“Riding Through Anything” (Bicycle Times May 2015)

“Riding Through Anything” illustration by Juliana Wang (julianawang.com)

This month’s Bicycle Times (issue #35) includes my featurette “Riding Through Anything,” which is kind of a bike-commuter mantra for those of us who jump on a bicycle every morning no matter the weather. That might sound nice in San Diego, but in places like Colorado it’s a learning process day to day. Pick up a copy of the new Bicycle Times, on newsstands everywhere from Barnes and Noble to your local independent bookstore, to check out “Riding Through Anything.”

SHOW REVIEW: JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION (Westword 5/20/2015)

photo by Adam Perry
photo by Adam Perry

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Has Mastered Primal Fun
by Adam Perry for Westword 5/20/2015

Jon Spencer is prolific, taking turns in underground noise-rock and garage acts like Shithaus, Boss Hog and Pussy Galore, among others. He formed Jon Spencer Blues Explosion almost 25 years ago in New York City, and the trio has not lost an energetic step, as its nearly seamless set at the Bluebird Theater in Denver showed last night.

Dark and dynamic young opener We Are Hex – whose frenetic leader Jilly Weis somehow made the Bluebird’s cramped stage into her own wide stomping ground – provided a good prelude to Blues Explosion’s famously bass-less rave-ups by injecting generous helpings of Karen O. into flashes of the most raw, raucous shades of Samhain and early Danzig. Then, the 49-year-old Spencer, ducking and duck-walking a la David Johansen and Chuck Berry, led his funky garage-rock act (which peaked early with 1994’s classic punk-blues LP Orange and 1996’s more radio-friendly Now I Got Worry) in deftly ramming an hour and a half of music together, Ramones style, before a sweaty fifteen-minute encore. The reappearance was somehow even more driving than what came before, and included “Brenda,” “Blues X Man” and the Beastie Boys-esque fan favorite “Fuck Shit Up,” which had been requested repeatedly from deep in the crowd throughout the show.

It wasn’t always easy to tell one song from another or sometimes, in the case of a sadly shortened “Ditch,” when the next Blues Explosion song had begun. But it was easy to tell how much the trio (Spencer with twangy guitarist Judah Bauer and thumping drummer Russell Simins) enjoys playing together after all these years, still juxtaposing Spencer’s Iggy-meets-James-Brown revival antics with powder-keg rock ‘n’ roll thinner and funkier than the Stooges’ seminal Funhouse, but just as primal.

Spencer’s endearing trademark myopic name-dropping – fitting the term “blues explosion” into every spare second like Ozzy proclaiming “We love you all!” or Wiz Khalifa, early on, reminding listeners his name is Wiz Khalifa – was ubiquitous as ever, along with the diffident Bauer’s occasional Albert King flourishes and Simins’ Muppet-like frenzy. A great drinking game – though one that might end in alcohol poisoning – would be taking a shot every time Spencer said the name of his band during one of its concerts.

Simins (with his sparse one-tom, one-crash setup) was at times as forcefully grooving as John Bonham, as tastefully thrashy as Bill Stevenson and as head-bopping as anything played on Paul’s Boutique. But it was his constant dependability as the possessed Spencer’s home base – his foundation – through enjoyable flashbacks like “Wail” and unrecognizable dance-party sludge, that really impressed.

Spencer, if nothing else, is relentless, a quality that was strangely almost lost even as far back as the 550-capacity Bluebird’s bar but downright palpable up front. Blues Explosion is truly a band best appreciated so close you can see Spencer’s sweat flying around as he commandeers his theramin.

TWIN PEAKS IS PROVING THAT ROCK ‘N’ ROLL ISN’T DEAD (Westword 5/13/2015)

Twin-Peaks

TWIN PEAKS IS PROVING THAT ROCK ‘N’ ROLL ISN’T DEAD
by Adam Perry for Westword 5/13/2015

The video for “Making Breakfast” — Twin Peaks’ infectious, sarcastic mid-tempo Ween-meets-Pavement love song — is one of the most uplifting things the Internet has been blessed with in recent memory. Just try not smiling as young Clay Frankel sings lines like “I’m the one who loves you / don’t let it get you down” as he’s shown intermittently having eggs cracked over his head and dancing sheepishly while making eggs and coffee on a grill in an alley.

