Umphrey's McGee Crushed Their Recent Stint of Red Rocks Shows on 'It's You' Tour

By: Will Baumgartner

When you hear the phrase “rock music,” what do you think of? Not one specific thing, probably, unless you’ve only listened to a handful of “rock” bands who all sound the same. There’s a reason for this, and it’s simple: Of all the musical genres, rock is the only one broad enough to incorporate elements of many of the others. If you say “jazz” or “hip-hop "grindcore,” and I’d argue you’re more likely to hear a more blueprinted sound in your head. Rock, however, conjures a field as wide as the sky above at, oh, say, Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater in Morrison CO, on a beautiful clear night in early July.

Umphrey's McGee at the Rocks. Photo Credit:   Cy Fontenot

Umphrey's McGee at the Rocks. Photo Credit: Cy Fontenot

Recently, I attended a concert by masters of cross-wired rock Umphrey’s McGee during their three-night residency at Red Rocks last weekend. While I was admittedly not steeped in their music, I’d heard enough UM that I was sure I’d like to see them live and I’d heard their shows were electrifying examples of tightness, groove, and onstage inventiveness. And also, there was nowhere else I could imagine being happier on my birthday than at Red Rocks absorbing a legendary live band for the first time.

I had not been misinformed on the rumors of UM live, and my intuition was also spot on: Umphrey’s McGee transported me along with thousands of other blissed-out music lovers, to a kind of rock heaven. I just couldn’t believe how good they were. Sure, people can tell you about a band and their shows ad infinitum; you can even watch full-concert videos. But none of that fully prepared me for the actual experience.

Photo Credit:   Cy Fontenot

Photo Credit: Cy Fontenot

When attempting to describe the show to friends and fellow musicians, I found myself grasping for words beyond ones like “tight” and “inventive,” because they just didn’t seem emphatic or expansive enough. Live, Umphrey’s are tighter than the gear works of a Swiss watch. Their group improvisations are as seamless, creative, and mind-blowing as an MC Escher print. And often, they went even further to where, in keeping with their cross-genre style, it was like being in a sonic world co-created by Escher and cosmic visionary artist Alex Grey, with a score co-composed by the love children of Miles DavisJerry GarciaBootsy Collins, and… uh, I guess a bunch of prog rockers from bands like Yes, and… oh, I give up! Frank Zappa once said something like writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Of course he was right in this observation, and in no case more aptly so than here.

If you haven’t seen UM live yet, you should, and if it’s been a while since your last time, you should go again. If these words are unworthy of their subject in any other respect, if they can get more people to share the Umphrey’s experience, I’ll feel that I’ve done the world some good. Though I can’t count myself as an old fan who knows all their songs, a lot of the material in their two-set show the night I saw them wasn’t stuff I could sing along with, with the exception of their cover of DJ Zebra’s Beatles/Nine Inch Nails mashup “Come Closer.” I didn’t sing along, but that was only because I was too busy digging how they did it.

Another notable aspect of this night’s many-faceted performance was the way these guys could layer and build, and then strip down and rebuild to yet another and even higher climax, to the point where it was hard to tell if they’d gone into a new song, or just taken the one they were doing to some dizzying new height. At one point, I realized that everyone but the two guitarists had stopped, and that was it: no bass, no drums, no percussionist or keys, just these two guitars dancing on a beautiful bridge of sonic sculpture. It was so dense and at the same time, so pointedly connected like a constellation viewed in striking detail. I just kept slowly shaking my head, trying to wrap around the fact that all this was coming from just two guitars. So I thought, “Oh yeah, effects. Effects, pedals.” But when once again, I looked closely, I saw that most of what was going on was coming from just those four hands, sixteen spidery fingers weaving their web.

While a large chunk of the concert not surprisingly came from their January 2018 release It’s Not Us (though the tour is named after the just-released companion It’s You), the band drew widely from their entire 21-year history and, in classic genre-hopping style, kept it all well mixed. They moved from their crunchiest prog-rock burners into the occasional bits of country-folkish type material, and some of their simpler funk-driven dance numbers, which gave guitarist/vocalist Brendan Bayliss ample opportunity to employ his rather cutely effective falsetto. And for sing-along songs, I’d be hard pressed to find one more irresistible than their cover of George Michael’s “Freedom.” The members of Umphrey’s may not spend a lot of time and effort on showmanship- they barely said anything at all between songs, preferring to let the music speak for itself- but there was much more going on at Red Rocks than just dazzling musical wizardry. This is clearly a feel-good band, just one that doesn’t encourage shutting down your brain while your feet are moving.

Photo Credit:   Cy Fontenot

Photo Credit: Cy Fontenot

Still, while acknowledging the good-time aspect of their shows, I don’t want to underemphasize this band’s outrageous skill on their instruments. Wikipedia’s UM page makes an important point about the group, and it was what I felt most defined the concert I experienced it. While Umphrey’s may be commonly grouped in with “jam bands” because of their varying setlists, improvisation, and encouraging taping of their shows, their overall sound owes much more to progressive rock artists like King Crimson, early Genesis, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and the aforementioned Yes and Frank Zappa. I was also reminded of one of the first bands to advance the “jam band” prototype, The Allman Brothers, in the sheer and near-delirious power they cooked up as they brought their jams to full boil. And you just can’t do this without being overtly adept, not only at your own individual instruments, but also at the skillful interweaving of those talents combined with a highly developed sense of composition and dynamics. Guitarists Bayliss and Jake Cinninger, bassist Ryan Stasik, keyboardist/vocalist Joel Cummins, drummer/vocalist Kris Myers, and percussionist Andy Farag all displayed these musical attributes in spades.

I could go on but, okay, I think I’ve done enough dancing about Umphrey’s McGee’s splendid architecture for one article. Let’s just finish by repeating an earlier sentiment: whether you’re looking for virtuosity or just a very good time, get yourself to one of the shows on this tour, get on down to your local record store and pick up It’s Not Us and It’s You and then… well, just relax and enjoy. Umphrey’s will do the heavy lifting from there.

-Will

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

Guerrilla Fanfare Bring The Brass And Beats For Fat Tuesday Week Shows

By: Will Baumgartner

Who doesn’t love a big-ass, funky brass band? Probably mostly people who’ve never seen or heard one. The best of them—like Dirty Dozen, Rebirth, and March Fourth—bring such a ridiculously irresistible amount of joyful danceable noise that it’s hard to imagine anyone experiencing it and remaining unmoved. Well, I’ve seen Guerrilla Fanfare Brass Band several times, and they definitely bring it. If you aren’t dancing, grinning, and whooping it up a bit at one of their shows, you might wanna check your pulse.  

In the tradition of the bands mentioned above, Guerrilla Fanfare also bring a catchy kind of fun to the stage, with audience participation and just general energy and goofiness. Lay that over a bedrock of high-stepping, New Orleans-inspired funk rhythms topped with honking and wailing horns, and you’ve got a celebratory dance party, coming to a venue near you over the next week during Fat Tuesday celebrations.

27500376_1667907953276010_8335070711199517098_o.jpg

The band— Zach Brake (sousaphone), Jesse Mathews (trumpet), Steve Nelson (alto sax, emcee), Adam White (drums), Billy Rivera (trumpet), Taylor Friesth (drums), Ethan Harris (trombone), Masaki Kleinkopf (trombone), Harry Forlenza-Bailey (trombone), and Julian Stevens (tenor sax)— has only been around for about two and a half years, and have already established themselves as a vital force in the Front Range music scene. The lineup, anchored by two fiercely funky drummers and the traditional sousaphone holding down the bass lines, is also full of some of the best horn players around. They manage to employ solid songwriting and embrace the wisdom of getting the audience involved in the show at every performance.

