“The Long Haul,” my article about biking solo from Hungary to Poland through Slovakia, is in the latest issue of Peloton Magazine, on newsstands everywhere now. You can also access it online here. The art Peloton’s Matthew Burton produced for my piece is wonderful. Here’s an excerpt:
Very Symbiotic: A Conversation with Sylvan Esso
by Adam Perry for Boulder Weekly
The lovable electro-pop duo Sylvan Esso, based in North Carolina and featuring talented young Mountain Man singer Amelia Meath, plays the Gothic Theatre in Denver on Saturday night. The show has been sold out for a while, as Sylvan Esso – which juxtaposes the sweet-voiced Meath’s playful sensuality and profound femininity with producer Nick Sanborn’s infectious, bouncy soundscapes – has been on a critical and commercial roll since its infectious self-titled 2014 debut.
Recently Meath, resting in Durham after the band’s first Australian tour, spoke with Boulder Weekly by phone about her deep songwriting partnerships and her musical evolution from mellow, poignant indie folk singer to energetic pop savant.
Adam Perry: I saw Mountain Man here at the Boulder Theater in 2010 and remember you saying you ate at Lucille’s.
Amelia Meath: Oh yeah. Like, all the time. (Laughs)
AP: And then a few weeks later I heard the live album and you said you’d eaten at Canter’s in Los Angeles. So I was wondering, “Does she tell the audience where she had dinner every night?”
AM: (Laughs) Sometimes I like to. I think it’s really important. It’s also a really good way of telling people that you appreciate their city.
AP: What’s it like to be on tour now with just one other person? Do you miss all the female energy from Mountain Man on the road?
AM: It’s just a totally different thing, you know? I miss that band. It’s not necessarily that I’m missing the female energy; I’m missing Molly and Alexandra. At the same time…that time was that time, and now I hang out with Nick [Sanborn] all the time, and our tour manager, Rusty.
AP: Is Mountain Man defunct?
AM: Oh, no. Imagine Mountain Man as a sleeping bear. A very cozy, sleeping bear.
AP: How did “Play It Right” evolve? I saw Mountain Man playing it in a video and it was a gentle thing; now it’s a dance anthem.
AM: I asked Nick to do a remix of it. In my mind, there was always music behind “Play It Right.” Mountain Man was just discussing it in a different way. Once Nick remixed it, it matched what was always in my brain. And it inspired our band.
AP: I remember meeting you when you played Boulder with Mountain Man, and you had what you called a “Tank Girl” haircut. You definitely stood out. Do you get to be more yourself with Sylvan Esso?
AM: No, not really. Whatever you make is who you are, if you’re making an artistic expression. It’s impossible, if you’re spending time trying to distill what you think into story, for it to not reflect some part of you.
AP: Mountain Man always had such a sense of place, musically. I remember first hearing the album when we were living in Maine…
AM: Oh yeah. Totally.
AP: …and feeling transported to a farmhouse in Vermont. How does place – maybe North Carolina – inform Sylvan Esso’s music?
AM: I am totally sure that [place] has informed it, but quite honestly I can’t necessarily pinpoint that for you. If that were true I would probably be singing the blues, you know? But I’m sure that it does influence some of the sound. I know that Mountain Man did sound like Vermont to me, and it did sound like what we sounded like when we were 18 to 26 years old.
AP: Being in a band with just one other person now, what’s the musical relationship like? Has it become almost symbiotic?
AM: Yes, that’s the truth. It’s very symbiotic. And it’s also quite organic in that we both switch back and forth roles regularly.
AP: I’ve seen Nick say in interviews what a great writer of melodies and lyrics you are. What’s it like to destroy stereotypes for people who wrongly think that male/female duo is just a Wizard of Oz guy and a fun frontwoman?
AM: It feels really nice; at the same time, Nick really is the Wizard of Oz in a lot of ways. (Laughs) He’s able to take my lyrics and melodies and lend a new, different kind of emotional landscape under it that maybe I hadn’t detected, or expand on the things I’m talking about through sound. It does feel really good to be able to share the role of writing equally. I know that together we’re much better than the sum of our parts. And also part of being in a duo is constantly bending and changing and taking on different roles and giving other roles back. It’s wonderful that I’ve been able to find so many writing partners in my life. I mean, I’ve found three incredible writing partners already and I’m only 26. That’s wild. Most people don’t find one.
