Tag Archives: Folk rock

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The UMS hits full speed today – plan accordingly! Don’t worry – we’re here to help.

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Day Three - and we're hitting top speed!

The 11th Annual UMS is now in its third day, and rounding the inside corner to slingshot itself into full, reckless, dangerous and foolhardy speed, and you’re going to want to grab on for dear life about now, and hold on. It’s going to get a lot more beautiful before too long, and there’ll be more than you can imagine to see, hear, taste and drink.

All the more reason to follow our recommendations for which bands to see, where, and just a little bit of why.

Today’s also the day that the all ages crowd can take the most advantage of the many, many options – and we’ve put a little emphasis on the bands playing that anyone can see, to encourage you to get out from under the Xbox and GET OUT HERE, NOW!

Today’s UMS is brought to you by:

Mombi plays beautiful, deep ambience. Deep, and sexy. (Photot: Mombi)

Mombi plays beautiful, deep ambience. Deep, and sexy. (Photot: Mombi)


Illiterate Gallery (All Ages)   @ 5:30

Breathy, quiet atmospheric electronic ambient sounds that almost beg to be visual. Mombi’s sounds infiltrate the air like watercolor paint into wet paper, and then imbues the audience. It’s addictive. Watch out.


The Blackheart Procession will dazzle you with heavy hearted love stories. (Photo: The Blackheart Procession)

The Blackheart Procession will dazzle you with heavy hearted love stories. (Photo: The Blackheart Procession)


The Blackheart Procession
Mayan Theatre @ midnight

They used to be Three mile Pilot (and some say they are again), but they made their biggest splash in the late ’90s and ‘aughts as the Procession. With their slow, dirge-like folk, they leave you with a feeling of being magically fucked with. Depressed, but strangely careless and optimistic. You’ll probably skip down Broadway when you get out. Seriously.



They should call him Marathon Mark. (Photo: Darin Spring)

They should call him Marathon Mark. (Photo: Darin Spring)

Mark Mallman
Skylark Lounge – Verizon Wireless Stage @ 11PM –

Chances are you’ve never seen anything like a Mark Mallman performance – and maybe you never will. They don’t make them like Mark anymore. They stopped with the likes of Freddy Mercury, Elton John  and Roger Daltry (which in NO WAY is supposed to bring Mallman’s sexuality to mind). But speaking of sex, did we mention he’s got the sexiest show around?    Minneapolis must  have to get written consent from other cities before they let him visit – his shows are HUGE, passionate cathartic piano-based anthemic pop-rock – and 1000% (typo intended) pure fun…. If you see one show Saturday, MAKE THIS ONE IT.

(But seriously, why would you limit yourself with only one?)

BNLX bring the fuzz to the table. (Photo: BNLX)

BNLX bring the fuzz to the table. (Photo: BNLX)



BNLX –  Skylark Lounge – Verizon Wireless Stage
@ 6PM

BNLX are a duo of noise that mixes a little New Order/Joy Division with a little Jesus & Mary Chain and X feel, and add their own fuzzy, fun style. Criptic press notwithstanding, they’re currently riding a national buzz – and it’s well-deserved. Check ’em out, and let them singe your ear-hair.



Accordion Crimes will get your Loaf up and screaming. (Photot: Accordion Crimes)

Accordion Crimes will get your Loaf up and screaming. (Photot: Accordion Crimes)




Accordion CrimesHi-Dive – Illegal Pete’s Stage
@ 5PM

Accordion Crimes seems drunk sometimes, on skinny NC punk legends Archers of Loaf, with a Big Black back. It’s all smashing noise, noise, noise – and worth the inevitable Hi-Dive heat.




Fairchildren - one of Denver's gems - oozes sophistication. (Photo: Fairchildren)

Fairchildren - one of Denver's gems - oozes sophistication. (Photo: Fairchildren)

FairchildrenSouth Broadway Christian Church
(All Ages)   @ 5PM (also 7:30 Saturday @ Goodwill Parking Lot – Sailor Jerry Main Stage)

Fairchildren started as Nathaniel Rateliff’s backing band and includes some of Denver’s finest talent. Fronted by the fantastic Julie Davis (of Bela Karoli, among millions of other projects), they bring an air of sophistication, and a touch of Euro-folk, to the air. Well worth the time to see both sets, in our humble opinion.