The result of all this hard work was a busy and promising 2017, in which amongst numerous other local shows, they played at the Arise Festival, Upslope Getdown, and Five Points Jazz Fest, opened for March Fourth at Fort Collins’ Aggie Theatre and Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom, and most recently played with Tenth Mountain Division at the Fox Theatre in Boulder. In addition to these local shows, they also played at Honk TX and Honk Fest West in Austin and Seattle, crazy street band festivals geared toward exactly the type of fun brought by Guerrilla Fanfare. They’re shaping up big plans for 2018, including the Spread the Word Music Festival in May and another appearance at Arise in August. Thirsty ears can also look forward to a probable new album sometime this year, and the band plans to continue to spread the joy into other areas of the country as well with a tour.   

Local lovers of live music don’t have to wait anywhere near that long to revel in the party these guys bring, though. In fact, you have four chances to see and hear the band in the next week. Guerrilla Fanfare play Gravity Brewing in Louisville on Saturday February 10th; Oskar Blues Homemade Liquids and Solids in Longmont on Fat Tuesday itself (February 13th); the Bohemian Biergarten in Boulder, Friday February 16th; and Denver Mardi Gras at EXDO Events Center in Denver on Saturday February 17th.

Keep up with Guerilla Fanfare and the fun here.

-Will

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

19-Year-Old Ben Pisano Proves You Can't Underestimate Young Artists With Current Project Corsicana

By: Will Baumgartner

When Denver band Corsicana took the stage at Boulder Theater as openers for local-gone-international heavyweights Devotchka, one couldn’t help wondering how much such a young, slender band could deliver live. I’d heard the album Haven online, and while the music had definitely drawn me in and left me impressed, I also noted that all the instruments and electronics had been played by Ben Pisano, the group’s 19-year-old frontman. Like Prince’s first recorded efforts, where he also played everything on the recording, my question was, “Great stuff, but what’s it gonna sound like live?”   

Corsicana. Photo Credit:  Montana Martin

Corsicana. Photo Credit:  Montana Martin

Corsicana onstage was indeed a small, young-looking band. Pisano in the middle with his guitar and sensitive look, two petite women flanking him on guitar and bass, and another member on drums. By the middle of the first song of their set though, most of my skepticism about the band had vanished, and I found myself reminded of two things: 1) Never underestimate the power and scope that can be drawn out of two guitars, a bass, a drum kit, and a little bit of electronics. And 2) Never assume that the young have little of depth or substance to deliver.

Steinway & Pisano. Photo Credit: Montana Martin

Steinway & Pisano. Photo Credit: Montana Martin

Being the first of two opening acts (Pandas & People, another rising local band from Fort Collins, were coming up next), Corsicana only had a half-hour to win me over, which they unequivocally did. In the first song, Haven’s “Revelry,” I heard why the term “dream pop” is used right after “indie rock” in the “About” section of their Facebook page; the swirling music and ethereal vocals of the verses definitely invoked a floating, dreamy feeling. Then, the wait to see how hard they could rock was over, as the song’s chorus kicked into passionate overdrive.  

In the second song, “Attrition” (also from the Haven album), I began to hear the more “pop” side of Corsicana, as I was reminded of a sort of Death Cab-meets-Radiohead combination of delicate verse with beautiful falsetto vocals leading into a hard-driving bridge. Guitarist Melanie Steinway (also of Denver band Tyto Alba), bassist Jordan Leone, and Amos Chase on drums and synthesizer all worked beautifully together with Pisano to create the feel of a real band, not just a solo artist with backing musicians.

The third song, “Empyrean,” showcased more of Corsicana’s well-crafted way with linking a wistful verse with sparse instrumentation to an explosive chorus. It also boasted a killer arrangement, showing that Pisano and company are more than familiar with the art of balancing and bouncing musical colors off of each other with a masterful use of dynamics.

Ben Pisano. Photo Credit: Montana Martin

Ben Pisano. Photo Credit: Montana Martin

One of the things that I find so impressive about Pisano’s songwriting is his lyrics. Though I couldn’t always make out what he was singing at the show, I later asked him to send me the lyrics, and was a bit blown away by how literary his writing style is. His songs read like short stories, with imagistic sentences creating little snapshot-like flash fictions where one can picture a whole scene or even a period of time in people’s lives. “Empyrean” also boasts the added feat of being a story told entirely in dialogue; the song is a conversation between two people, with each line separated from the next by quotation marks. And apropos to the rather epic scope of the music, all the songs have either direct references to history and myth, or an overall mythical/historical feel. Epic battles, exiled characters, big cities and small hallways, funeral pyres, and people locked in or out of a “prison of heart”. In these days of illiterate solipsism, it’s really something to read lyrics that evoke whole worlds and complex lives.

The next song, “Kokytos”, continued Pisano’s fascination with myth: Kokytos is one of the five magical rivers of the underworld in Greek mythology, and translates as “The River of Wailing.” This was, ironically, the most upbeat and insistent song of the set, at least musically. The lyrics imply more of the story of heartbreak and frustration that seems to be the central theme of this young man’s songs- at least for now- but the music is so insistent that I couldn’t resist grooving and bopping a bit to it. Again, Pisano showed exquisite vocal prowess, veering between his falsetto and a full-throated howl. And like a lot of the songs in this set, the ending featured the band’s ability to power-drive upward to an instrumental climax.  

The set’s closer “Patron,” another song from the Haven album, again reminded me a bit of the Death Cab/Radiohead combo I’d heard at first, while also invoking a sort of stripped-down version of the Icelandic experimental rock band Sigur Ros. (This was actually not the first time in their set that I heard echoes of that band.) This song had a bit more pop and drive to it, while still having an unhurried groove, and gave an appropriately powerful ending to their set as it rocked harder and harder through the instrumental section that closes the song.

corsicana_0276.jpg

When I asked Pisano where he got the band name, he told me it was the title of a song by The Antlers, one of his favorite bands. Listeners may hear all kinds of influences in Corsicana’s music, and considering Pisano’s powerful and expansive voice, it’s not hugely surprising that he was chosen to open for Devotchka, whose singer Nick Urata arguably possesses one of the most impressive voices in modern music. But Pisano’s ultimate achievement, so early in life, is that after hearing his music for a while, it sounds like no one else as much as Corsicana.

Corsicana will be taking some time off from performing to go back into the studio for the rest of 2017, and according to Pisano, these sessions will make use of not only of his live bandmates, but also of several guest artists contributing. Given what Corsicana has already done, I’m sure the new recordings will be an event well worth the wait and anticipation.  

Keep up with Corsicana on 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.  

Review: Dandu's 'Caught Between' Ventures Beyond Fusion & Into Livetronica, Hip-Hop, & Even Space

By: Will Baumgartner

It would be too easy- and wholly misleading- to simply call the Denver trio known as Dandu a “fusion” group. Just a glance at the influences listed on their Facebook page could tell you that: Flying Lotus, Aphex Twin, Thundercat, Kneebody, The Bad Plus, and Bon Iver? What do you call a band who are inspired by such a diverse list of artists?! The phrase Dandu uses is “Wonky Groove Music,” and as words go when used in an attempt to describe the basically indescribable, I guess that’s as good a choice as any you’re likely to get. But when it comes to music like this, it’s best to put words aside and simply dig into the music itself.

