A Fireside Chat with The Beeves on Their Debut Record & More

From left to right: Dahmen, Laffin, Ehrheart & Sease. Photo Credit:  Courtney Farrell

From left to right: Dahmen, Laffin, Ehrheart & Sease. Photo Credit: Courtney Farrell

Since the first installment of “Zach and Pete’s Fireside Chats” went to print a few months back, Zach Dahmen and I had both been itching to get local rock dynamos The Beeves over for a night of campfire, bourbon, and forthright conversation. Coming off the heels of their raw, raucous, and renowned self-titled debut EP, the trio is in the process of rolling out its new full-length record, Adam and Beeve in the runup to their release show on May 17th at The Fox Theatre. We were especially stoked to host them at this poignant moment (with members Ian Ehrheart and Matthew Sease) in our backyard. Also joining us for the evening to take photos was local creative guru Courtney Farrell. The following is a transcript of what went down:

PL: So what’s a Beeve?

IE: Well, technically, a Beeve is just, you know, a Beeve. Slang for vagina.

MS: No, that’s a beaver.

IE: Yes, and beeves is the plural of beeve, meaning one beeve.

ZD: How did you come to this name?

MS: My understanding is that we took this dictionary down to my mom’s basement...

IE: It was a bible.

MS: No, it was a dictionary. I have the dictionary. And we decided the one word we hit was going to be the name of the band, and we had to stick with it. And we did it like three times.

IE: Really? I don’t remember that.

MS: Yeah, because we got, like, “crack.”

IE: It doesn’t say crack in the bible.

MS: That’s because it wasn’t a bible. And we did it again and it was another ridiculous word. And then we hit “beeves,” which was plural for beef, and we were like, oh, that’s actually pretty cool. So we used it the next day for our volleyball team in middle school.

PL: This goes back to middle school?

MS: This was like seventh grade.

IE: This was just after our band The Purple Zebras.

MS: We were going to be The Sun Kissed Nips.

PL: I think you guys made the right call.

MS: So that’s my interpretation of when we got the name. But Ian seems to think we found it in a bible?

IE: We did! It’s in Leviticus. But that wasn’t it. When we actually came up with The Beeves we were looking into a fire quite like this, and in the fire, when we were peeing in it together to put it out, and when the smoke cleared, the red hot embers spelled out “Beeves.”

ZD: So the story here is, they refuse to give us the real story.

MS: Ian and I did go to bible camp together. And we had to stay with the priest the whole time. All of the other kids got to sleep in their own dorms, but we had to stay with the priest and talk to him and confess things.

IE: One time I confessed to touching myself unlawfully.

PL: And I hope you said it just like that.

MS: The only reason I think Ian’s story might be somewhat true is because we were in the religious ed class together.

Photo Credit:  Courtney Farrell

Photo Credit: Courtney Farrell

ZD: How long have you guys been in a band together?

MS: Ian and I have been playing together since sixth grade.

IE: We’ve known each other since elementary school.

MS: I didn’t really like Ian then.

IE: We never got to be friends until sixth grade, when I learned he had a guitar, and we both played guitar. We were in a rivalry until then.

MS: I never liked Ian throughout elementary school because he was really good at sports. And all the girls liked him.

IE: I had the right hair. The swoop.

ZD: You had the Bieber swoop?

IE: It was just at the right time. But then we realized we had guitars and we hung out, and we did it every single day after school. And then we formed The Purple Zebras.

ZD: So when did the third member join?

MS: We had a couple drummers before Will [Erhart]. But he was always part of the picture.

IE: We had some guy who wanted to record us one time when we were in seventh grade and Will did the drums… this creepy guy in Erie who lived in a trailer and just sat there and chain smoked next to us the whole time.

MS: We recorded an AC/DC cover.

PL: When did you know that you wanted to do this seriously?

MS: We always knew we’d do this. We’ve stuck to the same mentality since seventh grade.

IE: We were writing lyrics together in math class.

MS: It’s all we wanted to do.

IE: The first show we did was an open mic in Louisville.

MS: We did our own punk rock version version of “Wagon Wheel.”

IE: Pete, cut that part out.

PL: I talked to your father after your last Fox show, when you guys packed the place, and he was all teared up and he told me this story about how you [Ian] got tossed out of the Fox when you were in early high school.

IE: That’s why we’re doing the release at the Fox. That was where we first saw live music and the potential of what we could do.

MS: The first concert we ever went to by ourselves was at the Fox. We took the bus to the Boulder and we just kind of knew that the Fox was on The Hill. We didn’t even know where it was.

IE: We didn’t even have a ticket because we didn’t know we had to buy tickets to shows. So we just went up to the box office and we were like, “Hi, we’re here for the show.”

MS: We went up to the front, hands on the stage, watching the show.

IE: We told ourselves, “We are going to play on this stage someday.”

MS: That’s why we used to play on Pearl Street. We thought someone from the Fox would like, willy nilly, walk by and ask us to open up at the Fox someday.

IE: We were more lucrative [busking] on Pearl Street than anywhere.

MS: One day we made like $350 and a pack of cigarettes and a condom. But let’s get back to that show Ian got kicked out of. That was at The Expendables. It got a bit rowdy and we’d never crowd surfed before. And Ian was dead set on crowd surfing. So he got up on the stage and fell backwards, and they pushed him back up on the stage.

IE: And then I ran into the bouncer.

MS: And the bouncer immediately throws him out, and I’m like this eighth grader standing there alone.

IE: And from my point of view, somebody just grabbed me and literally pushed me as hard to the curb as they could. And I was like, “What’s happening right now? Is this part of the show?”

ZD: So you definitely weren’t drinking there?

IE: We didn’t even know what alcohol was.

ZD: So this is just sober Ian being pretty extra?

MS: And then we were trying to re-stamp my hand outside on your hand…

The Beeves’ Ian Ehrheart and Matthew Sease. Photo Credit:  Courtney Farrell

The Beeves’ Ian Ehrheart and Matthew Sease. Photo Credit: Courtney Farrell

PL: Let’s talk about the studio recordings. The first one was super lo-fi, and you pretty much did it yourselves.

IE: Oliver from Slow Caves recorded us because we didn’t know shit about microphones or recording. He just loved the songs and really wanted to help us out.

PL: I fucking love that album. But you never play those songs anymore.

MS: Well we kind of got labelled as a “ska” band and that kind of turned us off to a bit, because we never saw ourselves as that.

ZD: You don’t even have any horns.

MS: But we got labelled as a ska band! Fuck!

Photo Credit:  Courtney Farrell

Photo Credit: Courtney Farrell

PL: Who is the best musician in the group? The easiest one in the studio?

IE: Matthew is the best musician and is the best at his instrument.

PL: Who do you rally around in the studio?

IE: It’s equal.

MS: It’s interesting to see when Will chimes in because his input his valuable. Because Ian and I are always butting heads and trying to come up with an answer.

IE: Will has become such a good drummer. At this point he knows probably the most about music. I’ve always been the one who doesn’t know shit but has big ideas. Matthew can usually flatten that out and make something out of it with his bass lines.

ZD: It sounds like elements of conflict are part of your process.

IE: It’s all about compromise. Which is valuable, even though it’s hard.

Photo Credit:  Courtney Farrell

Photo Credit: Courtney Farrell

MS: I think you and I after all these years trust each other’s instincts.

PL: Are you guys going to be together in five years?

MS: Yes.

IE: Oh, yeah. Undeniably.

