Race To Neptune Are Either the Black Sheep of Fort Collins or It's Next Big Thing

By: Brody Coronelli

With a new lineup, the band’s heavy, technical, and invigorating new EP Abandon Fashion showcases their evolution as a band, and what sets them aside from their counterparts.

Race To Neptune.

Race To Neptune.

With a spellbing conceptual precision that blends scuzzy ‘90s grunge-rock, darkwave, and the teeth-kicking emotional thunder of punk in a manner that makes heads bang, dice tumble, and PA systems growl, Race to Neptune are one of Fort Collins’ loudest, eclectic, and ferocious rock bands.

The band made their debut in 2016 with Oh Contraire, an album that had a few moments of brazen, fiery chargings into up-tempo punk-rock, but for the most part stayed on the melodic side, using dark, midtempo, and gritty instrumentation to surround frontman Brian Maier’s personal and biting lyrics in a shadowy glow. On the Thurston Moore-reminiscent “Wanderlilly,” the guitars are loud and fiery, but immensely tasteful and bright as the band uses a catchy refrain and echoing harmonies to guide the song into a warm resonance. The song is forceful and delicate all at once; a balance the band had no issue finding on that album.

On their new EP Abandon Fashion, the band has kept the technical sensibilities of their debut intact, making use of raw, punkish energy to play their eclectic and progressive brand of rock’n’roll. Many of the songs have a raw and thundering approach that takes more after punk-rock than it does from brazen, technical, and melodic broods through the dimly lit streets of Oh Contraire. These songs aim to ignite, but not in a typical four-chord punk rock fashion. The band uses this driving energy and delivers it with an array of sonic intricacies in a way that’s more indicative of artists like Jack White, Black Sabbath, and Queens of The Stone Age rather than Subhumans or The Germs.

“I think [Abandon Fashion] is a two word statement that almost signifies that we are going to write, record, and do what we want and how we want, no matter what is cool, trendy, or ‘in fashion’,” says frontman Brian Maier.

The whole EP was cut live at Stout Studios in Fort Collins, capturing a raw and forthright energy that often can’t be found when meticulously multi-tracking or chasing the perfect take. This raw approach, balanced with the driving and aggressive nature of the songs makes Abandon Fashion a fierce, unrelenting pleasure.

“I honestly have always wanted to [record the way we did on this record] because it captures the aggressiveness and raw energy of how we actually sound that can’t be faked. I think if we recorded the first album the same way those songs would have come across just as heavy. Track by track recording is so dialed in and precise in every way from the smallest turn of an amp or pedal knob to how hard we strum or hit a drum or cymbal. This was total freedom and we recorded this just how we practice and this is how we sound live, because it is!” says frontman Brian Maier.

The opening track “Mortal Melody” features a nearly two-minute chugging intro with guitars that gradually grow more jagged, and pummelling drums that grow fiercer with each strike. The song is a garage-driven excursion that has all the thrill of driving down an empty desert highway going fifty over the speed limit. “I’ll be your creature/Can you teach me to teach/Sing to me slowly/In a motor melody,” Maier sings with a quiet growl on top of a scuzzy and aggressive bassline.

The Sonic Youth and Modest Mouse inspired “Departure” follows, a scuzzy rocker with a chanting, harmonic, and arena rock-reminiscent chorus. “Sunsets” is an older song of Maier’s that resurfaced while the band was tracking the album. With a beachy, sunburnt instrumental that feels like a long drive by the coast and lyrics about running off to California, it’s a bright and infectious song by a band that often defaults to the shadows.

The closing track “Abandon Fashion” is a return to form for the band. The entirely instrumental song opens with a fit of siren-esque picking, only to devolve into a showdown of fiery, circling guitars that get more aggressive with every note. What starts out capturing a warm sunset quickly starts to resemble a sky littered with flames, dancing down to the ground.

The album artwork for  Abandon Fashion .

The album artwork for Abandon Fashion.

In more ways than one, Abandon Fashion marks a new beginning for the band. Not only is it a step into new musical territory, but the band underwent two significant lineup changes before making it. With Matt Petersen now on drums and Matt McNear on bass, the band’s sound is shifting in a different direction. Their influences are made loud and clear, and their presences melding with Maier’s technical and anthemic songwriting have led to Race of Neptune’s most invigorating record so far.

“I think it has been a pretty seamless transition,” says Petersen. “We got comfortable together really quickly. Matt just came on as bassist late February and we were in the studio the first week of April. I think that's definitely a testament to our cohesiveness. [Matt and I] both have a strong jazz background with our instruments which allows us to keep time really well while getting out of the rhythmic box bass and drums can sometimes be confined to in rock music. We are also all involved in the writing process… it’s a very cumulative sound you’re hearing.”

Race to Neptune underwent a quick evolution on Abandon Fashion, and for the better. It’s an invigorating, technical, and fun record that sets the band at the forefront of Fort Collins’ music scene. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t outliers, though. In a scene dominated by folk, EDM, and bluegrass, Race to Neptune are a shining beacon of musical progression and experimentation run through a filter of loud, raw, and eclectic rock.

“There has been a little increase in rock bands and venues in the [Fort Collins] area which is nice, but we are still the black sheep of the music scene up here. It is still very much dominated by jam bands, DJs and bluegrass, but we are trying very hard to support other local rock bands as well,” Maier says.

When the musical cohesiveness, energy, and vision of a band like Race To Neptune are all working together, maybe being the black sheep isn’t a bad thing; maybe it’s a sign that they’re at a the forefront of new sound and identity for Northern Colorado. It’s too early to say, but considering how far they’ve come as a band on only two records, anything is possible.

Abandon Fashion is out now. You can keep up with Race to Neptune here.

