Meet the Giant’s Sublimely Moody Debut Album Was Worth the Wait

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Meet the Giant, photo by Tom Murphy

 

In an era when any musician, regardless of talent or ability, can release whatever, figuratively speaking, falls out of their head with no quality control impeding its release, Meet the Giant is a bit of an anomaly. The rock trio formed in 2009 and released its self-titled debut album on May 29, 2018. Most bands wouldn’t incubate for that long in any way. “Our first album from the beginning is basically ten years,” says bassist/vocalist Micaela Naranjo. “But we’re not on anybody else’s agenda. It’s tempting to fall into the traps of doing a genre based approach or marketing to people. But it’s not for us.”

“We were of the mindset of let’s just make music for us,” says guitarist Erin Cisney. “Keep it in the basement.”

The group germinated initially when drummer Lawrence Snell, whose shoegaze-rimmed Americana band Colder Than Fargo had recently split, talked to his friend Cisney about jamming for fun. The two would get together from 1 to 3 p.m. with electronics rigs set up facing opposite walls. In Colder Than Fargo Snell had triggered electronics as well as played drums and Cisney had extensive production work under his belt having worked for a label in England that did reissues and released albums by classic bands in their later era in which, say, the lineup might only include the original bass player. After several sessions jamming and creating some of the threads that would become Meet the Giant, Cisney mentioned he had a friend who was a bass player that might be interested in coming in to play. Naranjo heard some of the recordings, liked them and the three formed a band with no stated or unstated intention of making music to share with anyone else.

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Meet the Giant, photo by Tom Murphy

The English connection was something Cisney and Snell had in common. Cisney was born in Salida, Colorado but grew up in Littleton and had played in local bands like Whirling Dervish and Vena Cava before getting a production job overseas. Snell grew up near Leicester, England in a working class family but one that had an appreciation for music. Snell’s father was not into the Rolling Stones so much as American songwriters like Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. Though Snell’s family sold potatoes at nearby music festivals including one memorable year at Reading when the 1986 headliners were Killing Joke, Saxon and Hawkwind.

“My dad said the first night is going to be the punk rockers, the second night is going to be heavy metal and we’re going to have trouble,” recalls Snell. “The third night it’s going to be all peace and love. But people were on acid and they robbed my mom and dad’s potato wagon and lit the speakers on fire.”

Soon after, though, Snell was taken with American music in the form of hip-hop and Public Enemy and the art pop funk of Prince. It was a heady time in the late 80s and early 90s and Snell found himself swept up in the momentum of the cross-Atlantic musical co-influence as New Order borrowed hip-hop production techniques and the Manchester “Baggy” scene synthesized the aesthetics of dance music and post-punk. That music was in all the pubs on jukeboxes in a way that might seem odd to Americans. Britpop became almost ubiquitous. “ Everybody had that first Oasis album in their car,” quips Snell. “:Even your grandma had a Liam Gallagher haircut.” That monocultural wave is what made Snell appreciate America’s proclivity for regional scenes that weren’t so closely connected. Especially at that time when not all music and culture was so easily accessible as it is now.

Colorado in the 80s and 90s seemed pretty far removed from centers of culture in general. But as with many places so relatively isolated, idiosyncratic creative endeavors develop in spite of having not much support from the immediate culture and government. Cisney played in a band starting in high school called Guru Picnic that played pep rallies and football games. But after a few months that project dissolved and Cisney formed Wasteband, which recorded an album in 1989 at Freewheelin’ Recording Studio where Denver New Wave band The Corvairs had recorded its five song demo a decade prior.

It was during his college years in Boulder that Cisney played with Platypus and shared stages with the likes of Fat Mama and Chief Broom. Boulder funk/jam/rock band The Motet was just starting up. Soon enough Cisney joined Vena Cava and his circle of friend bands would play The Fox and come down to Denver to play The Bluebird thinking it was a common occurrence within the reach of any band. But he was soon disabused of such notions.

“One show it was half full and we thought that was a shitty gig,” says Cisney. “I’ve never had a gig like that since.”

Naranjo was later in life getting into bands than many people. Coming in and out of town during colllege, Naranjo became involved in what was called the “Broken Mic Scene” which included the venues The Bank, The Park Tavern and The Flying Dog. Naranjo, who grew up in a musical family but never considered themself talented enough to be in the music scene, joined The Late Jack Redell and played with Garrett Carlin, now in art noise rock band Jane Doe. Naranjo found playing with the band comfortable and that gig led to playing in other bands like Fallout Orphan, Legendary Beep Beeps and Penelope Project. “For me being in the local scene is more about people who have the same malfunction you do,” says Naranjo.

Around 2015, Meet the Giant had written and recorded various songs occasionally sharing them with close friends and the trio felt some momentum in the band that inspired an interest in playing a debut show. The proper environment for doing so came with two shows at Rocky Mountain Sound Garden, a now defunct recording studio and rehearsal space. It seemed safer to do that more DIY type of show before heading back into the waters of bar and small venue shows that is the common experience of most bands in any city. The opportunity to break that egg was a barbecue show on a Sunday at Larimer Lounge where Meet the Giant played after a jug band and a Christian worship band.

“I like getting on a bill like that to get exposed to different sides of the scene but sometimes its a shitshow,” says Naranjo. “We chased everyone out of the bar quickly.”

But Meet the Giant persevered and found appreciative audiences in the metal scene because its own sound has a bit of grit and heaviness to it despite being atmospheric, melancholic music. Then again, bands like Kylesa, True Widow, Emma Ruth Rundle, Myrkur and Chelsea Wolfe have a crossover appeal in that way. In fact, Bart McCrorey of Throttlebomb, offered to do some recording for the band at his Crash Pad studio where he is best known for recording hard rock, punk and metal records including the fantastic 2017 Weaponizer album Lawless Age.

“The metalheads were good to us on the scene,” comments Snell. “To me they’re the last people that are genuinely into music. It’s like ska, reggae, two-tone and punk. Different music but the same ideals.”

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Meet the Giant, photo by Tom Murphy

For the new record, the band recorded two tracks with McCrorey and others with Danny Ke at Orchid Studios and Dave Schleitwiler at Sunnyside Recording Studio. But the whole album was mastered by Brad Smalling who assembled the various recordings into a sonically cohesive whole at Evergroove Studio, the place where enigmatic, experimental, instrumental band Itchy-O has been recording of late. And it is with Smalling in a studio in Taos, New Mexico that Meet the Giant recently recorded its follow-up album prior to heading out on its first tour in spring 2018 spanning June 3 through June 8.

After years of playing in bands and spending over half a decade developing its music, Meet the Giant has no illusions of rock stardom in the making or hitting it big in the local scene either. Its dark, lush, sometimes scrappy music doesn’t fit in an easily marketable genre box. It reflects a hybrid rock and electronic aesthetic that happened naturally given the band’s musical interests going in. In fact, the group has an electronic side called Shadow of the Giant that is all electronic that it may someday unveil.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the rock and electronic blend in the dark, atmospheric way that Meet the Giant does so well was out of style in a climate where entirely too much dry earnestness. Modern takes on classic rock, garage rock, garage punk and pretty but not really mind-altering psych rock seemed fairly trendy not just in Denver but nationally. Odd for Denver which long had a tradition of moody, brooding, majestic, heady bands. Given the growing popularity of bands like Black Marble, Drab Majesty and Wye Oak those tides have been turning for a few years and Meet the Giant may be emerging in the right climate for its sound.