Dandu. Photo Credit: Derek Miles Photography

Dandu. Photo Credit: Derek Miles Photography

So let’s go to their recently released EP Caught Between, and settle in for a trip that, for its relative scarcity of actual words (only two of the six tracks have vocals, and those are more imagistic than didactic), still manages to be wildly evocative. Among the many scenes and visions I get listening to this recording from beginning to end, the prevailing feel is of a spacewalk which varies between a stroll and a sort of power-walk. But while this journey is clearly purposeful and at times just a bit speedy, it never feels hurried.

Listen to Caught Between

The trip begins with “Stu Fish” (featuring Calm Alone, aka Grant Stringham, who also produced and mixed the entire EP), a bit of moody and almost apocalyptic-sounding psychedelia. This track, to which Stringham contributed samples, synth, and some drum programming, sets the mood for the whole journey: clearly, we’re in an otherworldly place, and while there’s a fair degree of darkness and menace around us, there are also lights everywhere- and we have a destination.

Ben Weirich. Photo Credit: Derek Miles Photography

Ben Weirich. Photo Credit: Derek Miles Photography

The second track, “Don’t Fret” (featuring Cosmic Slim, aka Wesley Watkins of The Other Black) continues this theme, and is very aptly titled: while the dark hip-hop groove and Watkins’ rapping conjure images of palpable levels of stress, fear and confusion, the overall effect is actually rather lighthearted and humorous, reminding one a bit of Childish Gambino meets TV On The Radio. (The trumpet playing of Carrie McCune adds more color as well.) Yeah, the song seems to be saying, it’s a bit frenetic and somewhat scary out here, but keep walking; we’ve got somewhere to go.

Sean Dandurand. Photo Credit: Derek Miles Photography

Sean Dandurand. Photo Credit: Derek Miles Photography

Next up is “Hips,” which begins with spacy, soundtrack-like music (I kept thinking it would fit well at the beginning of a sequel to the sci-fi cult classic “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai”). It then moves into the most “fusion”-like territory on the EP, with echoes of Herbie Hancock in his “Thrust” phase. There is also a strong “livetronica” feel here, which is actually present throughout this entire collection of songs, but especially on this one.

Dylan Johnson. Photo Credit: Derek Miles Photography

Dylan Johnson. Photo Credit: Derek Miles Photography

The fourth track, “Elfie,” is the darkest-feeling one on the record: despite its rather whimsical-sounding title, the feel is almost dirge-like, and the voice samples have a sad and frightened feel. But keep going, there’s power and beauty ahead, and a truly well-told story must acknowledge the darkness on its way to the shimmering lights in the distance.

Photo Credit: Derek Miles Photography

Photo Credit: Derek Miles Photography

I didn’t ask Dandu’s apparent leader/mastermind Sean Dandurand what any of these titles mean (though I’m guessing there are obscure stories and inside jokes behind each of them), so I don’t have any clear idea why the fifth song is called “Moot the Destroyer.” For me, though, this track has the most purposeful feel of any of them: the song strides forward with a clear sense of destination. Maybe it’s whoever this Moot character is pushing on to more destruction, or possibly the story’s protagonist going to stand up to the Destroyer, but maybe all we need to know for sure is that something’s happening, and it’s a powerful moment.

Everyone who listens to Caught Between will get something different out of it, and indeed that’s a big part of its value: this music doesn’t try to direct the listener to feel or think any one specific thing, but rather provides a vast array of possibilities and encourages free association and imagination. For this listener, the biggest payoff comes in the closing track, “All It Could Be.” There’s a great feeling of hope and potential fulfillment in this dreamy, pastoral, and beautiful song, along with a wistful sense of wonder. And Sean Dandurand’s vocals have me hoping I will hear more of his singing and lyrics in future recordings.

In a band whose power comes mostly from the strength of its players, Dandu is exemplary: Sean Dandurand is simply one of the best bassists around, and his diverse talents on his instrument can also be heard in the aforementioned Other Black, where he ably holds down the bottom with style and aplomb. Keyboardist Ben Weirich has been one of my favorite local players since I first heard him about six years ago with the now-defunct but great group People’s Abstract (in which Dandurand also played, and was where the two first met). Weirich uses the keyboards in ways I’ve never heard anyone else do, filling the space between the drums and bass with rich textures. And drummer Dylan Johnson has also more than proven himself as a member of Other Black, though to my ears, it’s in Dandu where he truly gets to show everything he’s capable of, with his inventive and many-shaded uses of the drum kit.

Watch Dandu's video for "Heartbeats Break":

It’s been a busy and triumphant summer for Dandu: I was lucky enough to catch them twice, first with local psychedelic groove-monsters Mlima at CU Boulder’s Fiske Planetarium, and then as openers for jazz supergroup Hudson (John Scofield, John Medeski, Jack DeJohnette and Larry Grenadier) at Chautauqua Auditorium. Since then they’ve toured the West Coast and followed that with a string of performances at the recent UMS fest in Denver. But just as summer isn’t over, neither is their conquest of the season: before heading out for another tour, this time in the Midwest, lucky local music lovers get one more chance to catch them in Denver, when they support the great Jacob Collier at the Bluebird Theater next Tuesday, August 22nd. With Mile High Soul Club also on the bill, we’d all be wise to queue up for tickets now. It’s bound to be a spectacular night!

Keep up with Dandu on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, 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.  

Robert Randolph and the Family Band 'Got Soul' And It Shows

By: Will Baumgartner

When I first heard of Robert Randolph, I was intrigued enough by the idea of a pedal steel guitarist playing a high-energy soul/blues/funk/groove mix that I pulled up a live video to see and hear what all the noise was about. What came up was a performance on David Letterman of Robert Randolph and the Family Band’s hit “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That.” I was immediately hooked, not only by the song itself and Randolph’s outrageously good pedal steel playing, but by the overall tightness and infectious joy of the band.

That was about 10 years ago. Last Friday night at The Fox Theatre in Boulder, I finally got to actually see and hear Robert Randolph and the Family Band live in person, and my initial impressions of the group not only proved themselves true, but were greatly expanded by this ridiculously fun, funky and soulful show. RRTFB haven’t just stood the test of time, they’ve grown into an irresistible force of nature. The band is aptly named, with Robert’s sister Lenesha providing hugely powerful vocal support and joyful showmanship, powerhouse drumming by Marcus Randolph, and their cousin Kasey Square on keys. And while bassist Steve Ladson and guitarist Ray Holloman may not be directly related, they sure act, play, and sing like family onstage.

The concert began with Robert playing solo, wrenching gutsy wailing sounds in a free-form bluesy style, out of his instrument. The band eventually wove into this soundscape, building on the power of the pedal steel’s soulful soliloquy, and then BOOM: They kicked into a sledgehammer-heavy and solidly uplifting version of Sam & Dave’s soul classic “I Thank You.” You’ve never seen a dance floor spring to life faster.

While the setlist I was provided had “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That” listed as the second song, either I was already so deliriously hypnotized that I missed it, or they decided to forego the ol’ “Let’s give ‘em the hits!” approach, disregard the setlist, and play what felt right at the moment. This happened several times during the show, as when, midway through their set, they crunched their way through a badass instrumental reading of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.”

