factor. 

Matty Schelling plays electronic drum pads and adds a little vocal flair into the mix. With different Nord percussion synthesizers, Matty is able to add infinite variations of drum sounds. Matty ups the danceability of Asalott with his hip-hop inspired rhythms. Without using computer based production, we are able to achieve a live electronic drum beat that further amps and supports the rhythmic patterns [of our sound].

Joe Braun plays a traveling electric bass that he has rigged to a desk. He he either strums it or uses a viola bow to produce droning, often orchestral sounds. He also provides non-lyrical chanting vocals, using his voice as an instrument in itself. Joe brings and amplifies the contemplative nature of the sound, playing bass lines and singing vocal riffs that hold and lift the dulcimer melodies to another level.

When you play a show, what do you hope the audience will do, feel, and take away from the performance? 

We play shows at a lot of different venues around Boulder. We cater to the space and audience, sometimes deciding to play acoustic duo shows at small venues and coffee shops. When we play larger venues, we bring the whole band and up the energy level. We love when people dance and move to the music. That’s definitely one of our goals [at our shows].

Regardless of the venue or the size of the audience, we all deeply feel that the music we create is heart-expansive at the core and mind-expansive in its complexity. People have told us at shows that our music captivated them in a profound way, sparked feelings of joy, and deepened their connection with themselves and the people around them. We really want people to have a great time: whether they dance, have a spiritual experience, or just chill and listen, we want them to take away an experience that resonates with them and that they remember.

What are your long term plans for Asalott, and what's happening next? 

We recently recorded and are about to release an album of acoustic duo music. It will be six compositions featuring Cody and myself. We also just submitted a video to NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest, which was named one of the top ten entries in Colorado.

We are planning to go back into the studio and track out songs with the whole band soon too. That will be a bigger project with more production involved. We want to play festivals this summer and some larger venues in the Boulder and Denver areas by the end of the year.

Tonight, you can catch us at our home-base, The No Name Bar at 10PM.

Details for the show tonight can be found here.

Watch Asalott’s Tiny Desk submission video:

-Will

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.