Ex-Royal Trux Neil Michael Hagerty Is Ready to Bring Denver — and the Howling Hex — to the World

Neil Michael Hagerty and Eric Van Leuven are high on Denver.
Neil Michael Hagerty and Eric Van Leuven are high on Denver.
Jim Narcy

“I want everything to be a little more laid-back,” says Neil Michael Hagerty, singer/guitarist with the Howling Hex. It’s a sunny April day in Colorado, and, tall and lean, he’s sporting a pastel tank top; his long brown hair is touched with gray at the sideburns. His drummer, Eric Van Leuven, nods at Hagerty’s instruction; Van Leuven’s hair is short and neat, his boyish face all smiles.

They start the song over again. It’s called “Mountain.” Hagerty’s guitar riffs jerk and snake through the windowless practice space. Van Leuven’s drumbeat is jittery yet somehow, well, laid-back. “Exposition Avenue sitting down/And from the window there did sound/Long enough is coming real soon,” sings Hagerty in a high, clear voice with just a trace of raspy grit. Van Leuven joins him on the choruses: “Waiting for respect/Not wrong, not right.” Brad Truax, the Howling Hex’s bassist, lives in New York City, so Hagerty and Van Leuven are rehearsing as a duo today. They’re preparing for a European tour in May and June that will take the Denver-based band from Norway to Portugal, from Scotland to Slovenia.

Hagerty is no stranger to world touring. As a member of the legendary indie bands Pussy Galore — fronted by Jon Spencer, later of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion fame — and Royal Trux, the long-running garage-noise band he led with ex-partner Jennifer Herrema, Hagerty has circled the globe over the past thirty years. At the height of Royal Trux’s fame, in the mid- to late ’90s, the act released two albums on Virgin Records; meanwhile, Herrema modeled for Calvin Klein. During its fourteen-year existence, Royal Trux toured the world. When the couple and the band broke up in 2001, Hagerty relocated to New Mexico, where he lived “out in the middle of fucking nowhere.” There he began recording under the name the Howling Hex.

In 2011, Hagerty moved to Denver. The Howling Hex acquired Eric Allen, best known as the bassist for the Apples in Stereo — the Denver indie-pop band that anchored the Elephant 6 collective, whose most famous member is onetime Denver resident Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel. Allen then recommended Van Leuven, a veteran of the Boulder punk bands Anti-Scrunti Faction and Cavity as well as the indie-rock outfit Breezy Porticos. When Allen left the Howling Hex in 2015, he was replaced by Truax, a seasoned bassist who’s played in Interpol, Home and Spiritualized, among many other notable groups, and is also the longtime tour manager for Animal Collective.

The Howling Hex — Eric Van Leuven (from left), Neil Michael Hagerty and Brad Truax — will release the album Denver this week.
The Howling Hex — Eric Van Leuven (from left), Neil Michael Hagerty and Brad Truax — will release the album Denver this week.

Despite all of these credentials, the Howling Hex is a well-kept secret in Denver. The group has played various shows around town over the past few years and was booked for a monthlong residency at Lost Lake Lounge in 2013. For the most part, though, Hagerty has kept things low-key, focusing less on conquering the Denver scene and more on making a living by recording, touring, producing and remixing other artists, working on projects with indie luminaries such as Hot Chip and Smog. Royal Trux has even begun playing reunion shows around the country, mostly recently co-headlining the Levitation Chicago festival last month.

That low local profile could be changing, however: After five years as a resident of Denver, Hagerty is about to release the Howling Hex’s new album, titled Denver. As the name implies, it’s about the city he’s come to love. Hagerty is not just another newcomer in the tide of immigrants from other states that Colorado has seen over the past half-decade; he spent much of his childhood here, and his Colorado roots run deep.