The DenverThread List:

Tulip Wars3 Kings Tavern – Sailor Jerry Stage @3 PM –  Moody postpunk, dream-surf

Mercuria  and the Gem StarsIndy Ink (All Ages) @ 3PM – Indy space folk

Marcus Church & the LevelsClub 404 @ 3PM – Early REM-ish Brit-pop

MicrodotsTS Board Shop – Bands for Lands Stage (All Ages) @ 3PM – Moody, quiet post-punk with poppy ends.

Blue Million MilesHi-Dive – Illegal Pete’s Stage @ 4PM – Spaghetti Western meets dark surf, slow metal.

All Liver No OnionsIndy Ink (All Ages)  @ 4PM – Nathan & Stephen/Polyphonic Spree madness – WITH 15 MEMBERS!!

Instant EmpireTS Board Shop – Bands for Lands Stage (All Ages)  @4PM – Somewhere between The Hold Steady and The Decembrists in style, passionate and cool in delivery.

Boulder Acoustic SocietyGoodwill Parking Lot – Sailor Jerry Main Stage @4:30 – Deep rooted acoustic with punk enthusiasm – might be one of Denver’s Avett Brothers.

The CavesIndy Ink (All Ages)  @ 5PM – Remember Prefab Sprout? The Caves do, with a dose of shrill psychedelic folk from KC, MO.

Young CitiesTS Board Shop – Bands for Lands Stage (All Ages)  @ 5PM – Emo punky power pop – perfect for the all ages crowd

Bare Bones3 Kings Tavern – Sailor Jerry Stage @ 6PM – Probably among the last defenders of the old “Denver Sound,” Bare Bones brings back a beautiful  alt-country gothic folk to the stage.

The KnewGoodwill Parking Lot – Sailor Jerry Main Stage @ 6PM (also Irish Rover – Red Stripe Stage on Sunday @9PM) – Straight up hard rock, ‘70s reo-phyte style, originating from Greeley. Also sporting a reputation as really, really great guys.

DeerpeopleGoodwill Parking Lot – Groove Automotive Stage @ 6PM – More beautiful, strong indie Oklahoma piano-led rock – recalls the The Wedding Present, and maybe some White Rabbits and Belle & Sebastian.

My Gold MaskHi-Dive – Illegal Pete’s Stage @ 7PM – Electro-proto-new wave, sample and rhythm driven, with strong, sultry vocals. Fittingly from Chicago.

MaudlinSkylark Lounge – Verizon Wireless Stage @ 7PM – Holy Pixies, Batman! Talk about the ultimate complement. Adding a little Peter, Bjorn & John makes this band a solid Weezer power pop rival.

Cotton KeysIndy Ink (All Ages) @ 7PM – Guitar pop, with a sort of Superchunk meets Built to Spill feel. Nicely done.

Le DivorceHi-Dive – Illegal Pete’s Stage @ 8PM – Punky PJ Harvey heavy rock ‘n Roll – Superstar Kitty Vincent fronts this with her powerful personality. It’s a perfect fit.

The Beaten SeaSouth Broadway Christian Church (All Ages) @ 8PM – Iron and Wine-esque quiet folk, also a little Mumfords.

VitaminsClub 404 @ 8PM – Is there something called “Post-New Wave”? Vitamins has it. Guitar-based pop rock. Lizzy’s vocalizing w/ Flaming Lips on tour for the Dark Side of the Moon tour.

Safe boating is No AccidentIndy Ink (All Ages) @ 8PM – Fun Americana-folk.

Red Eye Gravy3 Kings Tavern – Sailor Jerry Stage @ 9PM – Literally country punk from Oklahoma. Bring your shit-kickers!

GoldenboySkylark Lounge – Verizon Wireless Stage @ 9PM – recalls the beautiful stillness of Elliott Smith, with strong guitar – a soft melodic pop treat.

WanderduskClub 404 @9PM – A funky, American almost version of Bjork or CocoRosie, believe it or not – maybe the UMS’s most original sound.

The DendritesTS Board Shop – Bands for Lands Stage @ 9PM – Fit for your rock steady/ska fix!

Mike Marchant’s Outer-Space Party UnitClub 404 @ 10PM – Space folk, “drugs to take music to” music, One of Denver’s best, and truly a great lyricist.

The HollyfeldsIrish Rover – Red Stripe Stage @11PM (Also at Goodwill Parking Lot – Groove Automotive Stage, Sun @ 3:45) –  Brilliant Americana, country folk with strong harmonies.