AP: My daughter is five and she’s been singing along with “Hey Mami,” probably thinking more along the lines of “Hey, mommy.” Do you think, when you’re writing and recording, that kids might be listening? And are you conscious that your lyrics, which sometimes have a feminist message, might make you a role model in some way?
AM: I am conscious that I’m a female role model. It’s such an honor in general. And I also really like that a lot of kids seem to have attached to “Hey Mami” as a song for their moms. It’s so great. And so not what I intended when I was writing the song. (Laughs). But I love it. And the Sylvan Esso album begins and ends on a note about moms. There’s “Come Down,” which is also about saying goodbye to your mother.
AP: When you played “Coffee” with Questlove on The Tonight Show it looked like a blast, but I was also wondering what goes into that, what kind of rehearsal.
AM: 15 minutes of rehearsal went into that. (Laughs)
AP: He’s a genius.
AM: Yeah, he really is. He’s such a wizard, and we were so honored when he asked. He asked to play on it, which I think was a really generous bid on it, because it made sure that people would watch. Or it might have been, in part, the Fallon team. But I don’t know; I mean, he seemed to know the album. It was great to meet him, if just for such a short period of time. Also, when Questlove asks if he can play with you, there’s only one answer. You can’t say, “Thanks anyway.” I’m so happy we got to play with him. It’s also really scary to play with another musician for the first time, on live television.
AP: He’s like a drum machine, though, so there was nothing to worry about.
AM: Oh yeah, and his concept of swing is insane. Wow. What a wizard.
AP: Will you have any new songs for the show in Denver?
AM: I think so.
AP: You’ve been writing together on the road?
AM: We’ve been working, but we can’t write on the road. We had three weeks off, the first three weeks since the album cycle started, and we’ve been able to get a couple of new ideas out. So hopefully some of those will take shape and we’ll be able to play them when we’re in Denver.
THE STORY OF THE MAN BEHIND BOULDER’S LAST GREAT RECORD STORE
by Adam Perry for Westword, 3/6/2015
“There was a time when there was a thriving music scene in Boulder. At least [there were] a lot of record stores and shows, places with interesting music,” says filmmaker Dan Schneidkraut, whose feature-length documentary Old Man — about his father, Andy Schneidkraut, and his iconic record shop, Albums on the Hill — makes its Colorado debut this weekend at the Dairy Center’s Boedecker Theater.
“People my parents’ age might miss the soda fountain or whatever,” says Dan, “but I think there’s huge value in record stores. This stuff is super important to me, and it ought to be in a place like Boulder, which obviously has the wealth to support it. It blows my mind that it’s not sustainable in a community like that.”
It’s true: There were once small and mid-sized rock venues in Boulder, as well as record shops all over town. Today, there are no small venues committed to developing bands. As for record stores, although Bart’s has popped up repeatedly in different incarnations and Absolute Vinyl excels at selling both stereos and records, the 62-year-old Andy represents a sort of last man standing.
Dan, who is 35, has lived in Minneapolis for over a decade; he visited Boulder in 2010 to immerse himself in his father’s life for three weeks. Dan sold Old Man to his father chiefly as a film about Albums on the Hill and the death of American record stores, but it quickly became what Dan calls a documentary about “someone who’s valuable to a lot of people…the kind of person who maybe doesn’t quite exist anymore.”
Andy, who has owned Albums on the Hill since 1987, was born in Brooklyn, and lost his father in a tragic accident when he was just five years old. He saw a clear path to Fordham University derailed late in high school by an arrest for — go figure — stealing albums. He now calls that incident “the lynchpin for the direction that my life went. It meant so much.”
What really affected him wasn’t so much the trouble he got into that night, which included a beating from his adoptive father. “It may have been my mom throwing out all the records I had at that point,” he says, “and the garbage man going through the records and pulling them out of the trash.” He became a hopeless music fanatic.
Andy still made it to law school, but he quit after a year. He wound up in Colorado in 1976, where he owned an Italian restaurant in Estes Park and was, for a time, the executive director of the chamber of commerce there. He moved to Boulder in the early ’80s, where selling records and spreading musical knowledge and appreciation became his life’s work.
“He’s sort of stuck underneath his dream,” says Dan. Andy claims it’s been since 2005 that he didn’t have back rent. Recently, he’s been watching virtually every business around him fold so that the latest sandwich shop or Starbucks can feed college kids on the Hill while community keystones like Espresso Roma disappear.