“We’re really into the Bristol scene and common elements and retrospectively there’s probably this sort of emotional expression that’s consistent in the music that we like,” says Naranjo.

“What we’re writing is dark, for the most part. There’s an introspection and tenderness there that we all like,” says Cisney. “The spectrum for us is typically on the sadder, darker side of things but we have some throw your fists in the air rockers.”

“We’ve been together nine years,” says Snell. “We’ve been through deaths, break-ups and a myriad of stuff and the thing that has kept us together is the music, even though that’s a bit of a cliché.”

Meet the Giant’s debut album is available digitally through the usual outlets including Bandcamp, iTunes, Spotify, Google Play and Amazon. The band will have a vinyl release show on August 10, 2018 at Syntax Physic Opera where it will celebrate the occasion sharing the stage with Church Fire and The Patient Zeros.

102 Wires, An Celebration of Atypical Guitar Art Tonight at Bar Max

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Kevin Richards of Equine circa 2017, photo by Tom Murphy

Tonight, May 26, 2018, at 5 p.m. (and running until 11:15) several of the Denver area’s most sonically adventurous musicians will assemble in the basement of Bar Max for 102 Wires. The event was organized by Kevin Richards who is known in local underground music circles for his most recent experimental guitar and electronics project Equine, which has been very prolific of late with the release of a handful of 2018 albums so far including White Majick, Der Howling, Equencing and Twins. In years past, Richards brought his knowledge of jazz chord theory to the too-post-hardcore-for-noise rock/too-weird-for-post-hardcore band Motheater, the quasi-performance art Hogsplitter, noise project Epileptinomicon and solo guitar drone band Temples. We recently sent some questions Richards regarding 102 Wires, it’s inspirations, aims and what Richards hows will be the aftermath.

Queen City Sounds: What inspired doing an event like this? Have you seen anything like this before putting the event together? Perhaps one of the late Glenn Branca’s guitar orchestra events.

Kevin Richards: I don’t know that I’ve actually seen something quite like this before, although I have heard of somewhat similar festivals. The large ensemble aspect was definitely inspired by Branca and Rhys Chatham. Generally speaking, I was hoping to gather as may atypical guitarists (or guitarists doing something atypical for themselves) in one room with minimal instruction and see what happens. This fest is curated in a form, but has been intentionally fairly hands off as far as what people are bringing to the table. Hopefully this yields surprises for us all.

What will the show look like/be like and what kind of logistics and gear did you need to bring together to make it happen?

I am hoping to have people around the perimeters of the room performing, and the audience in the middle. there may be people performing solo sets, Steve Reich repertoire, original compositions, perhaps some prepared guitar, ambient loops, large ensembles, and some things that even I don’t quite know what they will be like. This should be six hours of guitar-centric musical fascination. As for the gear, I will of course be bringing multiple guitars and amps. We have performers who don’t generally play guitar and so there is a bit of borrowing happening. Logistics wise, this came together much more smoothly than I had anticipated. Max at Bar Max was great about letting us use the space for the event and all of the performers are putting in a decent amount of work to help this thing all come together. So in the end I can barely take credit for this team effort, as it should be.

With a diverse set of talents, skill sets, aesthetics and so forth, did you put any rules on how things will go and if so why so?

]The general concept/rules of the things were one, you must do something either atypical for how the instrument is generally approached, or you had to do something a bit out of your wheelhouse. Two, as much as possible this should be guitar only, so no drums, or other instruments. I think this event will for the most part adhere to both of these rules, with a couple well-reasoned exceptions. I tend to like working within musical restrictions myself as a means to foster creativity, and I was hoping this had a similar effect on others in this setting.

Why did you think bringing together a broad spectrum of musicians and guitars and whatnot would prove interesting?

How could it not? I have a certain love of the creative chaos that this type of gathering could bring. The joy from this will come from all of the things I didn’t anticipate.

What do you hope is the outcome of this show for both the people there and what might happen in post with you and other participants?

I hope that the primary outcome of this show is that we all gather together and enjoy each others company and creativity. I do hope that this gathering spawns other creative endeavors among the participants. Many have never met each other and may not even know the other exists in the same town, so that aspect should foster some interesting encounters at the very least. For the audience, I hope they see something that they have never seen before, and leave rethinking the instrument in some way.

The official schedule of events
Drew Miller 6-6:30
Large ensemble 1 6:30-7:00
Russ Callison 7:00-7:30
Large ensemble 2 7:30-7:45
Julien Miller/ Kevin Richards collaborative set 7:45-8:15
Stakes-8:15-8:35
Vahco Before-Horses 1 minute set 8:35
Sean Patrick Faling doing Glenn Branca memorial solo set 8:35-8:40
Large ensemble 3: branca memorial ensemble 8:40-8:55
Farrell Lowe 8:55-9:15
Aleeya Wilson 9:15-9:9:35
Joe Mills 9:35-10:00
Never Kenezzard Lite with Ryan Peru 10:00-10:15
Jacob Isaacs 10:15-10:35
Shawn Mlekush10:35-10:55
Equis Sub Templum – 2 large ensemble compositions 10:55-11:15

Daphne Willis and Dave Tamkin Take the Stigma Out of Talking About Self-Care, Addiction and Mental Health Issues

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Daphne Willis and Dave Tamkin, photo courtesy Big Fish Booking

Songwriters Daphne Willis and Dave Tamkin will share a bill tonight, Friday May 18, at eTown Hall (for more information and to buy tickets click here). The two veteran musicians, who met twelve years ago playing local clubs in Chicago when both were living in the Windy City, have recently released songs with themes related to mental health and issues of self-care. As artists who have or still are involved in heavy touring, Willis and Tamkin have witnessed issues of mental health and addiction firsthand and the tone of their music seems grounded in experience rather than an abstraction of real life struggle. With their music both artists aren’t just trying to raise awareness but to humanize issues that can seem overwhelming and insurmountable.

Right out of college at DePaul, where by coincidence Willis also attended several years later, Tamkin found himself carving out a live music career tapping into the National Association of Campus Activities circuit and performing at colleges and towns across the country for eight years before meeting his future wife, Anne, and asking her to have a drink one night but she told him she didn’t have time for that because she was moving to Boulder. The couple has now been married for a decade. And Tamkin found, around that time, that he had to retool his music career considerably when changes in digital marketing were coming his way.

“Business marketing was my major and I was pretty good at getting people to Myspace at the time” says Tamkin. “Even with your website, owning those emails was your career—being able to have contact with your audience at any time. As soon as Myspace went away, I think I had thirty-thousand fans at the time, my whole career changed. I had to start over and it’s still taking me some time. So I’ve spent the last eight years not touring and rebuilding. So it’s nice to get back at it with a different point of view and I’ve been humbled. I appreciate every gig and audience I get in a way that maybe I didn’t back then.”