Two Tone Wolf PackMichelangelo’s Coffee & Wine Bar @ 11PM –  Think Violent Femmes’ “Country Death Song.” Yep – ’nuff said.

Houses3 Kings Tavern – Sailor Jerry Stage @ Midnight – Sort of a Denver supergroup – huge, classic rock sound – well done.

PowerpointClub 404 @ midnight – Straight up hardcore punk rock. Need we say any more? No stage diving – since there’s no stage!

BarnacleClub 404 @ 1AM – The dirt underneath true metal, thick with thrash, and rust.

Follow us!!

Be sure and follow @DenverThread on Twitter to receive live updates on UMS shenanigans! Follow @RVRB – the Denver Post’s HeyReverb.com Twitter, while you’re at it! We’ll be trolling the same places as you, and would love to say hi!

Tune in tomorrow for Sunday’s List!

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The 11th Annual UMS Starts Today – So do DenverThread’s lists – here’s day one

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The 11th Annual UMSIt’s here! And it’s definitely THE highpoint of Denver’s summer music season! A full Red Rocks schedule, the Warped and other festival tours, multiple nights of Widespread Panic – even the monster U2 show in Invesco Field at Mile High – all pale in comparison to the magnitude of this weekend’s pinnacle. The 11th Annual Underground Music Showcase (UMS) starts this Thursday evening, and will dominate a few square miles of South Broadway for the following three nights.

This year’s show features close to 300 bands, comedians , singer songwriters and other talents, and will be housed in a huge number of venues, restaurants, bookstores, skateboard shops and t-shirt shops along South Broadway (here’s a handy listing, with a MAP!) – including two major outdoor stages – from 6th Avenue at the top to Cedar at the bottom.

Needless to say, the choices for live music abound – heck, they’re pretty overwhelming. Let’s face it: there’s no way anyone can possibly see all that the UMS has to offer, and it’d be a miracle to see everything you’d like to see. So let us at DenverThread take a little of the pressure to decide off of your shoulders, with our daily preview lists for this year’s festival.

Through the weekend, we’ll be listing our choices of the best things to see – for a lot of reasons. Whether your tastes run into the sludge-stoner-metal quagmire, meander through dreamy twee-pop or get hypnotically lost in psychedelic shoegaze, we’ll get you where you want to be, and make sure you’re catching something you’ve hopefully never seen before while we’re at it.

We’re also going to run quick, haiku-style reviews of the previous night’s highlights – so you can see what you missed while catching the best – and we’ll be in full collusion with HeyReverb.com with loads of social interaction. Make sure you’re following @DenvrThread and @RVRB on Twitter, and searching for #UMS and #DenverThread hashtags to get the whole story!

Day One – Follow this list, if you can!

Here are our recommendations for a solid foray into the thick of the Rocky Mountain region’s largest single music festival. Times, of course, are scheduled – but may run late (as hard as all those UMS volunteers work to keep things going smoothly!). Scroll down past the top owners to see the DenverThread List!

Owning Thursday’s Lineup:


TRAINING TO BE A BAND ... OR JUST LOOK LIKE ONE. (Photo: Barbizon - the band, not the agency)

3 Kings Tavern – Sailor Jerry Stage @ 7PM

Remember the old-school modeling house? This group of  local heroes from Hearts of Palm and Mouth Full of Thunder and few more offer up some crunchy dance, with a sort of  New Order funky metal tinge.





Guantlet Hair plays reverb-drenched surf punk. (Photo: Gauntlet Hair)

Guantlet Hair plays reverb-drenched surf punk. (Photo: Gauntlet Hair)


Gauntlet Hair
Hi-Dive – Illegal Pete’s Stage @ 9PM
7 S. Broadway

Denver’s Gauntlet Hair plays a cool, intriguing brand of reverb-soaked, psychedelic surf punk that’s easy to get lost in. The Flaming Lips’ Steven Drodz agrees – and if that’s not enough endorsement, take my word for it! Check out a brand new FREE MP3 from our friends at One Track Mind to see for yourself! GO!



No guarantees if Tiana's a no show!

No guarantees if Tiana's a no show! (Photo: Hot White)

Hot White
Club 404 @ 9PM
404 N Broadway

One of Denver’s most exciting live acts, with a solid No Wave feel – a la Lydia Lunch, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, The Contortionists, etc. But last year’s UMS had the trio performing as a duo because Tiana Bernard – lead singer, bassist and the transfixing center of the live show’s energy – had a conflicting engagement. The result was less a performance than a sad bitch session directed (strangely) at the crowd.