“If he backed out he would be fucked,” says Dan, “but if he’s there, he’s screwed. Maybe it’s a metaphor for modern life in America. You can’t win if you’re not just doing something to make tons of money. People have trouble finding value in something that’s a place to exchange ideas.”
Many people who’ve come through Boulder over the years — whether on vacation, during their college years, or to build a life — have found value in walking into Albums on the Hill and entering Andy’s world.
“That’s certainly something in the movie I wanted to express — that he wasn’t just my dad,” says Dan. “He functions as a surrogate father to a lot of people — not just at the record store, but as a guy in the community. He’s always been such a sweet, warm, generous person to a lot of kids who, I imagine, don’t have dads or miss their parents because they’re in college. He takes people under his wing.
“This movie is really me starting to realize the value of a person like him — and imagining the world without a person like him is very difficult. If I can express anything with the movie, it’s that guys like my dad are very valuable people.”
Dan hasn’t always seen his dad that way. He was frequently arrested as a kid on the streets of Boulder, and the resulting confrontations with Andy weren’t easy.
“The fact that it came to violent interactions speaks to the difficulty of our relationship when I was a kid,” Dan explains. “He’s not naturally an aggressive person. He’s naturally a very kind and gentle person. An important part of the story is that this is who he is, and I was so terrible that I was able to provoke him out of his natural state. Whenever he’s been angry or gotten violent or punched a hole in a wall, it’s always been justified. His violence always seemed righteous.”
Andy’s passion for exposing the Boulder community to great music, and also film and poetry, has certainly been righteous. He took Dan to see the Ramones at the Glenn Miller Ballroom, took him to pick up George Clinton at the airport, took him to see Mojo Nixon “when it was inappropriate,” says Andy, and sat through hundreds of films with his son, effectively creating what University of Colorado film-studies professor Phil Solomon calls “The film school of Andy.”
Still, like anyone, Dan rebelled.
“He’s cool, so I had to work a lot harder to rebel than most kids did,” Dan says. “Most kids just have to not go to church or something like that, and you have to get into grindcore and death metal just to psych [Andy] out. But he was cool about that; he would do special orders for stuff like that. He’s pretty hard to piss off with any cultural stuff, so I pretty much just had to end up in jail.”
Dan, whose films have been showing all over the world and garnering serious acclaim, calls Boulder both “a weird place to grow up” and “full of shit.” A lot of Old Man is a stunning, and in some ways chilling, description of the town.
“It just seems more and more like Boulder the brand rather than the actual culture that built the community way before I was there,” Dan says. “I feel like Boulder likes to talk about how it embraces culture and things like that, but it seems very fickle about what it actually values, if it values anything at all in that regard.”
Andy says it’s hard to disagree.
“The interesting thing about the movie,” he says, “is there are a lot of things that people don’t want to hear about Boulder, don’t want to believe about Boulder, but that doesn’t keep them from being true. Maybe the most painful thing about that truth is how much of a blind eye many of the folks of Boulder cast upon that.”
Still, what is most remarkable about Old Man is the simple, clear love between two very complex individuals who endured uniquely troubled childhoods. At one point in the film, as footage of Dan and Andy having lunch at a hot-dog shop in Boulder rolls, Dan expresses that relationship:
“I’m not scared of anything, except losing this guy. If I had one wish it would be that I was gone before him. This might be the sole reason I do reckless things.”
Asked about that scene, Andy has to pause as he fights back tears.
“I have a son who is a person who doesn’t easily show his emotions,” Andy says. “but this film is very emotional, and I think he reveals his feelings about me, and I think it’s a love song.
“All of us are out there searching for that father figure or that mother figure. And the real ones that we have are all going to be imperfect.”
A Walk On the Dark Side
A Conversation with Dale Bridges
by Adam Perry for Boulder Weekly, 3/12/2015
Justice, Inc. is the debut short-story collection by former Boulder Weekly A&E editor Dale Bridges, who left the paper in 2009 to rent a tiny room on the Hill and write stories about, among other things, zombies, InstaBabies, clones made for the purpose of public executions and recreational killing sparked by conversations at Denny’s.