Tamkin found that not touring constantly forced him to reevaluate how he related to other people and himself not being on the road for six months at a time. Finding himself intimidated by the talent he found in Colorado, Tamkin took a number of years to get hooked into a local music community. And now, as a talent buyer for The Walnut Room through Homevibe Presents, Tamkin has connected with the local music world that he finds “welcoming and kind.” He also discovered Love Hope Strength Foundation, a group whose “Get On the List” campaign seeks to expand a registry for bone marrow donation and other efforts linked with music to try to help those living with cancer. Around that time he lost his father-in-law and Tamkin has encouraged his fans and peers to contribute to Love Hope Strength to give hope to people in a way that Tamkin couldn’t do for his father-in-law.

Tamkin also wrote the song “May” that was featured on Videos That Matter to address the opioid crisis in America. The brightly moody and uplifting song shines a compassionate light on what leads to abuse of opioids without romanticizing or demonizing anyone’s circumstances.

Willis has been collaborating with songwriters around the world since 2015 through her deal publishing deal with Sony/ATV. The versatile songwriter, whose work seems to know no genre boundaries, got her professional music life started early when her first acoustic EP, released when she was nineteen, got picked up for sublicensing through companies that place music in retail outlets and, at one time, through airline music channels. An executive at Vanguard heard her song on an American Airlines flight when his iPod wasn’t working and subsuently signed Willis for two albums. While that story is the dream of many a songwriter, Willis currently still self-produces much if not all of her own work.

Like everyone in America paying attention, Willis has been aware of issues of mental health and addiction for most of her life. With her father in the music industry for over thirty years in the sales and distribution wing of Sony/BMG, Willis grew up in a musical family and as a professional musician she undoubtedly saw the downside of self-medication and mental health struggles among peers and, it turns out, her own family. She wrote about this vividly and with no small amount of sensitivity in her 2017 song “Somebody’s Someone.”

“It’s autobiographical and it’s about my brother and myself,” says Willis. “It’s about every family that struggles with these issues—which is to say every family in the country has someone that struggles with depression, addiction, ADHD, PTSD [and other issues].”

Willis aimed with her songwriting to bring a more realistic perspective to a problems that seem mysterious and impenetrable to many people, especially thouse caught up in the embrace of psychological issues and addiction for whom the stigma might prevent actually getting help or treating before they become a larger problem.

“It’s become a bigger issue than it should be largely because of the stigma,” says Willis. “These issues are not like they’re not preventable or treatable. We as humans are perfectly capable of supporting each other and healing each other through all these things. But because of the fear and stigma that exists toward all of these things there’s a big barrier and we’re not able to do that. The idea of the song is to create a conversation about it. The point of the song is to take our experiences of these things to make it so basic everyone can understand it and relate to it because everyone has been there or know someone who has. People have been writing about this stuff for centuries. But I feel people have been less direct about it.”

While both Willis and Tamkin have written plenty of songs not about such dire subjects, it’s a testament to their talent, humanity and self-awareness that they’re bringing conversations into the creative zeitgeist. Doing so also highlights their insight into what makes a song work and have resonance not just for themselves but for their audiences. Witness it for yourself tonight or any other time you have a chance to see Willis and Tamkin in their element live on stage.

Red Aunts Never Let Rock Tradition Get In the Way of Its Noisy Punk Fun

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Red Aunts, photo courtesy Red Aunts

Red Aunts are headlining Fem Fest at the MCA Denver on Saturday, May 12. While the punk band, formed in Long Beach, California in 1992, isn’t as well known as some of its contemporaries, it was certainly one of the most original and beloved by those that came under the band’s spell of chaos and playfulness before it split around 2001.

The last time Red Aunts performed in Denver was on July 17, 1998 at the Bluebird Theater. The band had already come through Denver and Boulder in early April of that year playing with King Rat and Necessary Evils at Lion’s Lair and Electric Summer at Club 156. At the Bluebird show, the roots punk King Rat and the garage rock Down N Outs warmed up the crowd with impressive sets of their own. But when Red Aunts took stage, the group had an excitingly unpredictable quality that perfectly suited its its unique sound, a kind of blend of noisy punk and garage rock. Then, at one point in the set, either Kerry Davis or Terri Wahl broke a guitar string and announced, “You’d think that in seven years of being in a band that I would have learned to change my strings but I didn’t. Is there anyone that can come up here to help me with that?” Someone did. Perhaps that moment, that likely happened periodically in the band’s career, struck some as unprofessional, but to others it showed that you didn’t need to have complete expertise or mastery of all areas of one’s art all at the same time in order to do it with credibility or at all. Clearly the members of the Red Aunts weren’t letting what some might perceive as shortcomings get in the way of being a band. “Oh yeah, nor did we care,” says Wahl. “I think that was more the thing. We just didn’t give a fuuuck.”

That creative spirit liberated from the confinements of conventional thinking was part of the band from the beginning. Wahl had moved to Long Beach from Anaheim, after a stint in Fullerton, with her vintage clothing business. But she’d always loved music and as a teenager had seen and been inspired by the likes of X, Social Distortion, The Mau Maus and Christian Death.

“I would sneak out my bedroom window and drive with my friends from Anaheim to Los Angeles to see bands,” recalls Wahl. “That’s what opened my eyes to punk rock. But I didn’t start a band until ten years after that.”

In Long Beach, Wahl came upon the idea of starting her own band with her friend Debi Martini, who was already doing a music ‘zine with her now ex-husband, Edwin Lecher, called Read Life In The Big City. The latter helped put the fledgling band in contact with several other musicians around the world over the years. Before starting Red Aunts, though, Wahl and Martini had already been around musicians but decided not to be bound by the same perceived barriers to entry in starting a band.

“We all had boyfiends that were in bands and we’d end up at these parties and all they could do was talk about their stupid bands,” says Wahl. She decided she would play guitar “because it’s the coolest” and Martini said she would play bass because she thought her boyfriend had one. A friend told Wahl that his friend Kerry was moving to Long Beach from New York and wanted to be in a band as well. With the addition of drummer Lesley Ishino, Red Aunts was born, a band formed by people who hadn’t really played music before. Developing chops and honing of craft in a traditional and creatively stultifying way before getting out and playing shows was not to be part of the history of Red Aunts. “We wrote songs and learned to play our instruments as our band was going,” says Wahl. “It was awesome.”

Red Aunts wasted no time in playing live, “Right off the bat, whether we should have or not,” quips Wahl, and one of its earliest shows was with respected 80s and 90s Illinois punk band The Didjits.

“They were coming through town and the venue that they were going to play at got shut down and we were like, ‘Oh, let’s have the show in Debi’s garage and the Red Aunts will open for you!’” recalls Wahl. “It was on the Fourth of July. The only reason I remember that is that I found a miniskirt made out of an American flag and I was like, ‘Oh! That’s what I’m wearin’ for the Fourth of July! That’s the perfect outfit!’ Because you always have to pick your outfits too. That’s half the fun!”

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Red Aunts live 2017, photo courtesy Red Aunts

Early on, though, Red Aunts, like most bands, played a lot of local shows and mostly with all male bands some of whom, especially then, even now, were skeptical of an all female band, especially one like Red Auints who made no bones about their emphasis on creativity and songwriting over technical prowess. Long term having its own sound and aesthetic worked out for Red Aunts but its early peers perhaps didn’t give it the respect it would eventually earn. “In my opinion I don’t think they received us well because we couldn’t play very well,” says Wahl. “And so they were just like, ‘Oh, stupid girl band.’ As soon as we started going and touring we became way more popular than them. That ended a lot of relationships—marriages and others.”