The constant thread running through this celebratory show was Robert Randolph’s virtuosic pedal steel playing. The word “virtuoso” often makes me cringe just a bit, as it’s almost as overused as the word “genius.” But here I have no qualms: the man is a master of his instrument. Between virtually every song in the set he took little solo excursions, and while all members of the Family Band proved themselves powerful soloists, it was obvious why Robert was consistently featured: his inventiveness and fluency, his melodic improvisational skills, the sheer eloquence with which he joyfully tears into yet another solo break. All of these were heavily evidenced and undeniably exciting every time they were used. I never once thought, “Oh no, not another pedal steel solo!” To the contrary, every solo, every note he played just had me shaking my head in awe. Enough has already been said about the novelty of hearing a pedal steel guitar used outside of country music, especially in the way Randolph does. I’ll let it suffice to say here that if you haven’t checked him out yet, do it! Especially if you love funk and soul as much as I do. I haven’t been nearly as blown away by an unusual instrument in this type of music since seeing violinist Lili Haydn tear it up with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic.

Since the band is currently touring on their Got Soul album (released in mid-February of this year), it was no surprise to hear songs from it throughout the show. Standouts for me included the one-two punch of the title track leading into its “sister” song, “She Got Soul” (a tribute to mothers inspired by a Mother’s Day church service Randolph attended), the supremely soulful tunes “Love Do What It Do,” “Find A Way,” and “Shake It Off” with their inspirational messages of self-affirmation, the lovely “Heaven’s Calling,” and of course their rendition of “I Thank You.”

My number one criterion for rating a show is this: “Did I ever feel like it was okay to go outside for a break?” And my answer for this show was: “Nope!” I was fearful of missing anything. And when, near the end, Robert called out the members of opening act The New Respects for an onstage jam of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Again),” I felt grateful for staying right where I was all night, though of course I had never stopped moving since the first song of the show. That’s another thing about Robert Randolph and the Family Band live: You just have to dance.

Robert Randolph.

Robert Randolph.

In chatting with Robert a bit before the show, I learned he and his family grew up in a Pentecostal church in which music played a huge part. In fact, their particular church has its own term for its music: “sacred steel.” One thing I was curious about was how Robert’s relationship with his family who are still involved in the church has been affected by his going out and playing “secular” music. He said it was “a little strained at first,” but that their relationship is still strong. To which I replied, “Oh, so it’s not like some of these religions where you actually get shunned if you leave? I’ve always thought that was so sad.” “Well I’ve been shunned by the church, though,” he said, “They don’t let me play there anymore. They call me the devil.”

Now that is truly a shame, and a mistake, and let me tell you why. I’m not religious, but I’ve seldom felt closer to something like heaven than I did at this show.

-Will

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

Chris Robinson Brotherhood Are Bringing The Love to Denver This Thursday

By: Will Baumgartner

A consciousness shift is happening around the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. A handful of years ago, the most common response to hearing the band name might have been, “Oh, you mean the guy from The Black Crowes?” But today when I say, “Chris Robinson Brotherhood is coming to The Ogden this Thursday, February 2nd, and of course I’ll be going to the show,” I’ve been met with responses like, “I love that band! Can I go with?” or “I’ve heard their shows are great, I should get tickets to that too.”

Yes you should. CRB, as they’re affectionately known by fans, consistently deliver rousing and inspiring performances rich with not only high-level musicianship and song-craft, but also a sense of family, belonging, and welcome with every show. This spirit of openness and warmth is reflected in the titles of their two nearly back-to-back 2016 releases, 'Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel' and its companion EP from the same recording sessions, 'If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home by Now.' Released on July 29th and November 4th of last year respectively, CRB painted a two-paneled picture of a group of musicians and songwriters who manage to be hard-grooving, thoughtful, and fun all at once using a varied palette of musical styles and influences. Who wouldn't want to be in on one of their concert experiences and feel like they’re a part of that family?

Chris Robinson Brotherhood.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood.

CRB have been around since 2011, but the feel of their most current records, their first self-produced releases recorded on the side of Mount Tamalpais near San Francisco, are of a family that have grown together through extensive touring, collaborative songwriting, and endless conversations around meals cooked by band members. They visit record stores everywhere they go and stack their newly-purchased vinyl on their tour bus turntable every night. The group’s core: Chris Robinson on vocals and guitar, lead guitarist Neal Casal, and keyboardist Adam McDougal (who stepped over from The Black Crowes) have been together since the beginning, and are now all involved in the songwriting process. Drummer Tony Leone (Ollabelle) brings a touch of his jazz background to the grooves, and has also joined in on the songwriting, and bassist Jeff Hill holds it all together with a deeply soulful pocket.

Watch CRB play "Narcissus Soaking Wet" live:

The band’s latest recordings also show a group that has grown beyond its former identification as a Deadhead-type act into something richer and more difficult to pigeonhole into any simple genre classification. The cosmic funk of 'Anyway You Love...'’s opening track, “Narcissus Soaking Wet,” lets us know right away that the vistas have widened for CRB with echoes of Sly and The Family Stone and early Funkadelic wafting through the grooves. The lyrics, too, are far from simplistic, revealing a sociological awareness, an artful use of stream-of-consciousness imagery, and a sly humor that outstrips most jam-band lyrics by miles. Listening all the way through 'Anyway You Love' is a trip that takes you through a mid-60s-Dylan-esque time (think Highway 61 Revisited / Blonde On Blonde) with a stint into The Band-style Americana on “Ain’t It Hard But Fair,” more groovy and variegated scenery on “Give Us Back Our Eleven Days,” “Some Gardens Green,” “Leave My Guitar Alone,” and “Oak Apple Day,” (which is actually a song about CRB). The record then ends with the heartfelt, Gospel-soaked “California Hymn,” and as any good trip should always stop with near-religious feeling of wholeness and peace, this one certainly does.

If 'Anyway You Love' is an extended trek, 'If You Lived Here...' is a day trip into side roads and lesser-known destinations, some of them practically off the map. “New Cannonball Rag” has a swinging, rolling feel again reminiscent of some of The Band’s best stuff, “Roan County Banjo” goes from country-ish to almost discordant craziness at the end, and the jaunt continues through a few more changes in scenery to end on the gentle empathic kindness of “Sweet, Sweet Lullaby.”

Neal Casal. 

Neal Casal. 

In anticipation for this Thursday’s Ogden show, I recently got the chance to ask CRB guitarist Neal Casal some questions about the band, life on the road, and music in general. His answers shed more light on CRB’s latest sounds, and the inspirations behind their newest music:

It’s easy to see why the word “brotherhood” is part of your band name; there’s a clear feeling of love and community in your music. Do you feel that’s been growing the longer you’ve played together? 

The sense of community that The CRB promotes is definitely growing the longer we play together. We’re entering our seventh year as a band, and the seeds we planted back in 2011 are definitely showing flowers now, and it’s a nice thing to see. We have a great group of fan/friends/family across the country and we’re looking forward to another year of touring and visiting everyone. 

How do you feel that the in-studio writing process of 'Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel' affected the way the songs on the album turned out? 

It brought more immediacy to our process and applied some pressure to us, which turned out to be a good thing. Everyone hates deadlines but sometimes they can be good; they can force you to do things that maybe you wouldn’t have otherwise. 

I’d imagine that working with the relatively new rhythm section of Tony and Jeff has brought about some changes in the band’s overall feel. Has that felt like a pretty organic process? What do you think these guys have brought to CRB’s sound and vibe? 

Tony and Jeff have changed the sound of our band dramatically and brought so much musicality, fluidity, and versatility to our sound. I can’t say enough great things about these guys and how important they are to the sound, but also to the vibe of the band. With them, we can explore any kind of music we like, and there’s a sustainability to our future that we had never felt previously. 

