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"I'm just interested in DIY culture and the whole aesthetic and idea behind creating your own existence," says Trevor Peterson. "Especially in the creative world — not relying on outside corporate interests to fuck things up."
Peterson's words echo a sentiment that has informed the efforts of acts from Black Flag to Arab on Radar to HEALTH, who realize that the mainstream music industry often isn't interested in anything that doesn't have a proven track record or that doesn't immediately appeal to mainstream tastes, no matter the quality of the material.
Woodsman, the band in which Peterson performs as a guitarist and vocalist, didn't have to build an underground musical network from the ground up, like Black Flag. But it did have to tap into that world in order to share its music with anyone outside of the group, whether at established DIY spaces or an impromptu venue of its own.
2721 Larimer St.
Denver, CO 80205
Category: Music Venues
Region: Downtown Denver
Peterson and drummer Eston Lathrop grew up in northern Iowa and worked in isolation on music that had no expectations or limitations regarding its sound or whether it would be shared with anyone else. While Lathrop was going to recording school in Minneapolis, he and Peterson sent musical ideas back and forth and occasionally came together to record in a real studio in the Twin Cities.
"There's these weird tracks with just me on this huge chord organ, banging on it, with Eston holding down this solid beat," Peterson says. "Just weird shit like that. We were just stoners, man. We'd get really high and make stupid shit for fun. It was good for us — it was the perfect artistic release, you know? You can just do something completely out of left field, with no intention of sharing it with anybody, just to get it out of your system."
After turning eighteen, Peterson moved to Frisco, Colorado, where he lived and worked for four years before moving to Denver to enroll in the film program at the University of Colorado Denver. The second day of class, he met a kindred spirit in Mark Demolar. "When we met," Peterson recalls, "I knew right away that he was the one cool kid in the film school that I could actually relate to and that we had to be friends. There's no doubt, because we were fucked if we weren't. It would have been no fun."
Demolar and Dylan Shumaker had already been making music with future Tjutjuna member Adam Shaffner in a math-rock outfit called Derf when the three were in high school together in Evergreen. There they rubbed shoulders with future Shaffner bandmates James Barone, Brian Marcus and Robert Ballentyne, as well as Patrick Riley of Tennis. Peterson and Lathrop were playing together as Woodsman when they booked a show at the Larimer Lounge; they had invited the guys in Derf to jam with them during practice sessions, and there was an immediate musical chemistry, so they decided to play the show together.
With two drummers (Lathrop and Shumaker) and two guitarists (Peterson and Demolar) playing almost entirely instrumental music, Woodsman created a deeply rhythmic sound that was founded in improvisational composition and didn't cater to anyone looking for a hook. It was definitely not pop music. Initially, this approach posed a hurdle for the fledgling outfit.
"Denver has changed a lot in the last year and a half," declares Peterson. "When we first started out as a band, there was a whole different thing going on here. Bands like us could only play at Rhino and stuff or throw our own house shows if we wanted to do anything cool. There were a certain few bands that had the lockdown on good Larimer shows or good hi-dive shows, and for a band just starting out, we weren't welcomed in like that."
In response, Woodsman embraced the DIY ethos by booking its first tour by itself. The band had only been together for six months at the time, playing shows at spaces like Rhinoceropolis and its own place, the now-defunct Imperial Shithole, which it shared with artist friend Greg Tate. "It's cool when you play at DIY spaces because it's all artists who are the audience," Demolar points out. "You feel more supported doing what you're doing — especially when we started out."
The turning point for the band, in terms of recording, came when Shumaker's father got access to a cabin in the woods — in Evergreen, appropriately enough — where the band holed up and recorded long sessions without putting limitations on the flow of creativity. In the end, Lathrop edited those sessions down to around an hour, and Peterson sent it to Mexican Summer, the label home of their friends in Young Prisms.
Right away, Peterson remembers, the imprint's Keith Abrahamsson said, "I want to put this out. Turn it into a record and we'll put it out." From there, Mexican Summer made sure the music of Woodsman made it, at least virtually, into the hands of influential bloggers and websites like Pitchfork. While this press didn't exactly make Woodsman a household name or propel it into the same realm of popularity as its friends in Gauntlet Hair and Tennis, the band has since enjoyed greater opportunities for shows on its self-booked tours.
With its latest record, Rare Forms — out on the San Francisco-based Lefse imprint and featuring artwork by local musical luminary Milton Melvin Croissant III — Woodsman has taken a step forward in satisfying the desire of its members to not only be absolutely free in the songwriting process, but also to make a more succinct musical statement with each song.
"I think we're basically doing the same thing we were doing before," Demolar says, "but now it's become more focused. And we can control that beast a little easier now because we're more comfortable with knowing that it can work out. When we started, we were completely experimenting, but now our experiments are a little more controlled. But the process is pretty similar."
Despite its relative success and the relocation of Demolar to New York City, Woodsman is, for now, a Denver-based act. And it's here that Peterson runs his own small label, Fire Talk. Although Peterson and some of his friends have plans to explore the opportunities presented by a larger city, he maintains a certain affection for the town he's called home for several years.
"As much as people want to talk shit about how there's nothing going on in Denver, there's actually a shitload going on in Denver," Peterson enthuses. "We've seen every town in this country and played shows in them, and Denver is probably in the top ten of cities you want to be a musician in. Tons of young people. Everybody I meet or know is under thirty years old and into cool shit. So many artists and just good stuff happening.
"Denver's a great town," he concludes. "It's close to the mountains and has a high quality of life. Whereas if you move to New York or something like that, you have to plan on seeing some shit that maybe you weren't necessarily prepared for. I think, culturally, though, there's more to be experienced in places like San Francisco or New York that you can draw from creatively. Here, I've found myself inspired by the mountains and nature."