As in much of music, many musicians forget that some of the most interesting music is made by those who are not cognitively or culturally bound by the “rules,” especially the supposedly anarchic roots of punk rock and rock and roll itself. The willingness to play and write songs without having classic skill is often key.

“Punk rock made it okay to not have to play that well,” says Wahl. “We always used that as, like, ‘Well, who cares, man? Close enough for punk rock.’ Then, as we were touring for months out of the year we got really good at playing—we got really good at our songs at least. We also got more confident and it was fun.”

Fortunately, Red Aunts found support in the local community and the larger punk scene. Some of its early releases were put out by Long Gone John on his Sympathy For the Record Industry imprint, which was then based in Long Beach. “[John] gave us that first chance of actually putting something out and he was really supportive and just a really good guy.”

Within a few years Red Aunts had built up enough of an audience and reputation to draw the interest of Epitaph Records and signed with the imprint before the release of its third full-length, 1995’s irreverent #1 Chicken as well as its subsequent records, 1996’s Saltbox and the 1998 swan song Ghetto Blaster.

“[Signing with Epitaph was] when thing really happened because being on that label meant we could go on tour because we got tour support,” says Wahl. “We took full advantage of that and we went out quite often. How you became popular was touring a lot. Before then we didn’t tour nationally. We would go up the coast a little bit but when we got on Epitaph, that’s when were able to really get out there.”

In the second half of the 90s, Red Aunts were inspired by the noisy punk bands that were signed to labels like Amphetamine Reptile, Touch and Go, Thrilljockey, Estrus Records, Empty Records and In the Red Records. At that time, as now, indie labels were the home of music that probably wouldn’t be given the time of day by major labels, especially after the early 90s when the music industry snapped back to a more conservative mode of operations rather than take chances as it had when alternative music forced a sea change in the early 90s. Certainly a band with a gift for noisy punk, wild energy and an irreverently surrealistic sense of humor like Red Aunts wouldn’t have fit in with being groomed for mainstream stardom.

One of the main ingredients in the Red Aunts sound was its willingness to throw together seemingly disparate ideas in music and lyrics, written by various band members, and make them work even when the styles and ideas seem to clash. It’s a method that has more in common with the avant-garde than punk but in itself more punk than a band making music trying to fit into someone else’s formula. For example, from #1 Chicken, the song “Detroit Valentine” sounds completely insane in the best way and its lyrics shift between cartoonish violence and romantic obsession.

“That was about Mick Collins,” says Wahl. “We became really good friends with him. Kerry had a crush on him, on his voice, you know? It was called that because he was from Detroit. Debi’s part of the song ‘I’m bound for Black Mountain me and my razor gun I’m gonna shoot him if he stands still and cut him if he run.’ I don’t know what she was talking about. But the part Debi sings and the part Kerry sings are about different things. The part Debi sings she wrote and the part Kerry sings she wrote and we just kind of jammed them together. That’s how a lot of our songs are, actually. That’s why there’s so many time changes and weird progressions and changes.”

While this method of songwriting came naturally to Red Aunts, the band, Davis and Wahl in particular, were big fans of noise punk legends Pussy Galore. “Their songs were so weird with so many time changes and chord progressions,” says Wahl. “We wanted to be like that.”

When Red Aunts split up near the turn of the century it wasn’t a dramatic blowout. Davis and Martini moved to New York and Wahl decided to focus on her catering company, which prevented any kind of touring. Wahl pretty much stopped playing music but Davis and Martini continued to play music, Davis notably as Two Tears, and Ishino went on to perform in various bands including Alaska! from Los Angeles.

Then in 2016, In the Red Records head Larry Hardy issued a “greatest hits” compilation called COME UP FOR A CLOSER LOOK subsequent to which the band approached Hardy to play the label’s 25th Anniversary Festival on July 15, 2016. Wahl had to re-learn how to play the bands songs from the group’s friend and guitar tech Zack Malner but the show proved to be so much fun that Red Aunts decided to continue and play occasional dates, life demands permitting, including, as mentioned previously, at Fem Fest in Denver on May 12, June 1 at Boot & Saddle in Philadelphia and at Rough Trade in New York City on June 2.

It’s difficult to say if Red Aunts have been directly influential on other bands but one hears that spirit of faith in one’s inherent creativity to guide one’s art as well as a wild noisy punk in the likes of Atlanta, Georgia’s The Coathangers, but certainly the band has been a good example of how originality will always be more interesting than following the beaten path. For her part, Wahl is finding satisfaction in this new chapter of the band’s history.

“I kind of feel like we’re better now,” says Wahl. “It could just be me. We’re not as drunk and I’m just having a lot of fun.”

David Foedel on LEAF 2018: Pattern Language

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The latest edition of LEAF (or Lafayette Electronic Arts Festival) happens this weekend on Friday, April 27 and Saturday, April 28 in Lafayette, CO. LEAF is a showcase for the synthesis of technology and art and each iteration of the festival has featured some of the most innovative creative people in the field. The Spring 2018 event will include performances from ART391A2, John Gunther/John Drumheller, Trace Reddell, Jason and Debora Bernagozzi and Phillip Sterns with demonstration from Branger_Briz. On Friday night, after the performances, DJ Crix Madine will generate repetitive beats and abstract patterns in conjunction with live video from one of Denver experimental music’s go-to video artists, orchidz3ro. What makes the festival so worthwhile is that it humanizes the art and the technology and makes it accessible in an intimate setting.

Things kick off on Friday at 7 p.m. with the music/performative shows at the Colorado Music Festival Center For Musical Arts building at 200 East Baseline.. On Saturday the festivities continue 9:30 Saturday morning at The Collective Gallery at 201 North Public Road with the “Data Safari” demonstration showcasing the pervasiveness of data flowing through the air and the manner in which it does so from our devices and public and private broadcasting devices. Saturday evening beginning at 5 p.m. there will be a short film festival at Grimes Hall room of the 200 East Baseline location mentioned prior. For more information, please visit the LEAF website.

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Crix Madine, photo courtesy LEAF

We recently ran some questions by festival curator David Fodel about the current edition of LEAF.

Queen City Sounds And Art: Why did the theme/concept of Pattern Language suggest itself to you for this edition of LEAF?

David Fodel: There is a well-known book called A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander that describes and catalogs various successful patterns in architecture, urban planning, and generally community building, which has also been quite influential in the software development world too. I find this idea of hybridity and cross-pollination, of “synthesis” rather than specialization to be an important quality in art, music, design and engineering and wanted to give the festival a theme that was far-reaching, while at the same time could simply relate to repetitive beats or sequencer music, which I also love.

You have a number of artists who combine their art with computer programming and heavy technical skills. That’s not unique to this iteration of LEAF but why do you think your attention was drawn to artists who combine those skill sets at this time?

Well really all artists have specialized technical skills, and the most interesting art for me is when people explore emerging technologies, and get playful with it, seeing what happens when they combine things in ways that should not be done, not necessarily on purpose even, but because they may just not know any better. Discoveries happen sometimes, and sometimes it’s terrible, but it’s that iterative process, what’s called ‘design thinking’ that can lead to interesting new forms and refinements. A lot of the work in this year’s LEAF has deep roots in historical artistic and musical experiments and explorations, but have been refined to push those forms forward. Some of the artists have been doing this type of work for decades, and some of them are super fresh to the whole notion of making art with technology.

