One fateful day in Boulder back in January 2006, when word came down that Newcomers Home was breaking up, wild-eyed mourners wept openly in the streets. Folks wandered aimlessly along the Pearl Street Mall, rending their garments and clawing out their eyes. There was much gnashing of teeth, and the sky cracked open and bled forth a black and steaming rain, burning the pavement like acid, and...
Okay, so none of that happened. Still, it was a sad day for followers of the Boulder-based group. Notes posted on the band's website reflect how big of an impact Newcomers Home's gentle warmth had on its fans: "It is the type of music that I truly love, and have shared with others," reads one post. "I first saw you the very first day I moved to Colorado in August 2002 and have loved your music ever since," says another. And, posted a few weeks after the final show, "Katie, you are now my favorite singer. I am your biggest fan."
"We knew it would let down a lot of people when we announced it," says former Newcomers Home singer Katie Herzig, "because we really did have some devoted fans. But it was still crazy to read all the e-mails people sent, some saying they actually cried when they heard the news. It really felt like the end of an era for all of us, I think."
Boulder Asian Film Festival, with Wendy Woo, 9 p.m. Saturday, August 18, Boulder Theater, 2032 14th Street, Boulder, $8, 303-786-7030; with Wendy Woo, 8 p.m. Tuesday, August 21, D Note, 7519 Grandview Avenue, Arvada, $10, 303-463-6683.
In retrospect, the Fort Collins native says that although the split seemed somewhat inevitable, when it finally came time to call it a day, she and her bandmates were a little stunned by their reactions. "We had been together eight years, and it was something I had always feared," Herzig says. "But once it was said out loud, that maybe it was time to end it, it was surprising how right it felt, almost a sense of relief. That it was time."
But from upheaval comes rebirth, and for Herzig a fresh start involved digging up her Colorado roots and heading somewhere new. Hot on the heels of the release of her second solo record, Weightless, Herzig packed up her car and lit out for Nashville. Luckily, she chose a town with plenty of like-minded individuals who were eager to welcome her into the fold.
"There's such a great community of musicians and artists here," she points out. "And you go out and see each other's shows and become friends really easily — it's really comfortable. And knowing so many artists, there's always someone you can ask to open a show for you, or someone who will ask you. It's just a really great community."
As if she didn't have enough on her plate already with moving, touring and everything else, last year Herzig was invited to join some friends who were taking a road trip down to New Orleans to help out with Katrina relief projects. Naturally — because that's the kind of gal she is — Herzig dropped everything and went along.
"We gutted houses for a week," she recalls. "Such a small amount of time considering they are still gutting houses down there. I went expecting to give, and I did, but you can't help but be on the receiving end when people are so friendly and grateful. A group of us spent a day gutting a man's house who said we did more in that day than he had done in almost a year. I think I got more out of it than I gave."
Meanwhile, back in Tennessee, a serendipitous encounter gave credence to the notion that the good you do comes back to you. A chance meeting with Joe King from the Fray led to her opening several shows for the newly-minted mega-stars, giving Herzig the chance to play before much larger audiences, including a date at City Lights Pavilion last summer.
"I met Joe in Nashville back when the Fray played the Cannery Ballroom," she recounts. "I happened to be playing right upstairs that same night at the Mercy Lounge. He'd heard my Weightless CD through Mat Kearney, then he realized I was from Newcomers Home from Colorado, and so we met up. It was quite an experience. They're really nice guys, and I think they've done a lot for Colorado musicians in general, just in terms of sort of putting the spotlight on Colorado, letting people around the country know that there are a lot of talented artists there."
Artists like Herzig. Weightless has won her praise not only from fellow musicians, but also from critics, her new friends in Nashville and Newcomers Home's fans. The record has Herzig's trademark sweetness and naked honesty, not to mention her ethereal yet insistent voice, which has inspired comparisons to Sarah McLachlan and Lisa Germano. There's a certain freedom to the album — a sense of weightlessness, if you will — that Herzig says is the result of locking herself away in her house and just playing.
"There are a lot of songs on this record, fourteen of them," she notes, "so it took some time. But I did pretty much all of it at home, just sort of hunkered down, worked through it on my own. Some of the instruments or musical pads are just me making noises of what I wanted something to sound like. Then the whole thing was sent to Gary Paczosa to mix. I feel like he helped to make the tracks I recorded three-dimensional he's so talented."
Paczosa certainly has an impressive resume, one that includes engineering and production credits for the likes of Allison Krauss, John Prine, Dolly Parton and Nickel Creek. "He's got lots of Grammys," Herzig adds. Perhaps, but in Herzig's case, it seems like he was really just adding an extra sheen to something that required a minimal amount of polish. Herzig has proven herself to be a talented tunesmith in her own right. She's had songs appear in episodes of ER and Smallville, and earlier this year, a song she co-wrote, which the Duhks recorded, was nominated for a Grammy.
But it's Weightless that really showcases how much she's flourished as a songwriter. "Jack and Jill" is a beautiful romp that revels in the carelessness and simplicity of young, dumb love (is there any other kind?). Loaded with tons of quirky asides — wispy, layered vocals, odd but endearing rhythmic breaks, a tinny guitar that sounds as if it's being played through the small end of a megaphone and Syd Barrett-like mad whistling — "Jack and Jill" makes for one sweet, weird and endlessly interesting song.
Weightless's biggest standout, though, is "Sweeter Than This," a number Herzig says is about an imaginary boyfriend, "because it's such an angst-free song." Built upon a punchy guitar line and filigrees of slide on top of a scooping rhythm, the tune evokes the feel of embarking on an adventurous road trip as Herzig sings the lines: "Life is in boxes in back of our car/Driving around with our dreams in a jar/And it's all right here."
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A year and a half after its initial release, "Sweeter Than This" and the album containing it have begun to pick up steam. A video for the song has been shot and is slated to hit the airwaves around the same time the single goes to radio next month. And it's all being done without the help of a label. Herzig isn't exactly in a hurry to give up the freedom that comes with doing it yourself, having issued two well-received discs on her own and given Weightless's current momentum.
"Honestly, I don't know if the next album is going to be on a label," she says. "And I don't know if I'm going to license Weightless to a label. But it's amazing how many options you have as an independent artist, as far as getting good distribution and radio publicity and those sorts of things, and those things are just starting to come together for Weightless right now. So I am still an independent artist for now, but there's no telling what could happen in the future. There's a lot of things up in the air.
"One thing's for sure," she concludes, "I never could have done this record with a label. It was completely an act of independence in every way."
Sounds like this Newcomer is right at home.