-Brody

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

2018 Belongs to JJUUJJUU

By: Brody Coronelli

A Q&A with frontman Phil Pirrone on the band’s debut album, their upcoming shows, and how it feels to be on the cusp of their big break.

Phil Pirrone of JJUUJJUU.

Phil Pirrone of JJUUJJUU.

The Los Angeles psych-rock band JJUUJJUU has a sound that’s entirely their own. Harnessing the collision of psych and desert rock with the ambience of low-fi and a fiery undercurrent of metal that never overpowers the music, they’re one of rock’s most interesting and hard to pin down groups. They’re also on the cusp of a breakthrough.

The band- fronted by Phil Pirrone, the founder of the Desert Daze festival- released their debut album 'Zionic Mud.' The album is an atmospheric exploration of a number of different influences, each coming together to capture an atmospheric, psychedelic daze. A good deal of collaboration followed the release. The band released alternate versions of each single re-imagined by friends and supporters, which include Warpaint’s bassist Jennylee’s synth-driven and danceable take on the title track “Zionic Mud” and Liarsloud, scuzzed-out version of “Camo.” They also released a music video for their own version of “Camo” directed by Flaming Lips animator Michan Burzan.

This summer, the band is set to play a number of shows opening for the heavy metal band Mastadon and experimental rock band Primus; two hugely high profile acts with the potential to send JJUUJJUU into the stratosphere. In between those shows, the band is headlining Lost Lake in Denver on June 19th with support from DeCollage and King Eddie. I had the opportunity to chat with Pirrone recently about the band’s new album and their upcoming tour dates.

You guys just released your new album 'Zionic Mud' last month. How has the rolling out and reception of that record been, and in what ways is it different from your past material?

This record was five years in the making. So it's good to have it out. We had only released an EP before this, in 2013, so in a lot of ways, this is the beginning.

Your songs are definitely more blissed out and bright than your counterparts; they aren't always aggressive, and instead, favor some ambience. How do you go about creating this sound live and in the studio?

Not sure how we get there- I guess it's just our collective influences and experiences informing how we approach a song or jam or what have you. Short answer: happy accidents.

What sound were you trying to capture on 'Zionic Mud', and is it going to send the band in a new direction, or expand on a sound you've already established?

I just wanted it to sound like something I loved, no matter what that ended up being. I don't know what direction we're going in or what we've established. Just putting down what comes out and going from there.

What inspired you to have friends and collaborators release their own alternate takes of the singles? What do these new versions have to offer that the originals don't? The JENNYLEE version of "Zionic Mud" particularly stands out to me; it brings out a danceable element in the song's framework that I didn't catch in the album version.

It was my friend Jason's idea who works at the label. And a great idea at that. These versions are some weird form of collaboration between myself and the remixer, without being in the same room or even talking about it. So, it's very exciting to hear what each of them come back with. Jennylee went the extra mile and reimagined the track through her lens and it's lovely.

What made you choose METZ and Liars to rework the songs? Are there any other collaborations in the works?

Part of the aim of this experiment was to find very different filters to mix these songs through and see what we end[ed] up with. Both seemed like total long shots, but they both said yes (surprisingly). Very happy with how both came out.

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Your music strikes a really interesting balance between psychedelia, stoner-rock, desert-rock, and a cool, low-fi aesthetic. How did you come across this collection of sounds, and how do you go about synthesizing them into your live set?

We really don't talk or think about what we're going to do, we just go for it. Whether I'm on my own or with the group, we just jump into it and follow what comes out, or we don't if it's shit. Performing the songs live with a group is an evolution. It's difficult to replicate what happened on record because so much of it was improvised or literally a happy accident. So the live incarnation sort of evolves and the songs grow and change. I think that's totally a normal behavior for a group like JJUUJJUU.

How does it feel to be opening for Mastodon and Primus, two colossal names in the scene? How'd this opportunity come about, and do you have anything special planned for these shows?

Feel honored and excited and nervous, frankly. Touring with bands this good keeps us on our toes and forces us to bring our best. We've toured with Claypool Lennon Delirium before, so it's great to be invited back out. Les Claypool has some of the best fans in the world. They are there to enjoy loud music and have a good time. So, for that, among other things, we're very grateful. We're going to be playing nice and early, so we'll be having a BBQ nightly from stage. We might perform a few weddings (if needed). First 50,000 people in the gates get a free hot dog and t-shirt (if there's also a wedding).

What's next for the band after you guys finish your expansive touring schedule this year? Do you see the band continuing in the same sonic direction, or is there a new sound on the horizon?

We're playing Desert Daze in Southern California in October. We're working on LP2 right now (early stages). It's going to be different. But the same. But different.

-Brody

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

Review: Basement Revolver Are the New Faces of Scuzzy Dream Pop

By: Brody Coronelli

The Canadian trio teases their new LP Heavy Eyes with the lush single “Baby.”

Basement Revolver are no strangers to reverb. Their explosive and astral take on ‘90s rock, shoegaze, and dream-pop is soaked in it, calling back to bands like My Bloody Valentine and the Cocteau Twins while also harnessing a modern punk sensibility that renders them immediate and fiery.

Basement Revolver. 

Basement Revolver. 

The band have been on a steady rise over the last two years. After two EPs, they’re finally gearing up to release their debut full length Heavy Eyes this August. The first offering from the album is “Baby,” a lush, pop-forward, and anthemic track that sounds like a hazy recollection of a summer day long since passed. The song is dreamy, but also loud and forceful, as frontwoman Chrissy Hurn’s vocals echo through walls of sopping, melodic guitars, and the drums pummel in the background like distant thunder.

The album, due out on August 24 through Sonic Unyon and Fear of Missing Out Records, will feature a balance of new and old material. New songs like “Baby” are in the mix, and older songs like “Tree Trunks,” which draws a parallel between mental and environmental health, and “Johnny” (part one, which appeared on their self titled debut EP and part two, which appeared on their Agatha EP released last year), all of which chronicle the difficult end of a relationship.