I’ve seen some hopeful signs among the music community that people seem to be rediscovering a respect and appreciation for the album as an art form unto itself, and there’s definitely a feeling of intention in the way 'Anyway You Love' and 'If You Lived Here' are put together. Did the band spend a lot of time just looking at these releases as whole documents and shaping them accordingly, or was that more of a quick, intuitive thing? 

We’ve always approached records as complete documents because that’s how we grew up thinking of them, and that’s how we’ve always worked and always will work. There’s no rediscovering anything for us: this is our way of life.

I hear so many different possible influences in your playing that I’m not even going to bother speculating- so who have some of your biggest influences been on guitar? 

Malcolm Young, Magic Sam, Dickey Betts, Blind Owl Wilson, Robert Nighthawk, Mick Taylor, Ry Cooder, Clarence White, Nic Jones, Ollie Halsall, John Renbourn, Doc Watson, Scott Gorham, Julian Bream, Baden Powell, Leo Nocentelli, Randy RhoadsFreddie King, Mississippi John Hurt, Jim Hall, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and of course, the great Gabor Szabo.

On an average afternoon, or an evening off, what might be a handful of albums you’d be listening to? 

Incredible String Band - The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter
Magic Sam - Black Magic 
Charlie Rich- The Essential Charlie Rich
Ronnie Lane - Anymore For Anymore
Cass McCombs - Mangy Love
Bobby Hutchinson - Components
Kacy And Clayton - Strange Country
Eddie Bo - Hook And Sling
Kimono My House - Sparks

CRB. Photo Credit: Stuart Levine

CRB. Photo Credit: Stuart Levine

Your songwriting relationship with Chris has clearly grown over the years. When you first joined, was it more of a thing where he brought in the songs and you just played leads, or have you worked together on songs since the beginning? 

We worked on songs together from day one and have always cultivated our writing partnership. He had some songs he’d written on his own and will always do that, but we really enjoy writing songs together and it’s a big part of our work flow. 

There’s a quote from Chris I read recently, “These are our services when we play our music.” I love that because it evokes a church-like atmosphere, and while I’ve never been “religious,” there’s an undeniable power in church services- a sense of people collectively reaching for some power bigger than themselves, and a joyousness in that collective effort. How does The CRB engage and work with the audience to get that feel?

Human beings are made of music; it’s as ancient and innate in us as anything can be. So we’re just taking part in this time-honored ritual of invoking it, and stirring it in people. We’re just a reminder to let you know that’s it’s there inside, and needs to be related to. The muse is not something to be ignored, in anyone, ever. It needs expression in the form of dancing, singing, or just hanging out and listening and being a greater part of your community. So we’re just here to help that process along. 

Any special treats or surprises planned for this Thursday? Have have you guys ever played The Ogden before? 

We’ve never played The Ogden, so we’re really excited about that. Denver was one of the first cities that really took us in during our earlier years, so it’s always a special place for us. 

After you wrap up your current tour in New Orleans on March 31st, what’s next?

More touring throughout the year, and we’re releasing a new record later this year as well. Looking forward to it all!

CRB tour often and are well into their latest journey, so this Thursday is a great time to catch them live and join the party! They hit The Ogden Theater in Denver this Thursday, February 2nd (I’ll be there!), and continue on to The Center for the Arts in Crested Butte this weekend, The State Room in Salt Lake City next week, Sheridan Opera House in Telluride 2/10-2/11, and The Belly Up in Aspen on 02/12. Their tour will continue through New Mexico, Alabama, California, Nevada, and West Virginia, wrapping up at one of their favorite gatherings, Hogs For The Cause, in New Orleans on March 31st. Stay tuned because CRB are already recording a new album, and I, for one, can’t wait to hear it.  

-Will

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

10 Commandments and 8 Questions: A Conversation with Slim Cessna

By: Will Baumgartner

Slim Cessna’s Auto Club is a Denver institution. The band has survived 24 years (you read that right; they formed in 1992) without even a “hiatus,” let alone a “breakup” despite members living in different states for large chunks of those years. For this alone they deserve not only credit, but a certain awe, for as anyone who has tried to run a group knows, it’s hard enough to keep things going when you all live in the same town, let alone all over the country. Add on the fact that the band creates amazing music together, performs like they’ve just brought an insanely fun party from their house into the club, and has brought their party to Europe with great success, and you have the makings of a great story about perseverance and love in the modern music business. Actually, let’s call that a novel: Where most bands’ careers can be read more like short stories, SCAC’s is more of an epic tale.

The band’s music has been called everything from “experimental rock” to “alt-country,” but after experiencing them live, on record, and in their sublimely strange videos, facile categorizations need to go out the window: This is just an amazing band. No discussion of the group would be complete without some mention of Slim’s “sidekick” Munly, a wickedly talented songwriter and bandleader (Munly and the Lupercalians) in his own right. Munly, who joined SCAC in 1999, has been the group’s main songwriter for years and wrote all the songs on 'The Commandments According to SCAC,' the band’s sixth studio album, and their first on their own label, SCACUnincorporated. The rest of the band, with Lord Dwight Pentacost on custom-designed double-neck guitar, multi-instrumentalist Rebecca Vera on keys, pedal steel, cello and more,  bassist Ian O’Dougherty, and drummer Andrew Warner are all consummate musicians and performers.

'The Commandments' came out in September of this year, and is an outrageously good album, with videos for each of its 10 songs on YouTube, which provide their own otherworldly visual experience as a foil to SCAC’s music. There are plenty of live videos online as well, and checking out a few of those is a great way to get prepped for what will no doubt be two of the best concerts of the year, when Slim Cessna’s Auto Club take over 3 Kings Tavern in Denver for two New Year’s shows on December 30th and 31st.

Slim Cessna's Auto Club.

Slim Cessna's Auto Club.

In an attempt to prepare myself for the excitement and madness that is a SCAC show, and to better understand the workings of the group and the mind of its frontman, I sat down with Slim and asked him a handful of questions. I was impressed by his humor and graciousness; he couldn’t say enough about Munly and all the members, including Vera and Lord Dwight (with whom he also has an “experimental folk” quartet he clearly loves called Denver Broncos UK or DBUK). In fact, he seemed much more eager to talk about his beloved bandmates than himself.

In a section of our conversation that occurred before the “official interview” that follows, I asked Slim about the somewhat unusual situation of the frontman not being the main songwriter. With characteristic humility, Slim said, “We play to our strengths, and Munly’s has always been songwriting. I’m mostly good at putting on a show and acting like an idiot.” The band’s New Year’s shows at 3 Kings will no doubt prove once again how outrageously good he is at putting on a show, and his answers to my questions prove clearly that there’s a very intelligent man behind that act. Read on:

The main thing that has always struck me about Slim Cessna’s Auto Club is how the dark subject matter of most of your songs is juxtaposed against the delirious fun of how they’re performed. Is this deliberate?

No. I don't think the songs need to be considered dark. I think of them as life-affirming good stories. The narrator in each story is always seeking redemption through whatever source they are able to understand. Yes, we do have delirious fun. 

The hellfire-and-brimstone aspects of your Baptist upbringing get a humorous treatment in your music. Were your parents very seriously religious, or was the church just one part of their whole cultural picture?

I wasn't raised in a fire and brimstone Baptist church. It was much more conservative than that. We sang hymns and it wasn't anything like our shows. Much has been made of our performance that compares us to a tent revival. I think that's based on reputation and what has been thought and then repeated over the years. I suppose that's understandable given our sometimes over the top live performances. We also don't shy away from using biblical content. 

