We's Us' Newest EP Was Recorded at Jake Cinninger of Umphrey's McGee's Studio

By: Will Baumgartner

Denver has always been a great town for rock, and the powerhouse quartet known as We’s Us are busy proving that tradition is still alive and well. Their recent EP Zeus is the latest in a handful of strong releases the band has put out since their formation in 2012 – and guitarist/frontman Michael “Weeze” Dawald has a lot more time and focus to devote to the group since leaving the bacchanalian funk band Rowdy Shadehouse last year.

We's Us.

We's Us.

Zeus is a three-song document which showcases the power of the band and also their diversity. While the band’s musical personality falls squarely in the rock genre, their self-proclaimed influences include bands like Soundgarden and Led Zeppelin, but also range as wide as James Brown, George Clinton, and Bob Marley

Zeus was recorded in October 2017 at Umphrey’s McGee guitarist Jake Cinninger’s Boondocks Studio in Niles, Michigan. The engineer on the record was Jim Leep, who has recorded Umphrey’s and Yonder Mountain String Band, among others. It was co-produced by Cinninger, Dawald, and Willie Waldman. Waldman also played trumpet on the third track, an ethereal instrumental called “Passing of a Soul” which was written for Dawald’s grandmother (and played at her funeral). Cinninger also guests on the recording, adding a second guitar to the title track. Keyboardist Stephen Howell, bassist Chris Crantz, and drummer Blake Manion lay down a solid foundation throughout the EP, and Dawald proves himself not only a ridiculously fierce guitarist, but also a strong vocalist. I’ve personally known Weeze for awhile and always been a fan of his playing, but I never knew he could sing like that.

After listening to this and other recordings by We’s Us, you’ll be eager to see the band bring all the fury and passion of their music to the stage! Lucky for you We’s Us play in Denver this Friday the 13th at Your Mom’s House. Get yourself there and in the meantime, give Zeus a listen.

Keep up with We’s Us on Facebook.

-Will

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

The Malai Llama Lit Up The Fox Theatre's Stage Like A Wild Fire

By: Jura Daubenspeck

Spring has sprung, and Colorado has been keeping it as colorful as ever with vibrant sunsets, cool breezes, and music that won’t quit. Friday night at the Fox Theatre was one for the books, as experimental rock’s bad mama jamas The Malai Llama put on a headlining performance that exploded with color and rhythm.

The Malai Llama at The Fox Theatre last weekend. Photo Credit:   Kaotic Design Productions

The Malai Llama at The Fox Theatre last weekend. Photo Credit: Kaotic Design Productions

The venue was packed with new grads and rascals alike, all greeting the weekend with smiles, twirls, and yes- even a few dance-offs. Local improvisational rock group Intergalactic Peace Jelly took to the stage first, inviting attendees onto their spacecraft and blasting off for the night. Their experimental, jam-heavy set was the perfect launching point for the remaining performances.

The second act, Woodshed Red, brought up the energy in a totally different way, covering a variety of songs, with my personal favorites being “Ramble On,” “Nuthin’ But a G’Thang,” and “Colt 45.” The way they incorporated the fiddle and standup bass to create gritty twists to classic tunes made my heart sing.

By the time The Malai Llama took the stage, the crowd was fired up and ready to be wooed- and this band absolutely did not disappoint. There were so many aspects of Malai Llama’s set that blew me away: Jennifer Hartswick’s slay-worthy vocals in the “Immigrant Song” cover, the band’s mesmerizing onstage chemistry, and of course, the incredible lightwork with colors galore. However, what stood out to me the most was their dynamic force that made each song so unique. They managed to fill their two-hour set with so many different emotions and energies, playing songs such as “Allocamelus,” “Gentle Giant,” and “Cockeyed.” They toyed with metal-like riffs, hip-swaying funk beats, and electrifying dance music. Progressions were seamless, and no two songs sounded the same, leaving the crowd feeling satiated and at peace.

The band finished their performance with a cover of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” which had everyone embracing and feeling the love. The vibes were strong on Friday, as The Malai Llama welcomed the crowd acapella sing-along to their closing song.

Jennifer Hartswick. Photo Credit:   Kaotic Design Productions

Jennifer Hartswick. Photo Credit: Kaotic Design Productions

As an established musical dynamo within the Colorado scene, The Malai Llama has fearlessly put their killer chromatic tunes out in the world for all to hear. Their music moves as freely as the wild winds of Colorado, and the even wilder people living here. Be sure to check them out next time they hit the stage!