The Bonnie Situation

Aptly named - great garage rock, out of storage! (Photo: The Bonnie Situation



The Bonnie Situation
Club 404 @ 11PM –

Sporting an old school, pre-“Denver Sound” Denver sound, The Bonnie Situation blasts their audiences with a shrill garage punk – fast, loud and explosive. Worthy of the band’s namesake from the film Pulp Fiction, the band features members of local bands The Fluid, Blackouts and others.




And The List . . .

Four toppers just isn’t enough – we know that! So here’s a list of our Thursday night recommendations – in chronological order! (How’s THAT for help in planning!?) Each one has a few words of recommendation/direction. Comment as you will – we’re sticking by them!

Try and make it to all of these – we dare you! If you do, you’ll win the supreme satisfaction that can only come from a job well done! Well, that and a pretty rough hangover, we’d bet….

Bury my BonesClub 404 @ 6PM –  A newer shoegaze two piece – think  Lust Cats of the Gutters howling out moonlight-stricken melodies with Yo La Tengo

Science PartnerSkylark Lounge Verizon Wireless Stage @ 7PM – Tyler Despres’ latest project ( from Dualistics) is full of crunchy, funky pop – think Weezer meets Dump

Vicious WomenClub 404 @ 7PM – Plays a noisy, thrusting industrially pleasing mess – think Big BlackShellacMinistry

Dirty Mittens (Portland) – Skylark Lounge Verizon Wireless Stage @ 8PM – Play a pleasing, misty folk. Think Frente!  Or Nouvelle Vague well mixed with The Head and the Heart.

Amazing Twin (used to be Old Radio) – Moe’s Original BBQ Verizon Wireless Stage @ 8PM – Offers some sublimely sloppy-pop, guitar-driven psychedelic shoegaze folk rock – and features Denver scenesters from Houses, Action Packed Thrill Ride, Hindershot and others.

The Spires (Ventura, CA) – Hi-Dive – Illegal Pete’s Stage @ 8PM  – play a beautifully quiet rock – think Galaxie 500 redux, put simply, like the band.

Don’ts and Be CarefulsThe Hornet – RMCAD Stage @ 9PM – play Buzzcocks-inspipred dance pop – it’s super fun. And, their new, 2nd album is coming out this fall!

Porlolo3 Kings Tavern – Sailor Jerry Stage @ 10PM – plays a quiet, passionate and darkly humorous style of folk – think a higher-brow, more substantial Danielle Ate the Sandwich (probably asking for it there, huh?).

Fellow CitizensMoe’s Original BBQ Verizon Wireless Stage @ 10PM – play a solid post-rock passion, mixed in intriguing, psychedelic shoegaze – think American Mogwai.

Royal BangsHi-Dive – Illegal Pete’s Stage @ 11PM – Hmmmmmmm…. This makes us imagine a show where Flaming Lips meets Colourmusic (ALSO a UMS band playing Friday!!), at a Cheap Trick show with The Strokes opening. What say you?

Lexigram (formerly Yerkish) – Skylark Lounge Verizon Wireless Stage@ 11PM – Play a fun, furious post-core prog rock – fast & loud. They recently changed their well-worn name, but not their style – thank God!

El Ten Eleven (LA) – Hi-Dive – Illegal Pete’s Stage @ midnight – is a prog instrumental post rock duo – sort of Ratatat, a shade grunged – they do a great cover of Joy Division’s “Disorder,” which will leave your heart and soul enrapt.

The LandgrabbersClub 404 @ midnight – play a searing-hot style of country garage punk – fast, fun, furious – and perfect to wrap up the night with a few boilermakers.

So that’s our list for Thursday night, July 21, at the 11th Annual Underground Music Showcase. Follow, listen, learn – and love. It’s your town, and your scene!

Follow us!!

Be sure and follow @DenverThread on Twitter to receive live updates on UMS shenanigans! Follow @RVRB – the Denver Post’s HeyReverb.com Twitter, while you’re at it! We’ll be trolling the same places as you, and would love to say hi!

Tune in tomorrow for Friday night’s List!




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Golden’s Erik Husman records sophomore effort @TheWalnutRoom Thursday night

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Erik Husman at his home in Golden, Colorado.