Similar to what Red Fang is doing for metal, Twin Peaks — which started in 2009 when the Chicago quintet was in the thick of high school — is bringing unpretentious joy back to straight-up American rock ‘n’ roll. Via energetic live performances and whimsical, creative videos — like the one for “I Found a New Way,” which features the band playing baseball Sandlot-style against preppy opponents — Twin Peaks is proving Gene Simmons’ infamous “Rock is finally dead” statement wrong.

In a brief recent Westword interview, co-frontman Cadien Lake James responded to Stereogum’s assertion last year that Twin Peaks is “carrying the torch” of rock ‘n’ roll by saying, “I don’t know about all that, but Gene Simmons is wrong for sure.”

As for what current act he thinks deserves the title of torch-bearer, Lake emphatically nominated Fat White Family. But, while the F.W.F. is bringing punky explosiveness and even G.G. Allin-style bodily discharge back to pure rock ‘n’ roll, Twin Peaks, especially on its 2013 debut Sunken, is throwing back to an era when even the Stones seemed innocent.

Mixing pretty underlying Pet Sounds vibes and gritty Crypt Records-esque garage-punk production,Sunken—drenched in reverb from the opening notes of “Baby Blue”—begged the question of whether Twin Peaks’ fuzzy studio sound is influenced more by the lo-fi style of haunting oldies or more modern shoegaze.

“Both totally have their place,” says James. “For me it depends on the song and the approach I want to take. Generally I appreciate old-school ambiance a bit more, but there’s nothing like the My Bloody Valentine-esque vibes when you’re using synths or whatever.”

Wild Onion — a more polished follow-up released on Grand Jury last fall that features the aforementioned “Making Breakfast” and “I Found a New Way”—finds the self-proclaimed “all-right dudes” of Twin Peaks more intentionally going for both honed-in Abbey Road engineering and early-’70s Rolling Stones bombast.

James, for his part, says the group was focusing on “just being able to break the rules in clever ways. We just wanted to do some live stuff with a lot of energy, yelps and hollers, that kind of Stonesy stuff. But it doesn’t really sound likeExile [On Main Street] in the end.”

And it’s true: Wild Onion drips with Twin Peaks’ obvious youth and levity, which effectively make the band’s brand of rock, no matter how raucous, a more accessible, comforting version of neo-garage than James’ heroes, such as Thee Oh Sees, the Black Lips and Jay Reatard.

According to James, those artists (and garage rock in general) “shepherded me while I was forming my taste, playing music to have fun with it, [doing] something universal that you could play even if you have minimal experience playing.”

One of Twin Peaks’ first gigs was in a garage, and James & Co. even sometimes practice in drummer Connor Brodner’s garage, so it’s not just these guys the term “garage” doesn’t just indicate a genre.

As for playing all over the United States and Europe, becoming adults while also becoming famous, James says the way-back bond between the young members of Twin Peaks has a positive effect on the band’s burgeoning career.

“Some people refer to us as famous, [and] we definitely get recognized,” James says. “But it doesn’t feel crazy to me yet. We’re still just some dudes. I’m a very open and honest person anyways, so it doesn’t phase me really — maybe a tad weird but not really. I think as far as our history with each other, we’ve all been homies so long and wanted to do this together that we find ways to keep everyone else going based off what they need.”

Twin Peaks plays the Hi-Dive on Thursday night with Plum and Ned Garthe Explosion.

BOOK REVIEW: Bill Kreutzmann’s “Deal” (Westword 5/5/2015)

The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead

BILL KREUTZMANN ON THE HIGHS (AND LOWS) OF DRUMMING FOR THE GRATEFUL DEAD
by Adam Perry for Westword 5/5/2015

I spent most of a recent week on a bike tour from the San Luis Obispo, California area up to Marin, with a two-night stay in my old home base of San Francisco. Drinking beer and reading former Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann’s new autobiography (written with help from Benjy Eisen, who is now Kreutzmann’s manager) was a fitting way to kill time around the campfire at night after doing coastal bike rides during the day. Though I recently wrote a feature about the Dead’s controversial upcoming reunion/farewell shows, interviewing Gary Lambert and David Gans of Sirius XM’s Grateful Dead channel, I hadn’t listened to almost any Grateful Dead in years, so immersing myself in 360 pages of “Bill the Drummer” tales while listening to some choice Dead bootlegs was a California treat.

