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"So to have really good recordings, that's the catalyst for the scene," he adds. "And I think Andrew is doing that, just naturally, because he grew up in that studio and he knows it. He has killer ears, and his pop taught him right with patience, dealing with bands and getting performances out of people, all that stuff. I don't think it's his biggest quality, but I think it's an interesting one: He does have pop sensibilities. That Photo Atlas record — it's Alan's voice, but then it's three echoes of Alan's voice, and boy, didn't that make it sound that much better. When I heard that, I was like, 'I play with Photo Atlas all the time; I love Photo Atlas, but this takes Photo Atlas to another level' — another level where it is artistry, where you are sort of painting these songs."
Or splicing them together, in this case. Penning the songs for Lads, Halborg and Murphy often sat side by side, manipulating their ideas in Ableton Live, a DJ program that a friend and part-time collaborator, Shawn Astrom, turned them on to. The result is a sound that incorporates all of their disparate influences. Listen closely to Halborg's brooding croon and you can still hear shards of the Misfits and the spirit of the Stooges in his vampiric sneer, while Murphy's careening guitar lines continue to draw upon the vintage work of early U2, as well as the minimal arpeggios of '80s-era Brit rock and shoegaze.
The two came to their love of music early. Murphy, who was weaned on the sounds of KROQ in his native Los Angeles, began taking guitar lessons when he was seven, as makeshift daycare after his mom was in an accident. He had inordinately large hands for a little kid, and before long, he was playing Beatles songs. Meanwhile, Halborg was growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, where, thanks to his older siblings, he was singing along to Frank Zappa songs and obsessively listening to everything from Zeppelin to Talking Heads and the Smiths. "I would sit in my closet when I was in kindergarten," he recalls. "I had the little FM radio, and I would sit under a blanket and listen to the radio all day and all night, wouldn't sleep, just listen to the radio. I just thought it was amazing that there were sounds that I could get in my closet."
The two met in Breckenridge, introduced by Halborg's future wife, who'd roomed with Murphy in college. Murphy, schooled in indie and alt-rock, was by now heavily into electronic and punk, while Halborg, a student at the University of Colorado, had been a faithful reader of NME and Melody Maker, with tastes that ranged from My Bloody Valentine to Ride. The two headed to Mexico, where they spent several months bonding, surfing and eating tacos. After that, Murphy returned to California and Halborg went back to CU, where he earned a BFA in photography and design.
Five years later, the pair reconvened in Denver and formed the Swayback, going through — by Murphy's count — at least 47 timekeepers before they found Bolster, whose precision drumming slices through the mix and serves as the band's anchor. Bolster was sold the first time he saw the Swayback, gushing to Halborg that his band was the best he'd seen locally. A short time later, when the Swayback parted ways with yet another drummer, Bolster, a highly sought-after and well-paid engineer who hails from Holland, lobbied for an audition. He immediately won the slot, partly because of his tireless work ethic, which matched that of Halborg and Murphy.
"That was big with us," says Murphy, "because we would rip through drummers. We would out-practice them with a three-to-five-practices-a-week type of thing. They couldn't keep up. He hadn't played for three months when he tried out for us, and he was better than a lot of people that we had played with. And Martijn will just be there. We can be like, 'Martijn, let's practice at six in the morning,' and he'll be like, 'Okay.' And we'll just march down there and practice. It's not an issue."
Their shared drive paid off with Lads. But as good as the album sounds, and as happy as they are with how it turned out, you get the sense that they really view it as more of an entry point — as though Lads were merely a record they made while holding down day jobs (in Murphy's case, that's in the Westword classified department) and maintaining other obligations.
"I don't want to say it's a perfect record," Murphy stresses. "I think it's perfectly reflective of that time frame in our life, of us coming from different angles, coming from electronic versus organic, and introducing us into a studio that met our needs."
"We're not like, 'Oh, we did it,'" Halborg adds. "We're like, 'All right — finally! What's next?"
The Swayback drives this point home on Lads' opening track, "Concrete Blocks," which contains these lines: "Music puts concrete blocks on feet/Even when victorious, let there be no joy/And if we succeed, we are just doing our job/With these concrete blocks on feet."