“Mountain” is a clue to those roots. The catchiest song on Denver, it sports a distorted, off-kilter hook that wouldn’t have been too out of place on a classic Royal Trux album — not to mention a video directed by Portlandia star Fred Armisen that’s a bizarre collage of real-life Icelandic newscasters delivering their reports. And, of course, there’s the song’s title, which name-checks Colorado’s most famous kind of landmark. But it’s the rhythm that gives it away. Truax’s loping bass line meshes with Van Leuven’s coolly frantic beat in a pulse that’s familiar to anyone who’s lived in Denver, a city rich with Mexican tradition: It’s drawn from ranchera and norteño music.

“When I was in New Mexico and started the Howling Hex, I decided to stop playing any kind of white appropriation of African-American music,” Hagerty explains, referring to the blues-based approach of both Pussy Galore and Royal Trux. Instead, he turned to Mexican music for inspiration. He’s happy to rattle off some of his favorite artists: “Los Tigres del Norte, those guys were amazing,” he says. “And Ramón Ayala. And Chalino Sánchez. He was, like, the Elvis plus the 2Pac of Sinaloa. It’s just the music that I like. It’s not the same old dominant white culture.”

Not that the Howling Hex’s style — which Hagerty has dubbed “The New Border Sound” — is meant to be authentic. “Authenticity seems like an old-fashioned concept,” he says.

Van Leuven agrees. “We’re not looking to play a certain kind of ethnic music, only to use those rhythms,” he explains. “These rhythms are just second nature to this city.”

“Hispanic music is huge here,” Hagerty adds. “They’re good rhythms. Like any good rhythmic structure, everybody has a role, and you can build an infinite number of variations on it. We take a very narrow rhythmic thing, then stretch it out to see what happens. That’s the style of music we play: stoned-out jams played over a norteño beat.”

He’s not kidding. The songs on Denver are filled with Hagerty’s trippy guitar-work and the polka-like rhythms of Van Leuven and Truax. From the atmospheric weirdness of “City Song” to the shaggy, shuffling euphoria of “300 Days of Sunshine,” the album is the Howling Hex’s most adventurous yet accessible music to date. A lot of that has to do with the subject matter: Hagerty adores Denver. Talking with him is like hanging out with a particularly enthusiastic tour guide; listening to Denver tracks like “Colfax West” and “Canyon” evokes the depth and breadth of Colorado, from the gloriously gritty main drag of its capital city to the jaw-dropping natural wonders that abound throughout the state.

Busy yet laid-back: That’s Denver, and that’s Denver. During the band’s Truax-less practice in Rocketspace, the rehearsal studios at 2711 Larimer Street, the bass is glaringly absent, unless you count the metal bassist who’s bleeding in through the wall from the room next door. Regardless of the distraction, Hagerty and Van Leuven keep at it, finding a groove and getting lost in their element. Then again, as Hagerty is quick to expound upon, Denver is more than just a place to hang his hat. It’s in his blood.

“I remember losing my fishing rod on a paddleboat in one of the lakes in Washington Park,” Hagerty says, recalling his earliest memory of Denver. “I must have been five or six. I can see it still, clear as day. It was a toy, a Gumby and Pokey fishing rod. It was a beautiful day.”

Hagerty moved around a lot as a kid, but he always left something in Colorado. He was born in Baltimore, the son of an Army man, but his mom was from Denver. In the ’60s, she worked at the ticket booth of the Bluebird, back when it was a respectable movie theater; at the same time, she was “into the folk beatnik thing,” says Hagerty, and saw acts like Peter, Paul and Mary at Red Rocks. As his father was restationed around the country, the family followed — but Hagerty would wind up back in Denver for a month or two every a year or so, staying on his uncle’s farm near Brighton or at his aunt’s house in Washington Park.

“Denver was always a huge part of my life,” he says. “When I think of Denver, they’re good memories.” The family would go into the city or take trips to the mountains. He fondly recalls the defunct Celebrity Sports Center in Glendale, not to mention the Mexican music that has long permeated Denver: “You would just walk into a gas station and hear it.”

