Ben Donehower concieved his band after a day spent digging a pig-roasting hole
Part of the cover for Traffic Cat Stick.
In his tongue-in-cheek rock-philosophy book, Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock 'n' Roll Group, Chain and the Gang's Ian Svenonius argues that band names must appear mystically in a musician's dream or revelation, and he offers such strategies as eating mold and running from the police until exhausted for helping to create the right mental state for that to take place. Svenonius's suggestions unexpectedly worked for Ben Donehower, who stayed up all night digging a hole in the ground in preparation for a Kalua-style pig roast that took place during a Boulder house show last summer. When Donehower finally tried to sleep, his new band name revealed itself to him. "All of a sudden, what I attribute to the soul of this pig wakes me up, and Original Sin, the band name -- and the whole concept for the band -- comes to my mind, all in about two seconds," he says. "I took it as an omen that this is what I need to do, and I woke up fully energized."
Now, a year later, Donehower has just self-released his first cassette and is about to embark on an East Coast tour. Though he has played in many rock bands around Colorado, including School Knights and the Octaves, Original Sin is a completely different, solo endeavor. Using sparkling synthesizers and drum machines, Donehower recorded the eight glam-pop gems that would become his album, Traffic Cat Stick, in his home inside the all-ages show space Rhinoceropolis.
After he recorded the songs, on which he plays every instrument, Donehower had to figure out how to translate them into a live setting. "I like electronic music, but I don't like the DJ component of being one man on stage and just wrapped up in what you're doing," he explains. "People want to see someone on stage being over the top." When performing as Original Sin, Donehower plays bass and sings along to pre-recorded tracks, dancing enthusiastically and engaging the audience. "I think of it as karaoke. You see people sing karaoke and they're fucking psyched about it. So I kind of pretend like it's not my songs, and I'm just singing songs and playing bass to it."
And it works: Donehower has created a playful, totally inventive act that feels like a young Brian Eno's bedroom pop project. It's sweet at times, bizarre and darkly funny at others. "Driving in Your Car" is an entire song dedicated to the experience of riding in someone else's car and wishing there was a seat belt, while "Less Than You Know" is about feeling alienated from the typical white male. (The idea for the latter song came partly from his experience pedicabbing bros in LoDo.) But a common thread is love, which Donehower juxtaposes with imagery related to climate change. "I've been having nightmares about global warming," says Donehower. "I think about it a lot, so I do some therapy through music." On "Popsicles," he sings of summer frozen treats melting all around a girl as the sun gets hotter. "Could this love just last forever/Even under better weather?" Original Sin asks. "It's about love in a world where who knows how long it'll last," Donehower explains. "I've had my first girlfriend of my whole life for the past year, so a lot of that's about her. I've always wanted to write a love song, but it's easier when you have someone to look at rather than this amorphous love object. Love songs are kind of played out, maybe, but I think music probably started for love in the first place. It makes sense still."
And as Original Sin presents them, they manage to stay totally fresh -- a sweet revelation every time.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.