Kreutzmann has long been known to outsiders as the relatively normal member of the Dead, a Palo Alto native known for stating flatly, “I am just a guy who plays the drums.” He was the Dead’s drummer from day one, when they were a young mid-‘60s bar band known as the Warlocks, playing pizza parlors south of San Francisco before becoming the house band for Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests, later bombing at Woodstock and Monterey Pop and then rocketing to decades of headlining arenas and stadiums around the country as the psychedelic ’60s torchbearers.

But Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams and Drugsreveals that Kreutzmann was also a hard-drinking, hard-drugging womanizer from day one, immersed in acid and narcotics on a level only singer-guitarist Jerry Garcia surpassed. Unlike Garcia, Kreutzmann was thankfully able to thwart drug addiction, partly through falling in love with scuba diving. No doubt the drummer also eventually got (mostly) clean through not being as famous as Garcia, who used heroin to deal with constant tugging from not only obsessive fans but also the Grateful Dead touring machine, which Kreutzmann admitted gave Garcia—and no one else—a pass for his clearly terminal drug abuse because they needed him to keep the fame-and-fortune machine alive.

Deal is full of funny — but also scary — tales of drinking, fucking, drugging, traveling and even alcohol-fueled car racing. One scene involves a riot Kreutzmann helped start at a whorehouse after learning condoms were required; he also admits that, for a while, a roadie gave the drummer a bottle-cap full of cocaine to snort after every song. But Deal is also full of poignant insights, sometimes downright shocking in their honesty. The book provides commentary on the imperfections of the Grateful Dead and the many members it saw come and go (sometimes literally out of this world) over its thirty years (1965 to 1995) as a touring band.

One of Deal’s first zingers includes Kreutzmann criticizing bassist-singer Phil Lesh’s songs as sometimes sounding so cheesy they reminded Kreutzmann of “the theme from The Love Boat.” Tom Constanten, who played keyboards with the Dead from 1968 to 1970 — one of the band’s must fruitful, historic periods — is described by Kreutzmann as having never been “a card-carrying member of the Grateful Dead.” Fellow Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, who took a hiatus from the Dead from 1971 to 1975 after getting into “dark drugs” in the aftermath of his father stealing most of the Dead’s money, is labeled a control freak by Kreutzmann, who admits he did not want Hart to rejoin the band. (“He weaseled himself back into the band” is one of the most memorable lines in Deal) Kreutzmann eventually relented, which led to the tight, fiery and mesmerizing 1977 peak of the Grateful Dead, arguably the band’s most exciting period, along with the years just prior to keyboardist Brent Mydland’s death by drug overdose in 1990.

Donna Jean Godchaux, who sang with the Dead from 1972 to 1979, “never fit in with the sound that we were going for,” according to Kreutzmann. “It took away from the music.” What’s more, Kreutzmann (along with many fans) says keyboardist Vince Welnick, who started touring with the Dead just weeks after Mydland’s tragic death (he was just 37), was never a fit either.

“As for Vince, I’m not sure who invited him,” Kreutzmann writes in Deal. “We looked at other keyboardists [and] Vince Welnick was my least favorite. He was flat broke and desperate for work. Perhaps that played into our decision to hire him. Vince got voted in by default.”

Welnick’s voice was flat-out grating, as were his cheesy keyboard runs, which usually sounded like obnoxious trumpets. But Kreutzmann’s harsh, honest criticisms of Welnick would be more amusing and easy to swallow if the keyboardist hadn’t taken his own life in 2006, just a few years after the Dead started touring intermittently for the first time without Garcia (who died of drug-related causes in 1995). Welnick was understandably, and deeply, hurt by Kreutzmann and the others billing the initial Dead shows in 2002 as “a family reunion” featuring “the surviving members of the Grateful Dead.” Welnick was a member of the band for the five years preceding Garcia’s death.