"'Tree Trunks' was written when I started experiencing panic attacks for the first time, and my increasing need to find a professional who could help me to find better ways to cope. It also tries to mirror how I imagine the environment feels sometimes- and how the environment is tied to many people's mental health,” Hurn said in an interview with The Fader.

The album was recorded at TAPE studio in Hamilton, Ontario, the same place where they recorded their first two EPs. The band found their sound and nurtured its evolution in the same environment, creating a sonic progression in their discography that feels natural and inviting.

“[Working in the same studio on this album] also gave me the confidence as a writer to not take myself so seriously, to let myself get cheesy or goofy with some songs,” Hurn said in a press release for Sonic Unyon.

You can stream “Baby” below. Be sure to keep up with Basement Revolver here.

-Brody

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

Gasoline Lollipops Gear Up For a New Beginning In Lieu of a Departure

By: Brody Coronelli

Drummer Adam Perry reflects on his decision to leave the band, and what’s on the horizon.

The Gasoline Lollipops have been a fixture in Colorado music for over six years. What began as a bar band became a group that can sell out the Fox Theater, open Red Rocks, get on the bill of some of the state’s most popular festivals, and have their name recognized all across the state. This meteoric rise wasn’t a passive one, though.

GasPops. Photo Credit:   George L. Blosser

GasPops. Photo Credit: George L. Blosser

Clay Rose’s songwriting was always too immense for the bars and breweries that gave the band their break, so their rise was always imminent. However, those who follow the band closely will notice that their rise to popularity happened right around the time their drummer Adam Perry joined back in 2016. The two met in a music class at Naropa University and became fast friends, which eventually led to Perry stepping behind the kit.

“I agreed to play some shows with the band until they found someone else. But in the middle of one of those shows, I had a moment where I realized, ‘Why would I not do this?’ So, it kind of took off, and we started playing all the time,” Perry says. “I did what I always do when I play in a band: I think about how it could grow, and how we could be on the radio. It was a bar band at the time, but the music [was much more than that]. Clay is an incredible songwriter, and it shouldn’t [have stayed] at [that] level. I started booking shows, contacting press, and getting us on the radio.”

Perry’s skills at working with press, booking, and promoting the band was the driving factor behind the band’s acceleration over the last two years. He helped turn a bar band with a performance that far outweighed their counterparts into a household name throughout the Front Range.

“Adam pushed us to a level where we were getting statewide recognition, and a lot of people knew our name. Booking agents started talking to us, but we weren’t really chomping on the bait, because as long as Adam was with us, we didn’t really need one,” says Clay Rose, the band’s frontman.

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Two years later, Perry has decided to leave the band. Citing his desire to spend more time with his family, focus more on work, and generally have less on his plate, his departure is completely amicable.

“Beyond music, Adam has been our manager. He’s built the railroads that we’ve been travelling on,” Rose says.

The amount of responsibility Perry took on- serving as the band’s drummer while also behind the wheel of all the bells and whistles it takes to keep a band relevant and in the public eye- was a lot, and what ultimately motivated his decision to leave the band.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to build railroads while you’re also on the train,” he says.

In addition to his duties with the band, Perry works at a law firm in Boulder, has an eight-year-old daughter, writes for Westword, and is an avid cyclist.

“I’m really embracing those things right now. It’s a great way to feel calm and still,” he says.

While the band has cultivated new friendships, connections, and a list of accomplishments that many musicians are never able to cross off their list, this sense of calm and stillness is something that’s often missing in his life.

“When we were on tour in Europe [in 2017], I was having a bit of a nervous breakdown. I realized that I can’t do this and everything in my life well if I’m putting it all into the band. But it’s nice that it’s an amicable split this time around,” he said, alluding to the musical fallouts he’s seen multiple times throughout his career.

Perry at Red Rocks. Photo Credit:   Hannah Oreskovich

Perry at Red Rocks. Photo Credit: Hannah Oreskovich

Perry has been playing in bands since he was 16. Growing up in Pittsburgh, PA, music has been at the center of his life since the beginning, and as he’s gotten older, it’s remained important, but he’s ready to re-center and set his sights elsewhere.

“My only education in music was through punk rock in high school, so my form of drumming is very primitive and loud. I was playing in clubs and bars when I was 16, and it was just about how fast and hard you could play,” he says.

His background in punk-rock shines through loud and clear. His presence on the songs is pummelling and thunderous, giving the band a density that most alt-country and rock acts have a hard time capturing.

Perry’s other notable project in Colorado was The Yawpers, a band he helped form in the aughts. After his time with that band came to an end, his plan was to turn his back on playing music entirely. But meeting Rose and stumbling upon the magic of the Gasoline Lollipops changed his mind.

“I left The Yawpers in 2012 and told myself I’d never do the band thing again.” he says.

Perry’s decision to leave the Gasoline Lollipops comes six months after the band released Soul Mine, their fourth album. The record came from a band with a long history, but it carries the pent up energy and polishing of their raucous, gritty, and often sweeping blend of alt-country and rock‘n’roll that renders it more similar to a crashing, bombastic debut than an album from a band with steady footing.

Rose at Red Rocks. Photo Credit:   Hannah Oreskovich

Rose at Red Rocks. Photo Credit: Hannah Oreskovich

“I didn’t know how to push a band [before Adam joined]. You have to have an interesting story or a project to pitch to press, and he showed me how to do that and lit a fire under me as far as making [Soul Mine]”, Rose says.

Perry speaks of Rose with similar fondness of his role in the band, and the opportunities he’s granted them.