Connect with The Malai Llama on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

-Jura

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

Music, Magic, Rock, & Reggae: The Very Long Story of Colorado's Burnt Lips

By: Will Baumgartner

The story of Colorado’s longest-running rock/reggae band, Burnt Lips, began in 1979, and according to rhythm guitarist Chuck “Beaver” Cavanaugh, there’s no end in sight. The eight-piece band, who play a style of music they’ve dubbed “island rock”, claim several firsts in their extensive history: In 1982, they were the first Colorado band to get a video on MTV; the same year Beaver coined the term “rock reggae” in an interview on CBS’s 'PM Magazine' TV show; and while there were a couple of English bands experimenting with the combination of reggae and rock in the late 70’s, Burnt Lips were undoubtedly the first band in Colorado to try that combination and get any recognition for it.

This summer has been a big one for the group, with shows at New York’s Davestock Festival and the 33rd Annual Bong-A-Thon in Colorado. This Saturday, the Burnt Lips will take the Heritage Stage in Civic Center Park for a two hour set at Denver’s A Taste of Colorado. The band is also currently in the studio completing their next album, 'Magic in the Music', with plans for release on 04/20/2017. (Their last album, Tropical Moon, was released on 04/20 two years ago; do we see a pattern arising through the smoke here?)

Burnt Lips shows are always high-energy, audience-interactive, and in the words of member Beaver Cavanaugh: “Fun, fun, fun”. They refer to their shows as an “island rock experience”. The entire band wears tie-dye, there are extended jams on songs that are more arranged on their studio releases, and there is always a lot of back-and-forth, call-and-response interaction between the band and audience. At this Saturday’s show, we’ll also be seeing some new contributions to the band’s repertoire from backup singer Geno Sirokman.

To get a more detailed picture of what Burnt Lips have been doing all these years, I sat down with Beaver and asked him some questions. His answers told a rich and colorful story. Read on and you’ll see what I mean…

As a band who has had such a long and storied history, it’s hard to know what question to ask you first, but let’s start with the name. Why and how did you settle on “Burnt Lips”? I know you’ve been around longer than the Flaming Lips, so it couldn’t be an “answer” to that band name...

One day in Loveland, CO back in 1979, a group of my musical friends and I were jamming out some reggae tunes, you know like Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, when we lit up a small spliff. As we were enjoying the herb, the bass player, Fabrice Dolegowski, had the roach in his mouth as we finished a song. He blurted out “I burnt my lip!” Then he said that would be a great name for our little group, Burnt Lips. All I can say is that it stuck.

Burnt Lips.

Burnt Lips.

1979 was a LONG time ago, but I know that you haven’t been a band that entire time. Between 2000 and 2010, Burnt Lips were on hiatus, so what did y’all do during that decade, and what brought the band back together?

In the summer of 2000, I got married and moved to Seattle, which only lasted a year. Then I moved to the hills of northern New Jersey, where I grew up. I got a day job in the IT business as a field engineer. In the meantime, Davey Boy stayed in Colorado and worked as an executive chef. Davey has kept me alive for 30 years cooking some amazing meals, which he still does to this day for me and the band. In April of 2011, I get a call from Davey. He said, “Beaver, break time is over. We are going to have a reunion concert with all the original members of Burnt Lips. You’d better start playing your guitar.” I hadn’t touched my guitar in ten years, [so] I had to learn how to play guitar again, and relearn all of our old songs.

The reunion concerts were scheduled for June of 2011, and when I got back to Colorado, I [only] got two rehearsals with the whole band. We hit the stage, and I was overwhelmed by the response we received from our old fans. Davey told me after the show that I needed to move back to Colorado. I only had a couple of weeks to pack up and leave. My company paid all my moving expenses and I made it to Denver. The rest is history.

Burnt Lips have shared stages with some world-renowned artists, including Jimmy Cliff, and the seminal reggae/dancehall artist Yellowman, both of those at the Rainbow Music Hall, Barry Fey’s legendary Denver concert venue. What was that like? How would you compare the Colorado music scene of those days to today?

Chuck Beaver Cavanaugh.

Chuck Beaver Cavanaugh.

Well, [those shows] were awesome. Both were sold-out. Our band was on fire, and to hear a big crowd cheering after every song is a musician's dream come true. To share the stage with world-class acts inspired us to keep going and write new songs. We learned so much from both bands. Barry Fey loved and supported us. We were so honored that it is hard to find the words.