He wound up in Virginia for high school after his father got posted to the Pentagon; there he became involved in the ’80s punk scene in D.C. and joined Pussy Galore, whose mix of bluesy garage rock and experimental noise — topped by Spencer’s howling, unhinged vocals — earned the act a cult following. The band relocated to New York City, with Hagerty’s girlfriend Herrema in tow; as Hagerty’s stint in Pussy Galore came to a close in the late ’80s, he and Herrema began concentrating on their side project, Royal Trux.

While still in Pussy Galore, Hagerty began visiting Denver again — this time as a touring musician. No matter how long he’d been away, it always felt like home. “I always saw Denver as the same place,” he says. “I didn’t feel like an outsider or anything, coming back here. The shows were always good.”

Royal Trux became Hagerty’s main project just as the ’90s alternative-rock boom was about to hit. The group released a handful of albums on the eminent Chicago indie label Drag City — in fact, the label was launched with Royal Trux’s 1990 single “Hero Zero” — before moving to Virgin for the release of 1995’s Thank You and 1997’s Sixteen. It was a time when major labels snapped up almost any underground band they could get their hands on, hoping to score the next Nirvana. When that didn’t happen for Royal Trux, the band left Virgin and returned to Drag City.

Royal Trux proved to be as restless as the Hagerty family had been. The group formed in Washington, D.C., before migrating to New York, then San Francisco, then rural Virginia. But just as he had in Pussy Galore, Hagerty viewed every tour stop in Denver as a homecoming. “Royal Trux played at the Mercury Cafe,” he recalls, “and at the 15th Street Tavern, the place that’s a [downtown] parking lot now. I think we played down in Englewood once, some venue above a bar. My memory of that time isn’t good, ’cause I was drinking all the time then.” When in town, he’d also hang out at Paris on the Platte, a legendary coffeehouse that was a lightning rod for punks, goths and artists.

It was at one of the Royal Trux shows in the ’90s that Hagerty began to notice changes in Denver. “It was after Coors Field had been built [in 1995],” he remembers. “People started using that word ‘LoDo.’ That’s when I first heard people saying that Denver was getting cool. Nobody would have ever said that when I was a kid.”

Hagerty and Herrema may not have become platinum-selling superstars, but their straddling of the mainstream and indie worlds brought their deconstructed rock to a sizable audience. Along the way, they wound up influencing everyone from Queens of the Stone Age (whose drummer Jon Theodore once played in Royal Trux) to MGMT — although there’s never been another band that’s sounded anything like Royal Trux.

Royal Trux’s substance abuse became well publicized, if not part of the band’s identity. It contributed to the band’s breakup in 2001, after which Hagerty was ready to turn over a new leaf — in a place with very few leaves. “New Mexico is a place I’d go through all the time on tour, and I always wondered what it would be like to live there, in the desert,” he says. “My dad died in 2002. I was broke as fuck at the time. After the whole Royal Trux thing fell apart, I just took my share of the money and bought a house in New Mexico that I found online.” In Deming, half an hour from the Mexican border and far from the distractions and temptations of the city, he started a family. He got married in 2004; four years later, his daughter was born in Las Cruces. “I just wanted to do it to reverse what I’d been spending time doing for the past fifteen years,” Hagerty explains. “It was a good time to do it.”

Something else attracted Hagerty to New Mexico: its closeness to Colorado. His mother had moved back to Denver to be nearer to her family, but that wasn’t the main reason that Hagerty picked New Mexico. “It’s the Western thing,” he says. “Having spent so much time in Denver, I knew there was something different about the West. You get a caricature of it back east, but if you’ve never actually lived here, you can’t understand it.”

Living in relative isolation in New Mexico proved to be an obstacle to touring, though. Hagerty began releasing music under his own name in 2001 with his self-titled solo debut, issued by Drag City; by 2003, he’d started using the handle the Howling Hex. As his output grew, so did his need to play shows to support his family; along with his various sources of royalties, plus the licensing of his songs, making music remains his sole source of income. Moving to a city made the most sense. He briefly entertained the possibility of packing up for Chicago before deciding on Denver, a place much closer to him — both geographically and emotionally.