Local troubadour Erik Husman will record his second LP at The Walnut Room this Thursday night, March 24. (Photo: Diana Sabreen)

One of the more popular new trends lately has been a band’s live rendition of an influential record from their past. It’s a pretty cool thing, too, to see bands like Pixies play albums we all grew up listening to, live, in their entirety.

It’s not often, though, that we get to share the stage with the performers to help create a recording that just might become one that everyone remembers years from now. This Thursday, local troubadour Erik Husman and the Walnut Room are offering just that opportunity. Husman, a brand-spanking new addition to the scene, out of the city of Golden – will be playing a set of all new material that night, and recording the entire affair, and will produce the result as his second release.

“It’s not like preparing for a gig. I’ve got to do about 180 hours of studio performance [about the time it took to record his first album] free-form, live, in one take. There’s no going back,” he added. “But it’ll be the most genuine thing, the only way to capture the real me.”

“I’m kind of freaking out, really,” said an almost giddy Husman when I sat across from him in a Golden bar recently. “It’s not like preparing for a gig. I’ve got to do about 180 hours of studio performance [about the time it took to record his first album] free-form, live, in one take. There’s no going back,” he added. “But it’ll be the most genuine thing, the only way to capture the real me.”

Husman’s style ranges from rough spirituals and anthems that recall Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger with heavy influence from classic country, to a solid indie feel with a little more more than a nod to the Radiohead crowd. While in the strictest sense he does fall into the genre of “singer/songwriter,” his delivery tends to be much more exciting – more edgy, rougher, just a little more desperate – than the folky crooning the genre seems to be inundated with.

His first record – “American Gothic” – was completely self-produced an had under 500 copies pressed – most of which were given away to industry and friends. The timbre of that effort, while it definitely shows some of Husman’s characteristic balladry, unique vocals and almost punky anthems, carries with it the feel of a rookie try.

Erik Husman at his home in Golden, Colorado.

Husman and his pal Chris Bynum have created twelve new, passionate tunes for the new record over recent months. (Photo: Diana Sabreen)

“The best thing I can offer musically I think is my live performance,” Husman said, rubbing a freshly grown blondish beard along his chin that seemed to shed light on his face beneath his wool castro cap. “That’s why we’re doing this record live. It’s all a matter of time and space that had to come together …. Playing these songs in front of people is the only way I can imagine doing them right now.”

“I just want to throw stuff up so people can hear it warts and all …. Who knows how it may end up? Maybe this is the show that gets me a band,” he chuckled.

When I asked him about the inclusion of a band, especially since he’d paid some session musicians to back him up on American Gothic, Husman paused and smiled confidently. “I’m just doing what feels natural right now, what feels right. A full band – sometime – would be great, but not now.”

“I just want to throw stuff up so people can hear it warts and all …. Who knows how it may end up? Maybe this is the show that gets me a band,” he chuckled.

Husman found his voice and music only recently, after following paths as varied as a potential career playing ice hockey (ended prematurely by a life-changing injury, sadly) and earning a degree in archaeology. Husman developed a passion for music and performing from afternoons he spent as a college student with lifelong friend Chris Bynum (son of the famous country songwriter and performer Hal Bynum) playing classic country songs, sipping whiskey  and watching a lot of “Days of Our Lives” to while away between-class hours. Over the years since, that passion has grown into what he now realizes is his natural calling.

His vision was hammered home during a recent visit to the Burning Man festival in the Nevada Desert. After having his picture sketched by an artist from Oregon, he offered to pay her back in a song for her husband, and she accepted. Later that night he appeared at her campsite with a bottle of champagne and a song for her husband, and his performance attracted some onlookers.

“It was a few girls that ended up crying after I played that day over what they called my ‘tortured and desperate vocals’ that finally pushed me to where I believed that I could develop as an artist,” he explained. His eyes glossed over as he smiled, remembering the experience. “Those people owed me zero pleasantries …,” he murmured. But they offered their complete support  – and love – just the same

From that moment on, Husman felt that he’d found his voice, and chose to make music his profession.

Erik Husman at his home in Golden, Colorado.