Check out Slim Cessna’s Auto Club’s video for “Commandment 3”:

How did the Auto Club originally get together? Were you already friends with some of the members?

Always only friends.

It’s always a plus for me when the members of a band seem to be real friends who enjoy and love each other onstage and off, rather than just being sort of “business partners” and SCAC definitely comes across as group who are actual friends. How do you feel this helps your music and performances?

This is my family. This is important. We all have each other's backs. 

SCAC.

SCAC.

During the years when you were all living in different parts of the country, did it ever feel like too much work to keep the band going? How did you manage working up new material and rehearsing it?

It was more work than was good for us. We did our best to maintain and continue. Somehow we managed.

SCAC’s music has been categorized a few different ways, including “alt country,” “gothabilly,” and even “Southern gothic,” but in conversation you call it simply “American folk music.” Do you find these attempts to pigeonhole what you do limiting or superfluous?

Gothabilly keeps showing up on Wikipedia. I've personally logged on to erase it, but it always comes back. Who does that? It's my least favorite word. It reminds me of muscle-bro-cartoon-looking-characters with perfectly dyed pompadours and face-makeup. I thank God every day we are nothing like that. 

How did starting your own record label and recording your album DIY affect the whole process of making 'The Commandments According to SCAC'?

Recording and releasing on our own has been wonderful. We had to learn to rely on each other in new ways. We discovered new gifts even after decades of friendship. 

Listen to The Commandments According to SCAC on Spotify:

After getting some well-deserved rest in January, y’all hit the road again in February for a tour of the Western US, and then head right back to Europe. Seems like there’s no rest for the wickedly talented. Would you be happy going on this way indefinitely?

Yes. What else do we have anyway? We have nothing to fall back on. I suppose I'll do this 'til I die.

Make sure to hit up one of SCAC’s New Year shows this weekend. Details here and I’ll see you there!

-Will

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

Moon Hooch: Transcendence, Dance Music, Saxophones, & Drums

By: Will Baumgartner

The sensational New York-based trio Moon Hooch have generated a huge international buzz with their joyful, intense, explorative, dance-friendly music; a buzz that has grown from their early days a few years back playing on subway platforms in NYC to touring with the likes of Beats Antique, They Might Be Giants, and Lotus, all while selling out their own shows at venues across the nation.

Moon Hooch.

Moon Hooch.

This Saturday, October 29th, the trio will play Boulder’s Fox Theatre, and there are still some tickets here. Currently, the crew is touring in support of their wonderful third album 'Red Sky'. The group, which consists of saxophonists Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen plus drummer James Muschler, create vast soundscapes and irresistible dance party music with just these three instruments filtered through a bit of electronics. Their music is in large part an outward expression of their own spirituality and activism: they all meditate and do yoga, practice conscious eating habits, and are constantly involved in work with organic farmers and other groups working toward social and cultural change. With these things in mind, I sat down with McGowen and tried to gear my questions toward the seemingly unlikely connection between their ass-shaking music and their spiritual and cultural efforts. The result was a conversation that, like their music, was both fun and thought-provoking.

First things first- is there a particular meaning behind the name Moon Hooch?

No, actually there isn’t. It means something, but we came up with the name kinda randomly. One day we were playing in the subway and people started dancing, and we were kinda surprised because we weren’t really planning on starting a band. So a person asked us what the name of our band was, and Mike just randomly said ‘Moon Juice’. We went home and googled it and there were four other bands with that name. We looked up synonyms for juice and hooch was one of them, so we went with that.

Watch Moon Hooch's music video for "EWI":

How has your music changed since your debut album, which came out in 2013?

We started out playing in the subway and that was completely acoustic. When we started playing in bigger rooms, I wanted to use more bass, and that’s why we started using the traffic cones, which we put in our saxophones. It creates a bass frequency that makes the subwoofers in clubs respond more. I also bought a contrabass clarinet, which goes as low as 33 Hz, and we have come up with this intricate system of using electronics as spice but not substance. We produce all the sounds acoustically, and then process them through a computer, and that gives us the ability to emulate the sounds of drops and buildups that are common in electronic dance music.

You've talked about incorporating the energy and activity from your surroundings into your music. What's the difference between doing that in the subway and onstage in front of a paying audience? What are the similarities or constants between these two settings? 

The similarity is that you have to give everything you have and be in the moment. If you’re thinking about something else, whether onstage or in the subway, the crowd will respond less. So I think it’s pretty much the same. Maybe onstage you’re a little more focused because people are there and giving you their attention, whereas on the subway you have to grab people’s attention.

Like more and more musicians these days, you've been very vocal about your spirituality, and publicly involved in activism. How do your yoga and meditation practices affect your music? What are the causes you're most involved with as activists? 

It’s a systemic problem we have: culture has spiraled out of control based on domination, greed, fear, and competition, and that has manifested in so many ways. Anywhere you look, you’ll find a manifestation of that core issue. For example, the fact that forests are getting cut down is because we value trees more as a commodity of profit rather than as a breathing, living organism that helps our planet and our species stay alive. It’s a very selfish mindset that leads to this. And that’s only possible because people have become so hardened; they don’t feel their heart as much anymore, and actually don’t really care.

We have so many layers of fears and insecurities and our own issues that really prevent us from caring about others. In the school system, you can find the same sort of issues. We’re getting trained to be functioning members of society; that’s really the main goal of the school system. It’s not really to help a child explore their own purpose and find out who they really are. Most people coming out of school have no idea what they want to do or who they are. This sort of culture is robbing us of our identity.

I see us as spiritual beings: we are consciousness in human form. And as such, we are actually not that interested in material things! These things are all conditioned into us. They’re conditions of being in a body, and in this culture that we crave money and power and all these things, but our true purpose lies in unfolding our loving potential. That’s what spirituality is for me: a way of navigating through all these negative fears and habits and finding our true selves. You can do that through yoga, meditation, music: through anything that allows you to train your focus and clarify your intention. I think you could be making burritos and have very spiritual experiences. If you’re fully present with the burrito, and the people you’re serving, then you have overcome some layers of social conditioning and have found a peaceful place in your heart. These ideas can be manifested in so many different ways, and we try to do it through our music.

Do you feel that you're making a difference in terms of raising consciousness in your fans? In what ways do you try to spread the word about your causes, and encourage people to embrace spirituality? 

I think a lot of people at our shows actually have spiritual experiences, whether they call it that or not.They have experiences that lift them out of their normal state of being. A state of being is essentially an agreement between the mind and the body, a way we interact with ourselves and our nervous system that feels normal to us, that we identify with. And I think that music can heighten the moment to the point where we break out of that and suddenly experience something beyond what we’re used to. I think many people use this experience to question themselves, question society, and grow as beings. I’ve certainly experienced this transcendental state through music, and thought, ‘Wow, I could feel that way all the time if I learn to find a way to transcend all these forces in life and really be expressive.’ So overcoming these things is something our fans do while listening to our music.

What do you want audience members to take with them from your shows?

[I want them to] realize the experience of being free and in the moment that they get at our shows can always be attained by working patiently and diligently [whether it's by] having a daily meditation practice, daily yoga practice, mindful eating, playing music... Whatever it is, being in the moment is something you can practice. And by creating a new state of being, which is really our old state of being, we can create a peaceful society. I think inspiring others to grow in this way is activism.

The album art for  Red Sky .

The album art for Red Sky.

I’m totally looking forward to being at The Fox show this Saturday, in the moment, and personally dancing myself silly! What's next for Moon Hooch? Do you plan to go back in the studio anytime soon?