“I had a home studio, fifty guitars and a shed full of music equipment,” he says. “I stripped it all down and moved to Denver.” It was 2011, and Denver was on the verge of an explosion, due to its recession-resistant economy and the coming revolution of marijuana legalization. Not that Hagerty had any of that on his radar. His main reason for choosing Denver “was really the weather,” he says. “It’s phenomenal. When I talk to my friends from back east, they don’t have much of an impression of the city. If you don’t live here, you think Denver is covered with snow all the time. I’ve become a complete booster for Denver.

“I was telling a friend of mine from Chicago that he should move here, and he said he couldn’t, because he’d miss the Great Lakes. He feels anchored by them,” Hagerty continues, then points in the direction of the Rocky Mountains. “But see, that’s the Great Lakes right there. It’s just as massive. It has that feeling. But he doesn’t believe it.”

Upcoming Events

Hagerty appreciates more than Colorado’s breathtaking geography and climate; he’s impressed by the way things get done in Denver. “I don’t even know if I can describe it,” he says. “Pragmatism, I guess. That’s part of it. You see a thing, you fix a thing. You try to come up with solutions. Denver had made great decisions: the renovation of Union Station, the light rail to DIA. Other cities balk at that kind of thing because of ideology. There’s still a lot of that in Denver, obviously, but pragmatism seems to win the day instead of that anti-government ideology.”

Following a few months in an apartment on 17th Street downtown, in 2012 Hagerty and his family moved to Capitol Hill, where they still live. As the dust settled, he began pulling together a new incarnation of the Howling Hex. Allen was the first recruit; Hagerty had been aware of his work with the Apples in Stereo, and was a fan of the Elephant 6 collective as a whole — including Neutral Milk Hotel, whose influential albums On Avery Island and In the Aeroplane Over the Sea were recorded in Denver in the ’90s, a fact that Hagerty feels doesn’t get enough recognition. “Denver should pull out the Clyfford Still Museum and put in an Elephant 6 one,” he says. “It’s just as significant.”

With the addition of Van Leuven soon after Allen joined the band, the Howling Hex was up and running again. And in Van Leuven, the band had something that would prove invaluable as the Denver album came together: someone who was, for all intents and purposes, a Colorado native.

Royal Trux: Jennifer Herrema and Neil Michael Hagerty.
Royal Trux: Jennifer Herrema and Neil Michael Hagerty.
Patsy Desmond

Just as Hagerty has seen Colorado go through some changes since his childhood, Van Leuven has seen them, too — only from a closer perspective. “I grew up in north Boulder,” he says. “When we moved in, the street we lived on was still a dirt road. Back then, it was like the edge of town.”

That was in the late ’60s, when Van Leuven’s father, who worked in the aviation industry, brought his family from Wichita to Boulder. Van Leuven was born in Kansas, but he’s lived in Colorado since he was four — in other words, he’s been effectively nativized. “My sister had just been born in Wichita when we moved,” he adds, “and she considers herself a native of Colorado.”

For a future punk-rocker, Van Leuven had a quiet, stable, peaceful upbringing. The loudest thing that may have happened to the family was when he started playing the drums. “I started playing music in elementary school,” he says. “My parents bought me a drum, and I was in concert band. Through high school, I was in marching band and orchestra. But in my senior year in high school, I stopped, because I had to study to get ready for college. My band director was not too happy about that.

“I still wanted to play music, though,” he adds. “I’d never really played a drum set, so I bought one and taught myself how to play it. The hand-eye-foot coordination was a struggle.” Van Leuven found another outlet around the same time: punk. He’d contracted the record-collecting bug at an early age and as a teenager in the ’70s, he was drawn to the new, raw, raucous sound of punk rock emanating from England, New York, California and elsewhere. He shopped religiously at the since-shuttered Trade a Tape in Boulder, around the same time that a young Boulder punk named Eric Boucher who played in a project called the Healers, was also a regular customer; Boucher would soon move to San Francisco, change his name to Jello Biafra and found legendary punk band the Dead Kennedys.