"The Archaeology of the Let Down" will hold songs about love, some containing resolution and some, redemption. (Photo: Diana Sabreen)

All of this is really for our benefit, as you’ll be able to see  Thursday night, March 24th, at the Walnut Room on 31st & Walnut in Denver. Husman will take the stage, along with his friend and percussionist Eddie Mize, and the venue will be recording the entire event. There will be a few duets with other musician friends once or twice (like local photographer Diana Sabreen), but for the most part it’ll be Husman, his songs, his guitar and a mic, and that tortured and desperate voice.

“There’s definitely much less lament in this collection [than on “American Gothic”],” he added. “Most of these songs are about love – the ups and downs, the inevitable letdowns. Some have resolution, and some have redemption.”

“This ‘live without a net’ feel is really very attractive to me,” he said. “And I don’t mean at all to bring up the Grateful Dead thing, either [1990’s “Without A Net”] . This isn’t after playing a thousand other shows first. This is a little shotgun for me.”

The recording will then be only slightly mastered to allow for CD reproduction, and will become his second release, to be called “The Archeology of the Let Down,” which will be available for sale shortly thereafter.

Husman and Bynum have spent these recent months collaborating over email and video chat, and together have written twelve new songs for the effort. The tunes range in style from country-esque stompers to softer, more folky numbers – but all exude Husman’s charm, tortured singing, and more accomplished lyrics than the first try.

“This album will be a collection of songs Chris and I have written since as far back as college,” Husman said. “I studied archaeology because I was fascinated with digging into the past. With these songs we felt we were truly ‘digging back’ to those college days.”

“There’s definitely much less lament in this collection [than on “American Gothic”],” he added. “Most of these songs are about love, the ups and downs, the inevitable let downs. Some have resolution, and some have redemption.”

Erik Husman at his home in Golden, Colorado.

Erik Husman at his home in Golden, Colorado. (Photo: Diana Sabreen)

Husman’s musical career seems to be taking off at a fair clip as well, after this week’s recording session. He’s been invited to play in the Marmora Area Canoe & Kayak Festival in Ontario, Canada this April and will be doing a small tour of the Pacific Northwest in July, including a gig at the North Douglas County Fair in Oregon. He’s also working on a potential gig in next summer’s Burning Man – this time for more than a sketch.

Husman plays at the Walnut Room, 3131 Walnut St., Denver, on Thursday night. Doors are at 7:30pm, with Manitou Springs’ The Changing Colors opening. Tickets are $5 and available online, and all proceeds raised from the show will go to SOS Outreach, a local non-profit youth organization.

Sample some of Husman’s work – listen below:

[wpaudio url=”http://www.denverthread.com/wp-content/themes/mimbo/sounds/04 Angeline.m4a” text=”Angeline”]


[wpaudio url=”http://www.denverthread.com/wp-content/themes/mimbo/sounds/FLowers On the Windowsill.m4a” text=”Flowers On the Windowsill”]


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Interview: The Alltunators, courting Denver with a sweet, folksy, bygone sound

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The Alltunators (from left to right: Jessica Slater, Andy Miller, and Pascal Guimbard) played a set recently at Denver station KRFC.

The Alltunators (from left to right: Jessica Slater, Andy Miller, and Pascal Guimbard) played a set recently at Denver station KRFC.

“We’ll sing what we’re told,
We’ll sleep when we’re old,
And we’ll wait ’til they say we are done.”

– The Alltunators,
“Karaoke Life”
from their new CD
“Nation of Three”

If you’ve been trolling some of Denver’s many bars over the past few years, chances are you’ve found yourself watching a set by The Alltunators, and no doubt thoroughly enjoying it. Their eclectic mix of Americana, bluegrass, country and swing, sprinkled with just a tad of gypsy swing, is a perfect backdrop for a few beers and soft discussion, or a few mint juleps, martinis and daydreaming. This talented trio, all three accomplished multi-instrumentalists, has a tendency to make any venue feel as comfortable as your own living room.

The Alltunators came together as a duo in 2005 with Andy Miller on vocals, mandolins and guitars and Jessica Slater on vocals, fiddle, guitar and banjos. They added Pascal Guimbard, from the Gypsy Swing Revue (and probably the source of Alltunators’ gypsy swing influence) on bass, guitar and harmonicas in 2007, to complete the trio. They’ve consistently been playing perfect old-timey music ever since, and have also built a large local following that continues to grow. Their set at July’s Denver Post Underground Music Showcase, in The Irish Rover, was well attended, and their tour schedule is approaching that heavy phase that many young bands inevitably seem to find themselves enmeshed in on their way to the top.