Bridges, who grew up in Colorado and now lives in Austin, writes about the black hearts of both men and women with both levity and vitriol. The up-and-coming satirist currently works the nightshift at a bookstore in Austin; he says the “weird customers” inspire his writing. Recently, Bridges called Boulder Weekly to talk about Justice, Inc.
Boulder Weekly: Did you start writing short stories as a kid?
Dale Bridges: Not really, no. I was really into reading but I did not grow up in an artistic family at all, so [writing] was not something that you would consider or take very seriously. So, I didn’t even really start writing until I was about ready to graduate [from the University of Northern Colorado]. I was, like, 23. They don’t even have a writing program. I was there because, honestly, it was the college I could afford. Nobody in my family had gone to a secular college, either. My dad had gone to Bible college. I didn’t really know what I was doing; I just knew I wanted to leave Yuma [Colo.], and I didn’t want to go to the Army. But that’s when I started writing, toward the end of my undergrad. Really, really terrible stories, but I started writing and knew that’s what I wanted to do.
What does your fascination with violence stem from?
I’m not sure it’s a fascination so much as it’s maybe a writing tool. Some of it is a way to grab the reader’s attention, and then some of it is just an attempt to grab a reader that’s been desensitized to violence. I do think I use [violence] as a tool to grab the reader’s attention, but I hope I do more with it than just sort of lean on it as a crutch.
You do. The story that affected me the most was “The Girlfriend.” It seemed like the only way the man who ordered the robot girlfriend knew how to commu nicate his emotions was through violence.
That one was an exploration of fantasy and control, how that can be wrong, even though there’s nothing wrong with people having fantasies. And he gets an object. It’s not a person. He doesn’t have to control his fantasies with her. And I didn’t know it was going to go that dark until I was at least halfway through the story and I realized where it was headed. That’s when I knew it was good, when I was writing and was, like, “I don’t even want to have these thoughts in my head.”
One of the big questions I had after reading just half of the book was, “Are we all inherently hateful, terrible people, or are we all just weak, confused people who aren’t in control at all?”
I think we’re all definitely capable of the worst possible behavior, and that’s an important thing to realize. As Americans, especially white Americans, most of us live a pretty cushy existence. I think that’s why shows likeBreaking Bad are popular, sort of reminding us where we’re all at. I don’t think we’re all evil; I just think we’re animals with all the instincts that come along with being animals. The harm comes when we try to elevate ourselves into something higher. You’re not going to transcend your natural, animal nature. We’re not going to become pure spirit.
A lot of the book is really funny, and a lot is really shocking, but there’s so much hate. Even in the futur istic story [“Time Warp Café”] things still suck. After finishing the book I just had to ask, “What things make Dale Bridges happy?”
[Laughs]. Pretty simple things make me happy. I’m an introvert, so nothing’s better than reading a good book. I like people one on one; it’s when they group up into like-minded groups that I get nervous. That’s when they scare me. People seem to be obsessed with happiness, and I’m such an asshole; that’s just my normal state. I was born a grumpy 70-year-old man who’s constantly telling people to stay off his lawn. And when I’m making these observations about the world I can’t understand why everybody else isn’t seeing the things I’m seeing, why they’re trying to be happy about it. At the very least we should get angry, because we know the horrible things going on in the world.
What’s an example?
We live in a perfectly nice neighborhood in Austin, and walking around I see this guy all the time. He’s standing outside of one of those “Cash for Gold” things holding a sign that says “Cash for Gold.” He just reeks of alcohol and he’s wearing a clown, rainbow wig for no apparent reason, and female breasts beneath his shirt, and an American flag wrapped around his neck as a cape. And he’s dancing there, and someone has made this poor man, who obviously doesn’t have any other options, do this thing. And this is somebody in my neighborhood who I see every day. So that’s the anger, the shocking and the dark humor and all of that. It’s right outside my door. People are like, “Where do you get these ideas?” and I say, “It’s right there, all the time.”
What effect did Boulder have on you?
I don’t think the environment is the big thing. The writer needs to find [his or her] pace and a little room to write in. And Boulder provided me with that. It was definitely a turning point in my writing. It was a really important time. Boulder provided me with the room to write in and the means to get published, and I met a lot of great writers and artists who were supportive and talked me down from a ledge when I need it. It was the place that helped me get started.