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Phillip Stearns, photo courtesy LEAF

The Data Safari part of the festival seems especially relevant and interesting for people’s everyday lives in a way they may not be aware of. Can you tell us about how you came to be aware of Branger_Briz and that sort of, for lack of a better word, performance or demonstration? Why do you think that sort of thing is important for people to know about and what kind of awareness and change do you think having that knowledge might engender?

I have known Nick Briz for a number of years now, and have presented his work in the past here in Denver at a show called “The Emperor’s New Aesthetic.” It straddles art, activism and design and as you mentioned, it is especially relevant now due to the data breaches at Facebook. Branger_Briz is a design collective based in Chicago and Nick has deep roots in that whole kinda Midwest Glitch scene along with Jon Satrom and John Cates. They all teach at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago which has a long history of embracing new media art forms well in advance of other institutions. I got to know those guys when I was at a Live Cinema Summit in Chicago back in 2008 or 2009. They embrace the notion of technology as a potential disruptive force for change, and potential source of authoritarian control, depending on how we guide it and the social structures that enable its dissemination.

The Data Safari is yet again one of those playful ways of using technology to draw attention to bigger issues like privacy and who controls our data. The underlying artwork, called “ProbeKit” is on display at The Collective, a new gallery in Lafayette as part of the first LEAF visual art exhibition called “Machine Language.” Branger_Briz is joined by a handful of other artists that each explore the notion of the “machine” in art and I would really encourage you to check that out. The show runs through May 5th.

It’s often been said that art leads culture and society. Do you feel that to be the case? 

I think it’s more accurate to say that art is part of a complex of entangled forces and expressions that manifest emergent forms, systems and behaviors.

It seems as though all the artists you have for every edition of LEAF has brought a creative use of technology to make creative work that synthesizes science and art. Why do you think showcasing that kind of art is important beyond it just being interesting to you personally?

Science is a powerful methodology and technology is a powerful tool. It’s important that we don’t leave those things in the hands of people with no sense of humor or love of nature and humanity.

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Trace Reddell, photo courtesy LEAF

Trace Reddell is a science fiction author/creator. The idea behind much of science fiction is that it’s commentary on today even when it’s projecting into the future. What do you think Trace’s contribution as a commenter on current culture and civilization is especially interesting?

Well Trace has a very unique angle on science fiction and sci-fi cinema. His work really explores how sound and language form this hybrid kind of matrix that can structurally change our brains. His work for LEAF is a performance lecture format where he will be mixing and mashing up cinema, spoken word, psychedelic music and literature to not only communicate a message, but to induce consciousness changes directly.

Sharone & The Wind’s Enchirdion of Nightmares Represents a Darker and More Confident Rebirth for the Band

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Sharone & The Wind, photo by Nic Smith Photography

On Friday, April 13, Denver based hard rock band Sharone & The Wind releases its sophomore album, Enchiridion of Nightmares. That the record is coming out on Friday the Thirteenth is fitting given the horror themes as metaphors for life’s horrors contained within. The album is all but formally structured as a kind of horror anthology, literary or cinematic. The project fronted by Sharone has come a long way from a rock band borne out of Sharone’s 2016 solo EP to the current lineup which has turned a promising early version of the band to a confident outfit with theatrical live shows that might remind some of a much smaller scale sort of thing Alice Cooper does with his own concerts.

The band’s 2017 debut album, Storm, sounded like a songwriter speaking her truth for the first time in a way that got her out of the solo, sort of singer-songwriter presentation of the music. Though, to be fair, Sharone’s 2016 solo EP and performances of those songs struck a chord with people that got to see those shows at Seventh Circle Music Collective and other places Sharone found to perform. And the incarnations of the band that existed during the writing, recording and performing of the songs from that album helped establish Sharone as a performer who not only sang but played keyboards and guitar until she was able to recruit musicians to play those instruments toward the end of that phase of the band’s life.

By early 2017, Sharone & The Wind, as it had been, was no more and the suddeness of that loss and the way in which bands often dissolve left Sharone feeling angry, sad and fearful of the future of her ability to keep doing music. But the split ended up forcing Sharone to move forward as an artist and finding a new lineup of people who believed in her vision. The result was a darker, more confident sound with Sharone’s vocal range expanding in pitch and dynamism, which manifested strikingly on the new record. It also meant live shows that more closely reflected what Sharone had been imagining for her band from early on.

“As soon as the lineup change happened I felt more creatively free and open to express myself artistically,” says Sharone. “I’ve always had these ridiculous ideas like bringing a lifesize coffin on stage and have demons dance on stage with us like we did at the Halloween show [in 2017]. I was never in a situation before to bring those ideas to life, I always felt judged. I just feel very comfortable with the current lineup and any crazy idea that comes to mind they’re all about it.”

While the band was coming together, Sharone kept writing music and the emotions haunting her paralled her interest in old horror movies and horror fiction. “Basically all the emotions people get from reading horror books or watch a horror movie or go to a haunted house,” says Sharone. “Because I was going through those feelings in my life and because I was interested in horror at the time it fit very well together [because] I was as afraid of what was going to happen in the future as I was afraid of what was going to happen to the little kid in the house in a story.

The writing and recording of the record with a new band was “like one, long therapy session” that Sharone desperately needed. It also lead to a cooperative transformation of the band to have a genuine image to present to fans to stir the imagination and for Sharone it freed her from her early inhibitions as a songwriter of promise to one comfortable in her own body and abilities.

“[Writing and recording Enchiridion of Nightmares] let me step from this very timid, vulnerable place with Storm and come to the other end of the spectrum with all these angry feelings and horror themes,” says Sharone. “Personally having done these two extremes I’m figuring out where I stand with what The Wind is and the direction I want to go from here. The last few weeks I’ve been writing new stuff that’s very open, raw and wearing no disguise of any theme, just honest.”

In March the band released a video, produced by photography, Nic Smith, for the song “Demons” in which each personal demon portrayed as taunting the various band members, “represent mental illness and how people express them.”

“I think it’s a song a lot of people can relate to in a lot of different ways because we all have internal demons with which we struggle,” says Sharone.

For the show at The Marquis the band will debut live the songs “Cursed,” “Exorcist” and “Death of a Clown” and you are invited in to share the catharsis the music brings to Sharone & The Wind.

Sharone & The Wind w/Mr. Atomic, The Undertakers and Amalgam Effect at The Marquis Theater, Friday, April 13, 2018, 7 p.m. doors

The Residents Bring Their Weird and Wonderful Multimedia Show to Denver

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The Residents photo for In Between Dreams Tour, image courtesy Homer Flynn

The Residents | Saturday, April 14, 2018 | Bluebird Theater | 8 p.m.

Most people have never heard of The Residents. The band has had no commercial hits and arguably its most famous, iconic song is a cover of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” a 1953 novelty hit by Jimmy Kennedy and Nat Simon. Founded in 1969, from the early days, The Residents have performed in various costumes—most notably wearing giant eyeball masks with a top hat. The speculation on the identity of the members of the band have included people “knowing” Frank Zappa, Les Claypool and Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo are members of the band. There is a rumor that Homer Flynn, the band’s longtime art director, and designer of most of the album covers, is in the band as well. All of which has been denied or ignored by representatives of The Residents.

