Top of the Morning

This local label boosts Denver's national image.

"To be able to get into a system that's that big and that well-refined opens up a lot of opportunities," Rutherford notes. "And the fact that we're lucky enough to work with someone like Rob Stevenson, who's got the Killers and Fall Out Boy -- he's got a great track record, and he's been around for so long. He can make things happen."

Adds Lancaster, "I think the big thing is that the help we're getting with the Island partnership is going to translate into record sales. And the more record sales we have will give us more resources to do bigger things with the other bands."

"And the team that Stolen Transmission has assembled is really, really good," Rutherford points out. "You have people like Eric Speck, who ran Ace Fu. He and I have really bonded in some ways. He's like, 'I see exactly what you're doing. I know the path.' And Sarah Lewitinn, she's all over the place, which is great for the band, because the most important thing is to have all these great people on the street talking them up."

Andrew Vastola, Dan Rutherford and Adam Lancaster 
have surrounded themselves with talent: Hot IQs 
(from left), Born in the Flood and Photo Atlas.
Anthony Camera
Andrew Vastola, Dan Rutherford and Adam Lancaster have surrounded themselves with talent: Hot IQs (from left), Born in the Flood and Photo Atlas.

It wasn't all that long ago that Rutherford was the only one talking up his concept for a new label -- on this very patio ("The Beatdown," September 30, 2004). The then-23-year-old son of a man who'd worked his way up from bag boy to senior veep at Safeway, Rutherford had a few good ideas and was fluent with industry jargon, name-checking as inspiration both Omaha's Saddle Creek and Suburban Home Records, an imprint owned and operated by Virgil Dickerson. At the time, Rutherford was a flack for Indiego promotions, an internship-turned-full-time-job that he'd gotten after a stint as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. His ambitions were unmistakable, and it seemed only a matter of time before he made his mark.

Lancaster got the same sense when he met Rutherford a few years ago at a show. Disappointed by Denver's poor showing at SXSW in 2003, Rutherford was already thinking of creating a label, but was also fielding job offers on the West Coast. Lancaster, who was fronting the band Curious Yellow at the time, talked him into staying in Denver and starting a label. "I was like, 'If you go out there and work for a major label, you're still going to be pissed off, because you can't do it your way, you have to do it the way they tell you,'" Lancaster recalls. "And he was like, 'Yep. You're right.' So he took his ideas and started running."

Morning After may have issued just two records during that run, but they're choice. "I think the records, from start to finish, are just really solid from a production angle," Rutherford asserts. "That's the one thing that turned so many heads right when it first started. It's Andrew. I'll keep touting him until the end."

Vastola, who graduated from the University of Colorado at Denver's recording program, was brought in to help mix Hot IQs' Argument, which was tracked at bassist Bryan Feuchtinger's Uneven Studios. After that, he handled mixing duties and did some re-tracking on No, Not Me, Never, which was also recorded at Uneven. Although the former Grace Like Gravity drummer grew up around his father's studio, Rocky Mountain Recorders, he never intended to make a living in the studio himself.

"I was always there, crawling around in the ceiling when I was eight years old," Vastola recalls, "running cables and stuff like that. But it was never like, 'Yeah, this is what I'm going to do when I grow up.'" Nonetheless, he's now Morning After's de facto producer and sound engineer, and he's also behind the boards at Rocky Mountain Recorders, where he's begun pre-production on Born in the Flood's next full-length.

Meanwhile, Hot IQs have fulfilled the terms of their one-album deal and are overseeing the sessions for their next record themselves. There's a good possibility they'll be leaving Morning After -- perhaps for SpinArt, which has helped with the act's digital distribution. Rutherford has mixed emotions about the potential move, and vows he won't be signing another one-off deal anytime soon. "We put in a lot of money that there's a potential of never seeing again," he says. "And if that never comes back because we only have this one record, then we're still sitting there with a big stack of bills, and someone else is getting the rewards of all our hundreds of hours of hard work and money."

Still, he doesn't begrudge Hot IQs their success. "That's been the plan from the beginning, to lay the foundation for our friends and hopefully get them to the next level," he concludes. "We're sticking to our formula of working with our friends and putting out really solid records. And things are definitely happening, but it's all because we've been working our asses off. That's what it comes down to. And we're going to keep going."

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