In all, however, I’m most impressed by Kreutzmann’s repeated passionate descriptions of what the Dead, when it wasn’t nodding at the wheel, was trying to do musically. He wanted to be rock’s Elvin Jones, and at some points (Europe ’72, anyone?) he got close; the Dead wanted to push the boundaries of rock ‘n’ roll to include bluegrass, classical poetry and no-boundaries improvisation, and sometimes it worked.

Kreutzmann was in junior high when Garcia, four years his senior, bought a banjo from Kreutzmann’s father and made the drummer, at first listen, “the first Deadhead.” He made an internal vow to follow Garcia anywhere the music led, and that turned out to be Madison Square Garden (52 times), a stage beside the Great Pyramid in Egypt, and of course the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately, as Kreutzmann admits, following Garcia meant giving him “a pass” for the heroin addiction and generally toxic lifestyle that led to his death at age 53.

The Grateful Dead lost two keyboardists and one lead singer/guitarist to substance abuse, one keyboardist (Keith Godchaux, who Lesh once said reached “an almost vegetative state” due to drugs and alcohol) to an automobile accident and one to suicide.

But the music, thanks to Archive.org, is there for us. Nearly every Grateful Dead show is there, streaming in high quality format, and—though I challenge you to find a Dead show that’s interesting and exciting from start to finish—many of them have magical moments—like nearly all of May 1977, and obscure nuggets like a beautifully strange “The Other One > Stella Blue” with Ornette Coleman in 1993.

Kreutzmann’s book is timely, as the Grateful Dead is playing five shows in Santa Clara, Calif., and Chicago this summer (with Phish’s Trey Anastasio filling Garcia’s shoes) as both a celebration of and funeral for the music the group started playing at bars, restaurants and parties in the Bay Area 50 years ago. One wonders whether Kreutzmann’s poking at his bandmates in Deal will make the rehearsals awkward, but it’s also clear they must all feel grateful just to still be standing after such a long, strange trip.

Riding Eroica California With Andy Hampsten (Bicycle Times 4/22/2015)

bicycle-times-eroica-california-andy-hampsten

By Adam Perry

Legendary 1988 Giro d’Italia winner and former Tour de France stalwart Andy Hampsten—joyfully holding court at a communal dinner table before the first-annual Eroica California in Paso Robles, Calif., last weekend—more than adequately summed up my own feelings about the event when he smiled and said, “I’m just super jazzed about this.”

Based on Italy’s L’Eroica, which since 1997 has encouraged cyclists to don vintage clothing and ride vintage bikes, the first-ever Eroica California aimed to “rediscover the beauty of fatigue and the taste of accomplishment.” Hearty cyclists who made their way to Paso Robles were required to conquer the gorgeous, hilly northern San Luis Obispo County countryside on either historical (1987 or earlier) bikes or new, vintage-style bikes by craft brands like Soma. From regulations on clothing (wool jerseys and shorts, leather shoes, etc.) and accessories (1987 models or earlier, or new leather saddles by Brooks, et al) to guidelines on wheels, brake cables, pedals, shifters, etc., Eroica California invited riders to pay $150 to participate in something as fun as it was challenging.

A few weeks ago, I bought an early ‘80s Torelli 12-speed on Craigslist for just $200 (above), and had Gary Gringas at Fatty Kitty Cycles in Boulder get it ready for Eroica California and four subsequent days of challenging rides up the coast. My legs were ready, but I had to wonder how long the Torelli would last on the Eroica ride, let alone Nacimiento Fergusson Road and Mt. Tamalpais the following days.

Arriving in the Paso Robles town square early in the evening before the ride–like nearly all the approximately 700 participants, I chose the 65-mile ride over the 123-mile route–I was pleased to see folks from Italy, England and all over America decked out in vintage or vintage-style gear, showing off bikes as many as 100 years old. “Route Master” Eric Benson, just ahead of me in line for the group dinner, expressed some nervousness about the inaugural Eroica California, which was organized in just three months. Last-minute mapping problems forced Benson to announce to dinner guests that the advertised 65-mile route (featuring 4,900 feet of climbing) was actually closer to 70 miles, with “just a little less” than 6,500 feet of climbing.

That difference wasn’t trivial, as most of the riders had either just recently set up an old bike, as I did, or rented one for the weekend from a local shop. But thankfully no one, it seemed, was scared away by the announcement.