MS: With all sincerity.

ZD: That’s the right answer. They say if you know someone for seven years, you’ll know them the rest of your lives. You guys kind of have a brotherhood at this point.

IE: It is like that.

MS: Ian is the most important person in my life.

PL: So Nate Cook. Let’s hear it. He’s lifting you guys up quite a bit the past year or so.

MS: He’s just a tornado of creative destruction.

IE: He pushed us in a different direction. We were so surprised he even wanted to do this. I was the biggest fucking Yawpers fan in the whole world. When they asked us to open for their album release show, I was like, “Oh my god…”

PL: In a sentence or two, what has the experience of working with him been like?

MS: He put us on a platform and he didn’t stand for any bullshit in the studio. He just kept pushing us and pushing us until we broke.

ZD: That sounds really intense.

IE: For me, it was every single song. Anyway anything I did was fucking terrible.

MS: It was terrifying to perform for someone like that who we’d idolized like that. But he had a respect for us. We played raw like him. We weren’t musicians who were trained theoretically.

ZD: So this album must have a lot of spontaneity.

MS: It was only five days of recording, and we had ten tracks. Some of the songs weren’t completed when we went into the studio.

IE: I lied to him and told him we had enough songs to record an album. I was going upstairs from the studio in between when I had to play and writing lyrics.

MS: Part of the beauty of the album was that it wasn’t put together before we went to the studio. We had to write it in those five days.

Photo Credit:  Courtney Farrell

Photo Credit: Courtney Farrell

IE: Every day we had to get a certain amount done, so we just did it.

PL: What does this release mean to you?

IE: It means moving on. Letting shit go, and getting onto the next thing. I’m so fucking over it.

ZD: What are you proud of about it?

IE: I think it’s going to be a base for us. I think these songs are good.

MS: I agree. When I look at is as a whole, I think it’s a full entity, ten full songs, and I’m proud at how much we put into that and how hard we pushed each other. We’d never been put under that kind of stress before. I think I’m a bit more proud of it than Ian in that way. I’m proud of what I did in the studio.

PL: That’s refreshing to hear. The default answer when you ask a musician is that they could have done better. But for the most part, people are proud of what they make. It’s nice to hear someone say it.

MS: I really want people to listen to the album. Sit down and listen to all ten tracks. And then actually give us the time of day. Half the time we are trying to get people to just take us seriously because we’re so fucking young. But we’ve been doing this for a long time. It shouldn’t matter anyway. If you care about what you’re doing and care about this art, and you really value the music, it doesn’t matter how old you are.

The Beeves self-titled debut record drops everywhere this Friday, May 17th. Catch them at The Fox Theatre the same night. Tickets here.

-Pete

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

Augustus Got A Way of Changing

Augustus.

Augustus.

Augustus began in 2011 when frontman Colin Kelly wrote, recorded, and posted to Youtube his song, “North.” This was years before he met the other two founding members of the band, Jim Herlihy and Jesse Wright, and before they began as a trio named “Tusk.”

This was their first mistake (with many more were to follow), as another band already had the name somewhere out in Musicland. As they would countless times in the following years, they adjusted and moved forward, now as “Augustus,” forgoing that which didn’t work while maintaining that which did: their original “Tusk” logo— two entwined animal bones jutting upward against a black backdrop. Without fail since, Augustus has done with failure what we all wish we would at our best: They’ve used it to become something new, fresh, and better. Today, the group features founding members Colin Kelly on vocals, Jim Herlihy on guitar and vocals, along with Marshall Carlson on bass, and Ryan Healy on drums.

I note the release of “North” as the true beginning of the group because they still play the song. I believe it’s on its fifth iteration now. And that is the real story of Augustus. This is a band in a constant state of reinvention. This has never been more evident than in their recent release, “Idle,” which is wholly different in style from previous releases and qualitatively advanced by a good bit. It is through this lens of growth that I approached a recent interview with Colin Kelly around a fire in my backyard, accompanied by BolderBeat contributor and scene veteran Zach Dahmen. Augustus will perform at the Fox Theatre this Saturday, November 10th and tickets are available here.

PL: So you’re new to Colorado, determined to write and be in a band, and you find two guys, Jesse Wright and Jim Herlihy. You start “Tusk,” which was kind of “mountain-y” and not really rock and roll. Not your forte, but it seemed to fit into the Colorado scene. Why didn’t you stick with that?

CK: Jesse always thought of us as a prog folk band.

PL: Did you really want to be in a prog folk band?

CK: I just wanted to be in a band so I was going to do anything I could with the instruments we had then.

PL: You had lots of early success and hype in those days. And yet, it didn’t work out in the long run. Why?

CK: We had some bad gigs now and again. Jim was doing too much. [He was] going full sprint all night on banjo, guitar, drums… And Jesse was always a wild card. Sometimes totally brilliant, sometimes couldn’t remember how to play the songs. I was still an ametuer in a lot of ways. We’d have these five-minute breaks between songs sometimes at shows, just trying to pull it together.

ZD: I remember those early shows of yours at Johnny’s. In the scene at that time, Whiskey Autumn was No Name Bar, Augustus was Johnny’s, and sometimes on the same night you’d be catching the first half of one show then jumping to the other. It was a captive audience. People were excited at what was happening. But it was always going to be just experimental.

PL: Who was the other band really wrapped up in that?

ZD: The Almond Butters?

PL: Yup, but another one, too… You know who I’m talking about.

ZD: The Ridgelings!

CK: There was a lot of bluegrassy shit going on then. Everybody was all like, “Mumford and Sons!”

PL: Ah yes, the Mumfordy era.

CK: If Mumford could do it, we were like, we could do whatever the fuck we want. (Colin turns to the recorder). Hey, future Pete, do you read me? This is Colin, don’t quote me on that…

PL: I’m totally going to.

CK: Don’t!

PL: But anyway, on those early recordings of yours, there were a lot of great songs, but one phenomenal song in particular that a lot of people still talk about and request called, “Return.”

CK: We still play that a lot. We’ve re-written it like five times. We finally found a version we like with the quartet that we’re keeping. The first records were pretty desperate things for me musically. I liked the songs, but I didn’t really know what I was doing in a studio yet. None of us did. The only reason we could get through it was because Jim was always so prepared. He practices his ass off. And Jesse had some moments of blinding brilliance. But it was a struggle for all of us. Being under a microscope for the first time. On the second record, I was also really sick, and we had to rush through. We had to be decisive and learn to live with flaws. Some have more character than others. Sometimes you have to be OK with not being very good.

PL: Which flaws can you live with… That sounds like some earned wisdom right there. So let me flip it around. Which flaws can’t you live with? Musically? Personally?

Colin gets up to chop some wood, as these sorts of questions make him antsy.

ZD: I can say, on the spot…

CK: That’s a really fucked up question, Pete. Do I have to answer that?

PL: Yup.

ZD: For me, diving deeper into the eye of who I am, as opposed to trying to look more outward… I need to find the thing to make me sufficient and happy, and I have to look inward for that.

CK: That’s very theological.

PL: He’s got a background in it (Zach majored in theology at college)

.Colin chops at another log.

PL: So let’s go back to that time specifically, what couldn’t you live with then?

CK: I couldn’t live with my guitar sounding shitty, my vocals being out of key… I wasn’t always prepared with all the arrangements. I didn’t know what stories I was telling with my vocals. I can’t say I’m any more confident now, but I’ve logged a lot more hours. We all have. And that definitely helps.

