Drummer Carl Sorensen may be Denver's hardest-working musician
Carl Sorensen is in the passenger seat of a car as it races through the Golden Triangle toward Santa Fe. It has been four minutes since he walked off stage after a set playing drums for Science Partner at a Westword Music Showcase pre-party, and there are only six minutes left before he is late for a live television performance with one of his other bands, Dragondeer. He's covered in sweat, trying to down tater tots and make small talk between heavy breaths. "It's been pretty busy the past few weeks, but this is definitely the tightest it's ever been," he says with a chuckle.
Somehow, Sorensen makes it to the show on time. He sits down at a drum set arranged for him by his Dragondeer bandmates and starts playing with such ease that the audience would never guess what he'd been doing ten minutes earlier. He's a professional at those quick transitions. He can switch personalities almost on cue to create a new sound and feel behind a drum kit. That's because, since 2008, he's played in 65 different bands and ensembles. "All I wanted to do was play drums in a band," he says.
The 27-year-old grew up in Louisville, where he developed a Sherlock Holmes obsession that led him to play music -- violin, specifically. But by fifth grade he'd switched to drums, and quickly showed a knack for them. He studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston under one of Paul Simon's percussionists. "I just wanted to play all the time," Sorensen says. "I thought I would drop out of school, start playing with a band or two, and write and record original music. We would tour and build a musical reputation and be set. My first year and then some out of school showed me all the moving parts it takes to be able to perform for others."
His future planned, Sorenson moved to Denver, where he had several friends. He started playing with now-defunct local act Eleanor, and soon found himself on the path he'd envisioned. But although the band was recording and touring and building a reputation, Sorensen found that being "set" did not come as easily. He remembers how Eleanor went out to Seattle in fall 2009 for a tour that ended up being a financial loss for everyone. "At the time, my rent was steeper than it had been, too, so that was a moment when I had to start selling gear and busking on 16th Street just to make ends meet. That had me looking for canvassing jobs and anything else I could find."
Still, he didn't have to busk for long. Thanks to his connections and his talent, word traveled in the Denver scene about "that drummer Carl." When Eleanor eventually disappeared, many other projects arrived in its place. Sorenson played with Andrea Ball and 200 Million Years and picked up session work with various singer-songwriters. He had to leave a job at Starbucks after a few months when one of his bands went on tour. The demand was great enough that drumming turned into a full-time job.
So Sorensen found a way to play all the time, even if his career hasn't quite followed the path he imagined when he dropped out of school. It may not be a life of charter buses and adoring masses chanting his name, but in the last half-decade, he's nevertheless achieved remarkable things, having played four times at Red Rocks and hundreds of shows in every corner of the country.
He practices solo four hours a day -- two in the morning, two at night. He also gives private lessons during the week and teaches a two-hour percussion class at New Vista High School. Add in multiple band practices, session work and actual shows, and he's easily spending more than forty hours a week playing drums. That doesn't include the daily bombardment of e-mails, calls, texts and meetings required to coordinate all of these projects. "It's a lot of e-mailing and scheduling," he says of a typical day.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Sorensen was once again covered in sweat. This time, though, it was because he'd spent the previous two hours in a cramped practice space with no air conditioning. He was with members of Chimney Choir and Natalie Tate, who also plays guitar for Ark Life, helping her prepare songs for a solo show. He was barely communicating with the group, instead listening intently to the sounds around him, trying to find exactly which drums and cymbals to hit and when. Three takes of one song were all different as he searched.
When he's on the kit for Dragondeer, Sorenson is loose, manipulating the tempo slightly, smirking constantly. When he's playing with Science Partner, his shoulders are hunched, and his mouth gapes open. He bounces on his stool and continually glances around at his bandmates to ensure they're all in sync.
"Every band or group or musical endeavor is different from the other," he says. "The commonality is that there has to be artistic vision, something other members can latch on to."
Being able to recognize that vision is important for any musician, but it's become Sorenson's most critical challenge as he juggles multiple projects. "I love to see the people I work with play the best they've ever played," he says. "I really like to be loud and bombastic. I embrace those kinds of things about the drums -- that my voice is defined by a lot of the music I'm playing with a lot of other people.
"After so many hours of playing and performing with different bands, I've developed my own style," he adds. "It's reminiscent of that Ringo Starr style or that Levon Helm style. It's simple, but it's perfect. The foundation of everything I'm doing is holding time and making it sound interesting."
He's been moving through the background of Denver this whole time, from one project to another. He's always finding a place where he can make contributions, keeping the beat for a good portion of the Denver music scene.
If someone wants to follow in your footsteps and make a living from drumming, what do they need to do? he's asked via e-mail after the rehearsal with Tate.
"PRACTICE," he replies. "The people that succeed musically are the people that are prepared and can get around any one situation a number of different ways. There can never be a ceiling to your growth as an artist/individual."
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