The first 11 miles were easy enough, and ended at Cass Winery, where we were given water bottles full of yummy white wine. Some imbibed right away, but I packed my complimentary wine in the beautiful Banjo Brothers saddlebag attached my Torelli.

After a rest stop at Olea Farm, which produces olive oil and served riders French fries, grueling Kiler Canyon—known to locals as “Killer Canyon”—found many riders struggling to get old 10- or 12-speed road bikes, with skinny tires, up steady climbs that approached 20-percent grades on loose gravel and dirt. The second half of Eroica California found us, at one point, winding up a shorter—but just as steep, hot and rocky—series of switchbacks. The blazing midday heat was no help.

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The final 25 miles or so, however, found participants rolling up and down pleasant little hills around Paso Robles before bombing back to the center of town.

Eroica California was a blast, and I’ll agree with Benson that “overall the weekend was successful.” The scenery and camaraderie were remarkable. I would’ve had a more comfortable time with thicker tires and more gears, but that was clearly part of the experience, one I hope to build upon this May in The Midland Railmy next Eroica experience; it’s a similar vintage ride that’s been held in Grand Junction, Colo., since 2012.

Hampsten, whose rented ‘50s bike failed a test ride the day before Eroica California, zoomed past me at one point along Kiler Canyon on a more reliable set of wheels. He also completed the 70-mile route.

“I got the competitive edge out of my system in 12 years as a professional cyclist,” Hampsten told me, “But man, I’m going to get ready and do this next year, too. The long one.”

A Conversation with Luke Redfield: “I Think of the Land First” (Westword 4/3/2015)

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Luke Redfield On Being An American Songwriter: “I Think of the Land First”
by Adam Perry for Westword, 4/3/2015

Delicate-voiced Minnesota singer-songwiter Luke Redfield, somewhat of a nomad, has spent a lot of time in Boulder and Denver over the years. January found him headlining Shine and the Walnut Room, with his sometime-backup singer Patrycja Humienik, a University of Colorado graduate who lives in Denver, opening both shows as kismet&dough, with help from local collaborators Shilpi Gupta and Irene Joyce.

Jack Kerouac once wrote, “I pictured myself in a Denver bar, with all the gang, and in their eyes I would be strange and ragged and like the Prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark Word, and the only Word I had was ‘Wow!’” Redfield, who draws as much from Kerouac and other classic American writers as he does Bob Dylan and other legendary songwriters, had quite a few more words than “wow” in a Westword conversation earlier this week about his brief upcoming Colorado-only tour. Redfield plays the Walnut Room on April 7 with kismet&dough as support, and opens for Nora Jane Struthers at the Fox Theatre on April 9.

Adam Perry: Is it still winter in Minnesota?

Luke Redfield: The sunshine made me think today is maybe the first day of spring. Our local celebrity, Scott Seekins, this kind of cult hero everybody follows, wears all black in the winter and all white in the summertime, and it’s always a suit. I saw him today in all black, which means it’s technically winter.

How does the change from winter to spring affect you as a writer and performer?

It greatly affects my levels of spontaneity and happiness overall. Whenever it goes from below zero to thirty above and suddenly it’s warm [in Minnesota] I’ll pick up the guitar and write some happy songs; all winter I’ve been singing depressing shit. It’s like the song emerges from the cocoon on the first day of spring. I know as a writer and just a creative person, spring puts a jump in my step.

I just listened to your recent Daytrotter session. Do you think their images of you are getting more accurate or less accurate?

[Laughs] I think this is a pretty decent one. They’re all caricatures, so I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I’m glad the hat is on this one, because I’ve been wearing this one for a while.

Is Jack Kerouac a big reason you feel so connected to Colorado?

Yeah, definitely. I don’t know if that was always a conscious thing on my part. I read On the Roadforever ago, and Dharma Bums and all those other classics but, even though I remember him mentioning Denver a million times, I never even really thought about him. But in the past few months I’ve been kind of noticing that connection, that Kerouac really did enjoy hanging out in Denver. And then Townes Van Zandt, who I also admire, he spent part of his childhood in Boulder, and then he went to high school in Minnesota really close to where I grew up. I didn’t realize until recently that Townes and Kerouac and I have shared some of the same haunts.