PL: Give me a specific story that speaks to all that.

CK: We were playing this show in 2015 and we were being scouted by this guy who had some connections, and who we couldn’t afford, but arrogantly thought we were confident about getting his help, and we realized that night that we couldn’t play a whole three hours live. We didn’t sound like we knew what we were doing at that show. Especially when we started bringing in more electric. We weren’t really acoustic listeners. We were individually more into rock and roll sounds.

Laffin, Kelly, and Dahmen (left to right).

Laffin, Kelly, and Dahmen (left to right).

PL: Tell me about The Mercury EP that came next. I know you were proud of those songs, but I remember you weren’t too happy about how that turned out.

CK: We had a thing, we thought it was working. We thought we were going to continue to get closer to the concept, the feeling of what we wanted to make, but we didn’t get there.

PL: So after that, there seemed to be a great retooling of things that led to your latest release, which couldn’t be more different than where you began, and if I may say, couldn’t have had a better outcome, at least on a critical level. It seems that in the lead up, you wanted to stabilize your group, add permanent players after Jesse left (which was around the Mercury release). You mentioned earlier that you wanted to make the best out of the instruments you had access to, but this one feels very intentional from top-to-bottom.

CK: We had to do everything different when Jesse left. We had to change the sound. It was worse than I assumed it would be at the time. I was really bummed when Jesse left. There was a vacuum, and Jim and I had to start over. Retooling to us meant trying a bunch of different shit till we got somewhere. We couldn’t really do the acoustic shit anymore.

ZD: Sonically, you seemed to completely transform from one space to another. How did that happen?

CK: Jesse used to play a lot of lead on the cello. And now suddenly I was in the position to write lead for electric guitar. I still don’t know if I’ve got that down, but again, I’ve got more hours logged. We used to have a banjo and an acoustic guitar, and now we’ve got two electric guitars. The foot-kit suddenly made no more sense for Jim, and he wanted to do more singing and more lead guitar. So then we had to bring in drums, a new bass…

PL: You sound frustrated just remembering all that.

CK: You go from a three piece folk band to a four piece rock band, and there is going to be some really ugly shit that goes down.

PL: The new album has a song on it called “Things Got a Way of Changing.”

ZD: When it came out, Pete and I listened to it a few times and knew it was going to be the song people gravitated toward. That song to me was just a fucking, “Woah!” Better than anything else you’ve done. It felt like something different to us.

PL: I know it has nothing to do with the changes in the band over the last couple of years. But so many of our motivations are subconscious, and to me it just seems so clearly like a cathartic piece. That from beneath the surface, this theme emerged on its own. What was your experience like making it?

CK: We always wanted to swing back around to playing electric music. We were tired of the half-baked folk thing. I started demoing stuff by myself more, got more organized, and I could hear better when something just wasn’t going to be a song anyone would want to listen to. We started more from the bottom of the song to build up, not just “start with guitar and vocals and then add bass and drums.” I started the old stuff more from a lyrical standpoint. But with this song in particular, we wanted to build it from the ground up. And it took months to write. I sat on it for three months. And the guys did just an amazing job with it.

PL: Aside from the mechanics of it all, there must have been a cathartic moment for you guys with this song, especially after the lull of “Mercury.” You came out ahead when maybe you thought you were falling behind.

CK: Well there was a lot of change in mine and Jim’s life around that time (both got married within that same year) and I stopped working my same old job. A lot of things personally changed. Things stabilized. Life finally felt a little less on the brink of disaster on a daily basis. Which was fun when you’re in your twenties. But from all that was a lot of failure, which created a lot of intensity. We had to find out how not to fuck up anymore. Obviously something was missing, and we had to figure out what that was… We had to find it. It’s tough to say.

PL: I think you said it.

See for yourself how Augustus has changed and grown as they co-headline the Fox Theatre this Saturday November 10th at 9PM with Foxfeather, Hugh Manatee, and Famous Men.

Keep up with Augustus here.

-Pete

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

Teen Group Eighty Percent Human Cut Their Teeth On Familiar Radio Rock Covers

By: Pete Laffin

In terms of raw talent and potential, new Boulder pop-rock outfit Eighty Percent Human can go toe-to-toe with anyone on the Front Range. Comprised of siblings Carly and Coby Mandell, Jed Alpert, and Ty Schwarzer, these kids (and by kids I mean kids- two of them aren’t in high school yet) have begun cutting their teeth on familiar radio rock covers, but with unfamiliar energy and candor. For now, this is their calling card: infusing what is “played out” to the older set with a vibrancy only the recently familiar can generate. At their most recent gig at Jamestown Mercantile, they managed to make “Smells Like Teen Spirit” smell fresh with singer/keyboard player Carly howling Cobain’s lyrics about teenage alienation with authority and authenticity. You can feel that these kids feel it. It’s damn cool.

23915545_2073400229539955_1879484991600094116_n.jpg

And here’s the fun part. Front man Coby can write an original rock song that sticks to the ribs at his ripe young age. His maiden voyage into the craft didn’t just succeed in a generic sense; it won the eTown “Handmade Songs” competition in 2017. Other original work I’ve been privileged to hear shows similar promise.

That’s the word that defines them now. Their raw talent nearly ensures that they will bud into something special. But into what exactly? Brother Mandell’s songwriting will determine that. For now, though, you won’t want to miss these kids should they come to a venue close by. The coolest part of the storm is its gathering. And that’s just what Eighty Percent Human is up to: kicking up dust and howling through the trees.

-Pete

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

Sting Like The Beeves

By: Pete Laffin

Honest question:

When was the last time you moshed?

It had been a while for yours truly. By my mid-twenties I abandoned the more aggressive music of my youth, swapping volume and distortion for lyrical poignancy and musical nuance. Like many in my station, I held my nose up at the blustery rage of the still-young youth (which, it occurs to me now, can be easily explained with basic psychological insight: my disapproval of the kids and their raucous music was displaced, and the real culprit was the lingering memory of my own immature youth.) Music, as important as ever at the ripe-old age of 33, became something to be meditated upon rather than moshed to. And that was fine and good and purposeful. (As you age, it becomes suddenly important to do “purposeful” things.)

And then, a few months ago, I went to the EP release for The Beeves, comprised of the Ehrhart brothers, Ian and Will, along with Matthew Sease, at Seventh Circle Music Collective.

A mish-mash of seemingly disconnected events led me there. (If I may indulge in another bit of old-man wisdom, nothing is disconnected.) Suffice it to say, a grungy, all-ages, DIY warehouse venue is not where you would expect to find me on a Saturday night.

When I found the venue’s entrance in a neglected industrial park in the Denver periphery, I was greeted by a scraggly, weather-worn row of teenagers sitting behind a desk taking the expected donation for entry and exchanging remarks in a terminology and inflection I couldn’t attempt to decode. I handed them my credit card, but their machine wasn’t working, but I could go in. Just hook us up next time was the vibe I got.

I snaked my way through a few dark hallways and found myself in a gravel courtyard. The Beeves had a merch table just before entrance to the performance space, which looked like something between a backyard shed and a wheat silo. I peeked in through the entrance and saw a dark, frantic scene straight out of Altamont while opening act The Velveteers, fronted by rock prodigy Demi Demitro, shook the shanty’s shingles. Not ready to enter the hellfire within, I nosed around the courtyard looking for a place to buy a beer, until I realized no such place existed. A friendly and perceptive young kid intuited my struggle and informed me of a liquor store a few blocks away. If I had said I was going, he would have probably asked me to buy him a bottle.