Andy Miller fo The Alltunators. Photo by Joe Mahoney.
Andy Miller (Photo : Joe Mahoney)

If huge popularity is their intention – and I’m not saying it is  – it’s well deserved (I’m more inclined to believe that they simply, and brilliantly, love the music they’re playing). The band just released their second CD, “Nation of Three,” (find a review on Denver Post Reverb) last July, full of brilliant examples of their alternatively somber and jubilant “old-timey” sound. Both live and on record, they masterfully mix honest and passionate acoustic constructions behind Slater’s heartfelt lyrics and sweet and earnest, soft-spoken vocals, and add brilliant, bluesy jams behind Miller’s sassy juke joint crooning. Slater’s fiddle often forms a baroque melody structure atop some of the jazzy swing foundation laid by Guimbard’s bass and  Miller’s mandolin (one of which he made himself). The result is a summery Sunday afternoon feeling – fresh, relaxing, almost drowsily comforting.

I had a chance to interview the band recently about where they’ve come from, and where they’re going. Here’s what they had to say:

DenverThread: When Alltunators are onstage, and shortly after your shows, the most oft-heard comment is relation to “old-timey music,” or even “The Soggy Bottom Boys” from “O, Brother, Where Art Thou?” Obviously your oeuvre has heavy ties to this genre, as well as some Gypsy Swing – can you comment on some of the reasons behind them?

Andy Miller: I grew up in a household with casual musician parents who had a band off and on, and musical types hanging around most of the time.  Playing music was a key part of the social agenda with the parents’ circle of friends.  This music included bluegrass, country, old rock ‘n roll, etc., so that was my initial connection to the “old-timey” stuff.  The bluegrass and folk and americana kind of stuff with a genuine, storytelling, sincere kind of feel to it seems to talk to all three of us, and that’s why we’re able to get it across to audiences.

“We’re far from being an authentic-sounding gypsy swing band, but it’s encouraging to think anyone’s hearing that in what we do – we’ll keep working on a few of those Django [Reinhardt] tunes.”
– Andy Miller

Gypsy Swing?  Well we just like the way it sounds, and have always thought as a guitar/fiddle pair it was fitting, then we stole Gypsy Swing Revue’s rhythm guitar player to play bass with us, so this is an ongoing evolution.  We’re far from being an authentic-sounding gypsy swing band, but it’s encouraging to think anyone’s hearing that in what we do – we’ll keep working on a few of those Django [Reinhardt] tunes.

Jessica Slater: The only theory I can offer is that our music is not so much about the strict bluegrass or gypsy swing genres that have emerged over the years, but more about where they came from – both of those styles are hybrids, they sprang from a variety of influences, and I doubt the pioneers of either style of music would be all that excited to hear that people are now struggling to reproduce exactly what they did, note for note! To me, it’s about acknowledging your influences and then making something unique from it. Playing in this band has been all about the adventure of finding my own voice – quite literally, because I really didn’t sing much until recently.

Jessica Slater  Photo by Joe Mahoney
Jessica Slater (Photo: Joe Mahoney)

The three of us grew up in three different countries, with quite different backgrounds – I played classical music growing up, we had a string quartet in my family – but we have found this common ground in music. (And that was the idea behind the album title, “Nation of Three”). It’s hard when someone asks “What kind of music do you play?” and you find yourself answering with a long list of categories… but there are common roots to these styles, and to me the common roots are often more compelling than the disparate categories that grew out of them.

As Andy said, we like sincerity and good stories. And we happen to play instruments made out of wood, that probably lead to an “old-timey” sound! But I honestly find it disappointing to listen to a bluegrass band, say, that will only play straight bluegrass all night and nothing else. It may be well executed, but it gets boring. I think you can find a true, consistent voice that traverses different emotions and styles. Life isn’t all one style, or one emotion, after all… (We joke that Andy sings the happy songs and I sing the melancholy songs – at least we have two emotions covered..!)

Pascal and Andy (Photo: Joe Mahoney)
Pascal and Andy (Photo: Joe Mahoney)

I have played the violin for nearly 30 years, and I have been singing for only a couple of years. I consider my violin playing to be at a higher level of skill, yet I get way more comments from people about my singing. Maybe I need to practice the fiddle more…! But it says a lot to me about how people connect with music. I know my voice isn’t perfect, I know there are millions of people out there who are “better singers” than I am, so I have no expectations – except that my voice is mine.
I’m glad people hear our roots in what we play, but I also don’t think there’s another band out there that sounds quite like us, and I think that’s important. That’s one of the things that fascinates me when you hear a new band – there are always strengths and weaknesses. We’re all human. And in the end (despite everything you can now do with digital recording!) I think people still respond to those real, human, “old-timey” voices.