To compare then to now is also hard to express. Back in the day, there were a lot of great venues to play. Plus the pay was so much better than it is today. As a matter of fact, today the venues pay about the same, or less than we got then. The point is that everything has gone up but the bands’ wages. We could make a living back then. Now, it’s very hard to make a living. Plus today there are so many more bands in the scene. The competition is very tough. We learned to forget about going for the money and, instead, went for the creative joy of making original music. We have been an all-original band right from the start, and never wavered from that path. I must say that we have a great music scene here in Colorado though, both now and back in the day.

At what point did Burnt Lips decide to stop playing clubs and focus exclusively on festivals and special events? And what led to that decision?

When Davey Boy and I decided to put the band back together, we talked about how to approach our re-emergence into the local scene. We decided that the clubs would kill us playing four sets a night, so we wanted to try to break into the festival circuit. We knew it wouldn’t be easy. We stuck to our guns even though many local clubs wanted us to play. We started with going to the Performing Arts Jamboree. That first year, we got one gig out of it. But we kept going back each year, and each year got better and better. We now play just the summer season, from May to October. We average about two festivals or special events a month. These gigs pay much better than the local venues, and we don't have to work as hard. We get to play in front of canned audiences that are there to have fun and hear top-notch shows. At this point, we are so glad to stay the course. Plus, we don't burn out our band this way, and our fans are more likely to come see us. We keep the band and the show fresh.

James Dickson.

James Dickson.

While you coined the term “rock reggae” in 1979, there were at least a couple of other bands messing around with combining those genres, most notably The Police and The Clash. How does Burnt Lips’ music differ from these new wave/punk experimentations?

When we started, we were a pure reggae band with players from Jamaica and the Island of Trinidad playing a lot of roots reggae. When we went into Applewood Studios to record our first album, First Wave, we had a song called “Long, Long Time”. Our recording engineer, Steve Counter, asked me if he could “pop up” the song. I agreed, and as they say, history was in the making. I started to add rock musicians to bring some sparkle and energy to our music’ that’s when I brought Davey Boy in. He got my vision and turned out to be a great songwriter and arranger. This was before The Police.

[When I went to make a music video for the song], I hired Ryan Production Group, a small startup business, to film the video. I also hired the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Group to perform in the video. They were a new dance group in Denver. Peter O'Fallon, the producer and owner of Ryan Production, went on to become a very successful producer in Chicago and LA. And Cleo went on to become one of Colorado's greatest dance groups.

Ready for some rock reggae.

Ready for some rock reggae.

While filming the “Long, Long Time” video, CBS’ 'PM Magazine' taped a segment of us doing the video at a warehouse in Denver. This was at the same time that Michael Jackson was releasing the “Thriller” video, and CBS had an exclusive to air Michael's video on 'PM Magazine'. Cable was still in its earliest time, 1982. Our segment was called “The Making of a Rock Video”, and it aired right after the debut of “Thriller” nationwide. When I was interviewed on-air by 'PM Magazine' and they asked what we called our music, I said “We call it rock reggae”.

[After that], we all thought we were going to be rock stars, but, alas, the music business is the toughest business of all. We got lots of shows, but never scored the right management we needed to make the next step, to get to the next level. When The Police showed up, I couldn't believe they were an instant success and we weren't. We were possibly the first rock reggae band in America. But we kept going, and we are still producing original music today.

“Long, Long Time” was also the first song by a Colorado band to have a video on MTV. That must have been incredibly exciting. Did the band at that time recognize the historical significance that this would have?

No we didn’t recognize the historical significance at that time. We thought it was cool to be on MTV and we were proud of it. Today, we just recognize that it is part of our legacy.

In the studio.

In the studio.

You’re a rather large band, with Davey Boy on lead guitar and vocals while you jam rhythm guitar, James Dickson on bass, Gene Sirockman on lead and background vocals, Ron Wright on flute and sax, Carl Holz holding down drums, William Cordiner on keys, and Amy Garcia on vocals. How active are the other band members in creating the music that ends up being heard on your recordings and live?

When I started the band, it was my idea to give all the players in the band a chance to tap into their own creativity. Each member basically writes their own musical parts with Davey giving them some ideas to work. He is such a good arranger and allows the players creative license. One of our vocalists, Geno Sirokman, writes lyrics, and Davey writes the music. They are kind of our John and Paul team. We do it collectively.

For your performance at this year’s A Taste of Colorado in Denver, do you have any special treats or surprises in store for the audience?

We will be playing some of our new songs from our upcoming release, Magic In The Music, including “Party Song”, which is a crowd pleaser.

With as long as this band’s been around, do you expect to keep going for a long time to come? I think your fans would like that just fine, but… you tell me: long-range plans for Burnt Lips?