“With Clay, there isn’t a wall between him and his songs. Every other band I’ve been in, what the singer/songwriter is writing aims to portray something. I don’t think Clay could do that if he tried,” he says.

Perry’s last show with the band is their headlining show at The Bluebird on May 18th. With support from RL Cole & The Hell You Say and Grayson County Burn Ban, the night will be a celebration of where the Gasoline Lollipops have been, and where they’re headed from here on out.

Rose wants to dedicate his time to other projects at the moment as well, so it could be a year or two before we get another GasPops album, but until then, the band is just as alive as ever. They recently opened for The Tallest Man On Earth at Bluebird Music Festival, and they’re on the bill to play Grandoozy this September, sharing the stage with Kendrick Lamar, Sturgill Simpson, and St. Vincent, among other high profile acts. This is where the band was headed from the beginning, and they couldn’t have done it without Perry.

“Eventually, we might’ve reached the point we’re at now, but without Adam, it would’ve taken a really long time. This is where I always wanted to be, but I had no idea how to get here,” Rose says.

There’s a lot on the horizon for The Gasoline Lollipops in wake of Perry leaving. Whatever it ends up being, Rose assured me that it’ll take on a new sound.

“[Our new music is] going to sound a lot different. I’ve always had a definite direction where [my music] is heading, but I never see it until the last minute. It’ll definitely be more psychedelic and dreamy,” he says.

Here’s to a new beginning for the band, in lieu of a departure. Get tickets for GasPops Bluebird show here.

-Brody

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

Rain In July Are Keeping Pop Punk Out of the Dark

By: Brody Coronelli

Pop punk is at an interesting junction. With many prominent bands in the scene pushing past the genre’s boundaries in favor of a different sound, the Vans Warped Tour heading out for its last run this summer, and incrimiating allegations towards certain figureheads in the scene, Man Overboard’s “Defend Pop-Punk” shirts are needed now more than ever. This isn’t to say that it’s completely gone dark; Colorado’s own Rain In July are keeping pop punk alive and pulling no punches in the process.

Rain In July. Photo Credit:   Liv Thrush

Rain In July. Photo Credit: Liv Thrush

The band played a headlining show at the Marquis Theater in Denver last weekend, still fresh off the release of their 2017 debut EP Trying To Breathe. With support from the hard-hitting 1000 Miles of Fire and the pop-sensible, harmony-laden hooks of Silver & Gold, the night brought me back to pop-punk shows I used to go to as a teenager, maintaining all the heartfelt and fun energy that made growing up in the scene feel so special.

Silver & Gold kicked off the night, with their slick vocal harmonies adding a hooky brightness to their diverse sound that falls somewhere between pop-punk and indie-rock. 1000 Miles of Fire took things up a notch with their unmistakable energy and hardcore-influenced sound, which struck a balance between aggressive and melodic.

Photo Credit:   Liv Thrush

Photo Credit: Liv Thrush

Rain In July played most of their debut EP, along with “Beachside,” a new song, and some covers of classic pop-punk staples. Standout songs from their EP like the bombastic “Knockout” and effortlessly nostalgic “Last September” were immediately met with cheers and a room full of people that knew all the words. In addition to their originals, the band’s version of The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus’ infectious classic “Facedown” also lit up the room. Despite being a 12- year-old song, the whole crowd sang in unison to it’s memorable hooks.

The band’s energy onstage was contagious, as frontman Griffin Tobey darted around onstage and passionately beckoned to the crowd with a seemingly endless amount of energy. Their two guitar players Yuta Young and Reilly Ng both maintained a commanding yet melodic sound, while Ethan Knight’s tasteful yet thundering drumming held it all together.

Through their balance of strongly written and performed originals and well-placed covers, Rain In July showcased what they do best: they make you appreciate the inherent nostalgia of pop-punk, while also making it feel fresh and new.

-Brody

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

Review: Alex Dezen Strikes New Ground on ///

By: Brody Coronelli

Veteran songwriter formerly of The Damnwells takes influence from the ‘80s on his third album as a solo artist.

It’s been three years since The Damnwells— the Americana/rock band from New York City responsible for putting their frontman Alex Dezen in the spotlight—called it quits. Throughout their time, they released five studio albums and came within inches of major label success, but ultimately faded out. Since then, Dezen has been working diligently to build a solo career, and it fits him well. He’s evolved more as an artist over the last three years than he did in the 15 he spent making music with The Damnwells.

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Since 2015, Dezen has released three EPs, three self-titled solo albums, and a live album. It all started with the endearing, magnetic Bedhead EPs, and was followed with the stripped-down, memoir-esque I, the nostalgic and experimental II, the live album Alive in America, and now III. His solo material has managed to strike a strong balance between the personal and political, while also functioning as a tribute to the music that inspired him when he was young. III is no different in this regard, and it stands out as his most ambitious solo effort yet.

III (stylized as ///) is Dezen’s first solo album made in close creative proximity with his partner and collaborator, the actress/comedian Amber Bollinger. Bollinger’s backing vocals are at the center of these songs. Dezen’s third solo endeavor is a spacious, synth-driven romp through the vast, danceable, and hook-heavy songwriting of ‘80s rock. This influence is the most obvious on anthemic tracks like “Run Away From You,” a playful and shadowy duet that echoes emotional turmoil at every corner. The carnal and self-aware “Animal” moves at a similar velocity, utilizing bright synthesizers and slick, pop production. It’s one of the angriest songs Dezen has ever written, but it’s shining and infectious at the same time; two energies he’s able to bridge together masterfully. “From Your Knees” maintains the anger of “Animal,” and is also one of the most left-field yet memorable additions to III. With fuzzy, synth-heavy verses that drown his vocals in static, the song eventually makes a headfirst slide into a melodic chorus layered with vocal harmonies from Bollinger and a jagged guitar refrain.