Whatever the identity of the band members or its relative obscurity, its deconstructing and reconstructing of American popular music has given the world some of its most unusual, fascinating and brillint music of the modern era. For example, The Residents have done albums dedicated to American composers like John Philip Sousa and George Gershwin. The Residents have reworked songs by Elvis and James Brown and, as on its 1978 classic Duck Stab, traditional songs like “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” as a warped and spooky song called “Farmers” which weaves in “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Three Blind Mice.” By following their creative instincts, The Residents, whether as interpreters of song, a long tradition in American music, or in crafting original songs, have established themselves as one of the most original and unusual bands on the basis of their recordings alone.

Live, The Residents always incorporate multimedia elements from costumes to video projections and stage sets if the tour, such as the disastrously expensive 1983 The Mole Show tour whose production cost and execution nearly did in any other touring for the band.

“They lost so much money and it was so difficult they said they would never tour again,” says Homer Flynn. “They definintely ranged it back, otherwise they wouldn’t have lived this long. That idea, though, has always been part of their planning for a show.”

The most elaborate shows Flynn says require a more stable setting with a production company coming in to help with the execution in a setting that wouldn’t really work for a touring show. But even the more scaled back presentation is striking and on the highly theatrical 2002 tour for Demons Dance Alone and even the more modest set of 2016’s Shadowland tour it was obvious that you were witnessing a band whose storytelling and persona mythmaking involves a rich creative exercise that most other bands don’t undertake.

The Residents have several high profile fans including their friend Penn Jillette, Simpsons creator Matt Groening and the aforementioned Les Claypool whose band Primus has covered Residents songs including “Sinister Exaggerator” on the 1992 Miscellaneous Debris EP. Even though such deeply imaginative music and shows rarely result in mainstream success, The Residents remain a much respected group to those who have had a chance to delve into any of their albums and seen a show. In an age when there seems little mystery left in art and music, The Residents have retained the mystique and not just because the identities of the members of the band remains a public mystery.

No one writes albums quite like 1988’s lurid yet mystical God in Three Persons or any of The Residents’ several story style albums since the 80s. In the mid-90s few adopted new technology and utilized it as fully as The Residents did for the 1994 CD-ROM edition of 1990’s Freak Show. Podcasts are a common thing of the past several years but The Residents released a noir story album as a podcast in 2006 with The River of Crime. In 2015 a documentary film about The Residents called Theory of Obscurity told the band’s story using previously inaccessible archival footage and interviews with Flynn and other partners in The Cryptic Corporations as well as many of the band’s fans, famous and otherwise.

Currently the band is in the middle of its In Between Dreams Tour making its live debut in Denver at The Bluebird Theater on Saturday, April 14. We had the chance to talk with Flynn about the band, its inspirations in some of America’s most flamboyantly theatrical performers, how The Cryptic Corporation was essentially saved by fans of the band and Flynn’s early experiences with finding music in suburban Shreveport, Louisiana, where the band started before relocating to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Queen City Sounds and Art: Did you have access to non-mainstream music or art when you were growing up?

Homer Flynn: Basically, no. I grew up in pretty straight, white, middle class suburbs. I was always a music fan and I was always seeking out new music. At that time radio was really the best exposure that you had. So I had a handful of stations that I would listen to. Back then there were certain stations you could listen to late at night. It has something to do with atmospheric conditions after a lot of other stations signed off. I would listen to stations like WNRE in New Orleans that I listened to regularly. Also WLOS in Chicago and XERF, which was Wolfman Jack, from Mexico. For me that was the only way I could get exposed to new stuff. There was a very mainstream culture at that time.

Some people take for granted that didn’t exist back then like any viable alternative kind of radio station. Although, until the early 90s, late at night some stations relaxed their control over what DJs played so you could hear a very different kind of programming than the normal faire.

Exactly. When I first came to San Francisco it was wide open. It was just as FM was starting to take off. The reality is that the corporate powers that be hadn’t figured out how to make a lot of money at it yet. So you would have a DJ that would be on for four hours playing whatever seemed cool. In a lot of ways FM at that time was kind of like how the Internet is now—more open with a lot more stuff available.

What prompted you to make the move

There were two things going on for me. One, those were George Wallace times back in the South—the original Trump. Most of the people I knew at that point had escaped or left. For me, I’d always said that I was ready to get out of the South. The main thing upon leaving is that you have to have a landing spot. I had a good landing spot in the Bay Area. If I’d had a landing spot in New York I could easily have gone there.

The Residents have deconstructed and reconstructed Western popular music for much of its career. Overtly with stuff like The King & Eye from 1989, [1984’s George and James and “Farmers,” with traditional songs. Why was that important to the band?

The Residents have always had a great love for music. All kinds of music. Even though they’ve been mainly marketed as a rock act, their taste has always been much broader than that. Things like the American Composers series allowed them to stretch out in ways that weren’t necessarily expected.

Many of The Residents’ albums from the 80s going forward seem like fascinating and imaginative works of fiction presented in a multimedia format rather than through prose.

I think that’s true. I think for The Residents they always felt like there were stories inherent in the lyrics. The lyrics would be sung by characters The Residents had in mind and those characters would have a whole story. As they matured, they started developing those stories more and more. In a lot of ways that became more full with their CD-ROM stuff in the mid-90s which offered so much in the way of presenting that storytelling.

One person that influenced them is Sun Ra. I got to see toward the end of his life and found out about him around the same time I learned about The Residents. Did you get to see Sun Ra perform?

I was a huge Sun Ra fan and the first I saw Sun Ra was at the Berkeley Jazz Festival sometime in the early 70s. This was at a small amphitheatre in Berkeley and he blew that place off the planet. Everyone else seemed like they were totally straight and going out there playing their jazz stuff and improvising or whatever. All of a sudden Sun Ra came out and it was like the whole stage levitated. I saw him several more times. I’m a huge Sun Ra fan but I can’t say I’m a huge fan of all the recordings because some of these recordings sound like, “We just did a gig, we’re all high so we’re going to go back to the hotel room and play some more and turn on a cassette recorder in the bathroom.” While a lot of that music may have been great if you were there with them it doesn’t translate well to the recordings.

Definitely. I remember seeing him on an episode of Sunday Night with David Sanborn hosting that a friend had recorded and shared trying to convince me to go to the show in Chicago and thinking, “Who is this guy? He looks like a wizard throwing glitter!”

Right, and wearing a hubcap for a belt buckle.

You have to love that. Why do you think he had such an impact on The Residents?

One of the things that had such an impact on The Residents, and I could say exactly the same thing about Liberace, not many people would compare Liberace and Sun Ra but the cool thing is that they’re both incredible showmen at a time when so many people felt like, “We’re a band and we’re going to go up on stage with just our blue jeans and t-shirt on.” And they’re indistinguishable from the audience. The Residents felt that if you’re a performer you should look like a performer. Nobody ever mistook Sun Ra for a guy that came up out of the audience and got behind the keyboards.

For the Demons Dance Alone tour in 2002 it seemed like there was a lot of production for that show and then for the Shadowlands tour was a smaller scale production. Now it’s a four member band rather than that three-member?