“Then in the late ’70s,” Van Leuven recalls, “I heard about this record store down in Denver called Wax Trax. I would catch the bus in Boulder and take it to what is now the Greyhound station in Denver. Then I would walk from downtown to Capitol Hill to shop at Wax Trax. They had seven-inch singles, and I could afford those. I was in high school, and I was a dishwasher after school. I just got wrapped up in punk.”

While Boulder in the ’70s might not seem like an ideal breeding ground for punk, its peaceful, easy atmosphere was just stifling enough to beg for something noisier. “Boulder was so isolated, in a sense,” Van Leuven says. “It had a certain vibe, too — this laid-back, Western, kind of hippie culture. It may have seemed freewheeling, but there’s a certain conservatism to that city. Punk was a nice change; there was an energy to it. I don’t know if it was rebellion, exactly; I was just attracted to that energy. It was just so different.”

It wasn’t long before he became part of that energy. His sister Janette, three years younger, started playing saxophone in school but had also taken up guitar — and punk. Along with singer/bassist Leslie Mah, the three formed a short-lived punk band in 1982 called Damaged Goods, named after the scorching anthem by post-punk heroes Gang of Four. Damaged Goods played its first show at yet another local institution that no longer exists: Boulder’s Left Hand Books.

Although Van Leuven had begun classes at the University of Colorado, his punk career vied for his attention — especially after Damaged Goods morphed into its next iteration, Anti-Scrunti Faction. By then, Van Leuven’s sister had left the band; with guitarist Tracie Thomas, the new trio forged a different sound — outspoken, confrontational and markedly feminist, an approach that prefigured the riot grrrl movement by a decade. “Leslie and Tracie really wanted Anti-Scrunti Faction to be an all-female band,” Van Leuven says, “but they just couldn’t find a female drummer. There were shows were I would put on a dress. They were good-natured about it, but they were also serious about the feminist slant of the band. I really appreciated what they were trying to do. Punk was so male-dominated at the time. People were scared of Leslie and Tracie; they thought they were out for blood. But they were the nicest people.”

Anti-Scrunti Faction wound up signing with Flipside Records, a component of the long-running punk magazine Flipside — no small feat for a Colorado band that barely toured. Still, the group had a chance to hone its attack in the Denver punk scene of the ’80s, when the city was far from the tourist-and-tech-worker magnet it is today. “I remember coming down from Denver through what’s now called LoDo,” Van Leuven says. “It looked like Ground Zero. There was broken glass everywhere. It was like a bomb had gone off. It was a cool vibe.”

At one memorable show, Anti-Scrunti Faction opened for Suicidal Tendencies, long before the band became famous. As Van Leuven recollects, “It was at a place called the Packing House. I just remember them pulling up in a wood-paneled station wagon with a trailer attached. I remember thinking, ‘This is Suicidal Tendencies. What are they touring in this thing for?’ Everything was so DIY back then. It was great.” Another time, they played with the Detroit hardcore band the Necros at a motorcycle repair shop on Larimer Street. “They had to pull out all this equipment, and we played on this concrete slab,” Van Leuven says. “You can imagine the sound.” Today that shop space is part of Whiskey Bar.

In 1984, Van Leuven needed to concentrate on his imminent graduation from CU. He left the band; with new drummer Sarah Bibb in the fold, Anti-Scrunti Faction soldiered on for another year. (Mah went on to form the celebrated San Francisco queercore band Tribe 8.) Meanwhile, Van Leuven took a break from playing seriously for the rest of the decade. “I actually started retreating from the music scene at that point,” he says. “I’d seen so much of it; I was kind of jaded about it. Not jaded, but sometimes you just have to step back and reflect on what you’ve done.” He still shopped at Trade a Tape, though, and a conversation with one of the store’s managers, Jon Martinez, finally led to the formation of a new group: Cavity. Like Anti-Scrunti Faction, Cavity was a female-led band with a feminist slant, and while the band was only supposed to be a fun way to pass the summer of 1992, it wound up lasting for two years, releasing two seven-inch singles and going on a few tours.

