If you want to get technical, the Westword Music Awards Showcase guide at the center of this issue is an advertising supplement. But it's also the most extensive overview of the Denver-Boulder music scene that any area publication will print this year. In addition to a map and a complete schedule for the Showcase, which takes place on Sunday, September 20, at seven lower downtown venues, it includes profiles of all 64 nominees. Members from every act were interviewed, and the conversations yielded a torrent of news, opinions and sometimes intriguing, sometimes humorous takes on music and life in general. What follows are teasers from these sessions. Turn to the guide for the complete picture.
"I guess it's our fault. We thought he was going to die the day we put the CD out, but it turned out to be a slow death."
--The Hate Fuck Trio's Sam DeStefano on how his band's EP, Ol' Blue Eyes, helped kill Frank Sinatra
"We've gotten the go-ahead to do one, and we'd like to have it out in October. We've been really busting it trying to get it done, but we're psyched. There's tons of great stuff to choose from."
--Rob Squires of Big Head Todd and the Monsters talking about the group's forthcoming live CD
"Bumpy Chill, why ask why?/I'm the paparazzi who crashed Princess Di/I know I'm sittin' next to the devil in hell/That's why I pushed baby Jessica down the well/One day I got drunk off scotch/Shot Phil Hartman and his wife and made the children watch..."
--Rapper Bumpy Chill reciting the first rhymes on his forthcoming album
"They said that Elephant 6's home base is in Athens, Georgia, but it's still run from Denver. Athens is part of it, but a lot of the moods and aesthetics of our albums come from here. So that kind of irked me."
--The Apples' Robert Schneider discussing an article about his label, Elephant 6, that appeared in Rolling Stone
"A lot of us got into the jazz genre because there's more room for exploration and for expressing yourself in different ways. And now you turn on a smooth-jazz station and you hear Phil Collins or Luther Vandross, and you think, 'Whoa, is that the competition now?'"
--Dotsero saxophonist Steve Watts on the rise of smooth jazz
"I don't care if I never play with Herman again."
--Drummer Evan Eisentrager making plain why the reggae band Preacherman and the Congregation is on the verge of breaking up
"We still get groupies and some of the women like we used to, but none of us are into that anymore. When we first got back together, we tried it for a couple nights, and it took us about two weeks to recover."
--Marvin "Henchi" Graves of the Freddi-Henchi Band giving new meaning to the term "comeback"
"If everything goes well, things could work out pretty good for us. If it doesn't, we'll stay in local-music obscurity."
--Evan O'Meara of the 8 Bucks Experiment weighing the potential impact of the group's appearance in a new indie film, Salt Lake City Punk
"We don't know whether they're going to let us pursue a third record or drop us. And nobody at A&M can tell us what's going on, because they don't know whether they're even going to have their jobs. They don't even know if there's going to be an A&M at all anymore."
--David Eugene Edwards of 16 Horsepower on the chaos at his label, A&M Records
"It's in the scene where Cameron Diaz is talking with all her other women friends. It plays for a long time, but it's not very loud, so you have to listen pretty close to hear it."
--Zuba's Liza Oxnard about the sequence in the hit film There's Something About Mary that features the act's song "Speed Queen"
"When the whole Gramavision thing went down, I just reminded myself that I'm a musician and that all I want to do is keep writing music and putting it out. And as long as people can find it, that's all that matters."
--Jazz trumpeter Ron Miles explaining his approach following the closing of his national label, Gramavision
"[John Elway] threw himself up in the air, landed on his back and spun around like he was breakdancing. The band was stunned. He seems so quiet, but he was going like a madman. And that wasn't all of it. Mike Shanahan tried spinning on his back, too. I was really upset, because I ran out of film just as he was doing it. I wanted that picture--the sedate Mike Shanahan spinning around on the floor."
"The scene in Denver is fickle and a grotesque example of a junior-high-type popularity contest."
--Skull Flux bassist Steve Millin giving one reason why his heavy-rocking quartet nearly called it quits.
