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.

Boulder's Asalott: Exploring Musical Worlds

By: Will Baumgartner

Oh you trancey, huh?

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

Asalott's Forrest Lotterhos behind the hammered dulcimer. 

Asalott's Forrest Lotterhos behind the hammered dulcimer. 

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

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

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

Matty Schelling on the beats. 

Matty Schelling on the beats. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lotterhos, Hart, & Schelling. 

Lotterhos, Hart, & Schelling. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Details for the show tonight can be found here.

Watch Asalott’s Tiny Desk submission video:

-Will

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

It Goes Beyond: An Imaginary “Interview” and "Concert" Review with The Itchy-O Marching Band

By: Will Baumgartner

Denver's Itchy-O are one crazy awesome crew. 

PART ONE: THE “INTERVIEW”

I’m in my apartment waiting for The Itchy-O Marching Band to arrive for our interview. I don’t really know what to expect. I’ve heard a lot about them, seen a few photos, and heard their music. I know they can be kinda weird interview subjects because I heard them live on KGNU recently, and when the DJ asked them questions, she was answered by electronically distorted voices delivering cryptic messages which seemed to come from another dimension. What I don’t expect is… what happens.

First, drums. A whole LOT of drums. I hear them before I see them. In fact, I can’t see much at all at first, because my apartment goes dark. Then, BOOM! From somewhere outside the walls, somewhere in the hall, the pounding of drums- a whole lot of them: pounding polyrhythms coming for me. It’s a little spooky, maybe, this invasion of the unknown, but really, it’s a lot more exciting than any kind of scary. There’s something absolutely irresistible in this mystery.

The Itchy-O Marching Band. Photo Credit: Patrick Anderson

The Itchy-O Marching Band. Photo Credit: Patrick Anderson

Then, simultaneously, two things happen: electronics and lights. It’s still pretty dark in my apartment, but as my eyes begin to adjust, I see dark figures (they’re all dressed in black from head to toe, with face-covering masks, black suits, and, on some of them, giant black mariachi hats). I hear, from some other place or universe, sounds coming from what I can only describe as… I don’t know, “intergalactic radios”? All of these sounds, as disparate as they may seem if they were listened to separately or picked apart mentally, are actually working together to create something which is, undeniably, music.

And then there are the lights. Rings of tiny red lights glowing on the brims of the mariachi hats, and other, bigger lights shining from various corners of my apartment. The drumming becomes more insistent and even more polyrhythmic and… WHOA! Suddenly there are lights all over the dang place: pulsing strobes here, sweeping searchlights there, lights worn by the members of the band on their costumes, and, on one end of my apartment, a tower which emits a Tesla-like, crackling, twisting band of electricity. It is now when it becomes more and more clear to me that Itchy-O, while knowing that I had wanted to talk with them, have come to do anything but talk. No, what they want to do is… DANCE!

Sombreros.

Sombreros.

And their want travels to me just like that: This sudden, unavoidable demand and need to dance. I can’t resist it; who could? I’m dancing! How very delightful!! And better yet, I’m dancing with the band!!! They wear giant megaphone-like speakers on their backs, they play drums banded on their torsos which they carry around the room with them while they play various electronic setups also attached to their bodies like food vendors wandering the crowd at a baseball game (or something like that), One member even has a portable Theremin that he carries in front of him; another rides a freakin’ BIKE around my apartment with a computerized music-making setup on the front and a giant megaphone speaker on the back. Some of these lovable freaks are just dancers with no drums or electronic gear or speakers and, wait, look over there! Here comes a big shaggy, sparkly dog-dragon-like-creature, which puts my befuddled and bedazzled mind into some Chinese/Mexican carnival setting. And all the while, the music just keeps playing and swirling while the drums keep pounding and layering, and…

Well, you get the idea. (Or do you?)

Despite the volume of the music, and the fact that all of the Itchy-O members mouths are covered by their masks (all I can see are their eyes), I attempt to begin some semblance of an interview.

WB: This is quite an experience, and it makes me wonder where it all started. What can you tell me about the origins of Itchy-O?

I-O: ____________________

WB: Umm… Okay. Well can you give me some idea of your influences and inspirations?

I-O: _______________________________________ (accompanied by what looks like a smirk of the eyes).

WB: Well, sheesh. We’re not getting very far with this, are we?

I-O: (Gives me the grinning eyes) (Shoves me gently, playfully)

WB: Ah, why do I bother trying to talk to you?

I-O: (shrugs!)

WB: (slightly frustrated, while undeniably still amused; charmed even) Are you intentionally messing with me? Just to get on my nerves, or… or make me feel foolish??

I-O: (shakes head “No!” emphatically) (Grabs me and hugs me- hard!!!)

And so what do I do? Well, what can I do? I surrender, give up on my insistent and rather silly idea of an “interview”, and helpless to resist the pull of the music and Itchy-O’s exhortations to resume the dance, I resume the dance. And it’s wonderful, isn’t it? Oh yes. Yes it is.

*********

PART TWO: THE "CONCERT" REVIEW

The experience described above, while it obviously didn’t “really happen” to me (OR DID IT?), does (I hope) give you, Dear Reader, some idea of what an Itchy-O “concert” is like. At least, the one I went to recently at Denver’s own Home of the Weird (Oddball Haven? Misfits Paradise?), the 3 Kings Tavern. I’d been wanting to catch an Itchy-O’s “show” for awhile, and when it was all over, I was… how shall I put this? I was DELIRIOUSLY HAPPY that I’d gone.

Yes. That’s what I meant to say. Capitals intentional.

Drums. Photo Credit: Patrick Anderson

Drums. Photo Credit: Patrick Anderson

You probably noticed that I put the words “concert” and “show” in quotes. Why? Well, because it’s hard to know what earthly terminology can accurately encapsulate what I was so deliriously, happily engulfed in that night. Itchy-O’s aggregation of 20 to 30 musicians and dancers doesn’t so much “perform” for an “audience” as they do invite everyone who’s there with them to become part of something bigger- much bigger- than the sum of its parts. Itchy-O goes beyond “audience participation” to the point that it’s really difficult to tell who’s putting on the “show”. And that, I think, is the whole point. Itchy-O simply goes beyond. And they insist that we come with them.

Of all these drummers, electronics players and dancers, only four or five of them were onstage: the rest of the group wandered incessantly through the crowd, engaging us all in dancing, playful interaction, etc. A few times, Itchy People (my own term) would come up behind me and play with my pork pie hat, bobbing it around on my head or taking it off of my head and putting it on someone else- and I didn’t mind, not a bit! You can feel the love and the sense of delightful mischief in everything they do; it just makes the experience that much more fun.

3 Kings Crowd.

3 Kings Crowd.

The Itchy People had no qualms whatsoever about coming up and dancing with us. At one point, I was dancing really hard (with my wool pea coat still on), and felt cool air up inside of my coat. I opened my eyes (they’d been closed; I was so into it) and saw that one of the Itchy People was doing this, using some hairdryer-type thing to cool me off. Yikes. How cool is that?

So for heaven's sake, let’s get Itchy-O up here to B-Town SOON because really, until you’ve gone where they go (into another universe?), you truly don’t know what you’re missing. You’d swear you were in some kind of heaven- one way beyond your wildest imaginings. And if you have any dancing bones in your body, well.. Oh boy. You’ll definitely be dancing.

Watch a live Itchy-O performance:

-Will

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