The Beeves.

The Beeves.

At the merch table, I became disoriented, aghast. I was at an EP release, but there was no EP. Not in the conventional sense, anyway. I’d been to hundreds of these types of events in my seventeen years in music and never seen anything like this. Rather than rows of glossy jewel cases or neatly splayed, plastic-wrapped sleeves, the “albums” offered were burned CDRs packaged in the poster for the show.

Scandalous, I thought, in my stuffiest inner voice (which is somehow always British.)

I scanned the area for other embarrassed looks, embarrassed at The Beeves for not offering a more polished product at such an event. I didn’t see any. All I saw were a bunch of young, deliriously hyped-up hyenas bouncing off one another and rocking out to the vibe. No one gave a shit but me. I took the hint that I, and perhaps the majority of my music-scene generation- in all of our sensitive-guy mustache and pensive-girl thick-frames glory- had fallen out-of-touch. We didn’t see the storm coming (this was a theme in 2016.) We still give a shitit occurred to me. These kids really, really don’t. And they don’t have to.

The Velveteers closed out their riotous set and said goodnight. As I watched the stage through the doorway (I still wasn’t ready enter the dragon, as it were), puzzled at how Demitro could be playing such sophisticated, badass rock-and-roll at such a young age, an announcement was made for the performance area to be vacated while The Beeves set their stage. A swarm of show-goers drifted through the exit to the courtyard like clowns out of a car- it is amazing how many people that little place can hold- and stood around in circles, their hot, moshed-out lungs breathing thick into the freezing Denver December.

Amid the horde, I saw an older guy, the only person I’d seen thus far clearly older than I, who looked suspiciously similar to Beeves frontman, Ian Erhart. Eager to see if there was a connection, I wormed my way toward him. Indeed, it was Ian and Will’s father, John Erhart. He was a songwriter himself, and he wrote and performed songs for Ian while he was in the womb. He didn’t have to say how proud he was of his son, nor proud of himself for making the musical effort back then; his face was lit with pride in it all.

And then some kid in the circle next to us got punched in the face. Hard. Full-fisted.

Braced for bedlam, I stepped back, knuckles tight. But rather than swing back, the kid who got hit smiled and asked for another. The crowd had gone restless waiting for The Beeves to call us back inside. John and I shared a smirk. We had both taken part in similar youthful hijinks, it seemed.

The Beeves' EP Release Show.

The Beeves' EP Release Show.

Inside, the stage was draped in a cartoonishly scraggly, misshapen sheet, the stage lights flashing out around the edges. The buzz in the crammed room rose; I was sure another backyard wrestling match would break out. But then The Beeves, in all of their earnest goofiness, kicked the curtain down and commenced with the thrashing. Their energy was unbelievable, and their affect, so entirely devoid of self-seriousness, spread around the room like an infectious, airborne disease.

I enjoyed the shit out of their set, as did all in attendance. It was arranged for maximum impact with a spirited selection of covers and originals, the latter so impactful I decided to pick up one of those poster-wrapped EPs from the merch table on my way out.

I was richly rewarded for my open-mindedness.

Photo Credit: Veltrida

Photo Credit: Veltrida

The album kicks off with the track “Skagua,” featuring Ian on guitar, Matthew on bass, and Will on the drums. It’s a hard-driving neo-ska spine breaker that serves as a fitting introduction the band, as its chief purpose is to punch you stiffly in the nose. The melody, rhythm, arrangement- none is particularly ground-breaking. In fact, the sound (along with the record in general) is rooted most evidently in the mid-nineties skateboard scene. But The Beeves offer a qualitative alteration to this well-trodden sound, one that’s as obvious to the ear as it is difficult to put a finger on. It’s as if Sublime and The Offspring had been reanimated and struck repeatedly in the tuckus with a cattle-prod. The following track, “Jesus, he came,” follows much in the same vein as “Skagua.”

“Shoelace,” the third track, is the anthem of The Beeves in the ears of their fans. By the time this song is played in a live set, the band is shirtless and possibly naked; it’s not for the sake of vanity or shock-value, but rather, it’s as if the freedom they derive from playing this song demands such release. In “Shoelace’s” three quick minutes, the entire experience of the band is had. If pressed to express what this is in three quick words, I could do it in two: goofy sincerity. The beat rocks (the younger Ehrhart, Will, is a revelation on this track); the melody hooks clean at the chorus where Ian and Matthew croon a startlingly honest question, one to which both a teenager and widower could relate: “Without you/How am I supposed to tie my shoe?”

Listen to The Beeves’ track “Oogamy”:

The fourth track “Oogamy” could slide easily onto the backend of your favorite Sublime record. Recording engineer Oliver Mueller does his best work on the album here capturing the tandem, note-for-note vocals of all three band members. This is no small task, especially given the free-wheeling, loose nature of the vocal style. The track also features a seriously funky clarinet solo performed by friend-of-the-band, Michaela Nemeth. The lyrics at the refrain are most poignant: “When I said leave me alone/I didn’t mean leave me/I wish I had could say what I mean/I wish I had something to mean.”

“Jerry the Drifter” is a fine display of punk thrashery with surprisingly musical flashes. The instrumental that comprises the song’s first half features guitar with flamenco overtones and a theatrically plucky bass, dipping and rising in volume as the moment demands. This all leads into a more conventional pop-punk song with melodic sensibilities. “Jerry” offers shades of early Car Seat Headrest, with its sweet hooks, advanced musicality, and unapologetically raw delivery.   

The best is saved for last on The Beeves’ self-titled EP. “Moe” is an instant classic, with the emphasis on classic. This is high praise, I know, but I can prove it. Well, kind of. You just have to believe what I’m about to tell you is true: In preparation for writing this review, I stealthily played the song in social settings to gauge reaction.

The first time was at my place, where one of my most musically sophisticated buddies came over to hang. As he stepped inside, he cocked his head and lifted an eyebrow at the sound.

Weezer?” he asked. I said nothing. “Is it old Weezer?”

Later that week, I took control of the sound system at a local pub that lets its patrons seize control of the music via bluetooth. From the table next to mine, some guy tapped me on the shoulder.

“Weezer?” he asked, that same sifting-through-old-memories look on his face that my buddy had.

“Moe” is a slow-time rockabilly blues jam with the kind of punked-out irreverence Rivers Cuomo rode to stardom. It’s as if he could have written the song himself as an alternative ending to The Blue Album. The bridge features a single guitar note crescendo, reminiscent of moments in “Heroin” by The Velvet Underground, which leads to the hook at the chorus, sung with wistful abandon and gaiety. It’s doubtlessly a keeper for the band moving forward.    

When ametuer athletes are scouted by professional teams, they are often evaluated in terms of their “floor” and their “ceiling.” The former indicates the kind of players they are at the moment, for better or worse, while the latter expresses their potential to improve. On rare occasions, a player is considered to possess high degrees of both. The Beeves appear to be in this rarefied category, as their sound already astounds, and their potential to improve is a certainty.

The ceiling is high for these kids. High enough, even, to inspire their elders, (your humble correspondent included) to toss themselves recklessly, once again, into a pit of flying elbows and whirling knees.

Make sure to see The Beeves at The Gothic for their show this Friday, February 10th with Mustard Plug; tickets here.