Dr. Dog Explains How It Stays Scrappy
by Adam Perry for Westword, 2/19/2015
Dr. Dog rolls into Denver to play the Ogden Theater on Thursday, February 19 in the thick of a three-month tour that began January 9 with “4×4,” an eight-show Brooklyn and Manhattan run. The energetic and soulful Philadelphia indie-rock stalwart, whose best tunes juxtapose the Beatles and the Band, is celebrating the release of its first-ever live album, the 19-track Live At a Flamingo Hotel. Hanging out in his hotel room before heading to the first 4×4 gig, singer/bassist Toby Leaman spoke withWestword about Dr. Dog’s history, as well as Flamingo Hotel, which features an Architecture in Helsinki cover and reaches all the way back to Dr. Dog’s quirky 2002 debut, the self-released Toothbrush.
Toby Leaman: You’re in Colorado, right? I always love playing in Boulder. I don’t think we’ve played in Denver since we played, like, the Hi-Dive.
Adam Perry: You should do eight nights at the Hi-Dive.
TL: That’d be awesome. I’d be into that.
AP: A lot of your songs have unanswered questions in them. Would you try answering some of them for us, just free-association style?
TL: Yeah, I can try. Some of them are Scott [McMicken], I’m sure, but we’re old buddies. I know what he’s talking about. What have you got?
AP: “What do you do when the drowning stops?”
TL: In that song [“Hang On”] it’s referencing, like, when you’re in the heat of an argument and everything’s caving in; you’re drowning. You can’t really see. You’d do anything. Obviously the argument always ends, so you never actually drown.
AP: “What does it mean to be here?” [from “The Ark”]
TL: That’s a good question. To be is to do. That’s pretty much about it. There’s not necessarily any meaning behind being, but you know the basic act of being is doing something. That’s one thing you can definitely see. The proof is in the pudding. That’s one thing you can actually wrap your hand around.
AP: “How did the fox get the raven, the crow?”
TL: Those are taken from Aesop’s fables, that whole chorus of “Army of Ancients.” They’re all real short synopses of Aesop’s fables, and that one is…the fox, he flatters the raven.
AP: “Where do all the shadow people go?”
TL: That is a great mystery (laughs). That is a nugget of a lyric right there. That, actually…I think Dan Auerbach [of the Black Keys] wrote the “Shadow People” lyric. Scott wrote the rest of that song and they were texting back and forth with each other. He wrote Danny, “I need a two-syllable word before the word ‘people.'” Danny sent him a list of 30 or whatever and Scott picked “shadow.” It really worked for the song but, just so you know, Dan gets credit for that one.
AP: You guys have been around a long time [fifteen years] but had never released a live album. Why now?
TL: It just seemed like the right time, you know? We’re better than we ever have been, the way we’re playing. I think the songs on the last few tours, I think some of the songs we we’re beating into the ground, just playing them a lot; they’ve been in heavy rotation now for, like, eight years. So one of the purposes [of doing a live album] was purging ourselves of some of these tunes and try and come up with new set lists that we’re psyched about. With that in mind, and knowing that every night for 20 nights was being recorded, it’s important that you don’t shirk on any night. We don’t really shirk, anyway, or if we do it’s “band meeting” pretty much immediately. But I can’t even think of any time in recent years where that’s happened. There’s nights where it’s a really off night, though, where we’re playing atrociously.
AP: The whole night is off?
TL: Sometimes. Oh yeah. Sometimes it’s hard to right yourself, man. It very rarely happens [and] we’re professionals, so you don’t ever see it. We’re not the kind of guys who are gonna, like, throw mics down or yell at the audience or cut our set short. That’s not fair to anybody. But when you do something every night, sometimes it’s gonna be off. But over the years you learn a lot of tricks to get yourself back in, find that little doorway back into where you feel comfortable and where you feel like you can exist in whatever seemingly endless pit of anguish you’re in. “What little glimmer of hope can I find to make this all OK?”
AP: Kind of like a pitcher who doesn’t have his best stuff but fights through it.
TL: Yeah, or how a lot of ace pitchers will give up a couple early runs and then they’re lights-out the rest of the game. That’s it. That’s the same switch. Actually, I don’t know if that’s it but it’s a damn good analogy. (Laughs)
AP: Do you remember the first show you guys played together?
TL: Scott and I played a party. I think it was eighth-grade graduation, probably 1992. We’re old, man.
