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In a world seemingly ruled by ego, Boulder-based singer-songwriter John Vecchiarelli is a definite exception. "I don't know the name of one chord I play," he confesses. A largely self-taught strummer who picked up the guitar less than two years ago, Vecchiarelli adds that he's a big jazz fan, but "I'm not a good enough player to improvise." There's no danger of his copping licks or chord progressions from favorite performers, he believes--simply because he can't.
Neither are Vecchiarelli's vocal stylings fettered by any formal training. While his deliberately groovy phrasing is ballsy enough to make any Seattle resident sit up and take notice, he's never studied voice under an expert's tutelage. His experience has been that, as he says, "you naturally find a sort of right way to do things without hurting yourself."
In spite of his apparent anti-intellectualism, however, Vecchiarelli is rapidly becoming one of the more interesting performers on Denver's postgrunge alternative-music scene. He's also a better musician than he allows. While his guitar work remains somewhat rudimentary, he's been pounding the drums since age eight. And since moving to Colorado a decade ago, he has kept time for acts as diverse as the Liz Barnez Band, with whom he still appears on occasion, and Sic 'Em Fifi, a now-defunct act in which he also wrote lyrics and sang. During his career, Vecchiarelli asserts, he has played "every style of music known to man" with virtually every musician in the Denver-Boulder area.
Of these players, the other members of Fifi were the ones most closely associated with Vecchiarelli. Just over a year ago, though, it became clear to him that he and these bandmates were heading in different directions artistically. As a result, Vecchiarelli and former Fifi bassist Glenn Esparza left the group to form the appropriately named Splinter--an outfit intended to provide a vehicle for Vecchiarelli's growing output as a songwriter.
"The first time I ever got on stage with a guitar in my hands was with Splinter," Vecchiarelli recalls, "and that was last April." When the fledgling three-piece lost its drummer a short time later, Vecchiarelli was pushed still closer to the spotlight. In order to fulfill a Splinter commitment made before the group fell apart, he offered to perform a show backed only by his own electric-guitar playing, which he admits was even more primitive than it is at present. Nonetheless, his set was so well received that solo gigs now take up a fair portion of his schedule. In the meantime, Vecchiarelli says, "I think I have a newfound respect for solo artists--because it's just you. There's nothing to hide behind or anything. It's kind of scary, but I've grown to be somewhat comfortable with it."
In concert, Vecchiarelli's meandering melodies and droning, sometimes discordant fretwork come off like the products of a wayward Stone Temple Pilot--but one with little regard for a Top 40 flight plan. "To me," the singer says, "music is a re-creation of a feeling or a mood or an emotion." In his case, he's as likely to be inspired by a Jawbox CD, a Flannery O'Connor novel or a Quentin Tarantino film. He pours his soul into the delivery of his largely metaphorical compositions, which often deal with personal politics and the struggle for identity. While doing so, he rarely makes eye contact with his audience. Similarly, his attempts at between-song banter are most often limited to an occasional "thank you."
As a lyricist, Vecchiarelli concedes, "I don't exactly call a spade a spade." Instead, he carefully arranges words based as much on the rhythm of their syllables as on their literal content. This practice achieves an effect somewhere between that of an Impressionist watercolor and self-indulgent rambling, depending on your tastes.
The reactions of local clubgoers to Vecchiarelli's muscular mood music have been decidedly mixed thus far. Even so, he claims that a record label he declines to name for fear of jinxing himself already is courting him to sign a publishing deal. He also insists that he's received a few offers to make a solo CD.
Vecchiarelli has not accepted any of these deals, he says, because he fears that the arrangements might prevent him from performing his songs with a full band, which is something he still hopes to do. He admits to occasionally feeling "baffled" by the demands involved with advancing his ensemble and solo aspirations without forsaking either path. "But I guess I should give myself time," he says. "I haven't been at it that long.