This Tuesday, January 3rd, Denver’s Lost Lake will be hosting two of Colorado’s road-worn artists: Zach Dunn of Magpie and Rence Liam of Dear Rabbit. Both call the state home, but both seldom play shows around the good ‘ol C.O. because of busy tour schedules. Dunn, who started playing in the mountains of Telluride followed by a stint in Denver, actually resides now in Moab, UT. He plays with various musicians around the country, bringing them together for shows under the Magpie moniker. And Liam, who has traveled solo (as R E N C E) and with a band (as Dear Rabbit), can occasionally be found in Colorado Springs when he isn’t on the road. Their Lost Lake gig next Tuesday is only $5 in advance, and together they’re ready to warm you up from any post-holiday blues! Grab tickets while you can, and in the meantime, learn how they got their start in the music world, and check out some of their crazy tour shenanigans:
How did you start touring?
Dunn: Myself and longtime Magpie fiddle player Luke Sivertson were living in this little back alley house in the Denver Five Points area. We were both pedi-cabbing, playing our first local shows, and sleeping on a bunk bed. We got kicked out of the house in the middle of the winter. I was pretty upset at the time because I had worked so hard to find some stability in the city. However, it was just the kick in the ass we needed to try out touring life and the two of us booked our first run out in the southeast where the weather was more kind.
Liam: It pretty much just fell into place. The story begins before I even wrote a single song of my own. I was playing bass, backing up my buddy Net Hua for various songs that he wrote and sang. One day, he felt the need to leave town, but he encouraged me to continue pursuing music on my own. He was the one who let me know that he believed in me even though he hadn't heard my [own solo] songs. Various places around Colorado were still asking for our band to play at shows, and I just confirmed under our newer moniker without telling them the full story. I initially had to "cover" Net Hua's songs while I was starting out. It was during this time that I was still learning how to sing, and I also was learning how to write my own songs. Eventually I came up with enough material of my own. About six months or so after my solo musical endeavors began, David Strackany (who performed under the moniker of Paleo at the time), reached out to me for a show at an art gallery. I had been wanting to tour some, but David inspired me even further. In fact, a year or so later, he helped me book my first tour!
What's the most bizarre show you have played?
Dunn: I have played quite a few. Lately, it seems like we are all meeting up for just one big show in nobody's hometown which makes it hard to find a place to practice. We will find a secluded park or cemetery or bridge where we hope nobody is so we can work on the set without being interrupted. Always, a small crowd will show up out of the woodworks and we just end up playing an impromptu show for the random audience and forget about the whole practice thing. But probably the most bizarre was one time when somebody hired me to write a birthday song for their friend in Boulder. I barely knew her. I rang the doorbell singing telegram style, and sang this cheesy birthday song I made up. She loved it. I think.
Liam: Many shows have been bizarre, but one that comes to mind is when we performed in a trench by the L.A. River. I had just finished writing "Don't Let South Dakota Spiders Eat You," so I recorded it for my own personal criticism for further improvement. But I liked the way my voice carried underneath that bridge so much that I posted the recording to SoundCloud (along with a completely different, plugged in version performed in Phoenix).
What's the craziest place you have slept?
Dunn: The van was always great ‘cause you could sleep comfortably anywhere; in the countryside or on most any city street. Pre-van days are a different story. One time, three of us were traveling in this tiny car that barely had enough room for our gear. We had a day off and wanted to check out the Grand Coulee Dam up in Washington. We pitched a tent right above it. There were all these spooky owls flying around. The clouds started to build and we were really in for it. It poured so hard that it drowned our tent. We ran for the campground bathrooms and found a ratty, longhaired terrier dog crying by the entrance. Someone had abandoned it and it had this disgusting eyeball that was protruding out of its socket. We were actually kind of afraid of it. We ended up bringing it into the bathroom with us and we all slept on the floor that night. We didn't know what to do with the dog ‘cause we had shows coming up. Luckily, the very next day we found a lady to take in the pup. She named it Magpie.
Liam: I will admit that some sleep options can seem sketchy at times. I am really thankful for my strong network of friends, throughout the states and in Canada, who are usually able to find me better options when I run into those situations. But during one of my touring gaps, I was looking for a free campsite, and I wound up in the vicinity of this northeastern Montana town called Fort Peck. The town seemed weird to me, as it had no gas station and no grocery store; yet it had a coffee shop, a tourist center for the dam, and a fully functioning theatre amongst a couple or so other sparse attractions. I arrived in town too late for the theatre performance, but I really wanted to grab a drink there, and I had just two options. One was this cowboy-type of bar that reminded me of Texas Roadhouse or something. The other was the lounge area of an older hotel; it had this Twin Peaks vibe. Obviously, I chose to enjoy my glass of beer at the hotel lounge, but I still camped out, and the summer heat and wind were not to my liking!
What do you like about each others' live set?
Dunn: I remember the first few times [I watched Rence] he had this old plastic classical guitar plugged into a really tiny distorted amp and was kinda yelling. It was really jarring at first sight. Then I started to watch and listen, and I saw him expressing himself truly, which is rare these days. I laughed and I cried. I realized he doesn't really care much about what anyone else thinks. I've seen him progress tremendously as a musician since those first few shows. The heart of it is still there. Rence is good at being himself and makes it ok for everyone else to be who they are.
Liam: I especially like how [Magpie] sing songs about friends, and I personally like how the instrumentation, as well as voices, can vary from show to show. It evolves and brings a fresh and new interpretation of Zach's songs. It has been a year or so since we have shared the stage, which gets me excited and curious to see what he brings to the table on Tuesday night!
All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.