Since its inception, 16 Horsepower has been the product of three people: multi-instrumentalist David Eugene Edwards, drummer Jean-yves Tola and bassist Keven Soll. While Edwards was clearly the frontman for the band, the other players were key contributors who added an important visual component to live shows most observers saw as consistently among the best in Denver and beyond. But now things are changing. Late last month, during a single telephone conversation, Edwards and Tola quietly gave Soll his walking papers.
For Edwards, this was an especially difficult and painful course of action; after all, he and Soll have been friends since 1984, when they met at an Echo and the Bunnymen concert. But he feels it was something that needed to be done. "Basically, we did it for no other reason than that the joy of making music together was not there anymore," he says. "We felt stagnant. Jean-yves and I talked about it, and we talked to Keven about it as well, and we tried to do things to correct the situation. But it didn't happen. We figured that half the people in Denver would hate us for doing it, but we had to take the chance, because we couldn't afford to mess around."
According to Soll, whose version of the events that led up to his ouster are generally confirmed by Edwards and Tola, he first got an inkling that all was not right in Horsepowerland six months ago. "We had a talk," he recalls. "We were all having a few problems. In one way, I felt like I was becoming an employee and was having less and less to say about the decisions that were being made. And they felt that I still needed more work on my bass playing--that I wasn't holding up my end."
"When we asked Keven to play," Tola elaborates, "he wasn't really a bass player. David just remembered that he was a good person and a good guy to be with, which he was. But right away--well, not to be pretentious or anything, but level-wise we knew he was a little bit behind David and I on his instrument. At the time, we were ready to cope with that. We thought that if he worked hard enough on his playing he'd eventually catch up. And that seemed to be happening in the beginning--but for some reason we felt that he stopped doing that. So we sat down with him and told him, 'You're still not there. You've got to get better at your playing.'
"I don't know if he didn't take it seriously or what. He got better equipment, which helped, but it was not enough. We were kind of waiting and hoping that he would get better, but he didn't. And we're not really in a position where we can wait. We have a bunch of tours coming up and the record [Sackcloth 'n' Ashes, on A&M, issued in the U.S. in February] is just being released worldwide. We have to be top-notch. We're so different, which is fine with some people, but other people are like, 'We're afraid of it'--which makes things even harder for us. Playing the style of music that we're playing, we have to be perfect or we can just forget it."
Soll counters that these concerns were not mentioned to him after the initial sit-down. As a result, he assumed that the situation had been resolved and that everything was fine. "If they had problems with me, they should have been a little more communicative," he says. "And if they had plans to fire me, they should have sat me down at a table and told me face-to-face, instead of doing it with a phone call." He pauses before adding, "A phone call that totally flip-flops your life."
Tola says that he and Edwards chose to deliver the news to Soll via telephone because they wanted their manager, Los Angeles-based Amy Berg, to hear everything as it went down--and since she couldn't fly to Colorado for the occasion, they settled on a conference call. But Edwards admits that something else was involved. "Because we are so close, I think it would have been really hard to do it face-to-face," he concedes. "Not because I was ashamed of what we were doing or felt afraid. I just really didn't want there to be room to argue. I wanted to get it out and let it settle." He adds, "I really think that's beside the point, though. I went over to his house and hung out a week or so after that, and we've gotten a chance to talk."
In the meantime, 16 Horsepower has a new bassist: Rob Redick, who served as a tech on the act's past two tours. He hasn't been added as a permanent member yet; the musicians want to see how things work out in a variety of live settings before any final determination is made. For Redick, a Houston native, the next several weeks will constitute a baptism of fire. The bandmates left Denver on June 6 to play several dates, including stops in Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Chicago. They'll return to Colorado to appear Thursday, June 20, at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and Saturday, June 22, at Fiddler's Green for the Big Adventure bash sponsored by KTCL-FM/93.3. "Rob's nervous about those," Edwards notes. "He's just in a weird place right now, not really knowing anybody in Denver. But I think he'll be okay. People who've heard are sad about how things worked out, but they support us."