They’ve kind of reconstituted the current version as a classic four-piece: guitars, drums, keyboard and vocals. It’s almost like a modern retro. It’s all very electronic, as you might expect, the drummer who is an excellent drummer is playing electronic drums. He looks like he’s playing drums but they’re really MIDI triggers and can make any sound in the world.

On the Shadowlands tour in 2016 there was an object on stage like a sculpture or sphere-topped pedestal on which to project images. Has 3D mapping become part of the show?

No, I don’t think they’ve actually done any 3D mapping. They’ve done several projections the last couple of [tours]. There’s nothing particularly unusual about the projections. Probably the most interesting thing is that for the “Talking Light” show they used a small, handheld projector and they had three circular screens on stage. So the singer would kind of go to one of those circular screens to another projecting mainly short videos of stories told by the characters. Various characters told ghost stories on those three screens. What was nice about the three screens is that the light people love them because special light things could happen when there’s not a projection so it becomes another nice visual exclamation point on the stage.

The Ghost of Hope was from 2017. Are most of the albums put out through Cryptic Corporation these days?

I had a partner, a guy named Hardy Fox, that I worked with for about forty years. He and I kind of formed the Cryptic Corporation together with a couple of other guys. Hardy decided he’d had enough and wanted to retire a couple of years ago. So ultimately he wanted me to buy him out but I couldn’t afford to do that so I had to look for new partners. I found two new partners, one was MVD, Music Video Distributors. We worked them in the 80s, they sold lots of Residents VHS cassettes in the 80s, DVDs in the 90s and CDs and LPs more recently. I talked to them two or three years ago saying I was having these problems with figuring out how to do it and they said they might be interested in doing it. They said they had another partner that might be interested, which ended up being Cherry Red Records in London. Each of them bought half of Hardy’s half of The Cryptic Corporation. I still own 50%. Most of the product that is coming out at this point is being created by Cherry Red and being marketed and distributed mainly by MVD in the United States and Cherry Red in Europe. The real stroke of luck in the whole thing is that there’s a guy there named Richard Anderson who’s a project manager at Cherry Red. Turns out Richard is a huge Residents fan so it’s been a real pleasure working with him on the new material and all the back catalog that’s coming out. Richard brings a huge amount of care to the product so things are going really well at this point.

Dead Meadow on its Punk and Post-hardcore roots and The Nothing They Need

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Dead Meadow at Teotihuacan, photo by Jessica Senteno

Dead Meadow is currently touring in support of its new record, The Nothing They Need. When the band began in 1998, its members had come up through the vibrant punk and hardcore scene in Washington, DC and had even played in bands in that vein but by the late 90s, playing that kind of music had lost some of its appeal and the initial trio of guitarist/singer Jason Simon, bassist Steve Kille and former drummer Mark Laughlin (Juan Londono now drums in the band) were looking to sounds that had long gone out of style but which held a newfound fascination for the musicians.

“We got excited watching old Jimi Hendrix videos all the time,” says Simon. “We lived with Corey [Shane] who played on Feathers and the three of us would sit around watching Black Sabbath videos, Led Zeppelin videos and Hendrix videos and it was like, ‘Let’s get back and do something like this.’ That’s why we picked up our instruments in the first place. When I was thirteen I wanted to play like Jimmy Page and sound like Black Sabbath. It was just trying to do something different. Actually, it’s funny a lot of those [DC post-hardcore] bands helped us out and in particular Fugazi helped us out a lot just because they were as excited as anyone to hear something different coming out of DC. Now there’s a psych rock scene but back then we were playing a punk rock show or a metal show and either way we didn’t quite fit in. We’ve seen a scene grow up since then that has fit Dead Meadow a little better.”

Dead Meadow’s 2000 self-titled debut, in fact, was released on Fugazi bassist Joe Lally’s Tolotta Records imprint as did the sophomore record, 2001’s Howls from the Hills. But in those early days, there wasn’t a new psychedelic rock scene, per se. Dead Meadow toured and found like-minded musicians who were embracing music from the 60s and 70s on the West Coast like The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Warlocks. After signing with Matador before the release of 2003’s Shivering King And Others the group played shows with labelmates Bardo Pond. But the mixture of psychedelia and heavy music around the turn of the century was largely the purview of “stoner rock.” While Dead Meadow had similar roots in 60s psychedelic rock and Black Sabbath, it was never really a metal band.

“In the beginning we really enjoyed it because we wanted to do the punkest thing possible,” comments Simon. “Which was like, ‘Okay, cool, we’re opening for Fugazi, man? We’re going to do a ten minute guitar solo.’ And the punk kids were like ‘What is this?’ Which I thought was awesome. Some of the punk kids weren’t into it. Is this metal? It was something against the grain at the time which was something we all dug doing.”

Twenty years since Dead Meadow’s inception, the music world has caught up a bit with its fuzzy, hypnotic, heavy, bluesy, psychedelic rock songs. Yet the band’s specific aesthetic and sensibility transcends the specific wizards, demons and occult tropes of stoner rock and psychedelic doom. The song and album titles, the artwork and the textures and structures of the songs suggest a familiarity with the language of mythology and mysticism as well as that of the literature of the weird and a recreation of the feelings flowing forth from such readings.

“I like a lot of different symbolism and drawing from different roads of symbolism and making it your own,” says Simon. “I’ve always been a fan of the weird tale whether it’s Clark Ashton Smith or H.P. Lovecraft and stuff like that using all this vivid, far out imagery. Or Hindu mythology and its painting these crazy pictures the mind is almost stretching to even envision. In our move away from what was going on in the late 90s we wanted to do something more far out in that sense that expands the imagination.”

Specific references can be found sprinkled throughout Dead Meadow’s discography from Lord Dunsany in “Beyond the Fields We Know,” obvious nods to Lovecraft and perhaps an oblique hint of the occult novels of J.K. Huysmans. Blending all of that with natural imagery has given Dead Meadow both a mysterious and intimate quality.

“I like to stick things in there for the heads to pick up on,” says Simon regarding the literary allusions. “I find [nature] more inspiring. I guess that’s the symbolic nature of how the natural world relates to the inner world as well. I don’t do that intentionally, it just feels right or just cool.”

The Nothing They Need seems a step away from the evoking the imagery of weird literature while remaining songs about personal struggles, existential musings and a non-topical social commentary. The title of the album stems from a double meaning in its origins and conceptualization.

“It’s something Steve orignally said,” says Simon. “He also works in quality control in TV shows for digital content. He’s great at catching audio issues and so forth. He was talking about how there’s an insane stream of content coming out these days. Meaningless show after show. What is all this stuff? Who’s watching it? He said, ‘It’s giving people the nothing they need.’ So it’s a commentary on our times in that way. I also found it true in the opposite sense in that what people need is a step away from this crazy amount of distraction. We’re being bombarded by information all the time. Anyhthing to get your head out of it and get your piece of stillness, the grand nothing.”

“With these times and how crazy things are, I don’t think we’d try to write something overtly political but I feel like how those things can’t help but slip in,” continues Simon. “Not just how crazy it is but how to live and deal with how crazy it is and still be a creative, productive individual and feel some sense of hope.”