Alex Dezen.

Alex Dezen.

The pop side of the ‘80s comes through at its most irresistible on the bracing, political “The End of America.” The song is romantic and fatalistic all at once, with tongue-in-cheek lines like “I am not your judging jury/I am your Judge Judy,” all wrapped up by one of the most masterful and infectious hooks Dezen has ever written. “Let me be your jester today/We can blow the heavens away/We can drive to the end of America,” he sings, maintaining a sense of youthful sentimentality while also acknowledging that it’s all going down in flames.

Despite the glitz and experimental flash of many of the songs on III, Dezen doesn’t hold back from stripping things down. The lead single “When You Need Me”is a vibrant, ambitious love song that uses ethereal and spacious production to make a sweeping declaration of infatuation. It runs at over six minutes and is bound together by a simple, two-note piano lead that remains the same, but feels brighter and brighter as the song progresses. The album closes with “Cool Places,” a piano-clad duet that uses youthful, simple language to portray a vibrant romance. “I wanna go to cool places with you/I wanna take you cool places tonight/I wanna go where nobody’s a fool/And no one says ‘Hey girl, need a light?’” The song is unconcerned with any lyrical or instrumental frills, and distills love down to its most forthright.

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Alex Dezen is a veteran songwriter who has grown increasingly more comfortable with himself and his artistic range, and III is one of his finest works yet. In many ways, these solo albums he’s diligently spent the last three years working on have served as a deconstruction of Dezen’s history as a songwriter; they’ve taken apart the musical conventions he abided by for so long and made something new from the disassembled parts. These songs are a long way from the Americana-laced balladeering of The Damnwells, but they’re not any less successful at leaving a lasting impression.

Keep up with Alex here.

-Brody

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

Phoebe Bridgers' Colorado Live Debut Weaved Sadness Into A Celebration

By: Brody Coronelli

In the middle of her set at The Gothic Theatre in Denver last Friday, Phoebe Bridgers introduced a cover of Tom Petty’s “It’ll All Work Out” by saying, “This is another sad one.” With exception of one or two, all of her songs are sad. But unlike the other melancholic crooners she takes after (Elliott Smith, Joni Mitchell, and Conor Oberst), she’s self-aware of just how sad her music is in a way that lends an endearing bite to the songs.  

Phoebe Bridgers. Photo Credit:   Sierra Voss

Phoebe Bridgers. Photo Credit: Sierra Voss

The pop-sensible trio Daddy Issues opened the night, letting their unique brand of wry, infectious, and dark emo and grunge-pop brighten up the room before the sad songs kicked in. Their irresistible two-part harmonies reached a bright crescendo on the brooding, grungy cover of Don Henley’s "The Boys Of Summer." The song started out in rhythm with the original, but descended into a dark groove as they made the song their own while also maintaining its top-down, sunset-bound energy that makes it such a timeless hit. The band’s bright, infectious sound was a perfect introduction before Bridgers and her band dampened the eyes of a full theater of fans.

Bridgers has been on a steady rise over the last three years, due in part to the Killer EP recorded and released in 2015 through Ryan Adams’ label PAX AM. She’s also toured with Conor Oberst, Bon Iver, and Julien Baker. She’s not just another songwriter “making it” by having famous friends and collaborators though. Her immense talent as a songwriter and performer sent her debut album Stranger In The Alps to the top of numerous “Best of 2017” lists, asserting her as one of the year’s most promising new artists. She’s currently on her first headlining tour, aptly called “The Farewell Tour.”

Photo Credit:   Sierra Voss

Photo Credit: Sierra Voss

Her set on Friday night included her debut album in its entirety, as well as two covers and some deeper cuts. The live versions of these songs often left a more powerful impression than they did on the album, flourishing with added instrumentation that rendered them more gripping and upbeat. Tasteful, subdued drum fills from Marshall Vore and ambient, drawling guitar and pedal steel from Harrison Whitford turned songs that were formerly shadowy, acoustic crooners into blossoming, intricate arrangements that left a potent impression on the audience. The formerly stripped-down “Funeral” was re-imagined as a slow-burning rock song, with her full live band adding additional layers onto it’s already vibrant presence. “Would You Rather” received a similar live treatment, only this time it was sung as a duet with Whitford instead of Conor Oberst.

Bridgers’ aforementioned cover of the Tom Petty deep cut “It’ll All Work Out” was one of the set’s strongest moments. “I wouldn’t recommend tuning a baritone guitar even lower, but I love it, because it makes everything sound super emo!” she joked, before transforming a glistening, lighter-waving arena rocker into a melancholic, shadowy anthem that aims straight for the heart.

Photo Credit:   Sierra Voss

Photo Credit: Sierra Voss

She closed the set with “Scott Street,” and towards the end, she sent two massive black balloons filled with confetti into the audience. She encored with her haunting cover of Mark Kozelek’s “You Missed My Heart,” as well as a surprise cover of “If It Makes You Happy” by Sheryl Crow; a song that declares, “If it makes you happy/ Then why the hell are you so sad?” The cover ended the show on a self-aware, tongue-in-cheek note that was incredibly refreshing. For someone who writes songs capable of levelling you with their sadness, seeing Phoebe Bridgers live never felt like anything shy of a celebration.

For a full gallery of photos from this show, click here

-Brody

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

Mitchel Evan's Intimate, Informal Solo Debut Record Is Also A Send Off

By: Brody Coronelli

The newly solo singer/songwriter reflects on his former band, the experience that inspired his upcoming, informal debut The Little Horse Tapes, and how it drove him to seek rejuvenation back home.

Mitchel Evan.

Mitchel Evan.