-Pete

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

Cafe Aion Music: Week Two featuring Ben Hanna & Whiskey Autumn

By: Pete Laffin

The single best part of booking a new venue in town (especially one with the enviable setting Cafe Aion provides (fireplace burning, house lights low, and hardwood floors made for dancing), is that I get to come watch acts I love. Much like at our music opening last weekend, which featured Paul Kimbiris and the Dark Side of Pearl and Foxfeather, this weekend’s acts are ones of which I truly consider myself a fan. 

Ben Hanna.

Ben Hanna.

Friday night at 10, the enigmatic songsmith Ben Hanna will begin performing his unique blend of acoustic folk-rock. Hanna is known locally as a performer whose thoughtful songs will challenge you as much as they will make you hoot-and-holler along. While his songs have a rough edge both musically and lyrically, his utterly authentic performances render his music listener-friendly. “With a sort of gravely, half-speaking, half-singing vocal style, Ben Hanna has easily drawn comparisons to Lou Reed,” writes Marquee.

Whiskey Autumn. 

Whiskey Autumn. 

On Saturday at 10, the night most folks will be out celebrating Valentine’s Day, couples looking for just the right vibe should come dance and sing-a-long with Boulder staple Whiskey Autumn. The indie-pop rock trio with an early 60s Motown flavor will have you swooning to a bevy of originals and covers. Their early EPs have received a great deal of acclaim, and their track “07.04.07” was recently featured on the nationally syndicated Dave Leonard's UNLEASHED. Want the perfect way to end a romantic day with your special someone? Look no further.

Look over February's full schedule & check back for artist bios every Wednesday on BolderBeat:

For information on booking, please contact me at aionbookings@gmail.com, and I will get back to you post-haste!

-Pete

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

Opening Weekend at Cafe Aion featuring Paul Kimbiris and Foxfeather

By: Pete Laffin

This weekend marks the start of music at a great Boulder venue.

There was never any other local act I hoped would play on opening night for live music at Cafe AionPaul Kimbiris, who will be christening our new stage this Friday, February 5th at 10pm, is becoming nationally renowned for his enviable songwriting and for his own uniquely melodic brand of acoustic folk. A self-described “recovering Philadelphian”, he’s been playing around Boulder for the past five years, released a well received record last summer, and can be found on the soundtracks for major network TV shows like “The Shield”, “Gang Related”, and most recently, ABC’s “Forever”. We are honored to have him perform on such a momentous night for our new endeavor.

Boulder's Paul Kimbiris. Photo Credit: Joshua Elioseff

Boulder's Paul Kimbiris. Photo Credit: Joshua Elioseff

Playing the following evening, also at 10pm, is another burgeoning local sensation. The folk ensemble Foxfeather formed in 2013, and has made quite an impression on the Boulder music scene, offering an eclectic mix of styles, from folk to blues to bluegrass to jazz and even to pop. They regularly bring down the house at venues all over town, and are sure to rock the room at Aion.

Boulder's Foxfeather. Photo Credit: CNPhotos.

Boulder's Foxfeather. Photo Credit: CNPhotos.

Please join us in celebrating our opening weekend! It’s sure to be one for the books.

For information on booking, please contact me at aionbookings@gmail.com, and I will get back to you post-haste!

-Pete

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

A New Era of Music at Cafe Aion

By: Pete Laffin

Cafe Aoin is ready to bring on the tunes. 

A few months ago, the guys at Cafe Aion asked me to come in and talk about the possibility of creating a weekend music program. I arrived as they were closing up for the night, and I as I made my way up the stairs to the dining room, all I could think was: Fuck, this place is beautiful.

View of the stage at revamped Cafe Aion.

View of the stage at revamped Cafe Aion.

The last time I’d been in there it was called Burnt Toast, and significant upgrades had been made to the interior. A big, unnecessary wall had been removed, which opened up the room and made it seem far larger than before; a new bar had been built with significant space surrounding it for late-night patrons. Coupled with what the room already had going for itself (a red-brick fireplace, hardwood flooring, wide windows looking out on Pennsylvania Avenue), these upgrades made the place glow with late night potential. When I learned that a new stage would be built as an extension of the window platforms, I signed on to the project without hesitation. This looked to be the kind of venue I and many other Boulder music lovers have long awaited: a beautiful, classy room tailored for acoustic acts (and small band set-ups), but with a true nightlife atmosphere (premium cocktails and craft brews).

Cafe Aion, the nightlife version, doesn’t project to be another small, rock venue that caters to obscenely loud acts, nor does it project to be anything like the acoustic alternatives in town: coffeeshops with loud machinery where half the room ignores the live music in favor of glowing laptop screens.

Cafe Aion: The Nightlife Version.

Cafe Aion: The Nightlife Version.

The potential of this project has me giddy. There is an overflow of local acts who are a perfect fit for this type of space, with very few, if any, comparable alternatives. Since taking on the booking, I have done my darnedest to pack the calendar with premium local acoustic acts. On February 5th, Paul Kimbiris (whose latest album I had the pleasure of reviewing) will christen the new stage, followed the next night by the fantastic folk ensemble, Foxfeather.

I will be writing up profiles right here on BolderBeat every Wednesday for each of the weekend acts during our first month of operation, so keep an eye out! All weekend shows begin at 10PM, and we can’t wait to share with you, the music lovers of Boulder, what we’ve put together.

Look over February's full schedule & check back for artist bios every Wednesday on BolderBeat:

For information on booking, please contact me at aionbookings@gmail.com, and I will get back to you post-haste!

-Pete

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

Band of Brothers: A Sit-Down with Whiskey Autumn

By: Pete Laffin

Whiskey Autumn are all about their art.

WA. Photo Credit:   Hannah Oreskovich

WA. Photo Credit: Hannah Oreskovich

I had the great pleasure of sitting down last week with Whiskey Autumn, a band I enjoy and admire, for an in-depth chat. They're headlining The Fall Showcase tomorrow night. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did:

I’ve been a fan of Whiskey Autumn for awhile. What I’ve always been impressed by since the first time I saw you guys is that the aesthetic you present isn’t based on a current “in” trend. Often, newly-formed bands put their finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing: “I know, let’s start a new-grass band with a Fleet Foxes twist!” Rather, you guys settled into an aesthetic that’s very much not “in,” namely first-wave British Invasion. That’s what it looks like, what it sounds like; from your originals, to your covers, to the way David and Greg knock their heads around in your music video like a couple of Beatles bobble-head dolls. It’s very bold to go against the grain, but it’s even bolder to pick something so far from the norm. How did the three of you individually contribute toward defining this aesthetic?

Greg: That’s an interesting question. I guess it wasn’t a conscious decision to go toward or against a trend. We were all big Beatles fans. We all had the vinyl. It was the way we first bonded.

David: Greg already had Whiskey Autumn going before we met. Then we found Matty, and it was just one of those things: What do we all listen to? What do you we like? Because that’s going to be the fun stuff to cover. Being a band in Boulder, we have to play three-hour sets.

Matty: We’re not a jam band.

Thank god.

Greg: One of the first covers we honed in on was “Wouldn’t it Be Nice” by The Beach Boys.

Matty: Which is not an easy song. If you have the balls to play any Beach Boys song to begin with, that one isn’t high on the list. You need multiple strong vocalists.

Greg: And from a songwriting perspective, it’s incredible how quick the movements come in that song. It’s almost a classical piece in that way. We were really drawn to that. And especially on our first EP, we wanted to play some doo-wop.