AP: And the first Dr. Dog show?
TL: 1998, probably. Early Dr. Dog shows were just…there’d be a party and we’d be, like, “OK, Dr. Dog’s gonna play in the upstairs bathroom. So that bathroom’s off limits for the two hours that Dr. Dog is playing, but if you want to watch you can open the door and watch them play.” It was a lot of weird stuff like that.
AP: How much have you changed as a live act since then?
TL: We’re better, fortunately. We’re a lot better. We’re not as scrappy, or as blindly optimistic. Maybe it’s just the difference between 17 and 35. We play a lot better together. The songs are better. Everything’s better. Just from playing together for so long, you’re quicker on your feet and better at responding to people. Pushing for a vibe, you can get into that pretty quickly. You can react quicker, and that makes everybody happier and makes everybody play better, too.
AP: About that scrappiness – you guys were known on your early albums and at the early shows for that kind of dustiness, and now…
TL: It’s still there. It’s not like we’re up there reading thesis papers or anything. We come for a party. When we come off the stage, there’s nothing left. That’s the point. And it’s our world. It’s a Dr. Dog show. You don’t have to pretend that your three hours of sanity are the same here; they’re different. Because they can be. Why the hell not? Why would you go to a show and want the natural order of things to play out like they always do every other time in your life, you know? Our recordings are kind of like that, too. “How can we make the situation strange enough where the result is gonna be even stranger?”
AP: How do you choose what to play every night, with so many songs?
TL: I feel like the past two tours got stuck in a rut with some stuff. We played 20 to 25 songs a night and were only rotating about 30, which is neither here nor there. It’s nice to have that sort of comfort level, but right now we’re doing eight nights in New York and we have 70 songs. So next time you see us hopefully it will be a completely different set. We’ll still do whatever our version of a hit is — people wanna see those — but the goal is to play all 70 songs [in eight shows]. And I can tell you why it was so easy to pick what songs we were doing, though: because we weren’t practicing.
AP: I’m from Pennsylvania, too. There’s a very clear identity there. Sort of like Ween, which is also from Philadelphia, you guys seem very firmly rooted in where you’re from and how it defines your attitude and ethos.
TL: “Yeah, there aren’t a lot of bands that come out of Philly, but they’re all weird, and they’re all these kind of strange amalgamations of stuff that doesn’t really fit in.
AP: Like the Dead Milkmen.
TL: Perfect example. Another band where there’s multiple lead singers, too. There’s never a “scene” in Philly. You know who the sound guys are and the promoters and the venues and who plays what in what bands, but it’s not like “This is the Philly sound.” There’s nothing like that going on. You have a band like The War On Drugs right now…there’s not another band that sounds like them. Name another band that’s big in Philly and there isn’t another band that sounds like them. They’re sort of these pop-up things standing on their own because they sound great.
AP: How do you keep that sense of where you’re from when you’re on the road constantly for fifteen years?
TL: That’s surprisingly easy when you’re in a bubble with the same [band and crew] every day and your interactions are really with the same 12 people. For an hour and forty-five minutes you’re yelling at a crowd of strangers, but every other minute you’re just seeing the same people you see at home. It’s a pretty standard thing among people who tour; you get into your routine and you become pretty into it. Even on your days off in the middle of, you know, North Dakota it’s 12 dudes doing this thing. At least for us; maybe we’re unique in that we do everything together. We’re good at surrounding ourselves properly with people who have the same sort of vision, same attitude, same work ethic.
AP: If you don’t do that, your band breaks up because you can’t be on the road together.
TL: There’s a million reasons why a band can break up, but that’s one of them, for sure. If you’re unhappy with the people you surround yourself with you’re doomed.
AP: Do you try to make every night a totally different experience? How do you capture that on one live album?
TL: Well we have the benefit of the album being from about thirteen different nights. There’s always something you can glom onto from your life, or within the band interactions, that makes it feel different. The fact that it’s a different venue makes it a different experience automatically. The place is different. And you can try to right whatever sort of wrong has been nagging at you. That’s something different. You feel different every day and you try to bring at least a piece of yourself every night to let people have a window into what you’re thinking and what you’re saying. And that’s not hard to do if you’re actively trying to express yourself in a way that’s meaningful.