You identify so much as an American songwriter; you identify so much with iconic American writers like Mark Twain. What’s it like to identify as an American songwriter right now?

I think of the land first. I kind of gave up on politics six or even years ago. In terms of the state of the country right now, at least socially and politically, I think we’re pretty lost in general. In terms of the natural splendor and diversity that America has in terms of the land and different types of people and ways of life, I think it’s like no place the planet has ever seen. We’re still in the process of seeing what the American experiment really is; it’s still a very young country. I like guys like Whitman because they tend to be microcosms of the greater country. Whitman said, “Because the poet lovingly absorbs virtually all of America’s tastes, he in turn will be absorbed by his country.” All of the great ones absorb all of the taste of the country and are absorbed.

Who’s an example of that right now?

There’s a lot of great ones; some of them we don’t even know who they are. Back in the day, if you were a poet or musician and you had a hot record or book, it got out there because there just weren’t that many. I still like the classic bards that are still living, like Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen or Neil Young, even though those [last two] are Canadian. I can’t think of any current guys that are in that tradition.

And it might be a girl, not a guy.

Absolutely. Can you think of one?

Well, Neko Case, I think…she might not go down in the pantheon of Dylan and Neil Young, but she has one foot in tradition and one being musically and socially progressive. She’s amazing.

Yeah, I love Neko Case. She’s cool. I agree.

Your last time through Colorado was your first time on tour with a backing band. What was that like?

It was interesting. It was a lot of fun and also challenging, because everyone’s on their own schedule. It was super fun to not travel alone, that’s for sure. You get to share some of the good stories with other people. I’ve had a lot of really hilarious things happen to me while I’ve been touring solo, but when someone’s there to experience it with you it’s a whole other story.

Was it easier or harder musically to play with other people?

Just different. I enjoy both for different reasons. Certainly I feed off of other musicians; when there are other musicians on stage and good synergy, then the energy is shared, so I prefer to play with a band for that reason.

What’s it like having Patrycja Humienik singing with you?

It’s cool, man. We actually had her work out some three-part harmonies with a couple other [band members] for some of the shows, so that got really fun. We had four people singing on some of the songs; I’m a big fan of harmonies.

What’s it like seeing a member of your band flowering on stage as the opening act?

I’m a big fan of her solo act [Denver-based kismet&dough] that’s being birthed. It’s really good. There’s a lot of potential there. I love it. I want everybody to flourish and to do the projects they’re compelled to,
that their hearts are telling them to do. I think every one of my bandmates has a solo project. I’m very supportive and encouraging them all.

What’s it like transitioning back to doing solo performances?

Like nothing had ever happened. Like back at home. I’m pretty versatile in that regard, I guess. I like to do both because I like variety, and I think other people do too.

Inspiration & Location: A Talk with Caitlin Buck (Boulder Weekly 4/2/2015)

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Inspiration & Location: A Talk with Caitlin Buck 
by Adam Perry for Boulder Weekly 4/2/2015

The fascinating acrylic-on-wood paintings of Caitlin Buck, a Boulder native who graduated from Naropa University in 2012, will see their three-month appearance on the walls of The Laughing Goat Coffeehouse end later this month. Buck, 28, lately focuses on realistically rendering human faces while simultaneously striving for the creative, poignant and playful. The animated, curly-haired young artist – wearing her trademark nose ring and a white t-shirt with a screen-printed deer – sat down on The Laughing Goat’s front porch recently for a conversation with Boulder Weekly.

Adam Perry: I remember seeing some of your acrylic portraits in the student lounge at Naropa when I was there for an event years ago. How has your work changed since graduating?

Caitlin Buck: It’s always sort of been acrylic, the paintings anyway. Those portraits of Naropa students were the result of an independent study I did with Robert Spellman, who is amazing. He’s an old coyote of Naropa; he teaches The Contemplative Artist. He’s a huge influence; I hear his voice in my head just about every day, and I’m grateful for it. That independent study, we set out to loosen up my work, so I called it “Portraits In Space.” I was working on realistically portraying people I knew and still letting [the paintings] be spacious and ethereal and not outlined.