Laffin with the Whiskey Autumn boys. Photo Credit:   Hannah Oreskovich

Laffin with the Whiskey Autumn boys. Photo Credit: Hannah Oreskovich

That’s the other direction you guys go: Motown. And while the subgenres aren’t the same, they happened within the same few years.

Matty: The one thing we all could definitely agree on was the music we would listen to when we were hanging out, which was Hard Day’s Night or Pet Sounds or Rubber Soul. For all of us, that era shines above everything else.

That’s really strange. That’s a very specific subset of music for three players to run with in this day and age. It must be daunting to think you are attempting to repave a way that has already passed. Your originals reflect this era, too. In light of this, what does success look like to you guys? A week from today? A month? A year? What are the expectations for pushing something no one knows they are looking for?

Greg: The success is making the art.

Matty: Great songs speak for themselves, regardless of the genre.

Couldn’t agree more with that.

Matty: Whether you’re reaching for one aesthetic or another, if the melody is strong and the lyrics are strong, it’s timeless. You can still listen to “Be My Baby” and it sounds just as fresh and magical as it did the first time you heard it when The Ronnettes put it out. In the studio, we just want our songs to be the best they can be.

So is that success to you guys? Making the best song you can make? Does moving up in the industry have anything to do with it?

Greg: I find the joy in the creating. That’s when I feel like we’re doing the real shit. It’s also a beautiful thing not having to answer to anybody, which we don’t right now, outside of budget constraints. The art is what lives on. Live shows are super important, but creating the records is where it’s really at. That’s what will live on.

Matty: The band has grown from a bedroom-folk thing to more of a rock band, and I come from a hip-hop background playing with DJs. We are always trying to build on what we know. It’s like advancing in math, always trying to solve more complicated riddles.

Behind the scenes of Whiskey Autumn's newest music video. Photo Credit:   Hannah Oreskovich

Behind the scenes of Whiskey Autumn's newest music video. Photo Credit: Hannah Oreskovich

Having played here for a few years, what do you make of the Boulder scene?

David: The Boulder scene is different than the one I grew up in.

Where did you grow up?

David: Dallas. Downtown there were fifteen venues with three or four band bills and everyone supported and watched each other. If you played the nine o’clock slot, you would go over to another bar to support another band that had the midnight slot. Here it’s like, damn, we have to play three hours and be on every fucking song the whole night. Where I came from you got forty-five minute slots where you played the best songs you could in that time. Being here is like being a glorified bar band where you are in the background a lot and noise cancelling.

Do you think that’s because of a shortage of acts here?

Matty: It’s a shortage of venues.

David: That’s why we are working with other artists and BolderBeat trying to create a mid-level venue over at The Riverside.

Greg: You have The Fox or The Boulder Theater, but you have to build up a lot before you can get there.

Right, you have to be invited into the kingdom. Moving on: nostalgia and sentiment. Two very unhip things you also make hip.

Greg: Why thank you.

Everything you play, especially the songs you write, seem to be reaching back in time. Not just the aesthetic, but the lyrics, the mood of the sound.

Greg: I’m always trying to draw on things that happen to me, to think of them in scenes and tell a story. I’m trying to make a song out of the picture in my head that I see of the past. After you have had some time to think about things, you can understand them better. You put them through a different filter. You write a song about it and really understand what happened.

Band of Brothers. Photo Credit:   Hannah Oreskovich

Band of Brothers. Photo Credit: Hannah Oreskovich

In order to live together and be in a band together, you guys must get along pretty well.

Matty: There are times we want to punch each other in the face.

David: It’s gotten to brotherhood.

Matty: We have this family dynamic. We aren’t competing. We are a family and we want to do what is good for the family name.

David: Exactly. These guys are my brothers. I want them to be honest with me. Letting them down is worse than hurting yourself.

Matty: This has definitely been something different for me. It’s been very exciting. I was asked if I could fill in at first, which makes you more present. Count to four, count to six; whichever time signature we’re playing in. Stay in the pocket, keep it simple. I went into this thinking I was just filling in, which I love, even if it’s in a scene I’m not really into. It’s going to bring something new out of me. You just make a choice that it will be fun. And here we are nearly three years later, a repertoire of ninety songs we can play together, always having new musical ideas to bounce off one another. I could not have envisioned this is what it would become.

Check out the Whiskey Autumn trio this Friday at The Riverside where they are headlining The Fall Showcase. More details here.

Join the FB event here.

-Pete

All photos per Hannah OreskovichThis interview was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat. 

Album Review: Paul Kimbiris' "The Dark Side of Pearl"

By: Pete Laffin

Paul Kimbiris' newest release is his best work yet. 

Ever wonder what Bob Dylan would sound like if he could sing?

First off, I entirely reject the notion that Bob Dylan actually can sing, or that he is an “interesting” or “unique” singer, as people like to say at parties. The man can’t sing.  What’s more, claiming he can only diminishes his genius. The genre known as “singer/songwriter” seemingly requires the capacity to perform two specific functions. And yet, Bob Dylan became the greatest ever without being able to do one of them. Consider Michael Jordan becoming the greatest basketball player without being able to dribble, or Churchill becoming the greatest orator with a stutter. This is what Bob Dylan somehow pulled off. There’s no need to make excuses for him. His accomplishment is otherworldly, akin to Beethoven composing the Ninth Symphony while deaf.

paul kimbiris.

paul kimbiris.

Another qualification: In no way am I equating Dylan to the subject of this review, Paul Kimbiris. Dylan didn’t just write some of the greatest songs you’ve ever heard, he wrote most of them. When a song plays in a bar or a coffee shop and someone asks “who wrote that?” the answer is usually Dylan. In hundreds of years, skeptics will question whether or not any human could be so prolific in a given craft, the same way they question Shakespeare: Was there an enslaved coterie of writers he stole from? Was Satan in on it?

But back to the initial question: What would Dylan sound like with a decent set of pipes? This writer’s contention is that it might sound a lot like Boulder’s own Paul Kimbiris, especially on his latest album, “The Dark Side of Pearl.” His vocals are rich and deep with a timbre that occasionally rattles the ground. And yet, he retains the frantic dips and leaps that define the Dylan aesthetic. His songwriting is pretty darn good, too.

The title track “The Dark Side of Pearl” is where my Dylan musings find their strongest foothold. On the iconic downtown strip of Boulder known as Pearl, one strata of society buys $900 table napkins from knick-knack shops, while another earns its keep juggling flaming swords, or slinging coffee, or washing dishes, or working retail, as Kimbiris himself did years ago. From behind a counter he watched the crowds march down the red brick walking mall with plump shopping bags and blissful expressions. This track is a whimsical meditation on those days. It’s not the biting social commentary familiar to Dylan fans, but simply one man’s recollection of a less-than-stellar sitch: “All your confidence has left you/And you feel no one respects you/A simple hello would make all the difference in the world,” he wails at the chorus with his Dylan-esque vocal abandon. The perky rhythm and melody stand in contrast to the subject of the piece, which provides a satisfying dissonance. The essence of this track is that of the proverbial madman laughing at the rain, and you’ll find yourself laughing and clapping along too.