The road to Mitchel Evan becoming a solo artist has been long and winding. It’s taken a complete uprooting from his home state of Virginia, the inception, prosperity, and disbanding of his former band The Mangrove, and past struggles with addiction and personal tragedy to lay the emotional groundwork for a career that has recently become entirely his own.

At heart, Evan has always been a solo artist. He writes forthright and honest music that strikes the arduous balance between being relatable and personally expressive, and although collaboration has often been a step between the creation and delivery of his work, his music has always been a vibrant extension of himself, above all else.

“The disbanding of The Mangrove was probably the best thing that ever happened to me artistically. The material for the band was written by me, for the band. It had a specific sound in mind. After awhile, I felt constricted doing this,” he says, “I’m really grateful that I had the Mangrove for three years, [though]. It allotted me a lot of time to experiment with different sounds, to work with a producer, to learn to record, and figure out how I like to write. It was the middle of the road; it was somewhere between being a solo artist, and being in a band.”

Since his band split for good late last year, Evan has yet to officially debut as a solo artist. This is where The Little Horse Tapes comes in. Recorded at Little Horse, a vintage music and bookstore in Louisville, CO that occasionally doubles as a recording studio, this six-track, live-to-tape cassette will be Evan’s first release since he struck out on his own.

The songs that comprise The Little Horse Tapes were written from a place of heartache, and released entirely out of circumstance. After Evan struck up a friendship with Ryan Sniegowski, Little Horse’s sound engineer, six songs Evan had written but didn’t have any plans of including on his debut LP It’s A Hell of a Drug, Nostalgia (due out this summer), suddenly found a home. Loosely, the tapes are a concept album; each stripped-down, acoustic track was written during a recent romantic relationship, and they document the beginning, middle, and end.  

“They’re all- more or less- hopeful love songs, but through the filter of my cynical mind,” he says.

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“Open Season,” the opening track of Side A, was one of the first songs Evan wrote during the relationship, and instead of it basking in the honeymoon phase, it projects to the end, foreseeing a future where he and the girl are no longer together. “I’m at the mercy of a fragile heart,” he croons on the song, coming to terms with his sensitivity and the mess it can make.  

“Cancel Out The Noise” is a breezy and irresistible folk song about relinquishing control to love. Evan sings of love as an entity that operates on its own terms, having come over him like a storm he couldn’t outrun.

“[It’s about me] falling in love, but I don’t like that I’m falling in love. I had just gotten out of a three-year relationship, and I was only single for three months before I fell again. I knew it was gonna be a long road, and that I didn’t have a say in the matter,” he says.

“I don’t wanna feel this way/I don’t wanna feel the way I do/And that’s your cue,” he sings on the chorus, acknowledging that his feelings are out of his control, but still ultimately remain his own.

“[The track is also about] acknowledging the illusion of free will. It’s been a crazy, very hard couple of months,” he says, “We have this illusion to wrestle our will into place and gain control over our lives, but we have control over so little that happens to us. We only have control over the way we respond to life.”

“I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” continues the theme of not having control over how we feel or what comes over us. It’s a slow-burning, magnetic song that uses simple, yet powerful imagery to portray the struggle of not being able to get someone off your mind. “I can’t stop thinking about you” is repeated throughout the song, mimicking the spiraling and redundant noise that love fills your head with. It features a slow, pulsing drum machine that quietly lulls behind the music like a pulse or a subway sonar, subtly stitching the song together.

“It’s supposed to be redundant and repetitive, because that’s how [love] feels. I [couldn’t] stop thinking about [her]; [she was] running through my head over and over like this cyclical pulse,” he says. “[The song] stays true to the cynical nature of [this record]. It was irritating that I was falling in love, and I was fighting it every step of the way, instead of allowing myself to fall.”

“Thirty Miles (Juliette)” is a quaint and stripped-down song about Evan uprooting himself from Virginia, coming to Colorado, and the doubts that followed, particularly towards the end of the relationship that inspired these songs.

“I’m an eternally restless person, and a lot of that has to do with not knowing if I should be in Colorado. This song documents the push and pull between being here and loving it and also missing my family, the humidity, the ocean, and the East Coast in general,” he says.

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These feelings of doubt have culminated, and Evan is planning on leaving Colorado soon and going back home on the East Coast for a few months. He isn’t leaving without a proper goodbye, though. He’s playing a release show for The Little Horse Tapes at Little Horse Books and Vintage in Louisville on April 14th. With opening acts David Burchfield, Maya Bennett and Many Mountains, the night is a celebration of local talent as well as an intimate send off for Evan; an artist that’s done everything he can to make Colorado feel like home, but still feels the irresistible tug of the Atlantic.

“I was overwhelmed by the circumstances that ended this relationship, and I felt really alone. I didn’t know how to cope with it, but I knew I needed a break, so I started planning a trip back home to reconnect, take a look at myself, be with people who love me, and to breathe and re-center,” he says.

While back home, he has a number of shows planned in Virginia, as well as the surrounding states. With big plans of touring the Carolinas, to play Washington D.C., and to make a stop in Nashville, the trip is also about bringing his music to new scenes and new audiences. After all, he has a lot to be excited about. The past year as seen Evan at his most fully-formed and prolific. He released Back and Forth, a full length album with The Mangrove last year, and he’s set to release It’s A Hell Of A Drug, Nostalgia this summer, in addition to The Little Horse Tapes. People on the East Coast need to hear his work just as much as he needs to reflect and re-center in a place that truly feels like home.

 ** Mitchel’s upcoming show at Little Horse Books has been unfortunately cancelled. 

Keep up with Mitchel here.

-Brody

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

Demi Demitro Of The Velveteers Told Us About All The Eerie Inspirations Behind Their New Record

By: Brody Coronelli

Velveteers frontwoman Demi Demitro reflects on the band’s debut EP, their roots, and what’s on the horizon for this young duo who are already making their mark on the scene.

