Creative Memories of Widowers
Mike Marchant is trying to get his head straight. About a month ago, the Widowers frontman was mugged while walking to his home near City Park. The assault happened in the middle of the day, but Marchant's recollection of the incident is as black as night.
"Apparently, when you have a lot of concussions, they add up," Marchant points out. "I've had a lot of falls from skating and snowboarding, and I guess the damage gets progressively worse."
This time around, the head injury caused Marchant to completely forget the days immediately before and after the assault. He only vaguely recalls the band's show the night before at the Meadowlark, and has no memory of the attack itself. After the mugging, friends spotted the musician wandering around on Welton Street, looking angry and disoriented. Any knowledge he has of that day and his recovery since has been supplied by friends who were around to witness it.
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While the long-term effects of the incident remain to be seen, so far there has been no noticeable impact on his group's impressive creative output. In fact, less than two weeks later, Marchant was holed up with Widowers co-founder and drummer Cory Brown in the basement of their house — which doubles as the superbly outfitted recording facility Opponent Processor Studios — putting the finishing touches on a full-length CD the outfit plans to release early this year.
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Although the two have only been working on the disc for a few days, the origins of Widowers can be traced back to their high-school friendship. Brown grew up in Littleton, Marchant in Highlands Ranch, but the two began playing music together shortly after they were introduced. "We've been making music together for about six years," recalls Brown, adding, with a chuckle, "We even did some school projects together; we did this electro-pop song for one of my songwriting classes, and then we heard it on someone's iPod at a party months later."
"We never officially had a band, though," Marchant interjects. "We've made a lot of music that has no destination."
Despite the lack of a clear end, Widowers grew out of the pair's basement diversions. Marchant wrote pristine pop songs with vaguely psychedelic wrinkles and recorded them, largely alone, in his basement, with Brown and keyboardist Mark Shusterman adding bits here and there and sometimes turning the songs completely inside out. When Marchant finally decided to post these tracks on MySpace, he needed a name for the project.
"I told Cory, jokingly, that if I had a metal or stoner rock band, I'd call it Widowers," Marchant remembers. "I just like the way the word sounds, meaning aside."
The music, however, was no joke. Tracks like "Bone Collecting Ghost," one of Marchant and Brown's earliest collaborations, caught the ears of many MySpace denizens. Meticulously layered guitars, lilting melodies and Marchant's languid, otherworldly vocals evoked the shoegazer psychedelia of groups like Spacemen 3 while retaining the lucidity and tangibility of pop. Without ever appearing live or releasing a record, the band garnered press coverage and began to build a buzz, which spurred the musicians to take things more seriously.
Though Brown and Shusterman were busy with their experimental electronic project, Women Gathering Gems, they worked with Marchant to flesh his tunes out into full band arrangements. The three were soon joined by bassist Mark Weaver and guitarist Davey Hart, both of whom played with Brown and Shusterman in Constellations. As the band rehearsed and played a few live shows, the songs evolved from spacey sketches into complex psychedelic pop landscapes.
"It's kind of amazing that I'm in this band," observes Brown, whose tastes lean toward noisy, artful experimentation. "It doesn't really reflect my musical interests at all. But I think I bring a fresh perspective to Mike's songs."
"I try to keep the songs really simple," concedes Marchant. "Then the other guys fuck with them and add stuff to make them interesting."
In less than a year, that juxtaposition has grown into a lushly and uniquely orchestrated sound with plenty of rock immediacy, making Widowers a scintillating and intoxicating live experience. Shusterman's jingling Rhodes provides the ideal counterpoint for Hart and Marchant's ringing guitar lines, while Weaver's bass and Brown's truly musical drumming propel the tunes with potent rhythmic force. Songs that began as spare folk or spacey pop take on a raw urgency and sprightly energy that nearly evokes garage rock.
The transformation is most evident in the recordings the outfit is completing now. Marchant hasn't left his house in days, preferring to spend sleepless eighteen-hour stretches in the studio perfecting tracks, adding layers and tweaking arrangements. Brown, who studies sound engineering at the University of Colorado Denver, devotes equally long hours to being bent over the board and the laptop, bringing up the level of a Radio Shack synth part here, adding some reverb there, fiddling with the mix until he arrives at the right balance of sumptuous instrumentation and visceral impact. As with the band's live performance, there's a stark and energizing contrast between the countless layers of beautiful, sparkling sounds and the organic intensity of the rhythm section. All in all, Marchant and company are pleased with the final results.
"It's kind of a mixture of older songs I did by myself or with Cory that we're reworking or adding stuff to and newer songs we've just been finishing this week," Marchant explains. "I was kind of concerned about how everything would work together, being done at very different times, but it's come together."
"I don't think the stuff we're recording now sounds like us live," adds Brown. "We're using the studio as an instrument, creatively, to benefit the songs. I'm sure the Beach Boys sounded really different live in the beginning, too."
Marchant isn't sure about the Beach Boys reference, but he's excited about how the recording process will affect the evolution of the Widowers sound. "I think this will shift how we play live," he enthuses. "We'll get all these recordings done, and we'll want to do new harmonies and add new parts, so I think it will improve our live shows."
Though the ensemble has earned a reputation for sprawling compositions, there's a concerted effort to keep the recorded versions concise. At one point, while reviewing one of the newest recordings, Marchant asks Brown how long it is.
"It's about four, four and a half minutes," Brown replies.
"Let's see if we can cut it down to 2:15," says Marchant, only half joking. "Just verse, chorus, and leave it hanging."
"I like that effect with pop music," Brown offers. "You hear something short, and it makes you want to hear it again."
The approach has certainly worked so far. And the outfit hopes the new disc will continue to stoke its current buzz. Beyond that, Marchant isn't sure what's in store for the band.
"It would be nice if we could get to the point where someone else would release our stuff and pay for it," he muses. "But I never think about touring ten months of the year, the way so many bands do. I'd rather stay home and write songs."
From the sounds of it, Marchant's recent brush with mortality has strengthened his resolve to getting the most out of Widowers. Reflecting on his spotty memories of the hours and days that remain unaccounted for has been both harrowing and motivational. Now more than ever, he's aware that he has to seize every opportunity and maximize it.
"I'm on my last life," he concludes. "This is my last extra guy. Next time, it could be all over."
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