Murder By Death Haunts the Stanley Hotel Again (Westword 1/17/2017)

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photo by Brandon Marshall

Murder By Death And Its Devoted Fans Again Haunt the Stanley Hotel
by Adam Perry for Denver Westword 1/17/2017

Walk the grounds of the Stanley Hotel before one of Murder by Death’s annual winter shows. A ghostly stillness will chill your bones. Frigid winds will greet you, along with a buzz of anticipation from the gothic-Americana band’s fans, who come from all over the world to see the group at the reputedly haunted hotel that inspired Stephen King’s novel, The Shining.

“We’re definitely doing this again next year,” said frontman Adam Turla, dressed in a vintage black tuxedo, early in his band’s two-hour Friday-night kickoff of a three-night run. Coincidentally, it was not only Friday the thirteenth, but also a full moon. The spooky Estes Park setting — with most in attendance dolled up in formal attire to re-create the iconic ballroom photo from Stanley Kubrick’s film version of The Shining — could not have been more perfect for Murder by Death’s fourth-annual Stanley stint, when wandering the infamous old hotel in search of spirits, whether alcoholic or non-corporeal, is as much a thrill as the music.

Turla said that Murder by Death, which in 2014 became the first rock band ever to play the Stanley, rehearsed 52 songs for this year’s performances. Friday’s, which was very loud and often brought a punk-rock intensity to the group’s grim, poetic Americana, was full of deep cuts. The 26-song set featured the live debut of “Oh, To Be an Animal,” from 2012’s Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. The quintet’s fiercely loyal fans sang along, word for word, with a few dusted-off fifteen-year-old obscurities that Turla said the bandmembers had had to relearn to perform.

As in past years at the act’s Stanley shows, it was more of a glass-raising, fist-pumping sing-a-long than a dance party. But that didn’t take away from the energy, which peaked with the jam-packed crowd screaming along to the line “Raise another pint,” from the song “Brother,” and, of course, “Spirits are restless/Can’t you hear them yell?” from “The Curse of Elkhart.”

Murder by Death fans had fancy — and, for some, frightening — fun at the Stanley once again.

Turla, saluting the lack of snow that made the journey to Estes Park easier than in some previous years, told the audience, “We didn’t know if anyone would drive all the way up here [the first year]. This is literally the most fun thing we do every year. I love it up here, and it’s a dangerous proposition every year.”

After the set, Turla and the rest of the band hung out with fans in the Stanley’s whiskey bar, past 2 a.m. The singer, whose thick voice and black attire make him seem like a smaller Johnny Cash on stage, said that the band has no plans to record an eighth album in the near future and that, in fact, he’s busy working toward opening a restaurant in Kentucky with his wife.

As for Murder by Death’s exceptional fans, who raised an astonishing $278,486 on Kickstarter for the group’s latest album, 2015’s Big Dark Love, and who travel — from the Stanley, to a cave in Kentucky, to a Wild West film set in California — to see the group perform, Turla was succinct in his praise.

“They’re amazing people,” he said, holding a book an admirer had just given him at the bar. “Some of them can drink a little too much, but they’re amazing people, and we couldn’t be more grateful.”

Absolute Vinyl’s 8th Anniversary (Westword 12/21/2016)

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Absolute Vinyl – A Rare Record Collector’s Paradise
by Adam Perry for Denver Westword 12/21/2016

Finding dusty record shops that cater to artsy geeks has never been so hard in Boulder, where the city’s eccentric charm has been diluted by a sky-high cost of living and an influx of techies from the coasts. Absolute Vinyl is one of the last spots where the college town’s once notorious weirdness still lingers.

Owners Doug and Annie Gaddy, a husband-wife duo, will celebrate the shop’s eighth anniversary and the sale of its 80,000th record next month. Absolute Vinyl carries new albums from labels big and small, and has the most diverse selection of high-quality vintage vinyl of any shop along the Front Range.

Annie, who began loving music as a child piano prodigy, is “really good at taking really nerdy, geeky guys with no social skills around women and putting them at ease,” says her husband. “We give incredible customer service before, during and after the sale.”

The couple moved to Colorado in 1997. Doug Gaddy, who’s originally from North Carolina, says they founded Absolute Vinyl when it became clear that Boulder was “shedding record stores” and that opening a shop would be a good business investment. The couple launched the store in January 2009 at the north end of Broadway; it has since relocated to a spot at Arapahoe and 55th Street.