After another break, Van Leuven joined up with his longest-lasting band, Breezy Porticos, in 1999. He’d just moved to Denver from Boulder, buying a house in Highland long before the neighborhood became the bustling, upscale destination it is now. “Highland has changed so much in the past few years,” he notes. “It reminds me actually of growing up in Boulder and how it changed after I moved there in the ’60s.” Two blocks away from his new home lived Andy Falconetti, an old friend who was looking to start a new group.

For the next few years, Breezy Porticos was a staple of the local indie scene, playing smart, lush pop music very much in the vein of the Elephant 6 sound. The band’s modest ambitions aligned more closely with Van Leuven’s; he’d become product manager at a local bank — “I help corporations and the Treasury Department move their money around, basically,” he says — and playing in an ear-splitting punk band just wasn’t going to fit into that lifestyle.

When Breezy Porticos broke up in 2008, that could have been the graceful end of Van Leuven’s music career — which had always been, happily and by choice, more of a hobby. “I was almost to the point where I didn’t even want to listen to music. One day I was talking to Eric Allen about it, and he gave me a record that wasn’t music at all, just recordings of various birds singing. He said, ‘Give this a try,’” Van Leuven remembers with a laugh. Not long after that, Allen called him and asked if he wanted to join a new project: playing with Hagerty in the Howling Hex.

“I’d always been aware of Neil’s music in Pussy Galore and Royal Trux,” Van Leuven says. “When I was in Cavity, we used to listen to [Royal Trux’s 1993 album] Cats and Dogs in the van while we were on tour. I loved it. It just had a different vibe to it. They were a blues-based-type band, but they were so tripped out.

Pussy Galore had a different energy. You could call it sleaziness. There was something just not right about it — which made it great, really intriguing. It made you envision New York City at that time, and it’s a place you might not want to be.” Van Leuven signed up.

After recording the Howling Hex’s first album in Denver, 2013’s The Best of the Howling Hex, Allen departed the group, to be replaced by Truax. And Hagerty started working on the songs that would become the next album, Denver — a record that, like Hagerty’s early material with Pussy Galore, evokes the sights and sounds of a certain city. Only slightly more positively.

Eric Van Leuven (left) and the other members of Breezy Porticos.
Eric Van Leuven (left) and the other members of Breezy Porticos.
James Bludworth

It’s appropriate that Denver is being released on April 14, in the middle of an unseasonably beautiful stretch of springtime weather in Colorado. The album closes with “300 Days of Sunshine” — a song that borrows its title from a phrase that’s a cliché among Coloradans, even though it still holds a certain power over Hagerty.

“The weather and sunshine is a huge reason why Denver is what it is,” he says. “Without that, it might have become Laramie or something, some cold-ass cowboy joint.” As with many of the songs on Denver, the lyrics of “300 Days” were co-written by Hagerty and a collaborator: Kentucky’s James Jackson Toth, who records weird Americana under the name Wooden Wand. He traveled to Denver to immerse himself in Colorado life before helping Hagerty pen “City Song” and “Lookout,” while Baltimore-based performance artist Lexie Mountain underwent a similar Mile High baptism in order to co-write “Colfax West,” “Canyon” and “300 Days.” On the last song, the band’s norteño rhythms verge on acid-dosed country rock, culminating in the joyous lines “Be thee a face or haircut/Let it shake and land on love/And when you hear bells ringing/Look at the sun above.”

“Lexie is like a psychedelic Lily Tomlin from the 22nd century. She was on edibles, sucking on those lollipops, the whole time she was here,” Hagerty says. He’s of a similar mind: Despite the fact that he moved to Denver in 2011, a year before the passage of Amendment 64, he waves the Colorado flag as passionately as any post-legalization immigrant. “I dreamed for years that America would come to its senses and start legalizing drugs. I think it’s so great. To be here in Denver when it actually happened was a glorious fucking day.”

