Friday, January 27, 2012

Area Codes

One of my pals, Corban Goble, interviewed me about Denver's music scene. Here is the article, which appeared on Stereogum yesterday.

And here is the full Q&A:

How long have you been in Denver? What was the music scene like when you got there and how has it changed? You grew up there right? How had it changed while you had left?

I've been back here for about a year-and-a-half after leaving New York City (and also driving around the country getting smashed and going to Graceland, etc. for three months). There hasn't been a ton of change since I've been back--or maybe there has and I'm too close to the whole fiasco to notice--but a handful of pretty legit bands have coasted out of town, while even more have popped up.

I was born and raised here and things have changed a lot, even if you consider that I was last observing things as an 18-year-old high school kid. (I lived in Boston and New York, basically, for all of the time from 2001 until I came back.) There was a massive, booming jam band culture in Colorado in the 1990s. The String Cheese Incident and Yonder Mountain String Band emerged, and it seemed like Widespread Panic, Phish, Umphrey's McGee, an offshoot of the Grateful Dead and so on and so forth were in town every other weekend. It all ostensibly stemmed from a potent desire to play the storied Red Rocks, as well as the smoky haze over Boulder and an atmosphere teeming with bluegrass (which culminated and still culminates each summer at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival). But, like I said, I was in high school at the time and wasn't too hip to any underground scene. Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was recorded here after Robert Schneider got Apples in Stereo together here; that has to mean something.

Also, three words: Big. Head. Todd. Oh, and everyone should hear the Samples' first three albums. Or, at least, one or two songs from each of them. Or total. Really just "Feel Us Shaking."

What kinds of sounds play well in Denver? Do you think there's a particular sound coming out of there, or is it varied? What are some of the things that define the scene and how it works?

I think there's still a big jam scene, here. Phish loves us, STS9 and the Disco Biscuits were just here for the 350th time this year. And it's February. In all seriousness, though, people here love them some elongated tunes, whether bluegrass- or electronically-based. Call it our marijuana culture or outdoorsy 'tude, but it's real and makes up a sizable chunk of the money flow.

When I originally conceptualized this Gauntlet Hair piece for The Denver Post, I imagined more of a tie between the neo-psychedelia of the '90s to the psych-rock of the 2010s. (And, if you so choose, all the way back to '60s folk in Denver, from John, ahem, Denver to Judy Collins.) I think there's a lot to that with G Hair, Tjujtuna, Woodsman, A Shoreline Dream, Vitamins, Widowers and others emerging from Denver and pumping out some pretty trippy shit. But it, of course, doesn't stop with psych-rock as we have a vibrant jazz scene (Ron Miles is something of a living legend around these parts, Bill Frisell grew up here and current resident Dianne Reeves had won a grip of Grammys), as well all the indie-rock, country and acoustic stuff you'd expect from a semi-large city. I would be remiss not to mention the vibrant Latino culture. There's also some surprisingly good hip-hop and the metal underground has its tentacles spread wide. Blast-O-Mat is the main stomping ground for the latter.

Who are your favorite bands in Denver? What does Denver offer artists and musicians that might show up in the music or in their working process?

I think a band that will always be hard to pigeonhole and certainly doesn't take a lot of cues from the circuitous evolution I outlined above is Slim Cessna's Auto Club. They will always be at the heart of the Denver rock 'n' roll landscape, whether you call it country Gothic or just plain ol' awesome music.

Other faves outside of that psych-rock deal: Pictureplane, PANAL S.A. DE C.V., A. Tom Collins, The Knew, FaceMan, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, Hindershot, Wheelchair Sports Camp and Nathaniel Rateliff.

After living in New York for all those years, I think Denver drew me back for the same reason it draws great bands. It's reasonably inexpensive to live here but offers a large enough infrastructure to do your job, make your art. In music, that means some solid recording spaces, practice rooms and tons of venues to play in town and up in Boulder or Fort Collins. The media outlets aren't numerous but there is solid music writing here, from the Post to Reverb to Westword to the A.V. Club. Plus, there's all that pot.

What's coming up in Denver? Is there a new act that excites you or one you think is going to be big on a larger scale?