“I learned from Andy [Schneidkraut, owner of legendary Boulder shop Albums on the Hill] that at its peak, Boulder had sixteen record stores,” Gaddy says. “I was trying to do a shop that was different from every other, and trying to move away from the jamgrass, the legacy of the hippies and that kind of stuff, trying to do something that was really different. I carry ambient and electronic music. I carry classical. I know a lot about jazz.”

Gaddy honed the craft of selling records while attending collectors’ shows in Washington, D.C., and New York in the late 1980s. Selling to “extremely picky Korean and Japanese buyers” influenced his store’s intricate and trustworthy grading system for used vinyl, he says. Absolute Vinyl is the only shop in the area that cleans and grades every used album it sells.

“No other shop is going to take the time to do that,” Gaddy says. “They don’t see the economic benefit. We get refugees who’ve been burned at other stores.” He says they become avid Absolute Vinyl customers because of the store’s generous warranty on records and vintage stereo equipment, which makes shopping virtually risk-free.

Basil Emmanuel, whom Gaddy calls his “MVP” employee, is known for greeting every customer with his signature salutation: “Welcome home.” But the Boulder native and his co-workers provide more than just a comfortable shopping experience; they also bring a wealth of knowledge to their work.

Absolute Vinyl has deep ties to the University of Colorado Boulder’s Radio 1190, where many of the staff work as DJs, giving them an edge on the record-store competition.

“They know so much about music and how it’s recorded and produced, as well as which current bands are worth noticing. I learn from them all the time,” says Gaddy, who has a weekly show on 1190 called Vinyl Obscurities.

Gaddy frequents Boulder house concerts hosted by up-and-coming indie label First Base Tapes, run by CU Boulder students and alums, many of whom have worked at Absolute Vinyl. He says he’s fueled by his interactions with the young musicians; they say the admiration is mutual.

“Doug is a staple in the Boulder music community,” observes 25-year-old Liam Comer. “He supports local musicians both by selling their music out of Absolute Vinyl and by building relationships with [them] and attending shows.” The store also recruits local artists to co-host album-release parties and concerts featuring Front Range musicians and touring acts.

Caden Marchese, a store clerk and Radio 1190 DJ, adds that “Doug also keeps vinyl alive in Boulder by doing stereo equipment right.”

Unlike Boulder’s two other iconic record shops, Albums on the Hill and Bart’s Record Shop, Absolute Vinyl has made its mark selling high-end new and vintage turntables, receivers and speakers.

“Vintage gear is an incredible value if it works and has been given a technical clean,” Gaddy notes.

Emmanuel has set up turntable-equipped stereos for at least 2,000 people in Boulder, including local celebrity pro cyclist Taylor Phinney.

“If I was going to buy used stereo equipment in Colorado and I was looking for it based on our sort of quality standards,” Emmanuel says, “the only place I would go is Absolute Vinyl — or Dr. Dan [Vintage Audio Repair] in Littleton — because I’d know what I’m getting.”

When it comes to record shopping, Gaddy laments, “there used to be a competency, but it’s getting diluted in Boulder. I don’t know who’s moving in, and I’m not sure who’s moving out, but the number of people who are fluent in walking into a record store and feeling at home and milling their way around — it seems like there are fewer people who are really good at that.”

Emmanuel says some of that homogenization of taste might have to do with the shocking sticker price of new vinyl, which can cost as much as four or five decent used records: “I think it’s throwing people off. They go, ‘Oh, my God — $32.99 for that new record? Well, if I can only buy one, I’ll just buy the one I want.’ And if they come in and you have it, they get it. If you don’t have it, they don’t look at anything else, and they just walk out. They don’t say, ‘Well, what do you have that would be just as good?’ or ‘Let me broaden my horizons.’ A lot of people come in only for a certain genre.”

“There are people who are looking for Neil Young’s Harvest who are happy to look for it on eBay and order it,” he continues. “But there are other people who want to go to the shop without knowing whether we have it and be excited if they find it, but not mind if we don’t have it because they found something else and are just as excited about that.” Gaddy agrees, adding that over the years, he’s seen a shift in the spectrum of what music customers want to buy, and he fears that customers have lost their willingness to check out new albums. He calls record buyers who go shopping just for the hunt — the experience of flipping through stacks of used vinyl to find curiosities and surprise treasures — an “endangered species.”

When it comes to musical taste, he says, “the palate is getting narrower. We don’t sell as much of the esoteric stuff as we used to.”

His commitment to rare records — even when unprofitable — is an inspiration to young record collectors.

“Doug isn’t only one of the most well-versed individuals in Boulder’s music community,” 21-year-old First Base Tapes associate Kenneth Prior says. “He’s a really important figure for a lot of us to look up to, one of the most genuine people I know.”