DenverThread: Jessica – your lyricism brings to mind works of Cole Porter, Gershwin’s “Porgy & Bess” and Billie Holiday (in my opinion), all American music greats, and you exude a deep familiarity with their ilk, yet you grew up in the UK. Certainly these music legends are international, but I’m curious as to your history with them growing up?

Slater: Well honestly I didn’t listen to any of those greats growing up, although I do appreciate them now! My musical diet was a mix of classical music, a couple of Simon and Garfunkel and Beatles records that my parents had around the house,  records and mixed tapes of folk music my aunt would send us every Christmas from Maine (along with a new pair of LL Beans gloves), and later, my brother’s extensive collection of Dylan albums that I “borrowed” from when he went off to college…

“My musical diet was a mix of classical music, a couple of Simon and Garfunkel and Beatles records. . . records and mixed tapes of folk music my aunt would send us every Christmas from Maine and later, my brother’s extensive collection of Dylan albums that I “borrowed” from when he went off to college…”
– Jessica Slater

I also loved Tracy Chapman as a teenager. So I really don’t know who I sound like, but there was a solid American influence growing up (my Dad is from Boston, so I’m actually a dual national) and every time someone has a suggestion about who I sound like, it’s someone new – I have discovered a lot of good music that way! I do love Billie Holiday though, and I’m flattered you’d associate her with anything I do. So thank you!

DenverThread: Andy – I’m intrigued – and incredibly impressed – by the fact that you build your own (and other) mandolins. How did that come about? Do you also make other instruments? Are there any other musicians in Denver (or elsewhere) that use one of yours?

Miller: A few years ago, we’d acquired a few guitars, and as they needed setup and maintenance periodically I realized I would be spending a good amount of money on that, so I started looking into what it takes to do it myself, and buying specialized tools, and learning how to work on them myself.  The place I was getting tools also sells instrument kits, I mentioned to Jess that it sounded interesting, and she got me a mandolin kit for my birthday.  I built that one, then built one more for her and one more for a friend before moving on to an octave mandolin kit from another source.  I gave that octave away, then built two more like it, mostly from scratch, using the plans that came with the kit.  So I’ve built three flattop mandolins and three flattop bouzouki/octave mandolins to date.

Pascal Guimbard (Photo: Joe Mahoney)
Pascal Guimbard (Photo: Joe Mahoney)

A friend in Fort Collins occasionally plunks with one of the mandolins, as Jess does with hers.  My uncle uses his bouzouki regularly and claims to like it.  I just sold the third bouzouki to another friend in Wyoming and he’s learning to play it.  I rarely use the first mando I built for myself – instead I play a Collings carved A-style mandolin that I bought, it’s much better!  I do use octave #2 that I built and probably will continue to do so, it has its place.  Maybe I’ll build a guitar next.  I plan on continuing to build instruments – maybe some day I’ll get to where I’m proficient at it.

DenverThread: What’s coming up for The Alltunators, after the new CD? Touring? Inside/outside the US?

Both: Well we’re hoping to get another CD out there fairly soon – we have plenty of material that we’d like to record, and recording is a pretty effective way to tighten up the arrangements! We are playing a lot, sometimes for money, sometimes for beer….  And we’d love to tour here and abroad –  it’s a little tough to reconcile with our day jobs, but having a French person and a Brit in our band means there’s some motivation to try and make it happen… We’ll see.
I have a feeling we’ll be seeing sooner than later, considering the talent and dedication of this Denver trio.

Like Jessica sings in “Karaoke Life” – “. . . it’s all for the sake of the song.”

The Alltunators are scheduled to play in and around Denver in September:

– Saturday Sept 12th, 7-10pm – Cannon Mine Coffee, Lafayette
– Thursday Sept 17th, 9pm-midnight – Mead St Station, Denver
– Thursday Sept 24th, 8pm – Meadowlark Bar, Denver
– come and enjoy their outdoor patio before the end of the season!

Find more dates on The Alltunator’s Facebook page, and purchase their new CD online, or at local shops!


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