Oh yes, we will be playing and creating new original music until the end. We built our own studio we call “Lips Central”. After our live-performance season, we take the winter months to record new material. We no longer care about making money, but put more stock in the making of new, original music. We live in the creative process. And we are a happy band.

Happy indeed.

Burnt Lips play the Heritage Stage in Civic Center Park this Saturday, September 3rd from 5:30-7:30PM as part of the aforementioned A Taste of Colorado Festival. Make sure to check them out and keep up with the band on their Facebook and their website.

-Will

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

Sharing The Merry Madness of the Moment: The Alcapones

By: Will Baumgartner

There are three things I can pretty much guarantee if you go to an Alcapones show:

  1. You’ll leave feeling shaken up, stirred, and poured into a very pretty vessel.
  2. You’ll have trouble finding enough wild words to describe what you’ve just experienced.
  3. You’ll probably dance all the way home. I mean, unless you’re, like, DEAD! But even then, by the time the show is over, you’ll probably have been brought mysteriously and miraculously back to life.
The Alcapones.

The Alcapones.

This Boulder-based band hits the stage like a traveling minstrel show, determined to breathe as much life and fun into (insert your town name here) as they possibly can, and they do just that with their driving rhythms, delirious horn harmonies, and pointedly silly/ridiculous/wise singalong songs. The group is relentless in their determination to have as much fun as they possibly can, and to make sure their audience feels as much a part of the madcap show as the band itself. During their recent party/performance at the Boulder Theater, I don’t think I heard a single, stale exhortation to “get up and dance”, a phrase you so often hear from other bands. Why? They didn’t need to try to make the audience dance, it just happened.

A huge aspect of this instant dance-party atmosphere (and one that every band who aspires to create a similar feel with their show could learn from) is the Alcapones’ instinctive understanding that if you want your crowd to cut loose and be spontaneous, you’ve got to embody that same spirit onstage. This is a quality The Alcapones have in spades: a huge percentage of what’s going on up there when they play was not scripted or rehearsed. It’s the overwhelming, joyous madness of the moment taking them over. So if you go to one of their shows and find yourself inexplicably unable to loosen up and go a little crazy, perhaps you should have your vital signs checked. And if you find that you are in fact clinically dead, don’t worry: The Alcapones probably have a cure for that too.

Now let’s move on to our interview (in which the group repeatedly made me laugh hard): like all the best interview subjects, these brilliant maniacs have a way of eclipsing my rather simple questions with the overflowing poetry of their answers.

I saw one of your shows recently and was swept up in the powerful, dance-friendly music, and the overwhelming spirit of fun you create onstage. Although your Facebook page and website describe you as being primarily ska and reggae, I heard many other influences as well. What artists have influenced the Alcapones most directly?

Early Jamaican music from the 1960s influences our music most heavily. Artists like The Skatalites, Toots and the Maytals, Lynn Taitt, The Pioneers, The Ethiopians, Prince Buster, Lee Scratch Perry, Laurel Aitken, and The Specials have had a very direct impact on our sound. Naturally, as a ska/reggae band, we have some tributes to Bob Marley thrown in; however, our sound is more 'early Bob' in that we focus on a faster, more upbeat ska-feel, rather than a slower reggae sound that's more typical of 70s and 80s Jamaican music.  Our “other” influences would include Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Parliament Funkadelic, Fela Kuti, Taraf De Haidouks, Dusty Fingers, and a smorgasbord of international/world/middle eastern Yiddish and Klezmer music.  

You had a few guest musicians onstage with you at the show I saw. Do you use guest/sit-in players often? What are the most people you've ever had onstage at once? 

Our core group is six or seven members (when Johannes is in town), but we are lucky enough to feature a heavy hitter from time to time. Occasionally some renegade jazz cats show up unannounced. We’re methodized misfits and we attract other methodized misfits, who also miraculously play horns.  

What's the history of this band? When and how did the group start, and what changes have occurred since that formation?

Several members started a reggae dub project called Weapons of Mass Creation back in 2011. That group fell apart in 2012 but some of the members wanted to keep playing together, and to make the sound more of a ska feel. And so begins our story:

Sam (on accordion) and Shaun (on sax) met and jammed out to some Joe Gibbs and Lee Perry, realizing that they had a mutual love for the music. They began playing on Pearl St. as a two-piece.

Eventually, Sam introduced Shaun to Clay and Johannes, and Clay happened to know a metal drummer (Jake). Prior to The Alcapones, Jake had never played one drop rhythm, but his youth and aggressive backbone beats have become part of our signature sound.  

