Vaux Calls It a Day

Lamenting the passing of one of Denverís great bands.

Remember in Almost Famous when Penny Lane recounts the advice she gives to fellow band-aids, that whole bit about not taking things too seriously to avoid getting hurt, and how if they ever get lonely they can always go to the record store and visit their friends? That scene always resonates with me. Not in an I'm-with-the-band sort of way, mind you, but I can still relate. We've all fallen for music we love at some point or other and become personally invested in the people who made the music that moved us, viewing them as trusted companions. So every time I hear about an act breaking up — especially one that's had a significant impact on me — it feels like I'm suddenly losing someone close.

One morning a couple of Mondays ago, I was sorting through my e-mail when I found word of Vaux's imminent demise. Although the news came from an extremely reliable source, I refused to believe it was true. How could it be? I'd just run into bassist Greg Daniels a few nights earlier, and he'd told me that all was well with the band; in fact, Vaux had recently recorded a fresh batch of songs, which were being mixed in preparation for getting shopped around. But a week later, I got a note from guitarist Chris Sorensen confirming the bad news: Vaux would be playing its last show ever on Saturday, July 28, at the Bluebird. The split is amicable, he said, and ultimately the result of lost momentum while the band waited for its last record to come out.

Beyond Virtue, Beyond Vice, Vaux's Jacknife Lee-produced, career-defining masterpiece, was originally slated to be issued by Lava Records in 2005. Shortly before the projected release date, though, the Atlantic Records subsidiary folded. "Lava was putting it on the radio and doing marketing already, a month before it was supposed to come out," Sorensen explains. "Then there was no Lava anymore. Our A&R guy told us that originally they were going to push it to sometime in '06, and three days later they pulled the plug. We never got a real explanation."

On the advice of its manager at the time, the band limited its touring while waiting for the right opportunities. That manager left shortly before Atlantic cut the group loose altogether, and the combined events took the wind out of Vaux's sails. The group found itself adrift, with its assets slowly depleting.

"Plague Music came out, and then a year went by before our album was scheduled to come out on Atlantic," Sorensen recalls. "We had shitty management at the time. He kind of talked us out of a lot of tours that we should've done, just to keep the band active and doing stuff. So we didn't do anything for like a year besides mix and master Beyond Virtue.

"At that point, we had already lost a year of momentum," he continues. "A year had gone by with no tours and nothing happening. And then we dealt with a legal battle from there. Everybody kind of did odd jobs and lived with their parents, because they had to. It got to the point where half of us were like, 'Should I look for a real job,' you know? We had done so much touring on There Must Be Some Way to Stop Them and Plague Music that it didn't really make any sense for anybody to have an apartment or a house anywhere. But once the record was done, there was no more money, beyond the occasional trip to L.A. for the mixing session. So Quentin was living with his parents in Jersey, Joe was living with his parents in Kansas City, and I was living with my mom here. And we were all like 26, 27 at the time. We didn't anticipate that. We anticipated finishing recording, taking the holidays off and then going out on tour, mixing the record and then it would come out and we'd keep touring. So it wouldn't matter. But then a year went by, and people got super-tired of living with their folks."

After a six-month legal entanglement, Vaux eventually regained control of its masters, which it then licensed to Outlook Records, Trevor Pryce's burgeoning imprint. Although Outlook released the disc last year to substantial acclaim, including a Shortlist nomination, the band never regained its footing.

"Things never really came together," Sorensen admits. "But I think everybody felt invested enough in that record that they needed to see it through. So we did it, and I don't have any regrets about putting it out with Outlook and Trevor. Those guys did a great job. But the momentum that was lost made it really hard."

Not to mention that by then, frontman Quentin Smith and drummer Joe McChan had set up shop in Seattle, and bassist Ryder Robison (who parted ways with the group late last year but will be back on hand for the farewell show) was residing in New York. Meanwhile, Sorensen, Daniels and guitarist Adam Tymn were still stationed here in the Mile High City. It's challenging to maintain any kind of chemistry when the principals are in different zip codes, much less time zones. The end came a few weeks ago, when Smith, who was back in town for a family function, gathered his bandmates together for dinner and announced his plans to move on.

Somebody please tell me this is a dream sequence. First Drag the River, and now Vaux! I'm truly heartbroken. Vaux is one of my all-time favorite local bands, and I still contend that it's one of the best bands in the country. While all of its members are bound to resurface — Sorensen and Daniels are already working on a new project, and Tymn will likely focus on his project RideTheBoogie — they're going to have a helluva lot to live up to. Vaux is a tough act to follow.

Years from now, I'm confident that Vaux's renown will reach storied proportions, much like that of Sunny Day Real Estate, Christie Front Drive (reportedly reuniting, BTW, for a special one-off performance on Saturday, September 1, at Denver Fest) or Mineral. With some time and distance, folks will realize just how important this band was and how its heady, sophisticated music was among the best being made. And past shows will become legend for those who never had the privilege of witnessing them.

Thankfully, I was fortunate to catch Vaux in its prime on countless occasions. So I'll always have the memories — like that time the guys leveled a tiny patio at SXSW a few years ago, when the stage was so small it couldn't contain all the band's members. But then, no stage seemed quite big enough to capture Vaux's explosive live show. This band was larger than life.

Upbeats and beatdowns: I caught the Heyday this past Saturday at the Marquis Theater, and by God, what a difference six months makes. Back in January, I asserted that once the guys' live show caught up with their songwriting, they would be unstoppable. Well, it has and they are. This band is now the picture of poise, and it draws the most boisterous fans this side of 3Oh!3. Frontman Randy Ramirez urged the throng to sing along during "One Foot Out the Door" — but they already were. And so will everyone else when the Heyday releases its Christopher Jak-produced debut (recorded by Andrew Berlin at the Blasting Room) this fall.

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