INTERVIEW: Grass (Denver Westword 11/4/16)

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“Boulder Band Grass Is Young But Not Green”
by Adam Perry for Denver Wesword, 11/4/2016

The creative young Boulder trio Grass is indicative of the music being pushed over the last year by ambitious local cassette label First Base Tapes: gritty and experimental, but catchy, clever and (while ear-bleedin’ loud) deceptively pleasant.

Twenty-four-year-old singer/guitarist Michael Colussi, a University of Colorado student from Indiana, told Westword that Grass’s debut album, Dragwire, was recorded in just two days on a “beat-up” 2008 iMac, with minimal subsequent overdubs. Half of Dragwire was tracked at the band’s warehouse space next to the Bus Stop strip club in Boulder, and half at a warehouse in Denver also used by psychedelic band Tom Waits for No Man.

Dragwire, distributed by First Base Tapes via cassette and download, will have its official release this Saturday, November 5, in Boulder when Grass plays a house party featuring four other bands. Colussi says that playing relatively brief sets at house parties and warehouses with a slew of other acts on the bill is the only current option for a fledgling Boulder rock group, and he’s okay with that.

“It’s challenging, and there can be a feeling of competition, but we’ve learned to do well with them because it’s basically all we know at this point,” he says. “Short sets are just what we know how to do, so we play hard and pack up. We’re also a relatively new band, so we don’t have six albums’ worth of material to draw from.”

Read the rest of this feature at Westword.com 

REVIEW: Riot Fest 2016 Denver (Denver Westword 9/5/2016)

The Misfits and their "fucking cool" pumpkins at Riot Fest 2016 in Denver.
The Misfits at Riot Fest 2016 Denver (photo by Jeffrey Perry)

REVIEW: Riot Fest 2016 Denver
by Adam Perry for Denver Westword 9/5/2016

For the past decade, Riot Fest (a three-day festival that takes place each year in Denver and Chicago) has been the place where childhood punk-rock dreams come true. For instance, two years ago outside Mile High Stadium, I got to see the Descendents tear through Milo Goes to College, which I played so many times in my Walkman as a high-school freshman in Pittsburgh that the cassette was destroyed. Last year, when Riot Fest’s Denver edition moved to the National Western Complex, I earned a new appreciation for goth trailblazers the Damned and beamed, laughed and sang along with thousands of others to the Dead Milkmen’s “Punk Rock Girl.”

Riot Fest, which began as a multi-venue festival at clubs and theaters in Chicago, is mostly about reveling in raucous performances by edgy, legendary bands you had no idea were still around and making pilgrimages to witness long-awaited reunions. The most anticipated reunion in the history of heavy music, arguably, took place last night in Denver, but I’ll get to that in a bit. (Read the full article at Westword.com)

“Slow Is the New Fast” (Bicycle Times #39)

The new issue of Bicycle Times features my editorial “Slow Is the New Fast,” about embracing the moment rather than the destination in a town like Boulder, where there will always be someone (a lot) faster than you on a bike. Check out Bicycle Times #39 on newsstands everywhere now – from Whole Foods and Barnes & Noble to, preferably, your local bike shop.

Slow is the New Fast BT Feb 2016

INTERVIEW: Murder By Death Hunts Ghosts at the Stanley Hotel (Westword 1/6/2016)

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MURDER BY DEATH HUNTS GHOSTS AT THE STANLEY HOTEL
by Adam Perry for Westword 1/6/2016

In January 2014, the gothic-Americana band Murder by Death played the reputedly haunted Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, but singer-guitarist Adam Turla didn’t have any paranormal experiences. So when the quintet returned for three shows in early January 2015 — just before its seventh album, Big Dark Love, was released — Turla and company met with the Stanley’s resident paranormal experts, and shit got serious.

“We’re sitting in one of the most haunted rooms with them, and they’re telling us about the ghost that sometimes appears in that room, and then the door just slams shut,” recalls Turla. “I watched the door, completely by itself, slam shut. That’s crazy!

“It could have something to do with winds and drafts in an old building,” he admits, “but in that same room, later, our stage manager, after hearing that story, walked into the room and the lightbulb just immediately burned out. So she was alone in the dark in that room. She said, ‘I’m a cool-headed lady, but that scared the shit out of me.’”

When speaking with Turla in advance of Murder by Death’s three January shows at the Stanley, I shared my own brush with the paranormal from the audience perspective: When my partner, Irene, and I attended one of last year’s shows, we heard a strange voice a few steps outside the Stanley. Even stranger, after the group’s set had ended, we realized that bassist Matt Armstrong’s pick was in Irene’s coat pocket. The coat had been lying at her feet during the show.