"Aren't you impressed with Denver lately? It's starting to feel like a real city."
--Judge Roughneck's Byron Shaw.
Like the aforementioned artists, Adrian Romero is also a nominee for the 1998 Westword Music Awards Showcase--but he probably won't be repeating this achievement in 1999. Why not? Because within a matter of months, he and Ron Voller, the bassist for Romero's band, Love Supreme, are leaving Denver for the bright lights and newly cleaned-up porn palaces of New York City.
Romero, a previous Westword profile subject ("Supreme Beings, January 22), is a fast-talking, opinionated sort; for instance, he's told practically everyone I've ever met that I'm a hideous carbuncle on the face of the local music scene. (Glad to know you're reading, dude.) It's no surprise, then, that he has plenty of reasons for leaving the state we're in--and although he asks that some of his most contentious comments on the topic remain off the record, the ones he offers for public consumption are more than capable of raising the hackles of the you-can-make-it-from-Denver crowd.
"Denver is a wonderful place to get your chops together, because Denver folks are very forgiving--and I don't mean that facetiously," he says. "But having played in some major music markets, I've come to realize that people who live in Denver will come out and see you, and so will people who have an in--but without a record contract or the advertising that comes with it, industry people won't bother. They're not going to come see you because, number one, they don't give a shit; number two, it's the wrong night of the week for them; and number three, there's no buzz about you in their town that's sizable enough. So that takes you back to point one--they don't give a shit. And the only way to change that is to be in their town creating a buzz all the time. Plus, Colorado is geographically so far away from places you have to go to tour that you end up spending a fortune just to play a couple of gigs, versus a place like Manhattan, which is just a hop, skip and a jump from other markets. It may be more expensive to live in New York, but I think you spend the same amount of money going broke touring as you would just being there."
A brief tour last October, approximately nine months after the release of his CD debut, Radio Free Cola, helped cement these opinions in Romero's mind. The disc had done well in Colorado since its appearance, and Romero says that live bootlegs of Love Supreme were being circulated by fans as far away as Australia. Nonetheless, he was frustrated that the band had not yet risen to the next level of popularity, and he was in search of greater musical challenges. He found them during a week's worth of NYC solo gigs. "I was immediately aware of the differences between here and there," he notes. "You don't get a whole night out there; you get a tiny little slot surrounded by a bunch of other people. And basically, you have to walk on to the stage with the intention of being better than anyone else who's going to play that night--and I don't think that's a bad thing." He adds, "I had people who came to my first gig of the week coming back again at the end of the week, bringing other people along and requesting songs by title. It was a little entourage of folks who wanted to talk about the lyrics of the songs and that sort of thing."
Such boosters will have new material to debate shortly: This fall, Romero is putting out Shabang Shabang, a CD featuring new songs and old. (For more details on the recording, as well as the doings of all 64 Westword Music Awards Showcase nominees, check out the Showcase guide in next week's issue.) He plans to introduce these tunes to New Yorkers with a series of solo shows, to be followed up by dates featuring his new band, which he hopes to have in place by the end of the year. He says he'll miss Love Supreme, which also includes drummer Darrin Johnson and cellist Hannah Alkire (a frequent collaborator with singer-songwriter Wendy Woo), but he doesn't have an elaborate final show in the works. As a result, Romero's appearance at the Showcase on September 20 is likely the last opportunity Denverites will get a chance to see him live in the foreseeable future. According to him, "It'll be a chance to say 'Thank you, beautiful people of Denver.' And I say that without any bitterness."
In contrast to Romero, the Czars have managed to achieve a substantial break without packing up and leaving Colorado behind. The group's bassist, Chris Pearson, says the band has accepted an invitation to spend the month of September in London recording at September Sound studio with Simon Raymonde of the Cocteau Twins. Also scheduled to participate in the sessions is Paula Fraser, vocalist for the 4AD signee Tarnation; she's flying from San Francisco to London to duet with Czars singer John Grant.