The only way to get to the stage at the Hi-Dive, a small punk rock venue on South Broadway in Denver, is through the crowd. There’s no door or curtain onstage where the musicians emerge from, dressed in black, wearing leather and ivory boots. Instead, they’re reminded of the tightness, the body heat, precariously shaking drinks, and shallow breaths of the crowd before they come onstage. This didn’t stop The Velveteers from making a grand entrance to their release show for their debut EP on February 9th.

The Velveteers. Photo Credit:   Sierra Voss Photography

The Velveteers. Photo Credit: Sierra Voss Photography

Instead of simply getting onstage, setting up, and starting their set, the band, fronted by Demi Demitro on vocals and guitar, carried in rhythm by her brother John, and aided by their third drummer and relatively new addition Noah Shomberg (who also plays with The Yawpers), set their gear in place and stepped back into the crowd only to confidently re-emerge onto the stage like three rock stars playing the O2 Academy.

This infectious, rock‘n’roll bravado isn’t something the band picked up along the way. It’s been there since the start. Their intense, convicted aesthetic and sonic identity has already brought on huge accomplishments for a band their age. They’ve toured the UK with Deap Valley, playing to massive crowds, played motorcycle festivals in Joshua Tree with sound by Hutch, Queens of the Stone Age’s longtime sound engineer, and they’ve had vinyl pressed of their newest album at the Third Man Records factory in Detroit. Each of these accomplishments spawned from their time spent as a centerpiece in the Colorado and Midwestern DIY scenes.

“Some of our favorite shows we’ve ever played have been at DIY venues. The people in that scene are really genuine, they’re not trying to rip you off, and they’re there to listen. What they do [for younger bands] is important, because I know it shaped who I am as a musician,” frontwoman Demi Demitro said over tea at the Yellow Deli, one of her favorite Boulder haunts.

Photo Credit:   Sierra Voss Photography

There’s an energy to seeing The Velveteers play. Onstage, the band occupies a tangent world of pointed shoes, glitter jackets, bones, and candles. It’s like hair metal if it were born out of Dracula or The Nightmare Before Christmas instead of big hair, zebra print, and leather pants.

“A lot of the inspiration we have for our band comes from places other than music. I’m really inspired by Tim Burton, Walt Disney, and Andy Warhol. The Walt Disney version of Snow White has this gothic-ness to it, and that’s something that really inspired our album,” she said.

The theatrics of these non-musical influences leave a lasting impression. The band’s merch table looks like a séance just took place, adorned with candles and skulls. The face of the band’s new album shows them with blacked out eyes and upside down crosses on their foreheads. Demitro even claimed that a chunk of the album was written in a graveyard.

“When [the song ‘Death Hex’] came out, I had all these Wiccans and Pagans following me around asking me if I was a witch. It’s a metaphor-- I don’t really mean it,” she said, laughing.

Photo Credit:   Sierra Voss Photography

The immediate fear with a band like The Velveteers is that they’re all show. One listen to their debut self-titled EP sends that assumption into the dust. Finding a loud, irresistible, and cryptic balance between the spacious grit of Queens of the Stone Age, the pummeling, percussive thunder of The White Stripes and The Dead Weather, and the sheer lightening of Iggy Pop and the Stooges, the band has crafted a presence built on their own unique visual bravado guided by thundering, melodic songs that aren’t easily forgotten.

The EP, recorded mostly live and to tape at Silo Sound Studios in Denver, CO over the past year opens with “Just Like The Weather,” a driving, aggressive cut that places Demi’s tectonic, rhythm-heavy guitar playing and vast vocal range to the forefront, as the band occupies a musical storm that viciously encircles you until the words have found a way into your veins. The band’s songs have a habit of doing this, often effortlessly. They’re written with emotional sincerity and performed with bombastic assertion.

“When I write, it’s almost like being in a daze. [Sometimes it feels like] I’m not really there when I’m writing, which is this magical feeling. I got that feeling with every song on the album,” Demitro said.

“Anastasia Sings” is another song that takes you for a ride. With a piercing scream kicking things off, the track features some of the band’s most dynamic guitar playing yet, which reaches a jagged crescendo following the chorus.

“[That’s] another one of my favorite tracks [on the album]. That one was really inspired by Iggy Pop, ‘cause I had seen him live with the Post Pop Depression band,” Demitro said.

The band doesn’t lock themselves into a specific sound, though. In similar fashion to their haunting, non-album single “This Love Lasted,” “Darling Beloved” takes the album in a cryptically stripped-back direction.

“I did ‘Darling Beloved’ in one take. Vocals, guitar, everything. That song is really special to us, because it was completely in the moment. One of my favorite parts of going into the studio is when stuff like that happens, and in no way will you ever be able to recreate it,” she continued.

The stripped-back, horrorshow “Darling Beloved” and it’s stylistic sibling “This Love Lasted” aren’t currently fixtures in the band’s live set. Instead, their performances rely on roaring guitar, clamorous drums, and a fuzz that hits you right in the chest. The band doesn’t use a bass player, so Demi Demitro’s guitar playing has evolved into a versatile and rhythmic barrage that covers the low end, high end, and everything in between. The band is a sound to be reckoned with live; they pull the audience straight into their world of dark, irresistible magnetism.

In promotion of their debut, the band recently embarked on a two-week national tour in promotion of the record, have more dates in the works for the rest of the year, and are also set to play an unofficial showcase at SXSW in Austin, TX this March. Listening to their album and seeing them live leaves the impression that this is what the band was working towards all along: a sold-out release show for a triumphant debut record, a national tour (with many more shows to come), and a spot at one of the most popular musical festivals in the nation. Despite all appearances and affirmations of success, this is only the beginning for this band, and if their start is any indication, what’s to follow will be all whirlwind, heat, and flash.

