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There's a Latin proverb that says, "If the wind will not serve, take to the oars," which essentially means, "If you can't achieve your goal one way, try another." For Denver-based band Take to the Oars, which borrows its name from that proverb, the words carry a bit more weight these days.
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The band is set to release its new EP, The Bow and the Stern, at the hi-dive this weekend, but the show also marks the outfit's last performance with Mike Trujillo, who's leaving the band to pursue new projects. "It's a respectful and very amicable situation," says frontman Ryan Gombeski of parting ways with the guitarist. "There's nothing but love for each other. But at a certain point, it's maybe time to move forward creatively, and everyone is on the same page with that."
Take to the oars, indeed. Gombeski says that although the group will continue, the members will be working out what the new music sounds like. "I think that was why it was super-important to release the EP as it is, even with just the four songs, because this sort of signifies this chapter coming to a close with Mike as part of the project."
The EP's title, The Bow and the Stern, is a reference to the front and back of a boat; symbolically, it also represents the beginning and end of this particular chapter for the band, which at present includes drummer Chris Weaver and bassist JP Manza along with Gombeski and Trujillo.
The songs on the new EP have been around for at least the past year or so, says Gombeski, who feels that the band is finally able to release them in a way that does them justice. "We're really proud of them," he says. "I think it's a natural evolution of the sound. I think because of lot of these songs were tried out and road-tested, they became a natural part of our set. I think that was a natural evolution of where the music was going. I think what's going to be very interesting is sort of what happens after this as we move forward as Take to the Oars."
Moving forward at this point means playing fewer shows and being more selective about the ones the band does book — and working on new material, of course. "Some songs will go away, and some songs will be revamped, and there will be some brand-new ones on the horizon," says Gombeski. "I think as long as everything goes as planned, we'll probably release a few tracks in the fall as we move forward in that new direction.
"The band itself is not going anywhere," he stresses. "We're still going to be out playing shows, but as far as the lineup, I'm not sure if we're going to be bringing on a new guitarist, or how that's going to go. We'll probably have to sit back, take some inventory on everything and just decide to move forward as we do."
Gombeski says it's been a really interesting year for the guys in the band, three of whom have celebrated the birth of new babies, and a fourth, Manza, whose wife is currently expecting. "It's been a little bit nuts," he says. "In a perfect world, we'd be like, 'Yeah, we'll just keep moving, and it's all good,' but it's definitely slowed the process of getting this EP out, for sure."
Just the same, as an artist, Gombeski thinks it's good to be able to sit back and make sure you're staying true to your vision and to your own happiness as a person. "I think the most important thing now that we're in the situation we're in, as far as our lives, is making sure that we're doing this for the right reasons, which is creating music that we love and making sure we're having fun with it.
"Music is such a big part of our lives," he continues, "that sometimes you're on this train, and it's just going and going and going, and the scariest thing ever is thinking about pausing that for a second and just reflecting and deciding what happens next, and that's what we've been doing."
Take to the Oars has been playing together for about four years, but the band's history dates back to 2005, when it was called Vonnegut, after Gombeski's favorite author. Gombeski says people were reading too much into the band's name, almost to the extent that they were missing the point of the music. "We were getting reviews critiquing our music based on a book that he wrote, which was never the idea," Gombeski says. "It wasn't like a tribute."
Changing the name to Take to the Oars gave the group a fresh start, he adds. "It helped give everyone in the band a little more ownership over the project as opposed to 'You're just coming into this project, and here's your parts.' We had been writing a lot of new songs at that point, too. Vonnegut was my favorite author, but there were guys in the band who had never even read his books. That worked for me, but for other people, it didn't work so much."
As Take to the Oars, the band has accomplished a lot, but it's taken work. "We're not signed, and we're not a national act by any means, but as far as what we've done internally, what we've done in the scene — we played Red Rocks and released an album. To have some really great connections with fans and friends — none of that's come necessarily easy for us. We've never had a huge-break moment, where it's just like, 'Oh, 93.3 picked up this song, and it's in regular rotation.'
"It's been a journey," Gombeski concludes. "It's been like a real trek to get through all this stuff. If the wind will not serve you, take to the oars. It's about doing as much as we can with the resources we have and just having a real position of feeling pride in that and saying, 'Damn it, we're doing as much as we can and we're busting our ass, so there's peace in that.'"
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