Yes, we do! After this tour, we’re actually renting a house in the desert in Joshua Tree, California for two weeks, and we’ll be working on new music there for our next recording.  

Make sure to get your tickets to Moon Hooch at The Fox for this Saturday here. And keep up with the band on 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.

Colorado Duo Niya & Kris Set Out On Tour For New Album Release

By: Will Baumgartner

Niya Nolting grew up singing in church choirs in New Orleans. At 16, she joined her first band, which led to her to being voted one of NOLA’s top “Women in Rock”... until they found out her age and disqualified her. But it was too late: Niya had been bitten by the performance bug, and has remained in love with singing and sharing her music ever since. While attending CU Boulder, Niya enjoyed some local recognition with her jazz band, Niya and the Satellites. She stayed in Colorado, met and married guitarist Kris Nickeson in a ceremony at Red Rocks, and released the album 'Through the Matter' in 2013, with a band calling itself simply “Niya”. The all-too-familiar pressures and difficulties of maintaining a full band led to the current stripped-down sound of the duo Niya & Kris, which is Niya’s most current project.

This Saturday, September 24th, Niya & Kris will perform at Westminster’s Orchard Arts Festival, and from there, they set out on tour. Their new album, 'Beneath the Watermark', will be released song by song starting this Christmas, with videos accompanying each track. The duo’s first single will be “Where the Rain Held Weight”. Niya’s music reflects her entire history, with influences from rock, jazz, and New Orleans swamp soul. I recently had the chance to discuss Niya’s diverse and powerful sound with her in a conversation that really dug into the hardship and beauty that gives rise to her music. Check it out for yourself:

How did growing up in New Orleans and singing in church affect who you are as a singer and songwriter?

Having New Orleans woven into the fabric of my music challenges me as a singer, but at the same time helps me relax into something familiar and true. The challenge is to always remember that spiritual base that brought me to singing by keeping faith and conviction in the words and message I am conveying with my voice. Today, this emotional honesty is a soul-baring process that takes me on a journey through the fear of opening up to the satisfaction of having done it. Having been exposed to so many styles of music growing up has made me eclectic as a singer, and I feel at home singing everything from blues, to rock, to jazz and soul because in a way, New Orleans lives through me.     

You joined your first band at 16. Did you get hooked on performing outside of church right away?

Yes. I remember the moment I fell in love with making music. It felt just like falling in love with a person. It was in my bass player’s garage and we were playing U2's song “Bad”. A feeling washed over me like I was somewhere else; a new place I had never been before. Now, I look for that place: a calm inside the music every time I play, and that’s when I know I’m doing it right. [It’s a feeling that] can be hard to gauge when you’re onstage, but in my experience, the only way to know you've engaged the audience is when that switch has been flipped inside of you.

Niya & Kris.

Niya & Kris.

You had a jazz band, Niya and the Satellites, when you were at CU. How did that group come together? What led you from rock to jazz?

I put a sign up in the CU auditorium looking for players, and my buddy Robbie Stiefel answered. He’s an amazing guitarist with an old-school country blues style of playing, which fit well with my eclectic vocals. My daughter had a friend in school whose dad played piano, Bill Giebler. His piano became the heart of the music we produced together, and the three of us became quite a writing trio. My rock style went to the wayside because the jazz needed room to grow, and my musical style expanded because of it. The songs coming out on my next album were mostly written with this crew.

After Niya and the Satellites, you went back to rock. Did that have anything to do with the sad fact that jazz is so underappreciated in America, the country where the form was born?

The blues/rock/soul album I released in 2013, Through the Matter, was composed of music I had written before the Satellites that I needed to get out. It made sense at the time to go back to what I had been doing on my own before the jazz. Now, I [play all styles] in my shows with my husband Kris Nickeson. His jazz/funk background has brought me back to where I need to be, which is right in the middle of rock and jazz. Being a duo allows the music to be free from style restrictions, because no matter what you play, you sound like two people playing on a porch somewhere.  

Album artwork for  Through the Matter .

Album artwork for Through the Matter.

Do you find musical pleasures in this two-piece, stripped-down approach?  

The songs from Through The Matter are as beautiful and fun to play as a duet as they were with a full band. I can play them alone, as a duet, or with a full band and the story stays the same. I am loving the duet approach because we can hear and play off of each other better while enjoying our companionship as husband and wife, singer and guitarist, music lovers, and friends. There is nothing more exciting than holding down the rhythm while my husband rips out an amazing solo. It has made me a better guitarist, singer, and percussionist since I get to do all three.

You’re releasing your next album, 'Below the Watermark', song by song, with a video to accompany each song. That’s quite a project! What was behind your decision to adopt this ambitious approach?   

The music world has become more visual with YouTube and Facebook the way it used to be with MTV. Personally, I love that. It has pushed me to learn video production, which I find I truly enjoy as much as making music. Both of my grandmothers were painters, and I loved to draw before I was lured into the music world. So now, I feel like I’m going back to my roots in a way, and can convey my ideas with more of my talents. It is ambitious, which is why it takes time, but each song will be like its own little album, a piece of the bigger picture. I can see all the videos and music complete in my mind as I perform them at Red Rocks one day, which is a dream my husband and I both share. He asked me to marry him there; it would be amazing to come full circle and see that dream complete.   

You told me in an earlier conversation that your new tunes have a more “swampy, New Orleans vibe” than the songs on 'Through the Matter'. Was that a direct result of the fact that, on at least some of these songs, you were writing about your family and the hurricane? Did you write any of the songs in New Orleans?

The “new stuff” is really what I wrote with the Satellites, and now it is finally coming to the light. Below the Watermark is a compilation of songs dedicated to my family, and much of it is about living there and what it felt like to go through something life-changing with my family. I was living in Colorado when [the hurricane] happened, but my heart was with them when I wrote this music. “Below the Watermark”, the album’s title track, is a fan favorite, and “Where the Rain Held Weight” is another. This record has been a long time coming because honestly, it took that long for our hearts to heal. I want this music to be a celebration of our family and all the New Orleans families that endured and persevered through tragedy.

I know this can be a tough one for any artist, but can you tell our readers, in a few words, what the essence of your music is, and what you hope listeners will take away from it?

Life is hard and beautiful. My intention is to bring myself and those who choose to journey with me through the hard parts to something beautiful. I’m using the power of my voice and the rhythm of my words to bring listeners with me to that calm place; the one I’m always trying to reach when I perform. It's that same magical place that I found in the church choir, in the garage band, and now in our husband/wife duet. It seems a waste to keep that to myself, so I share it in hopes of making people feel better and less alone.

Tell us a little about The Orchard Arts Festival and what we can expect from your set this Saturday?

Westminster has an amazing arts community in its historic downtown. The Orchard Arts Festival highlights local musicians and artists, and I am excited to be one of them. We play from 11:30AM-12:30PM, but the festival opens at 10AM. We will kick off our set with tunes from Through the Matter, and some old blues by popular artists like Elvis. I'll pepper in some swampy jazz tunes from our upcoming album too. I’m also paying tribute to a female artist that left us too soon, but in order to know who that is, you'll have to come see and hear for yourself!

What’s next for Niya & Kris?