“Heavy Things” is another tune colored with the markings of Dylan. “Heavy things always come down/Get used to it/Deal with it,” is the bluntly sung chorus, a modern echo to A Hard Rain is Gonna Fall.” Even more than on “The Dark Side of Pearl,” Kimbiris takes the vocal aesthetic of Dylan and infuses it with his own signature opulence. The instrumentation on this track is simply beautiful: the winding electric guitar notes in the deep background, the skillfully placed keyboard notes, and the resonant cello bows (played powerfully by Philip Parker of Denver’s Glowing House; also the record’s producer). The sound is more early-era alternative rock than it is folk, and the combination is damn cool. And more importantly, when he laments the heavier happenings of life, it rings with authority. The qualitative feel of the song is a great match for the message it hopes to convey. This song sounds like the hard-fought acceptance of life’s tragedies.

When Kimbiris first handed me the disc and I saw a track entitled “Sitting Home Alone with Your Guitar” I recoiled. Listening to artists talk about their art to other artists is something I’m just plain sick of. Having played stages for the past eighteen years, I’ve had my fill of listening to this kind of thing. (I’ve similarly been unable to attend a writer’s “talk” since grad school.) At this point it all just seems so (sorry, Mom, I can’t avoid the word)… masturbatory. And worse, the attempt to do so within a singular piece of art is loaded with landmines. It’s just so easy to come off trite or self-involved, or worse, miles off the mark. But after listening to the track dozens of times, I find myself experiencing two of life’s greatest feelings: being surprised, and being wrong. Kimbiris’ secret for pulling off the dreaded artist-explaining-art-in-a-piece-of-art is remaining a few feet off the ground throughout the piece, never committing to maxims, but sticking to abstractions. In this way, he is able to convey his experience without sounding preachy or clichéd. “When you’re sitting home alone with your guitar/The universe expanding, a union torn apart/Counting constellations from the rooftop of your car,” is the line recurring at the chorus, accented by some of the highest and truest vocal notes on the record. The description rings true: The art we make, we don’t really make, but access, from a place somewhere above our heads, and we pull it down and filter it through our souls. What’s more, the song itself is a clinic on quality songwriting. The airy and wispy vocal harmonies are a modern take on Simon and Garfunkel, but not as sleepy as what you might hear on a Fleet Foxes record. The cascading finger-picking gives a nod to the virtue of minimalism in acoustic music, and the nearly imperceptible shifts in volume dynamics keep it interesting till the end. The successful execution of this track is an accomplishment acoustic players from coast-to-coast would like to have under their belts.  

My highest expectation for the record was a song of Kimbiris’ I’ve been familiar with for some time. “Bring Out Your Dead” is a straight up modern folk classic. If you love soulful acoustic music and are a fan of Monty Python (and man, are there a lot of people who fit this description), this might be your favorite song ever. It’s also another track where my Dylan-on-steroids vocal comparison finds a home. While “Dark Side of Pearl” recalls early Dylan protest songs, “Bring Out Your Dead” is more of the 70s Dylan love jam variety. While Kimbiris dips and climbs the length of his range with startling immediacy, the timbre of his tenor sustains. The elegant melody derived from a chord progression familiar to every guitar novice (you can figure out most of these songs in a single sitting, I even covered one at a show last weekend), the bittersweet beat, the lyrics that raise more questions than they answer: It all adds up to some seriously satisfying song-smithing.

Which is why I have to sadly conclude this track an opportunity missed. The magic is in there somewhere, but you have to strain to hear it due to overproduction. There is simply too much going on in the instrumentation, and the elaborate harmonies seem unnecessary, especially if you’ve seen this video on YouTube. The production is too smart by half, and the vocals are sterile in comparison to what Kimbiris achieves elsewhere on the record. Word is he will be re-recording this track for an upcoming project, and I can’t wait to hear how it turns out anew.

the album art from "The Dark Side of Pearl".

the album art from "The Dark Side of Pearl".

I’ll end with the real gem of the album: “Home Soon.” This track more than any reflects modern rock sensibilities; it could stand out in any of Ryan Adams recent releases. It’s got an infectious hook at the bridge, but it doesn’t rely on endless repetition (think “Let Her Go” by Passenger). The vocals are revelatory in their scruffy authenticity and the instrumentation is pristine, yet soulful, especially at the transitions, which are aided by rich cello bows. Local luminary Gregory Alan Isakov aided Kimbiris in the studio on this one (he also has co-writing credit for the track). Kimbiris was emphatic on the following point in the run-up to this review: If you want to make a great record, find great musicians to help you pull it off. He raved about the contributions of Patrick Meese, Ben Gallagher, Jeb Bows, and Philip Parker, each accomplished music makers from various musical outfits.

Though I can’t go into each track in-depth due to space/time restrictions, that’s not to say they aren’t worth some deep listening. If you want to hear how a single major-to-minor note dip can alter the complexion of an entire composition, take a listen to “Mexico.” If you revel in being stabbed in the heart by a single lyric (“Don’t know what I’m going to do/There’s a light in the tunnel and I hope it’s you”) listen to the “Ballad of Alex and Victoria.” And so on. Just buy the record, if only to give me a good old-fashioned bullshit check. You’ll thank me for it.

And if you see Kimbiris’ name on a local lineup, get your ass to that show. (Hint: There's one this weekend.) It’s rare that any local scene should harbor such a talent. Chances are, he won’t be part of it for long.       

-Pete

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

Augustus Release New EP, "Into Frames"

By: Pete Laffin

Augustus are one of few bands doing "Americana" well.

Picture a tall, slender white male in skinny jeans and a fedora. His five-o-clock shadow and buttoned-up flannel give him the vague whiff of farmy-ness, while his thick-rimmed glasses suggest a summer or two in Europe. He steps toward the microphone, his guitar held close to his chest. There is something apologetic in his cadence, as if he pities us for caring about ‘little-old-him’, as if he isn't bursting with gig-time exhilaration.

Perhaps he isn’t bursting. Perhaps he is that cool. It just isn’t very likely, and this disengaged, ‘bothered-to-be-here’ shtick has grown stale. Who else is tired of musicians pretending not to care?

He hunches down into the microphone when he could have simply raised it to his face: the falsely meek have long since inherited the live music earth. He begins to strum a simple progression and sings abstruse lyrics about a lover lost, flipping bizarrely between first and third person, or some other lazy songwriting oddity. A couple of bars before the second verse, a kick-drum enters and plods as predictably as a sitcom laugh-track, lending the composition the illusion of growth toward something grander. Suffice to say, an airy female backup vocalist will appear, followed by a fiddle solo, followed by the chorus one last time with extra raspy vocals, etcetera, etcetera. And so goes the rest of a stale song born of a rapidly dying sub genre of rock-and-roll.

Indie Folk Loves the Suitcase Kick Drum.

Indie Folk Loves the Suitcase Kick Drum.

This music we call indie folk is inexplicably the embodiment of 2015 popular rock music. It dominates rock radio and café open mics and white kid fashion. But indie folk as we know it hasn’t got much time left atop its perch. (Let’s be honest, it’s a miracle it’s been there so long.) Its ascendency has long prevented the uprising of something fresher from its seed: something that takes the best of indie folk and transforms it. Think of what the grunge rockers of the early 90s did with hair metal: They kept the ass-kickery, but relegated the power ballads and hair products into late night infomercial-ville. Indie folk has long needed its grunge moment: an injection of the raw and the visceral, and a bleeding out of the predictable and the soppy.

Which brings us to Boulder-bred power trio Augustus. Fresh off a packed Fox gig and their recent EP release Into Frames, the band appears bent on pushing listeners toward this very exodus; toward something with sweat and bones and teeth, toward something ten miles down the road you never saw coming.