Colorado Music History Sold to Highest Bidders at Caribou Ranch Auction
by Adam Perry for Westword
February 4, 2015
Legendary Denver bluesman Otis Taylor, chilling in the hall outside the hectic Leslie Hindman auction room at the Denver Design Center late last month, scoffed when asked whether he was bidding on any of the nearly 500 pieces of memorabilia up for auction from the Caribou Ranch recording studio. “Everything is going for three or four times the estimate,” said Taylor. “If you want to get something, get a catalog.”
Just browsing the 8,000-square-foot showroom at the Denver Design Center was a music-geek treat. Among the items on display were the Fender Rhodes that Earth Wind & Fire played on “Shining Star” and the piano on which Elton John recorded “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.”
But as Taylor pointed out, actually purchasing something at the auction — which saw a “Keep Out” sign go for $500 and an ashtray-and-matches set from Caribou open at $800 — was unrealistic for most of the nearly 1,000 Colorado music lovers who showed up to pay homage to the legendary recording studio, which operated outside Nederland from 1972 to 1985.
Among the attendees were a few people who actually played at Caribou Ranch. Kenny Passarelli — chiefly a bassist — is featured on memorable tracks by Joe Walsh, Elton John, Stephen Stills and many others. Before the auction, Passarelli said that Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” was his favorite song recorded there because “even today, when it comes on the radio, the drums and bass kick ass.”
“My brain cells are up at that studio,” said Passarelli, who wasn’t really worried about finding something at the auction; he already has his memorabilia. “Right before [James Guercio] sold the place, he handed me a music stand, and I saved that,” he said, “and some bark off a tree.
“The one thing [Guercio] absolutely had to keep was the ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ piano, which was actually Bessie Smith’s.”
Plenty of rock history was made at Caribou Ranch. The staggering list of songs and albums recorded or mixed at the studio from 1972 to 1985 includes everything from Frank Zappa’s One Size Fits All to part of Michael Jackson’s Bad. Forty-five albums that made Billboard’s top ten and twenty number-one singles were recorded there.
So the overflow crowd of old hippies, high-class Coloradans and generally curious music geeks at the Design Center on Saturday wasn’t a shock. Nor, according to Maron Hindman, who serves as managing director for Leslie Hindman’s west and southwest office and led the actual auction, was the sale price of such items as the Steinway piano featured on “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” which eventually went for $100,000.
There were about 1,200 bids made via Internet or phone before the auction started at 3 p.m. Saturday, and hundreds of people showed up in person. The small room where the actual bidding eventually took place was crammed by 2:10 p.m. The antsy audience participated in a Caribou-history pop quiz to pass the time.
Hindman led the proceedings tirelessly and with good humor. “Seriously,” she said at one point, “will you come to our normal auctions? That would be awesome. We’re usually lucky to get sixty or seventy people.”
“Colorado, baby!” someone shouted in response from a crowd that doubtless featured many more Broncos hats and Eagles concert T-shirts than any previous Leslie Hindman auction.
Before bidding on the 480-some items began, Hindman joked that she wished the auction could start with the first few bars of “Rocky Mountain Way.” A hopeful buyer pulled up the song on his cell phone and handed it to Hindman so she could play it through the microphone. The enthusiasm continued through the afternoon and well into the evening.
“It was a nine-hour marathon that ended around midnight,” Hindman said the next day. “Everything sold except maybe one item. Nothing went for lower than we thought [it would], but the small things were what surprised me. We sold a bell from the ranch for $11,000.”
Words from the Road: Luke Redfield’s Life in Music
by Adam Perry for Boulder Weekly, 1/15/2015
“It’s just like me singing in your living room with a three-piece band, or in some little dive bar,” indie-folk singer-songwriter Luke Redfield told me about his new album, The Cartographer, by phone from Minnesota just after spending Christmas with his family there.
Redfield, 31, grew up a preacher’s son in small, humble and peaceful Minnesota and Nebraska towns, and is quick to quote memes about the morality of work, such as “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.”
Redfield consciously recorded The Cartographer in a more stripped-down, expedient fashion than his four previous releases. With a vocal style heavily influenced by Blonde On Blonde-era Dylan and Conor Oberst and lyrics steeped as much in folk and blues tradition as classic American literature, Redfield had been more of a patient perfectionist with past recordings. The Cartographer, the result of isolated woodshedding at a comically tiny house in Austin, is essentially Kerouac-style “first thought, best thought” set to music.
