By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
Tuesday night at the Lion's Lair might as well be a night in Antarctica. The place is desolate. A couple dozen patrons loll across the bar, which is already a half-inch deep with spilled Pabst. Even with the sparse attendance, it takes ten minutes to get a beer. You'd do better just to splash some of the runoff into your plastic cup: You'd save two bucks, and your liver would never know the difference.
Around 10:30, just as the ennui is about to reach a fever pitch, three guys climb up on stage and start tweaking some instruments. Drummer Lawrence Snell sits down behind his kit with his limbs splayed out like walking sticks, while guitarist Eric Bailly and bassist Joel Michor -- nondescript, jeans-clad dudes with burly goatees -- strap on their axes with as much elation as they would show putting on bow ties. Maybe they're just nervous. These three men in their early thirties clearly aren't the usual retro-decked indie hipsters or emaciated emo kids in skintight tees you see in local bands. Bailly twiddles something on his effects processor and then, without provocation, begins poking the smoky air with a riff as keen and luminous as a neon strobe. Then he sings, and his voice is a fog of ghostly breath on a winter morning. Snell is all knees and elbows as he comes in with a swelling crash, the boom of a submarine exploding underwater. A quivering bass line sinks into the noise, carving melodies like ice sculptures.
The crowd reacts by staring blankly at a subtitled TV show above Michor's head. The late-night news is on, a story about the war. A succession of heads -- both talking and decapitated -- blur by nauseatingly, as the steady, channeled chaos on stage builds to a peak and then dissipates. With wisps of echo-soaked distortion still standing in the air like vapor off a frozen lake, Bailly announces gently into the mike, "Hi. We're Colder Than Fargo."
A few days later, the world is brighter and the air a bit more breathable as the members of Colder Than Fargo hang out on the front porch of Bailly's small brick duplex. Spring is in full effect, and somewhere wind chimes are going off like an alarm. "I grew up in Fargo, North Dakota," says the guitarist. "Nine months out of the year it's bitter cold, like an ice age. It's harsh having to be indoors that long, just trying to occupy your mind. It's a really isolated feeling. A lot of bands that come from that part of the country have certain things in common: They're either super mellow and depressive or they're an all-out wall of noise, just this pent-up anger. Look at people like Leo Kottke or bands like Low and godheadsilo. Some of it's a reflection of people stopping up their emotions and not feeling free to express themselves. It's just interwoven into the culture out there. It's a piece of them.
"There's a melancholy that exists on the northern plains," he continues. "I think that's why I gravitated toward music. It was a nice, healthy way to get some of those emotions out."
Inspired by the heartland gut-letting of Bob Mould and Uncle Tupelo, Bailly played in a string of bands in Fargo throughout the late '80s and early '90s. "At that point," he notes, "being in a band was just a creative outlet, and a way to be able to look cool, I guess. I was pretty shy back then, so it was a good way to get out of my shell a little bit. I was moody and depressed pretty much all of the time, which is real different than I am now."
After earning his degree in psychology at 22, Bailly migrated with his wife to Denver in 1993 to attend grad school. The rock, though, never got unpacked. Dedicating himself to school and family, his creative ambitions faded into the background.
"When we moved to Denver, I tried playing solo for a little bit, but I just didn't have it in me," the guitarist recalls. "So I just dropped it. I stopped playing. The amp found its way into the storage space. The guitar was shut up and put in the closet. But I knew at some point I was going to get that fire back."
What he didn't know was that it would take eight years before he'd become involved with music again. During that time, he effectively settled down, had a daughter, bought a house, began a career. Most musicians never regain their momentum after growing up, but Bailly's compulsion to write and perform gradually bubbled back up to the surface. In 2001 he hooked up with a guitarist named Paul Humphrey and began playing coffeehouse gigs under the name Melt Away.
"That was the spark," says Bailly. "Paul and I started playing this real acoustic, melancholy stuff. That's when I began writing new types of songs. It became more minimalist; I started experimenting with two-string solos, letting the guitar kind of ring out. Then Paul just stopped coming to gigs about a year ago, and I started focusing more on my solo stuff."