In 2014, the Swedish international superstar, Johannes (trombone) moved with his wife to Chile. But he still frequents a couple of shows a year dressed in a red onesie; he always brings some punk rocker poetry and plays a mean shaker.

Tom, the replacement trombonist, was sourced from Wyoming’s Craigslist. He was looking to make a buck doing some church gigs, and later confessed that he was actually armed when he came to the first rehearsal, as he didn’t know what we were all about.

Finally, hot off the boat from Hawaii, Jayma (clarinet) took a quick job as a ski instructor up at Eldora, where her fateful path would cross with the band on a night when The Alcapones played at a party. She had just come from a jazz jam at an old folks home when she hopped up on stage, unannounced, and ripped a few solos while metaphorically punching us upside the head with her circus antics. Needless to say, she fit right in, and she’s been in the band ever since.  

While watching the group onstage, I kept thinking of Gogol Bordello. I know your core sound comes mostly from Jamaica, but I wonder: are y'all familiar with this group and has their Eastern European gypsy-carnival style influenced The Alcapones at all? 

To even be remotely compared to Gogol Bordello is an honor. We have been tinkering with the Klezmer sound and studying some of the scales and the basic Hebrew idiom that make up their music. For us, that sound is especially enhanced when Shaun is on accordion. The clarinet also adds to this flavor. Our partycore modus meshes naturally with the street party style that Gogol bring to their shows. It’s spontaneous combustion. It’s in our blood, and so we cough up whatever comes up from the infinite spastic envelope of a liberating process.

We also find a lot in common with the upbeat bluegrass styles that are popular in the CO mountains, and play shows with bands like Caribou Mountain Collective frequently. That's why we sometimes call our music island-grass or mountain ska, to distinguish ourselves a little more. A lot of people think of ska as being third-wave ska like Voodoo Glow Skulls, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, or Reel Big Fish, but we're much more first-wave oriented. It's all part of the ska revival and the street party ethic making music for the common people, and it can be found in a lot of genres of music.

Horns on horns.

Horns on horns.

Does (lead vocalist/guitarist) Shaun Garin write most or all of your material, or is songwriting a collaborative effort?

It's a split between Shaun 62% and Sam 28%, with the others supplying the anamorphic 10% injection of whatever gets invented and connected. It’s like a bin of socks: lots of matches with a few strays.  Sam has written a lot of the horn lines and thematic impressions for our original songs, drawing heavily from the Jamaican influences we mentioned. Shaun has written full songs, but also helps meld the horn lines into more natural progressions, and he writes most of the lyrics. The other members add their opinions musically and it kind of melds together organically. It's a joint effort that takes a lot of jamming and practice to figure out what sounds the best. We’re an amazingly egalitarian group.

One of the things I'm most impressed by are your horns, so I feel compelled to ask: Who writes your horn arrangements? 

Sam usually writes the melody, or composes it after humming ideas into his phone, and Jayma and Tom add in amazing harmonies. The horn lines are constantly evolving, and each show can be dramatically different when premeditated execution gives rise to monotony. It’s a kind of Ouija board method combined with an extemporaneous Mandelbrot series. A recent fan described it best when he said "gushing horn-lines." We want to make ourselves cry while we pull your heart-strings; to balance that in-your-face funky aggression with the sweetness that could make Saint Cecilia weep.  

Listen to The Alcapones album Happy

What can an audience expect from an Alcapones show, and what do you hope they'll take away from it when they go home?

Rawness. Sincerity. The REAL. Whether it’s a spontaneous circus show that erupts or an introspective interpretation of a disquieted dark star, you better believe it’s going to evolve directly out of the present moment. Drop off stress and drama, insert happy and dance your face off. It's the medicine for a dark night of the soul experience. We want you to snap through! Self-express that badass self you are! And share your own unique thang, whatever that may be! We had a gal doing push ups last night front and center and we were cracking up on stage. Do whatever you want! Sit in a pimp daddy chair and simply go “yeh” and enjoy the vibe. We’re sharing and hope you share too! We want kids springing on the dance floor whirling around like a dervish… we want grandpa with his walker boogying down… (all of which has happened!). More so, we want to be that therapy for a good and grateful life.

So what’s next for The Alcapones?

Recording our second album with a desire to continue to grow in gladness by playing shows for our people. Lady Gaga say’s she’ll be the first to play a show in space. We say we’ll be the first to do some extreme banding in a hot air balloon with bungee jumping.

The Alcapones will perform at the Dark Horse this Saturday (04/23), and at the St. Julien in May (05/06). For more news, photos, videos and fun, visit them on their website or Facebook.

-Will

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