So, Edwards and Tola swear, does A&M. Although Sackcloth hasn't set the record business on fire (around 20,000 copies have been purchased thus far), they say the company is pleased by the almost-universal critical support the trio has received. "They're even happy about how many albums we've sold without any airplay," Edwards declares. In an effort to boost sales, A&M is planning to rerelease "Black Soul Choir," the first single from the disc, in August. A European tour is in the offing, and the popularity of the recording in Japan may precipitate a journey to that corner of the globe as well.
Soll won't be a part of this itinerary, but he's not completely at loose ends. He's a talented luthier who owns a business, the Guitar Clinic. "I'm back at my shop working," he points out. "I'm just going to build guitars this summer, maybe play music with friends and go from there." When asked about 16 Horsepower's future, he takes the high road, wishing Edwards and Tola all the best in the future. But he doesn't try to hide his disappointment over his dismissal. "I was there from the start with this band. I committed over three years of my life to it, and I was planning on committing even more. We were like a family, which is what makes this so hard."
"It's been hard for all of us," Edwards concurs. "But Keven has something to fall back on, and I really don't. It's sort of all or nothing for me."
Those local recordings just keep on coming.
Bustopher Jones's self-titled disc is a pleasant bit of jangle rock, but it doesn't really stick to your ribs. The vocals, by a woman identified as MYF, seem a bit too folk-oriented to stand out above post-Byrds pop that's tuneful but a touch bland. The disc won't have you racing to remove it from the CD player, but neither will it compel you to play it over and over again (available in area record stores). Mime is a two-man operation that melds acoustic guitar and moody snyth-pop on its demo. Although the cassette helps define the difference between the terms "produced" and "recorded," the sound is clear enough to reveal the duo's strengths--forbidding vocals, minor-key melodies--and weaknesses, and the project does more borrowing than it should. The Trent Reznor sound-alike "Your God" is the cut that stuck with me longest (Mime, 429 East 14th Avenue, Apartment A, Denver 80203).
Hard to know what to make of Welcome to the Diskumfort Nursery, a cassette from Wryeteous Pybayk Jammbory. The eight songs feature the mock-operatic warbling of Winona Righteous and a sonic recipe that's midway between It's a Beautiful Day and Frank Zappa. My favorite is "In Her House," which is bit more reined-in than some of these other flights of fancy (Trance World Hq, 1450 Clarkson #6, Denver 80218). The three-track demo by Death and Taxes comes from the laboratory of Geoff Workman, a producer who maintained a high profile on the Denver scene in the early Nineties. Typical of Workman's previous efforts, "Run With the Wolves," "Conversation Drags" and "Manson" are sleek, somewhat generic hard rock that will be slurped up by anyone who wishes Eighties pop-metal was still in vogue (534-3102).
Folkrap Safetygrunge comes from Micah Ciampa, and it's a touch more rugged than the average sensitive-guitar-strummer showcase. "Skyline Song," a tribute to the Skyline Cafe, may strike a chord with the denizens of that establishment, while a couple of others recall Loudon Wainwright III at those moments when he's not in a humorous frame of mind. But the majority of the cassette is too standard to make much of an impression (Micah Ciampa, 4039 1/2 Wyandot Street, Denver 80211). S-FRO-7 brings us Radio Galaxies, a four-tune demo whose familiar alternative textures are severely muffled by poor production; I don't know which bandmember was playing the tape hiss, but he should stand further back from the microphone next time around. Even so, "The Little Baby" and "Kurtis Kinghammer," the latter caught live, crackle with enough energy to slice through at least some of the technical difficulties (446-2274).
Treehouse is based in Aspen, and on its Treehouse CD, the band makes the kind of undemanding music that young, affluent skiers probably want to hear after a day on the slopes. The most interesting element is the violin-playing of Paul Kuhn; without it, "Superman's Gone Crazy" and the rest would be even more anonymous than they already are (Treehouse, P.O. Box 10471, Aspen 81612). In the letter that came with their demo tape, Skeezer Attack!!, Kooley-Z and MC Yama opened with the following greeting: "To whoever gives a fuck." Some listeners will, if only because MC Yama, a Frenchman by birth, delivers his English rhymes in an accent wholly unlike any other rapper you can name. "Kutt-Masta Kooley" and "I'm From France" are particularly daffy, low-budget larks. Amateurish, but pretty funny anyway (Kooley Z and MC Yama, P.O. Box 440963, Aurora 80014).