Beyond the supernatural, Murder by Death’s now-annual residency at the Stanley is a truly distinctive concert event — a chance to hang out with the band in the bar of the hotel that inspired Stephen King’sThe Shining, after hearing Turla sing lines like “Spirits are restless/Can’t you hear them yell?” in a place where spirits are believed to reside. Turla says that such site-specific experiences are the reason that the Indiana-bred act has booked destination concerts such as the ones at the Stanley and others in a cave in Kentucky and in a Hollywood ghost-town saloon in the California desert.

“When we started this band, we talked about doing a lot of concept shows and non-traditional concerts, because being a band that’s a little weirder, that doesn’t have an automatic genre to fit into, we wanted to do something a little bit different than be a club band,” he explains. “Our aspirations were not to sell out Madison Square Garden or anything — that stuff’s never entered our minds. We celebrate the weird and the different, so the associations that people make with these shows and these places, it all kind of clicks.”

“You start to realize the opportunity for culture beyond ‘I went to a bar and saw a band,’” Turla continues. “These events link people’s lives. We get people’s imaginations stirred up a little bit. “

Murder by Death’s music is indie rock with a wicked Tim Burton edge and a smidgen of haunted antique Western rumble. Not every underground band with a cello and a macabre, deep-voiced frontman would fit as well at the Stanley, but Turla’s romantic tales of drinking, dreaming and the devil seem to raise the perfect kind of hell, one in which Jack is never a dull boy.

“I think it’s just the nature of what we’re trying to do, which is create this spooky but sing-along angle,” says Turla. “And it’s important, for instance, when you play a haunted hotel, to realize the lyrics that sort of got you to the show. I’ve read about paranormal stuff my whole life as a fun hobby, and here I am at this place that’s known for it, and I’ve created a party there, and how cool is that? Part of it is that it’s just fun for me to be in the song, doing my job, but then suddenly realize where everything came together and got me to this moment.”

Lately, Murder by Death has made an admirable habit of letting fans dictate where they want the band’s career to go. Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, the quintet’s 2012 breakthrough album, was funded in part by more than $180,000 raised on Kickstarter, and Big Dark Love had a Kickstarter pre-sale of $278,000. What’s more, last month Murder by Death released As You Wish Vol. 2, the second in a series of diverse cover albums full of songs picked by fans. With such a close connection to its biggest fans, it’s not surprising that Turla initially had some reservations about doing destination concerts.

“There was this worry,” he remembers. “We’re putting all the people who like us the most in one place. Could that be a problem? We didn’t think it would be so easy. There are some nights when you feel more famous than other nights, and I feel like the more famous you get, the worse it is. I don’t want to be a famous person; I want to be able to just hang out. And it turns out that in our case, people are just being cool. These are people who know your music and want to participate. It’s a party, and we’re the house band. I’ve had all sorts of great conversations as a result.”

Murder by Death Goes Ghost Hunting at Stanley Hotel

So far, neither Jack Nicholson nor Stephen King have shown up to any of the Murder by Death gigs at the Stanley Hotel. Not even Shelley Duvall. But the band, notes Turla, probably shows up with more energy and intention at the Stanley than at any other venue.

“It’s a way longer set than you’re normally gonna get. We’re practicing, like, 55 songs to have ready,” he says. “We thought it would be fun to pick some songs that kind of fell by the wayside. There’s gonna be some obscure stuff coming out of the woodwork, and this is the right audience to realize that’s happening. It’ll be fun. The three nights should be distinctly different. There’s not a show that I think about the setlist for more than the Stanley every year.”

Turla says that when Murder by Death played the Stanley two years ago, he drank so much whiskey that not only was he unable to tap into the legendary paranormal activity at the hotel, but “there could have been an earthquake and I wouldn’t have known it.” Now he’s got a new plan.

“I have more fun if I just really pace myself there, because there are so many people to meet and there’s so much going on. [Last year] I got kind of wrecked the first night, and then I thought, ‘You know what? This is a cool thing. I wanna be awake.’ And this time we’re doing a full-on ghost hunt with the paranormal investigator, with gear and everything. They’re gonna entertain the hell out of us.”

Winter Bike-Commuting Guide (Boulder Lifestyle Magazine, November 2015)

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Winter Bike-Commuting Guide
by Adam Perry for Boulder Lifestyle Magazine, November 2015

This month in Boulder Lifestyle Magazine, I run through ten necessities for commuting by bike in the approaching cold, wet weather safely. It’s easier than you think to keep riding no matter the weather, and starting and ending your work day by biking through snow will make you feel like a kid again. You can read the piece here.