To be sure, their mission was not always so clear, nor their potential. They came together in early 2014 under the name Tusk, which they were forced to change after a few months of gigging, thanks to a Fleetwood Mac tribute band. They had trouble booking desired venues, and even when they did, they often appeared awkward due mostly to the central struggle of their project: How do you take the instruments of the indie folk golden era (cello, banjo, acoustic guitar, harmonica) and make them rock? And how do you do it with only three players? I’m not talking Béla Fleck-style rock here either. I’m talking Tom Waits and Robert Johnson-style rock (both artists Augustus covers): rough, raw beats, and blues.

The Augustus Boys.

The Augustus Boys.

Augustus’ initial challenge was obvious: They couldn’t achieve a big enough sound to capture the larger local rooms. At early Augustus shows, one got the impression of an outmanned and outgunned rebel army attempting to overtake a higher ground and failing. It wasn’t loud enough; it wasn’t determined enough. It sagged. The songs frontman Colin Kelly brought to the band were better suited for his solo project, for which they were originally written. The act catered to crowds of wine sippers rather than beer swillers, which, as any local player will tell you, is where the real money’s at.

But as any Malcom Gladwell fan would say, if you put in the hours, you reap the rewards. Augustus began practicing more regularly and gigging like they had ecophobia. Not long into their second identity, Augustus had bigger crowds showing up and staying the night. They’d broken the barrier for which every local act longs, but few achieve: Suddenly, there were faces on the dance floor that didn’t belong to close friends or significant others. With hungrier and rawer originals like “Born of Men” and “Bloodbath” and a new slew of unorthodox, head-knocking covers, they earned license to offer weekend audiences their more introspective and vulnerable work. This arsenal widened their appeal and deepened the experience of their set; the ballads of earlier days began to land with their originally desired impact.

They’ve since graduated to playing more select venues, and they’ve created tangible local buzz. So when their EP release party for Into Frames hits (The Lay Dog in late August), it will be a significant event for Boulder music fans. Friday nights in this town have been blessed in recent history with an enviable music scene, and the release of this record is another noteworthy development.

The cover of the EP features the three players standing on the front porch of a residential neighborhood with their indie folk golden-era instruments at their sides. They each wear black suits and ties and bizarre white masks with horns cover their faces. It’s an appropriate choice of album art in context of the space they hope to fill within the indie folk scene: They will conform to the extent that they wish, because some of it is worth conforming to, but no further. However, It’s a jarring choice of album art in light of their on-stage personas (barring Wright, the undisputed fashionista of the trio). Kelly most often sports graphic tees atop scraggly jeans (who, me care?) while the occasionally suspendered super utility-man Jim Herlihy looks like the guy you cheated off of in advanced calculus. The cover suggests this project is an effort to stick out rather than fit in, and in a scene that more often rewards homogeny, it’s bold.

Not long into the first track, “Born of Men,” it becomes clear that this sophomore release is an improved effort from their first EP, The Common Collapse. Kelly’s baritone vocals seem to have found a way to pop on the high-end without overpowering the instrumentation, which was an issue on Collapse. Right out of the gate, Kelly reaches to the top shelf of his range and delivers a long, bendy wail with an honest scratch in his throat. His lyrics on this track are exceptional at times (though this holds true throughout the record). The line “warm blue blood’s running through my veins” repeats at the bridge of this bluesy thumper, and it showcases his ability to say something plain, penetrating, and true. The rhythm section on this track is also another leap forward from Collapse. You can really feel the depth of the pluck on Wright’s cello, followed by the instrument’s lush ring. Thumbing a quality blues-rock bass line on an unfretted instrument can’t be easy, and there isn’t a flub in the tune. And beneath it all lays the foundation set by Herlihy: the occasional ambient banjo pick, the kick drum, the snare, the tambourine. His performance gives the illusion of extra players (and yes, he does this all live too, while flipping a pizza, sending a text, and passing the dutchie to the left-hand side). “Born of Men” is a jab to the jaw.  

The second track “Virtues” comes from the vault of Kelly’s solo project stash. Its sound and lyrics encapsulate the longing mood of the record as a whole: Life is beautiful, but it’s off a tick; we’ve lost something, and we can’t remember what it was. “I just want my victory/I just want my happenstance/To find me.” And we need it to find us because we don’t know where to look on our own. The chromatic melody and lush harmonies land well on the ears on this one, because they’re distinct from the traditional indie-folk songwriting formula. And the heart of this track is the beat of Wright’s slashing cello, and the solo he rips at the end. It’s aggressive and beautiful and disorienting. But if there were a moment on this album you wished Augustus rocked a full drum kit, it would be here. While it is impressive the three are able to achieve a sound so big with their chosen tools (due especially to the many contributions of Herlihy), it is easy to imagine the heights achievable on this track with a beefed up bottom end.

The masked Men.

The masked Men.

Return” is the most accessible track on the record. It’s bitter-sweetly upbeat and the melody recalls Motown, with Kelly crooning his best Otis Redding. It’s also the EP’s most complete track, arranged to amplify the strengths of each band member: Kelly’s soul-belting verses, Herlihy’s elegant and rich banjo solo, and Wright’s driving pluck. It’s produced with a fine subtlety: Each movement within the piece stands distinctly beside the next. While Kelly recently lamented the “poppy-ness” of this song (as any self-respecting artist reflexively resents accomplishments with commercial potential), “Return” is an unqualified ace. If this article has sparked your curiosity over Augustus at all, give this track a listen.

The second-to-last track “Bloodbath” serves to dispel the notion of Augustus as a bluegrass band, a conclusion that would be easy to draw from a quick glimpse at their onstage set-up. And in recent years, a bluegrass band is quite a fashionable thing to be, especially here out west. But Augustus wants none of that. “We don’t want to be lumped in there,” Kelly recently told me. “We want to be a rock band.” This track is a definitive step in that direction. It opens with a heavily distorted electric guitar line and a thumping electric bass, for which Wright has traded in his cello. “Bloodbath” also represents the fullest percussion sound on the EP. The track is a spot-on melodious rock-and-roller, and according to the band, a sign of things to come.

Finally, the lament of “Cursive,” the last track of the EP, has been voiced more and more by artists of this generation: With the great promise of a more socially interconnected life by virtue of technological advancement, the exact opposite has occurred. As our social connections have broadened, they’ve shallowed. “Oh the distance in the shrinking word/Write me a letter in cursive girl” sings Kelly at the chorus, and more than any on this record, this lyric lands. (Full disclosure: I am likely the biggest cursive-in-the-classroom advocate you know.) “Cursive” features a simple chord progression on the guitar and rich background instrumentation with Herlihy’s delicately placed plucking, and Wright bowing long, sweet notes. This track is a tale of two vocal performances by Kelly. On the high end, particularly at the last chorus, he delivers notes that rumble the earth in opulent tones. The verses, however, which reside at the bottom of his baritone range, are frail in comparison to what Kelly’s able to accomplish throughout the rest of record. But as each Augustus project has upgraded from the last, it’s likely that will be resolved in future recordings.

As a whole, Into Frames is a distinct leap forward, in both songwriting and production, for an ascendant local band. It also succeeds in its intention, which is to supply the community with a different twist on the best of what’s already been done. Boulder music fans should give this one a good listen and look forward to whatever’s next from Augustus.

Is indie folk’s much needed grunge moment upon us? No, not yet. But Into Frames is a step in the right direction.

-Pete

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