I'm usually an awful predictor of what people will dig: I thought the Pictureplane album was the best thing to come out of Denver in 2011 and should have gotten a lot more national attention. Having said that (daps to Curb), I'd put in a few nepotistic plugs: Two of my best friends have bands that are putting out records this year that will be better than a lot of what makes waves elsewhere in this country. Those bands are the Knew and FaceMan. (As an aside, one potential disadvantage of the type of smaller city that Denver represents when compared with New York or L.A. is the incestuousness of the whole ordeal. Tight-knit would be a euphemistic way of putting it.) Other than them, I'd love to see PANAL S.A. DE C.V. melt some faces outside of the Mile High City with their post-rock prowess. And awesome masks.

What's your favorite venue? How do you think Denver stands out?

It's a tie between the Hi-Dive, the Larimer Lounge and the Lion's Lair. I'm a sucker for places that feel like they're rock clubs and all three fit the mold. The Hi-Dive wins for sound, the Larimer for atmosphere and the Lair for being such a radical piece of shit, urine-soaked, Old Style-drinking den of iniquity. Also, it's on Colfax which is pretty much the best stretch of road on which to get ripped in the universe. (If a person were visiting Denver for just one day, I would take them up and down Colfax, then to a Rockies game at Coors Field and, later, to the 16th Street Mall to set it on fire.) Interestingly enough, the three aforementioned venues represent distinctive 'hoods that are neck deep in great drinking spots. The Larimer is due North of the rampant douchebaggery in LoDo and the Hi-Dive holds its own amongst the South Broadway bar scene. Although, that area now his a surfeit of hipsters wearing too-tight Lidsville sweatshirts. Ironic dive bars aren't cool. Real dive bars like the Nob Hill Inn on Colfax or the Hill-Top on the West Side are. In fact, Denver probably has the best collection of dives I've ever seen in the United States. Even though some of the places are closed, everyone who ever visits Denver should buy this book. You want to know what coffee shops to go to? Ask somebody else. I don't drink coffee; I drink beer.

(Now we're on a tangent but sort of encompassing the hippie shit and dive bar deal, Kerouac and Cassady used to kick it at My Brother's Bar and the Wazee Supper Club. Both are institutions. We also have a string of awesome and hilarious Grateful Dead-themed bars, Sancho's Broken Arrow on Colfax being the raddest.)

A place like Rhinoceropolis also helps Denver be unique; it's pretty much an anything-goes joint for the young folk and the nascent semi-homeless youth community aspect can't be overlooked. It's like a Boys and Girls Club with 40s instead of Sour Patch Kids and Travis Egedy instead of Denzel Washington.

The major venue that separates us from the herd, though, is obviously Red Rocks. And it always will be.

What is like, the REAL importance of an artist like Pictureplane? Is he kind of a tone-setter or somebody who is kind of doing their own thing? Or is he like, a civic icon or something?

I think Travis not only makes great music but is exactly the type of person you need for a middle-sized town. You need a guy to wave the flag or, as Westword put it, be our "cheerleader": someone who is proud of his town. Someone who is gonna rep Elitch's (our amusement park) in his videos (see below). I can't tell you how many shows I've been to where a national act has thanked him. He is usually at the show and the band is probably staying at Rhino or under a bridge somewhere with Travis. He's indispensable.

What's the biggest stuff in Denver's history? Like, what is the scene most famous for, probably?

A ton of Red Rocks shows come to mind, as does Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. taking the town's name as his own. I think a dude from Earth, Wind and Fire went to East High School. India.Arie was born here. But, really, the city hasn't produced major icons on levels like London or even a smaller city like Minneapolis. I'm not sure we've even produced one, yet. But, I think "yet" is the operative word there.

Also: Fuck the Fray and OneRepublic.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Top 15 Albums of 2011

1. Clams Casino - Instrumental Mixtape

2. Youth Lagoon - The Year of Hibernation

3. Bill Callahan - Apocalypse

4. Tune-Yards - w h o k i l l

5. Future Islands - On the Water

6. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost

7. Wye Oak - Civilian

8. Julianna Barwick - The Magic Place

9. Fucked Up - David Comes to Life

10. Panda Bear - Tomboy

11. James Blake - James Blake

12. The Rapture - In the Grace of Your Love

13. Austra - Feel It Break

14. Radiohead - The King of Limbs

15. Atlas Sound - Parallax

My ten favorite albums were posted here, along with choices from other Reverb folks. Also, my Pazz & Jop contributions should be out in the coming weeks.

As for this blog, this is the fifth time I've posted my Top 15. Find the other years below:

Happy New Year.