September Sound is among the busier recording facilities in England; artists who have cut tracks there include the Pixies, Future Sound of London, Mazzy Star and more, more, more. Pearson describes the ditties the Czars will put down on tape there as demos that will be shopped to major labels upon completion. But if no bigshots are interested, Raymonde has committed to issuing the material on Bella Union, an indie imprint he established last year with fellow Twin Robin Guthrie.
Pearson has a full plate waiting for him upon his return from England. He's started his own label in order to better promote the work of the Czars and his two other bands, Velveteen Monster and Jux County. He expects the Monster's debut, culled primarily from an August performance at the Bluebird Theater, to appear in stores in December, with a Jux County CD to follow shortly thereafter. Also on the agenda is Beautiful Curse, by Venus Diablo, an Albuquerque combo ("Venus Rising," September 11, 1997). The group is no longer in existence, but Pearson promises that the platter will send it off in style.
Talk-show host Jay Marvin, whose fiery weekday afternoon show on KHOW-AM/630 helped make him a Westword cover boy ("Double Trouble," March 26), is doing precisely what fans of intriguing radio hoped he wouldn't: He's leaving Denver in order to rejoin the staff of WFLA-AM in Tampa, Florida, an outlet that first hired him in the late Eighties. His last Denver broadcast is Friday, September 18, starting at 3 p.m.
Health is the reason for the move, says Marvin, who celebrated his 46th birthday last week. He has missed a great many broadcasts over the past several months for a variety of maladies, including pneumonia. Two weeks ago, however, doctors traced many of his problems to sleep apnea. "When a normal person sleeps, his brain registers about ten interruptions an hour," he notes. "You don't wake up, but you stir, almost like if someone was gently poking you. Well, I either suffer a disruption or stop breathing 88 times an hour. And each time that happens, you register a tiny jolt to your heart"--an organ that, in Marvin's case, is already enlarged on the right side. He experienced some relief after physicians ordered him to sleep wearing an oxygen mask, but he didn't feel measurably better until he and his wife, Mary, took a vacation to the Nevada desert, an area with an elevation considerably lower than Denver's. Upon his return, he asked his employers at Jacor Communications if there were openings at any company properties closer to sea level. Within two weeks, he was part of the staff at Jacor-owned WFLA.
Although Marvin's ratings couldn't compare with his time slot's most popular programs, such as the "Sports Zoo" on KOA-AM/850, they were better than anything KHOW had managed in ages. "They're triple what they were," says Marvin, who started at KHOW in fall 1996, "and I have one of the highest time-spent-listening rankings of anyone in the city. People stuck with me." He adds, "It was a hard decision to leave, because I have unfinished business. Most talk shows take three years to catch on, and I needed three years. I wasn't in bad shape, and advertisers couldn't get on fast enough; I was sold out. But I could have become bigger if I'd had the time."
Not everyone loved Marvin, who can go from cuddly to confrontational in a twinkling. "I think radio in Denver is pretty safe," he says, "and I don't think people were used to someone coming on and telling them exactly what they think. If you do that here, you take a lot of dings." He's particularly prickly about the often negative evaluations he's received from veteran critics Dusty Saunders (of the Rocky Mountain News) and Joanne Ostrow (of the Denver Post), who share a media program that airs at 10 a.m. Sunday mornings on KHOW. He calls them "completely out of touch, and their show's an embarrassment. I don't care if I get in trouble with my own company for saying so; that's the way I feel. They're totally disconnected. The Post and the Rocky should seriously re-examine who they've got doing that job."
Blunt opinions like these are rare in Denver talk radio, which is seriously short on interesting personalities who are based in the city. KHOW execs are currently conducting a search for a new afternoon-drive jock, but they're unlikely to find someone as quirky as Marvin, who spends his free time writing experimental fiction and poetry (his first novel, Punk Blood, is available on Illinois's Fiction Collective, and two of his poems will appear next year in an anthology from Thundermouth Press). The local airwaves will be poorer for his absence.
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Can you believe it? The two previous items didn't even mention this week's Showcase (to which you are all invited). I may be a pimp, but I have my limits.
Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com.