Perception is relative. While selective memory suggests that prior to the Fray (which will open for the Rolling Stones next month in Philadelphia), few local groups made much of a dent nationally. Fact is, though, Denver and Boulder have always had bands on the verge of breaking through. Go back ten years or more, and acts like Big Head Todd and the Monsters, the Samples, String Cheese Incident, Leftover Salmon, Sixteen Horsepower and Five Iron Frenzy were all making inroads on a national scale.
Years before that, the Fluid, Spell, the Warlock Pinchers and, to a lesser degree, Christie Front Drive made names for themselves. And at the risk of sounding like some geriatric historian, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Firefall and Sugarloaf, the latter of which formed from pieces of the Moonrakers, who were contemporaries of the Astronauts. Granted, none of those bands had their songs played on prime-time shows like Grey's Anatomy, but they each earned their fans the old-fashioned way: on the road, and without the benefit of MySpace. (The idea that a band as young as Drop Dead, Gorgeous, which was discovered on MySpace, could garner a record deal so soon after forming was simply unfathomable in years past.)
But unlike their antecedents, the groups poised to bust out today -- Rose Hill Drive, DeVotchKa, the Photo Atlas, Cat-A-Tac, Hot IQs, the Swayback, Vaux, Fear Before the March of Flames, Meese, Drag the River, Ghost Buffalo, Cowboy Curse and the Laylights, to name just a few -- have their own obstacles. They're vying for the attention of the notably finicky iPod generation with roughly a gazillion other acts. The only real way to stand out is to reach out and touch someone -- because as much as the names and faces have changed, the basic tenet remains the same: To truly achieve national recognition (MySpace testimonials notwithstanding), you've got to get out of Denver, baby. Go! Go!
For rock bands, that generally means touring as much as possible. For hip-hop crews, though, things aren't so cut and dried. Sadly, the number of hip-hop artists who have made it out of here is inexplicably small: There's Deuce Mob (which is in the midst of a pretty big resurgence, with a new album set to drop next year) and Tag Team (although if you want to get technical, the Team was never part of the scene). And, well, that's pretty much it. Of course, there's Deux Process and the Procussions -- who recently released their debut on Rawkus and completed a tour supporting A Tribe Called Quest -- but those acts didn't really get any run until they left Colorado.
That fact isn't lost on Yo, Flaco! guitarist Brandon Martin, whose group is preparing to relocate to Los Angeles in December. "Those guys are awesome," he says of the success of the Procussions and Deux Process. "That was definitely something we put in the 'pro' column when we were weighing out the pros and cons. It's kind of a gut feeling, though. It just kind of feels like that's where we need to be. This is the next thing we're going to do. That's evolution. At some point, you've got to leave the pond."
The outfit's announcement comes hot on the heels of Jeff Campbell's (aka Apostle) recent exodus to San Francisco. Campbell and his crew, Heavy Weight Dub Champion, chose the Bay Area as a home base because of its close proximity to other cities and the ease of tourability. Likewise, Martin says Flaco!'s move was prompted more by logistics and the need for a new spark than by being frustrated about not being able to make it in Denver.
"That's certainly not the case," he explains. "I mean, look at the Fray; you can make it from anywhere. I don't know. I just think, as a band, we were just feeling a little restless. We're all getting a little older, and it feels like crunch time. And the thought of going to a new place and just bustin' ass got everyone really inspired.... It's been something that's been stewing for a while. We've been doing this for a number of years, and we just started thinking about what more we can do from here. You know, we love it here. Colorado's been so good to us; I can't even stress that enough.
"But when the nearest market is six hours away, and it's Kansas -- nothing against Kansas; we love playing there -- but it's just a lot harder to break out," he adds. "If you're out of L.A. or somewhere on the West Coast -- or even the East Coast, for that matter -- you have so many more really good, big markets within just a few hours."
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In addition to starting fresh in a new city, the group is writing new material with a revamped lineup. Not everyone is making the move. Neil McIntyre -- one of Flaco!'s primary MCs over the years along with Mike Jones (aka Nathan Graham) and Derris Miles (who both exited the group earlier) -- is staying behind, as are members of the horn section. The band's new configuration consists of Chronophonic MC John Swift, who joined the fold a little over six months ago, and Solpowa, RRAAHH Foundashun's chief MC/producer.
"It's not like a lineup change, per se," Martin says. "There are some cats that can move out to L.A. and some who just can't come right away. But the band is certainly like an extended family. Not everyone has the means to make a move, but everyone's still in the mix. Those are all cats that we love that are super-talented that have been part of the journey and deserve to continue to be, to whatever capacity."
Stop by Herman's Hideaway this Friday, November 3, and Saturday, November 4, to wish Yo, Flaco! luck as it plays its last shows as residents of the 303.
Upbeats and beatdowns: Props to Mark Sundermeier, whose group, the Trampolines, and the bands he manages, Saving Verona, No Fair Fights and Redline Defiance, have all had their music licensed by the folks at Bunim/Murray for use in upcoming episodes of The Real World Denver, The Duel and Bad Girls, a new series on Oprah's Oxygen Network. "I feel like all of our bands are blessed and lucky," says Sundermeier, "that we ended up running into this situation, and I hope that it opens the door to some other bigger opportunities."