A group of songwriters from across the United States — Georgia, Illinois, Michigan and Florida — started hanging out in Colorado at backyard barbecues. They shared a passion for classic rock, drawing inspiration from the Band, Neil Young and the Grateful Dead. When the musicians discovered their mutual taste, they formed Last of the Easy Riders, a rock band with country and psychedelic overtones.
The band's songwriting process has evolved organically. As the Riders enter their second year, their music has become more cohesive and distinct from the acts that inspired them. Their upcoming concerts reflect the breadth of their sound: The group will play a psychedelic liquid light show with Mad Alchemy and then a wrap-up party for the National Western Stock Show.
Westword spoke with drummer, percussionist and vocalist Mitch Mitchum and guitarist and vocalist Chris Minarik about how the band broke into the Colorado music scene and started mixing genres.
Westword: Tell me about your sound and genre. It sounds like it’s a couple styles that have merged together Mitch Mitchum: When we first started off, we were pulling from a lot of different sources. It was really psychedelic, and then it started to go a little bit more country. The first album we did, every song was compartmentalized into a genre, song by song. I think with this next album, we've figured out how to blend it all together. The songs have a more cohesive sound rather than this is our blues song, this is our psychedelic song, this is our country song. Chris Minarik: I wanted it to be a combination of country and twang and psychedelic.… It's eclectic, in that sense. We can play a country set when we need to and a psychedelic set when we need to. We didn’t want to be pegged down into one specific thing.
So what you will play at the Stock Show will be different from what you play at the Mad Alchemy show coming up?
Mitchum: Totally different. We have different sets.
Minarik: We can play our songs in a certain way. If we need to play it psychedelic, we’ll jam for like five or ten minutes on a song. Or if it needs to be country, we’ll strum open, clean chords.
Mitchum: We even have different versions of some of our songs. Our approach to the music is a lot like jam music, but we’re songwriters. Having that in between is more similar to what guys were doing in the ’60s and ’70s, with bands like the Byrds and the Grateful Dead. They had their songs, but they would jam on them to make them interesting and new to even themselves. I don’t think a lot of bands do that now, unless typecasted as a jam band.
How has playing in Colorado been? Was entering the scene a challenge?
Mitchum: We don’t know anybody here. I’m from Athens, Georgia, and the scene there is very small but active. I got used to being able to call somebody and see some results. We all came here with no background or connections to Denver. I think we found out the hard way, but Denver is kind of a weird town, at least to me.
Minarik: It definitely helps to know people.
Mitchum: It took us several months to tap into the Denver music scene. The main way we tapped in was Country Night at the Meadowlark.
Minarik: Yeah, [playing at the Meadowlark] really broke the ice. That’s when we started playing with the other musicians around town.
Having such a diverse sound, what is the intent behind your music?
Minarik: I hope we accomplish giving people a good feeling when they listen to us. I want music to touch people, and for them to get something out of it emotionally.
Mitchum: And have a connection with the people listening to the music.
Do you think this intent comes from your experiences listening to your influences, like Neil Young, etc?
Mitchum: I listened to Neil Young and Van Morrison my whole life because that’s what my dad listened to. It’s funny, because when you’re a kid, you want to get away from what [your parents] listen to, and then as I moved into my mid-twenties, things came full circle. The reason why is because that music has meaning to me personally.
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Nowadays, I think the genre that we could be associated with, this post-punk, psychedelic ’60s sound, is very ambiguous. You’ll listen to the vocals, and it’s more of an instrument than a voice speaking to you. I started to get tired of listening to that kind of music, because, yeah, it has a cool sound and cool image, but it doesn’t have any personal meaning to me. And it’s not to say there aren’t those bands out there. But we wanted our voices to come through the music and be something that’s showcased through harmonies and making our voices heard.
Minarik: I also think we’re influenced by music that has stood the test of time. That’s important to us, because we want to make something that will, too. I don’t know if we have, and I don’t know if we will. But we want to.
The Last of the Easy Riders performs this Tuesday, January 3, at the hi-dive, with Flaural, Kinky Fingers and Mad Alchemy.