By Noah Hubbell
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It was just before Christmas when Mike Marchant, one of Denver's most celebrated songwriters, found out he has cancer. "Being told you have cancer — I will never, ever forget what that feels like, because it's terrifying," he says.
After seeing a doctor for what he assumed was an infection, Marchant underwent a biopsy, and that's when his diagnosis was confirmed. "I immediately told all of my friends and family, of course," he remembers. "I'm a private person, but I don't feel that was something I had to be private about. I told my friends it wasn't a secret, so they could tell whoever they want.
"I really don't mind talking to people about it, because it's therapeutic," he goes on. "It wasn't something I wanted to keep secret, so I posted it on Facebook and said it was treatable, even when it'll be a heavy deal for the moment. Then all of these people started mobilizing and made something happen to help me out with the money. It's been amazing. It's been overwhelming."
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The Denver music scene is known for its heartfelt generosity. When one of its own is in need, folks are quick to band together and offer a helping hand. So when word spread that Marchant was in need of some assistance, countless people stepped up.
Naturally, that went a long way toward lifting his spirits. Even though he's been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, one of the most curable kinds of cancer, it was still quite unnerving for the musician. "You still have to do chemo and radiation," he notes. "For a while, I got really down about it because they don't know the cause, and part of me wanted to know the cause. You know, to have something to blame it on, like, oh, you've had too many cigarettes, or you've had too many beers and your liver has turned. My life has turned around in so many ways I never would have imagined."
Although technically Marchant is a transplant, he's been here long enough that he might as well be a native. The songwriter was born in St. Louis but moved to Denver around age eight, when his father, who works in medical imaging, took a new job. After a short stint in Englewood, the Marchant family moved to a house in Littleton, where Mike's parents still live.
Marchant has been a fan of music all his life, but his earliest creative endeavors were ones in which he and his brother made up games and built haunted houses and mazes in the basement of their house in St. Louis, where the oppressive heat of Missouri summers made playing outside during the day prohibitive.
The hermetic nature of Marchant's nascent creative development seems to have informed his vivid songwriting, which itself comes out of a kind of private, imaginative world of making the most of the simple elements at hand. His family was musical, and his parents were always singing, but Marchant figures it was around the beginning of middle school that he started to develop his own taste in music, beginning with the Beach Boys.
"I was listening to this greatest-hits compilation, but it was the evil side of the Beach Boys," Marchant confesses. "I mean, like, 'Kokomo.' Those are beloved songs, obviously, but what I love of the Beach Boys now is completely different. It was a greatest-hits, so it probably had 'Good Vibrations' and some of those big, epic songs that we love. A lot of it was surfin' and girls, cheeseball stuff, but I still loved it."
Around the same time, Marchant also became fixated on a handful of other releases, like Beck's Odelay album and Weezer's self-titled debut. There were about six things that he liked back then, and he listened to them endlessly. Around the age of fourteen, Marchant got more into punk rock and pop punk, and from playing on friends' guitars, he realized how easy it was to play songs by bands like NOFX, Dead Kennedys and Millencolin.
"Once you take some band and learn twenty of their songs, you see how songs are built," says Marchant about his early songwriting exercises. "Even if you're not aware that you're giving yourself a lesson, you start to see trends and patterns, even when you're not looking for them. I think I figured out at least pop structures and stuff by inadvertently learning NOFX songs on guitar. Everyone has their own way they learn things, especially self-taught people, I think. When you go back and see how they wound up writing songs, it can say a lot about the music they make now."
At some point, Marchant became taken with the music being made by more technical guitar players like Joe Satriani and his ilk. That kept his attention for a few years, until he realized that although the music was complex and technically proficient, it was generally lacking great songwriting. And then he met one of the most influential figures in his life. "I met Cory Brown at seventeen," Marchant recalls. "He introduced me to a whole new world of music, everything I like now. We started playing music together with Cory Costello of I Know You Rider, and Ben Martin sometimes. We would get together and do Air covers. We recorded a cover of 'Dirty Trip,' from the Virgin Suicides album.