Dead Meadow performs on Friday, April 6, 2018 at Globe Hall with Mad Alchemy Liquid Light Show, Grass and Palehorse/Palerider. Doors 8:30 p.m., show 9:30 p.m., 16+, $16-20

globehall.com/event/1614249-dead-meadow-denver

Chrome’s Legacy of Inspired Dystopian, Industrial Psychedelia Comes to Denver

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Chrome, photo by Jeremy Harris

In the annals of weirdo, psychedelic, noisy rock Chrome (performing tonight, March 31 at Larimer Lounge) stands out as one of the true originals. Innovators of an art/acid damaged sound that fully blended synthesizers and rock music, Chrome is often considered one of the progenitors of industrial music. Butthole Surfers freely admit the influence, so did Stereolab. One has to assume Arab On Radar drew on Chrome’s proto-sampling, recontextualizing, deconstructionist impulses as well. When Chrome released its debut album The Visitation in 1976 it must have seemed as alien as its closest musical cousin in the early solo albums of Brian Eno. Ned Raggett Allmusic Guide described it as “Brian Eno meets Santana.” The latter probably because of the fluttery, bluesy leads that are the hallmark of part of the guitar sound on the record alongside the fuzzy, spidery melodies. The band might have continued to develop along that path if bassist Gary Spain hadn’t been playing violin in a band prior to The Visitation’s release with future Chrome guitarist Helios Creed, mentioning he was in a band called Chrome.

“I asked if I could hear it when it was done,” says Creed. “He gave me a copy and I liked the record, The Visitation, but I guess the record wasn’t selling at all and everybody quit. Then I auditioned and me and Damon [Edge] got along really well. It ended up just being me and him after a while. I played the bass on the first three records [after I was in Chrome]. When I heard that [first] record I [told them I] felt like they needed me and I was right.”

Creed had grown up in the 50s, 60s and 70s listening to, among other bands, Black Sabbath, Iron Butterfly, The Doors and Blue Cheer. “I went to go see Black Sabbath on acid and I sort of felt like I knew what I wanted to do, in a way,” says Creed. To Chrome, Creed brought another dimension to the band’s spirit of experimentation and a guitar sound that was as energetic as it was corrosive and both jagged and serpentine.

Starting with Alien Soundtracks, originally titled Ultra Soundtrack when it was a soundtrack project for what might be called an avant-garde strip show in San Francisco. But the music was considered too weird even for an endeavor like that in a city where strange art had long been embraced. From the opening track, “Chromosome Damage” to the last, “Magnetic Dwarf Reptile,” it is obvious that Chrome had absorbed obvious influences like Blue Cheer, Black Sabbath, Hendrix, Stooges and Hawkwind and allowed that to mutate and stew into something that sounded like what cyberpunk authors like William Gibson, John Shirley and Bruce Sterling were trying to capture when they took the spirit of J.G. Ballard’s visionary, dystopian science fiction and its influence on punk in brilliant new directions. Chrome albums have consistently seemed like science fiction novels and movies no one has yet written or made. “Yeah, we got sci-fi ideas and integrated it with the feel of the music,” says Creed. “Or a sterile, dehumanizing, robotic society. We had a lot of different kinds of inspirations. That movie Carrie? Alien, the first one. Blade Runner and A Clockwork Orange–the feel of those movies really inspired us.”

 

Although based in the Bay Area, Chrome didn’t exactly play live shows in a city where the avant-garde or any kind of strange, eccentric art seemed to find a home. The band had garnered critical acclaim abroad with Alien Soundtracks and its follow-up, 1979’s Half Machine Lip Moves but it wasn’t until 1981 that the group performed live for the first time.

“We didn’t play until Blood on the Moon came out,” says Creed. “That was our first show and we played in Italy at a music festival in Bologna. We played all new songs but they dug it. We played the whole Blood on the Moon album. There’s a live record of that show somewhere.”

The lineup with both Edge and Creed produced some of the most interesting and unusual music of the era including 1980’s more synth-infused Red Exposure, the aforementioned 1981 album Blood on the Moon and 1982’s 3rd From the Sun. With more electronic elements including drum machines, those records, dark and clearly taking cues from no one beyond the dictates of active and restless imaginations, Chrome’s sinister psychedelia was not destined to fit in with the fake positivism of the 1980s mainstream culture. Thank goodness. However, the Edge/Creed era of Chrome ended by the mid-80s and Edge moved to Paris with his wife and collaborator, Fabienne Shine. Edge released albums as Chrome into the 90s before he died of heart failure in 1995. Around that time he had reconnected with Creed with notions of doing Chrome together again.

After Chrome, Creed continued as a solo artist and collaborator with current synth and guitar player Tommy Grenas (from bands Farflung and Pressurehead) who connected Creed with former Hawkwind member Nik Turner with whom Creed and Grenas worked on a 1993 re-recording of Turner’s 1978 solo album Sphynx and the 1994 Nik Turner record Prophets of Time. Creed and Turner now have a band with Jay Tausig called Chromium Hawk Machine that put out an album called Annunaki in 2017 on Massimo Gasperini’s Black Widow Records imprint. “Massimo is into the whole Zecharia Sitchin theory about Nibiru so we made a record about it.”

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Chrome circa 2008, photo by Tom Murphy

Rumor had it that Grenas was able to get a hold of Edge’s original synth rig after the musician passed. Turns out the rumors were true.

“I met Damon before I met Helios,” reveals Grenas. “When Damon passed away I had the opportunity to buy his stuff when [his sister] Sharon put it up for sale and I bought it before anyone else did. I bought Damon’s [Moog] Liberation and the [Electro-Harmonix] Micro Synth and something else. I used it on the first tour but a lot of that stuff is too fragile to take on the road.”

Grenas used some of the older gear for the Chrome records that have come out since the turn of the century. Right now the band is touring in support of 2014’s Feel It Like a Scientist and 2017’s Techromancy. While the methods and means of making sound have changed, Chrome still seems off the frequency of mundane normalcy with songs about an ominous, dystopian future society.

“It seems like we’re on the brink of going right into that with machines and robots taking over,” says Creed. “So maybe they’ll just kill us, I guess. We’re going to be obsolete. ‘You must go to this room here and wait for destruction.’ We also have songs of hope.”

In spite of the overt sound of the band and the subject matter of the lyrics, Creed’s sharp and playful sense of humor is infused into the music as well and so is his willingness to explore the dark underbelly of American culture that is often simply dismissed as folklore. Although Creed grew up in Long Beach, California and lived in the San Francisco Bay area for much of his life, he did spend some years in the American Midwest where lurid stories of local figures and events are not in short supply.

“I was living in Manhattan, Kansas, twenty miles from Stull,” says Creed. “Supposedly it’s one of the gateways to Hell. That’s the scuttlebutt. Supposedly the Pope won’t fly over it when he comes to America. Every Halloween apparently the Goth people and witchy kind of people show up there thinking they’re talking to the dark ones. But really all it is is just a burned out church. [So the story goes,] a bunch of rednecks who hated blacks, and really everyone, put people in that church and burned it down and opened a vortex to hell. You know how the old west was. Where I was living in Kansas they used to cut the heads of slaves if they didn’t like them. All this stuff never gets written about but I know the history of Kansas is very dark. It ain’t no Wizard of Oz place, I’ll tell you that much.”

Chrome performs Saturday, March 31, with Echo Beds and Phallic Meditation at Larimer Lounge. Doors 8 p.m., show 9 p.m., tickets $25.