Inner Worlds Music, a Boulder label, presents Dynamic Dancing, by the Power of Movement, the nom de plume of German musicians Andreas Mock and JYrgen Schlachter. With its blend of indigenous samples and studio editing, the offering recalls the cross-cultural manipulation taken up the sales charts by Deep Forest, but with a greater emphasis on tribal drumming. Titles like "Indian Visions" hint at new-agey concerns, but the CD is more substantial than the usual meditation aid. Because Mock and Schlachter have got the beat (Inner Worlds Music, 154 Betasso Road, Boulder 80302-9606). On his demo, Steven Ray Liedlich gets an interesting sound out of his acoustic guitar; it's high-pitched and elastic. His singing is distinctive, too, particularly on the wry "Supermodel for a Better Humanity," "Faith" (recorded live at Penny Lane) and the off-center "Spanish Influenza." A promising voice on the local singer-songwriter scene (Steven Ray Liedlich, 960-D Eldorado Avenue, Eldora 80466).
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There are plenty of rumors flying around about Glendale's Paradise Theater, which has been shuttered since late May--and few of them bode well for the future of the establishment. But according to Sammy Mai, a co-owner of the property since the days when it was known as Bangles, we have not yet seen the end of Paradise. "We're closed because we have to get the kitchen set up in order for the state to approve a hotel-and-restaurant license," he says. (Barb Dye, who's been booking many of the acts at the club, elaborates: "There was some problem getting the liquor license renewed, because one of the applications for the restaurant part was messed up somehow.") Mai will not be pinned down on a reopening date, but he allows, "We want to keep the live-entertainment aspect--the original bands, the semi-nationals and so forth." Meanwhile, Eck's Saloon in Lakewood will be closed between June 16 and July 15, allegedly for "remodeling." Our sources tell us that euphemism is code for liquor-license problems. Surprise, surprise.
After its Friday, June 14, appearance, Carolyn's Mother is hitting the highway. "We head out to Chicago for three weeks," says guitarist Drew Hodgson. "Then we're going to Dallas for four weeks after that, and then back to Denver. Our aim is to do a basic triangle between those three cities for as long as it takes for us to get established." The players are so committed to this approach that they've all quit their day jobs. "It's kind of a scary time," Hodgson confesses, "but we feel we have to do this. Denver's a great town, but I think if you're going to make it, you've got to get out of here."
Among the bands staying here are the Amirs, the Hectics, Electrolux, Gina Go Faster and Boss 302. These acts and more appear at the Ogden Theatre on Friday, June 14, for "Nate Clarke Rocks," an evening dedicated to the Greeley student who was murdered in a downtown Denver parking garage earlier this year. The proceeds will go to a local battered-women's shelter. Also of note: On Thursday, June 13, Tommy Castro smokes at Brendan's. On Friday, June 14, the members of Fox Force 5, joined by King Rat and Jett Redball, accompany their chrome friend to Seven South; Dave Moore and Johnny Long strum at Swallow Hill Music Hall; the String Cheese Incident, with Skin in tow, introduces those at the Boulder Theater to a new CD, Born on the Wrong Planet; the Keepers hang out at Ziggie's Saloon; and MU330 returns to the Raven. On Saturday, June 15, Mary Flower celebrates the release of her new album, Rosewood and Steel, at the Bluebird Theater; Magnapop heats up at the Fox Theatre, with Local H, Nada Surf and Hi-Five Mo Fo; and Beth Quist visits Penny Lane. On Sunday, June 16, George Clinton & the P-Funk All-Stars, the Radiators, Taj Mahal and Keb' Mo' cook at Red Rocks; the Rocky Mountain Music Association sponsors the "Walt Conley 'After All These Years' Acoustic Music Awards" at the Mercury Cafe; and Lynn Skinner plays the Denver Civic Theatre, 721 Santa Fe Drive. And on Tuesday, June 18, the Cocteau Twins pair up at the Ogden, with Spain. Double your pleasure.--Michael Roberts
Backbeat's e-mail address is Michael_Roberts@ westword.comMichael_Roberts@