Keep up with The Velveteers here.

-Brody

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

Michael Howard Cuts Through the Noise With Debut Record 'Impatiens'

By: Brody Coronelli

The folk Americana singer/songwriter reflects on his debut album Impatiens and how the Front Range brought new life to his songwriting.  

Michael Howard is a seasoned musician who often plays a hundred shows in a year, has actively performed and collaborated with multiple bands along the Colorado Front Range, and has been writing music in a prolific and soul-searching manner since his early teens. The catch is that you’d never guess any of this from a first impression.

When we met, Howard donned a flannel shirt, loose-fitting blue jeans, and work boots, looking fit more for a day’s work than a night onstage. He works as a contractor when he’s not making music, but the combination of dress and his uniquely relaxed, informal way of talking about his music make him feel like a true everyman; an everyman, that is, with an affinity for a rousing melody.

Born in Colorado but raised in Virginia, Howard came back out to the Rockies three years ago for a fresh start. Back in his home state, he tapped into a newfound sense of inspiration to take music more seriously than he ever had before. He began playing hundreds of shows a year, collaborating with multiple local acts, playing with The Wooden Spoons, The Healthy Herd, and working prolifically on his own solo material.

In November, Howard released his solo debut Impatiens, a sprawling anthology of stripped-down and forthright Americana-driven songs:

“The album is named after a flower that shoots its seeds out of its pods when lightly touched. They just explode and fling their seeds everywhere,” he said, cracking up.

“I came out to Colorado after a very cloistered, isolated period in Vermont,” he added, explaining the more serious side of meaning behind the name. “It was a very insular, isolated time, so by the time I got out here, there was so much pent up, and it exploded. I went from playing one or two shows a year to a hundred. I suddenly had all this inspiration flying around,” he said.

Recorded with John Macy at Macy Studios in Denver, Impatiens is built mostly from material Howard began working on when he came back to the Front Range. These are songs that came from a period of creative abandon, where music introspectively began taking shape before he put it on paper.

While making the album, which is limited to him, an acoustic guitar, and the occasional, sweeping vocal harmony, Howard replicated the environment of playing live in an intimate setting by bringing friends and family into the studio to observe the recording process. The entire album took only two days to record, many of the songs coming together in only one take.

Impatiens was really about establishing a baseline. These are what the songs sound like without other people involved. There are so many people I’ve played with around Denver, and I have individual songs that’ve been played with three different groups, and they each sound different every time. That’s what was fun about this record: it has that living room experience,” he said.

Michael Howard at Macy Studios.

Michael Howard at Macy Studios.

As a songwriter, Howard’s range of expression is thematically rousing. His narrative, colorful, and folk-informed lyrics meet his percussive, bluesy guitar playing in a manner that’ll latch onto your own stories with every croon.

“Fable” is a song Howard began writing when he lived on a hippie commune in his early 20s. The song stings of early ‘20s wanderlust and dreamlike splendor as it describes a dream he had at the time of his unborn child. Howard came across the song recently, discovering that after some fine tuning, it’d be a good fit with the sentimental mythos of Impatiens.

On the other end of the coin, “I Need Another Lover,” a swooning love song with an undercurrent of dread, was written much more recently. However, the final product took on an unexpected form.

"When I wrote 'I Need Another,' I was cracking up; it’s just a setup for a joke each time the refrain hits. It’s set up like, ‘Here’s another terrible situation.’ But when I actually had it recorded and listen[ed] to it afterwards, I realized that it’s a super depressing song,” he said.

The album’s most soaring moment is the title track “Impatiens,” a heartening love song that shows off Howard’s poetic tongue. Boasting flowery, transcendental quips like, “Time’s a patient teacher/Makes me wait to pay the cost/While I draw the map that gets me lost,” with simple, forthright declarations such as, “Cause it’s too late, I love you/Good luck,” the song is a colorful display of a songwriter that’s able to reside on multiple levels at once.

“The awkward thing about the song ‘Impatiens’ was that three or four people thought it was about them. When I’m writing a song, I don’t change names or circumstances. If you’re unlucky enough to know me personally, it’s only a matter of time,” he said, laughing.

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This sense of humor and lack of self-seriousness is part of what makes Howard- and his music- so charming. Whether he’s joking about his album title, or how a song deceived him by the time he’d finished writing it, he doesn’t let himself get lost in the emotional severity of being a songwriter. It isn’t to say that he doesn’t take his craft seriously- he’s already completed an album’s worth of new material since Impatiens released- but he keeps a relaxed grin on his face through it all, constantly acknowledging how appreciative he is to be able to do what he loves.

“The feeling I get after playing a solo set is one of total peace. I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. That feeling? It’s [like being] on top of the world,” he said.

When asked about how he feels playing by himself as opposed to with a band, Howard speaks about the pursuit of being a singer/songwriter with equally high regard for its challenges as well as its virtues.

“I love doing solo stuff because it’s the hardest. Playing in front of hundreds of people with a group doesn’t have that feeling; it’s just fun. When you’re playing alone, presenting material where you’re not lying or changing names- it’s just nakedness,” he said.

In many ways, its as if Howard is often only playing to an audience of one person: himself. He isn’t preoccupied with self-promotion, technology, and other variables that can cloud the consciousness of an artist in the modern age.

“To go from doing all of that booking, promotion, and social media to not going on Facebook ever- I’m a much happier person now. I’ve had periods of time where I’ve been tied up in it all, but overall, I just want to show up, have a good time playing, and meet other people in person. The great thing about social media being such a big thing right now is that it rarifies the actual in-person, face-to-face experience,” he said.

Michael Howard is bringing things back to the music and the music alone, and that’ll prove to go further than any amount of likes or shares.  

Keep up with Michael here.

-Brody

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