Our master plan is to tour the world together playing music, while expanding our repertoire and performing shows that are studies of past artists. To be diversified is to live in this business, so we are writing shows that will showcase artists from the past like Billie Holiday. We’ll perform some of their songs, tell stories about their lives, and shed some light on the origins of music and why it drives people like us to dedicate our lives to performing. We are starting by expanding in Colorado, with more shows throughout the state, and in neighboring states. Our first mini-tour starts in Moab, Utah and will end at a house party in Logan. More dates and places will be added as we go along. Eventually, all roads lead to Red Rocks; at least that is our underlying prayer: to show our love for one another and the music that we create in the most beautiful music venue on Earth.

Make sure to see Niya & Kris this Saturday at The Westminster Orchard Arts Festival. Details on the event can be found here.

Keep up with Niya & Kris on 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.

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.

Envy Alo: A Danceable Fusion

By: Will Baumgartner

"It never ceases to amaze me what three people can do with a guitar, drums and a Hammond organ. I recently got the opportunity to master Envy Alo's new EP and I was excited to hear so many great rock, funk, and hip hop influences, all wrapped up into their own unique sound. I can't wait to see what these cats come up with next and really hope I can be a part of it!"

-Alan Evans, Soulive

There you have it from the mouth of Alan Evans, the drummer of Soulive, one of the most popular jazz/funk fusion bands on the planet: Envy Alo, a trio of young Front Range musicians, are already well on their way to a bright future after only eight months of existence as a group. While their instrumentation is the same as Soulive, and they obviously share a lot of the same influences and tastes, these boys definitely have their own distinctive thing going on: a stew of jazz, funk, rock that is not only technically impressive, but tremendously exciting and infectious, and definitely dance-friendly. I couldn’t stop moving the last time I saw them live!

In anticipation for Envy Alo’s upcoming performance in The Pamlico Sound’s latest Funkstravaganza (five funk bands in one night at Cervantes’ Other Side this Saturday, June 18th), I recently spoke with keyboardist Aaron Pettine and guitarist/vocalist Kevin Hinder to get some insights into their process, progress, and plans. Check it out:

You guys have been around for less than a year and are already making pretty big noise on the local scene. How did your group come together, and what do you think were the key elements in your rapid rise?

Aaron: Kevin and I knew each other from attending James Madison University in Virginia for our undergrad studies. After we both relocated to Boulder, we met Tyler Gwynn (drummer) through mutual friends. After a few jam sessions with him, we knew we had a unique sound and chemistry and decided to move forward as a band.

Tyler and I both had been playing in other Front Range bands for a while now (Booster and Tenth Mountain Division respectively), so that helped us attract some of the fans from those bands to see this new project. We had developed great relationships with many of the local venues too, who were gracious enough to offer Envy Alo opening slots and gigs within our first few months of being a band.

Kevin: Another key element was just the initial drive that we wanted to do something different. A lot of bands in the area have that typical “jam band” sound, and we really wanted to create something unique. We had the tools already in place individually to do something new, and so far it seems like people enjoy it!

Kevin Hinder.

Kevin Hinder.

With your unusual and rather sparse lineup- keyboards, guitar and, drums- you create a very full, rich sound. How do you accomplish this?

Aaron: It’s simple really: add a synth bass line, swirling organ chords, furiously fast, yet tasteful jazz-rock guitar licks, and a danceable funky drum groove, and boom, that’s our sound!

Speaking of sound, I hear echoes of a lot of familiar sounds and styles within Envy Alo. The obvious comparison would be to the great funk-jazz trio Soulive, but not all your influences seem to be so contemporary. Some of the “organ trio” groups of the 60’s come to mind, as well as the solid classic groove of Booker T. & the MG’s. Who have some of your main influences been, both compositionally and in your individual styles as players?

Aaron: As a keyboard player, it's legends like Jimmy Smith, Booker T., Herbie Hancock, and Stevie Wonder. I also got a lot of my influences from current players like Neal Evans (Soulive/Lettuce), and Beau Sasser (Kung Fu) as well. I’d say my biggest influence is John Medeski from Medeski Martin & Wood, who I was lucky enough to study under in 2015.

Kevin: When I was a kid, I went through a heavy Hendrix phase, and was into heavier rock and the blues. But as I got a little older I started listening to bands like Phish and Widespread Panic, Derek Trucks, and Umphrey's McGee. I would say Jimmy Herring is probably my favorite guitar player out there, but when I really started studying music, my focus shifted to jazz with players like Pat Metheny and John Scofield (probably #2 to Jimmy Herring for me).

Aaron Pettine. 

Aaron Pettine. 

Your music is rewarding on both an intellectual level and a visceral one. Musicians get plenty to appreciate in terms of skill and complexity, while your average concertgoer gets a solid dose of dance music. Has this been a conscious thing? How do you approach creating music like this?

Aaron: [It has] absolutely been a conscious thing. We want to challenge ourselves in the music we write, but we also want it to be accessible and fun for the listener and concertgoer. Finding that happy medium can sometimes be the toughest part but it's one of the great joys of writing our own music.

One of the things that keeps your music interesting and exciting is while your primary focus is clearly on the funk/jazz side of the spectrum, there are also occasional flavors of rock. Where does this varietal spice come from?

Kevin: I think listening to an extremely wide range of styles helps us to draw on those influences and place some of that into our own sounds. Whether it’s conscious or not, it definitely comes through in all of our playing and writing. A Tribe Called Quest is a big influence in that regard, since they mold hip-hop with jazz, funk, rock, and more all into their sound.

Tyler Gwynn.

Tyler Gwynn.

Yet another thing that sets Envy Alo apart is the fact that not all of your stuff is strictly instrumental; you have some actual songs with well-written and interesting lyrics. What songwriters have influenced you?

Kevin: I’ve been listening to Jim Croce a good bit lately, and his lyrics are so well developed, funny, and his flow is so good. The obvious ones come to mind [too]: Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards. I also love Jerry Joseph. The imagery in his writing is so strong and deep, you can tell he has really been through some shit and has a lot of demons and skeletons in his closet, so pulling on his writing is big for me.

Do your compositions come completely realized from individual band members, or are they more often group efforts?

Aaron: It’s a little bit of everything. A lot of earlier tunes came to be through us just jamming, liking something, and putting some structure to it. Recently, Kevin and I have been doing a lot of writing on our own, either chord structures or lyrics or both, and then we get together and finish it up with Tyler.

Listen to Envy Alo's debut EP One Time

I’m very excited for your performance at The Pamlico Sound’s Funkstravaganza show this Saturday. Can the audience expect any special treats from y’all at that performance?

Aaron: Yes! We will have some special treats in store. We are very excited to play our first show as Envy Alo at Cervantes’- it’s one of our favorite Denver venues!

What the hell does “Envy Alo” mean, anyway?

Aaron: It’s a play off of the Spanish word “envialo” which means “ship it”. It’s a term we use when we need to spur one of us to really rock something.

Kevin: Basically, we just replace every verb related to doing anything with “ship it”.

Watch Envy Alo's live performance of "Manic Depression":

I never could have figure that one out on my own! So what’s on the horizon for Envy Alo? Where do you see yourselves a year from now? Anything our readers should know about in advance?

Kevin: We have a summer full of dates we’re ready to announce soon, and we will be playing some of the bigger local venues too, so we’re pretty jazzed about that. We were just booked to play at a music festival in Taos, NM in September, which will be our first festival. Sometime in the fall, we plan on recording a full length album. We’ve been talking to Al Evans from Soulive about recording in his studio out East, so we have some pretty lofty goals. We’re ready to dive in headfirst and become the best and most unique band we can be!

So make sure to “ship it” with Envy Alo and all of the great funk bands on the Funkstravaganza lineup this Saturday at Cervantes! Keep up with Envy Alo 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.

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.