AP: You’re from Boulder? Meeting someone who was born and raised here seems pretty rare.

CB: It was good that I lived for a couple years in South Carolina when I graduated from high school, just to step outside the bubble. Once I felt really secure in my passion for art and desire to study art, Naropa was the best thing that ever happened to me. The more I looked into Naropa, it was unreal; it was, like, “This is like Hogwarts.”

AP: When did you get into painting?

CB: Probably when I was about 16 or 17.

AP: Did you get into painting through your parents?

CB: Not really, but my mom was always really supportive of anything creative and has influenced me a lot. We used to play drawing games when I was little; she would draw these squiggly shapes and I would turn it into something. I actually think back on that and am more and more grateful for it. It’s played a huge role in my creative inspiration.

AP: How did you transition from the student portraits I saw in 2011 to these paintings on wood?

CB: For a while I was painting portraits on patterned fabric, floral patterns. I really like painting on a surface that already has something going on, that already has a vibrational feel to it. It’s like it gives me room to surrender a little bit, because I have faith that the things already happening on the surface have something to say, something to offer. So when I started painting on wood, I was getting sort of tired of the fabric, those patterns. They already have colors and the wood is more neutral, yet it has something amazing going on. Sometimes I’ll even have a hard time painting on the wood, because I’ll look at it and say, “It’s already so beautiful. How can I do anything to this?” But eventually we work it out, the wood and I, and I end up being very minimal.

AP: Where do you get the wood?

CB: I go to Home Depot or wherever I can find wood that’s nice. I’d like to use more sustainably harvested wood, but that’s really difficult to find. But I’ll go and be looking at pieces of wood [for painting] while other people are, like, trying to make shelves.

AP: Where did such a distinct face come from, the face in most of these paintings?

CB: I heard [a Laughing Goat customer] say, “So is that what the artist looks like?” That’s a reasonable question. I was shifting from the fabric to the wood and there was a lot going on in me, a lot changing. I started working on the wood and letting that dance of receiving and telling happen, letting the accidents happen, letting these faces emerge on the wood. The first few just had these big noses. It was a remedy for feeling that everything being perfect was not something I want to represent.

AP: When you finished school at Naropa, what were your aspirations?

CB: Painting, as a practice, will always be there. I’ll never stop. It’s a deep biological necessity. How that’s gonna grow into a form of service, I’m still figuring out, but I know I want to teach. I want to teach contemplative art, and I know that’s a rare topic to study. I’ve tried to find anywhere else in the world [besides Naropa] that even uses those terms and I can’t. It’s looking at art as this practice between receiving and telling. It involves showing up, making a move and listening and responding. That is similar to life itself, so I feel like the practice of painting is therapy. It’s deeply fulfilling, but it also teaches one how to be human. I would love to be able to share that.

AP: Who has influenced you other than your Naropa teachers?

CB: Visionary art has affected me a lot. It really was my first teacher. When I went to Naropa some of the teachers were tired of so many art students coming in, like, “Oh my God, Alex Grey!” They’re really tactful about it, but they’d say, “Yes, and look at this other weird art.” It took me to the other side so I could draw from different sides of the spectrum. I’ve started to become more into art that is the human face, the human form realistic and also surreal. I want it to be real enough that it is lifelike and there is a creature and an entity looking back at you, yet maybe also it’s dreamlike. Most of them are making eye contact with the viewer.

AP: You can’t hide from them.

CB: Yeah, and sometimes I owe them things. Sometimes they’re really disappointed in me. Sometimes they’re so in love with me and we’re best friends. One seriously tormented me, like, “What are you going to do with me? You brought me into existence; what now?” It’s confrontational.

AP: Do you feel like you’ve found a good art community in Boulder?

CB: Yeah, but I’m a little bit unsatisfied with a lot of things about the art world in general that I think I’m gonna find anywhere.. I think it’s really unfortunate the way that art exists in society, that it’s either at a coffee shop or a gallery.  I’d honestly rather have my work in a coffee shop than in a gallery, because a gallery is cold and stale, and people go just to look at the art. This is more inviting.

AP: What does success as an artist mean to you?

CB: It’s not a financial success. I think that’s the conventional perspective of success. It’s more having a really positive effect on the world, or just a small group of people—anybody.