“It was a special time and a magical time, one of those magical moments when it all just comes together,” Redfield says. “And that’s what it was like for me in this little house. I enjoyed it while it lasted. I was working at a food cart while I was writing, and every day I devoted myself to five to 10 hours of playing guitar and writing these songs. I was ‘in it’ for a couple of months, where these songs would just come to me. “
Haunting, spacious tracks like “Frida” give Redfield the chance to muse — along with gentle harmonica, piano and acoustic guitar — on “making love to some actress” and being “just stardust.” Lilting folk-rockers such as “Sweetest Thing” find Redfield, playful like a young Bruce Springsteen, waxing romantic with the spirit of a troubadour: “I’ve been around this country and fucked it up and down / but you’re the sweetest thing I ever found.”
Growing up on Mark Twain, baseball, ice cream and fireworks in the conservative innocence of the Midwest had a deep effect on Redfield, but the wandering tales in his songs aren’t just for style. When he’s not on tour, Redfield (who has lived everywhere from Nashville to Alaska) works in food service — “waiting tables, cooking, working as a barista, whatever I need to do in the moment” — and when he’s traveling around America playing shows, he feels connected not only with his music but also his ancestry.
“My family is musicians as far back as we can trace the family tree,” he says. “That’s something that I always think about when I’m on the road: ‘This is in my lineage.’ My dad actually played folk music and rock ‘n’ roll [before becoming a preacher]. He was a flower child in the ’60s, served in Vietnam. I learned a lot from my dad about music and life and spirituality and work ethic.”
According to Redfield, recording The Cartographer, which was released Jan. 7, included choosing 10 songs out of approximately 100 he’d written in Austin.
“I generally have enough material to record an album every year,” Redfield says. “A lot of my favorite artists don’t make a lot of albums, but then there are singer-songwriters like Dylan or Johnny Cash who always seem like they’ve got more songs that I’ve never even heard of. And I think I’m more in that category. I got to a point where I thought, ‘I gotta just start recording.’ The Cartographer is really down-to-earth in a way that I hadn’t been on previous recordings. Our mind gets in the way so much when we are artists who care about what we do. I think just based on previous experiences, [I was] just spending too much time and too much money in the studio and just sitting with the songs too long. The Cartographer is more of a stream-of-consciousness thing. But I’m happy to have made albums on both sides of the spectrum.”
Redfield, who is also a semi-pro Frisbee-golf player, is on tour with a band for the first time, and is excited about bringing a fuller sound to his live performances. He’s also looking forward to sharing his love for the road with good friends.
“I’m pretty stoked. It’s been a long time coming. They’re musicians I’ve been working with for a while, friends of mine and people I feel comfortable living with or going on the road with, people who are enthused. I’m all about the right enthusiasm, because I have that about traveling and touring and I want people who will have that same sort of mindset and enjoy the adventure of being on the road in what I still think is an amazing country we live in, in terms of its natural beauty.”
Redfield might allude to “a bed of darkness in my soul” in his gentle, sometimes bleak songs, but he’s an optimistic, self-described “nature boy” whose only New Year’s resolutions are to “be kind and loving…eat better and make more money.” And, as evidenced on gorgeous tracks like “Holy Ghost, NM” on his last album, 2013’s East of Santa Fe, Redfield is proud of his Midwestern roots but has a distinct affinity for the West.
“I love it; there’s something about the air and the water and the mountains,” he says. “There’s something about Colorado that just draws me. I feel like I come alive when I’m in those spaces. It’s hard to really articulate. I think because I grew up in farm country, I really do connect with the earth. My soul is just happier; my heart feels happier when I’m in the kind of lush scenery you find in Colorado. I love that drive from Colorado to New Mexico. It’s one of my favorite parts of the country.”
Redfield is self-deprecating when it comes to his poignantly unassuming voice. He says he identifies more as a songwriter than as a singer, and even plans to write a book in the next year or two about his experiences living on the road.
“Probably because I have never been super amazing at playing an instrument or singing, I think my lyrics are definitely my strength,” he says. “And if I don’t want to be just another folk singer I have to think of myself as a writer. For some reason, I decided to write songs.”
Luke Redfield plays Shine in Boulder on Saturday, January 17 at 8pm and the Walnut Room in Denver on Sunday, January 18 at 7pm. Kismet & Dough opens both shows.