Hagerty’s championing of Denver is evident not only in his new album’s title and subject matter, but also in its cover. At first glance, the artwork seems like a scribbly pattern of random shapes and lines; look closer, and a map of Denver emerges. “It was all done with stencils, like twelve different stencils, of Denver street maps,” Hagerty says. A limited number of the new albums features these handmade covers, while the rest are mass-produced in black and white. “We used a random-number generator to pick the maps, then we laid them all on top of each other and traced. Then we colored them in the colors of the Denver flag. I wanted the album to be this topographical and cultural survey of Denver.”

And so it is. The Howling Hex is far from the first Colorado band to sing about its immediate environs, but Denver may be the consummate Denver album, balanced between the perspectives of natives, on-again-off-again residents and imported newbies — that is to say, the demographic of Denver in its current frenzy of flux, growth and self-reinvention. It’s informed by Hagerty’s frequent long walks around the city and the observations he makes along the way. His usual routes include “from the Blue Bear to 17th and all the way up to City Park; all along Broadway and South Broadway; Colfax from Colorado Boulevard to downtown; and from Civic Center Park down to Confluence Park,” he says. “I like to go through vistas where people are out on the street doing their daily lives.”

And the timing was right. “After five years in Denver, I felt maybe I’d been here long enough to express a perspective on the city,” he says. “Plus, I do have these longstanding roots here. It was like, ‘What are we doing? What are we, you know, as a city?’ It’s just a fun question to ask.

“I was a little hesitant to use the phrase ‘300 Days of Sunshine’ as the title of a song, or to have a song about Colfax,” he continues. “If you live in Denver, it’s a little on-the-nose; it’s so obvious. But the album is for export. That’s why we’re going to Europe. We’ll be cultural ambassadors. I think the album will send out a signal about the city that people at their best will groove on. I tried to leave most of it unsaid and just create a sensation of how a person could feel here. And if you can’t get here, it’s like exporting our air to wherever they are. But it’s not too iconic, not locking some kind of image down, because Denver is a city that’s growing, progressing, changing all the time.”

Adds Van Leuven: “Hearing Neil sing about Denver makes me appreciate it more. There are things I take for granted, and now I see them through his eyes. I think it’s a much fresher view of what’s going on. My concern is that people might think we’re trying to represent the city. It’s not that. The album is just more of an observation of the city. We’re not the chamber of commerce. We’re a band.”

For all of Denver’s dynamism, Hagerty and Van Leuven acknowledge that Colorado has suffered its share of growing pains. In addition to the erasure of so many sites they’ve loved over the years — Trade a Tape, Left Hand Books, Celebrity Sports Center, Paris on the Platte, the 15th Street Tavern — they’re as sensitive to the issues of traffic, crowding and gentrification as anyone else. But for these members of the Howling Hex, the pluses far outweigh the minuses. They’re the last people you’ll find grumbling about all the newbies.

“I don’t like to put some negative slant on the people who are moving to Denver,” Van Leuven says.

“They’re probably coming here for a good reason. I moved to Denver for a reason; I don’t take it personally. It is what it is. If I didn’t like it, I could move somewhere else. To me, it seems more like bellyaching, like, ‘Oh, the traffic is so terrible.’ Well, yeah, traffic is bad because there are a lot more people here. You adapt to it. And most people have, or they move on.

“If you want to enjoy all the great things about this city,” he adds, “there might be some annoyances. There are 12,000 more people in the city of Denver proper? Great. If it’s attracting people, it can’t help but make the city better.”

And as Hagerty says to any anti-newcomer naysayer who tries to rain on one of Denver’s 300 days of sunshine: “Provincialism, man. That’s one of the threats. Just relax. Everyone here is an immigrant.”


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >