By Drew AIles
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It comes down to Alan introducing us to indie rock," declares Confluence frontman Ian Gassman, speaking of bassist Alan Hubbard and summing up the eventual musical direction of the band. "I was listening to Bob Dylan a bunch, and Jack Johnson.... I'm just saying my want to get better at guitar came after I started listening to Modest Mouse, Conor Oberst and Built to Spill. It just came late to me."
Gassman is being sarcastic with the Jack Johnson bit, but he did have a pronounced fondness for Dylan. What's more, from the sound of it, he's the type of guy to wear his influences proudly. "Ian used to carry around an acoustic guitar with 'Bob Dylan' written on it in Sharpie marker," confirms drummer Spenser Leighton. "And I stenciled John Cusack's face on it."
For his part, Hubbard did actually have some influence on his bandmates. He made compilation discs for them featuring Built to Spill, Sunny Day Real Estate and Modest Mouse, the last act being the one that had cast the biggest shadow on him: "The song that made me think I was interested in playing music was 'Never Ending Math Equation,' by Modest Mouse. I think for Modest Mouse, it was about being in the American West and urban sprawl clashing with nature. These guys were into emo stuff like Brand New and Taking Back Sunday."
"It did give us a place to start," Gassman allows. "We liked those bands from the '90s, and we wanted to make our songs inspired by the feeling of that music. The feeling that comes from Modest Mouse and any of those bands is contrast for me. I think that's something that comes up a lot. Contrast, as in I'm going to come from this dark, or angry, or in-your-face part to a brighter, prettier or more expansive part. It goes from this tight thing, and it blooms into something that's a totally different emotional feel, and I think we try to do that in the music now, even if it's subconscious — contrasting lyrics, contrasting parts."
Gassman and Hubbard, who met in middle school, became friends with Leighton and guitarist Brett DeWire in high school. The four friends jammed with each other a bit back then, but they didn't all come back together again until the formation of Confluence. And by then they were all fairly seasoned musicians who had each played in a number of bands. After high school, Hubbard and Gassman formed Night Owl, a trio informed by power pop and soul akin to early Elvis Costello. That group, which was relatively short-lived, proved to be a learning experience for Hubbard and Gassman, who cut their teeth on Night Owl's live shows and learned how to write songs and make music that was at least a bit more than a hobby. "We didn't ask for money after the show, or know that you could get money," Gassman confesses.
While he and Hubbard were playing in Night Owl, Leighton and DeWire were members of The Show Me State and later ended up forming a band called Floodplains. Leighton, who had been in marching band in high school, took the musical discipline he'd learned from that experience and, inspired by the math rock of bands like Maps & Atlases, applied it to crafting the challenging non-standard rhythms and time signatures he used in his subsequent bands.
Following his time in Night Owl, Gassman, a fan of the ways in which guitar tone can be sculpted and transformed, did a stint in dream-pop outfit Morning Clouds and the more post-punk-inflected Spires. Sometime last year, both of those bands became less of a going concern for him, and he was free to work with his friends once again, so he and Hubbard and Leighton formed Confluence as a trio. The three soon enlisted their old friend DeWire to play guitar.
With the lineup solidified, the band needed a name. The guys wisely ended up choosing a handle that didn't immediately suggest a style of music. "I picked that name," says Leighton, "but nobody liked it."
"I think it caught on fairly quickly," Gassman counters. "But we were thinking of things in Denver. I wanted a one-word name, and it sounded heavy and direct and had a ring to it."
"I thought it fit," adds DeWire, "because Ian and Alan were in different bands and Spenser and I were in different bands, and we became one, which is the definition of the word — two rivers coming together."
The guys played their first show last January at Unit E, then got moving and headed into the studio to record an EP a short time later. "We did it really quickly because we wanted to have a product," Gassman explains. "We cut some corners, but it is what it is."
The EP, titled I Haven't Really Been Living and recorded at Mammoth Cave Studios, was good enough to attract the attention of folks at the Holy Underground imprint, which quickly added the band to its roster. And things continue to move at a rapid pace. Since releasing Living, Confluence has already shifted its focus to writing new music and continuing to hone its sound.