Meet the Rouge, one of Denver's brightest new bands
Some scars are forever, some fade with time.
For the members of the Rouge, who all have matching cigarette-burn scars on their arms, it doesn't matter how long the mark stays, as long as the feeling of camaraderie that caused them to do it in the first place lasts forever.
The guys — guitarist/vocalist Joshua Vaught, bassist Jack Egan, guitarist Adam Call and drummer Steve Voss — all consider themselves brothers and live together in a house two blocks from the hi-dive in the Baker neighborhood. That particular club and the bands playing there partially inspired the Rouge to start in the first place.
"When Jack and I first moved to Denver," recalls Vaught, who relocated from Colorado Springs, "we went to a Born in the Flood show at the hi-dive. The place was packed, and the energy was electric. It made me realize that there's no other place in the world I want to be, because Denver is where it's at. Born in the Flood are the reason we wanted to move here."
"Nathaniel Ratliff," adds Egan, "is the epitome of writing music that means something and letting other people feel it."
Duly inspired, the pair started a band of their own called Holiday Run. At first, making music wasn't as glamorous as they had hoped. "We were living in a tent in our buddy's back yard 'cause we couldn't find a place to live," Vaught relates. "Then Holiday Run fell apart at the seams. We found Steve and Adam and started the Rouge pretty much out of nothing."
Although the act formed just over a year ago, already it has garnered its fair share of attention, from an increasing number of fans, to Indie 101.5, which is currently spotlighting the band as artist of the month, to a nomination for a Westword Music Showcase award this year in the indie-pop category. As much as the band appreciates the nod, the members bristle at the "pop" designation. "From day one," Egan points out, "we always wanted to play rock and roll. Everything is sub-genres now, but I really hope people know that we believe what we're singing about and that we just play rock and roll."
"We love the way that rock can connect everyone," Vaught interjects. "We want to rock that line of writing pop tunes with the drive, the emotion and the energy rush of what real rock brings. "
Narrowcasting aside, the "pop" handle may actually be too shallow of a term for the Rouge. Sure, the hooks are there, but there's a notable depth in the lyrical content that's inspired and borrowed from classic literary pieces. The title track of their latest effort, Heat & Light, for instance, ends with a line from the Dylan Thomas poem, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night." As the song peaks, Vaught sings "Rage against the dying light" with a passion generally not associated with status-quo pop music.
Similar literary references abound with this band. Heat's original working title was Now Is the Winter of Our Discontent, an obvious nod to Shakespeare. Deciding that it didn't match the mood of what they were trying to convey, however, the guys opted to move in a different direction. "The worst thing you want," notes Egan, "is a person to listen to your album and feel worse about things than they did before."
Indeed. Just the same, the band also realized that its discontent wasn't necessarily as bad as others'. "We're eating, we have jobs, we get to play music with dudes we love," declares Vaught. "We wanted to humble ourselves and realize that this is the best situation we could possibly be in."
For the eventual title of its record, the Rouge found inspiration in familiar places. "We had the honor of going to Nathaniel Ratliff's wedding," Egan recalls. "Joe Pope's toast to Nathaniel was all based on a poem around the subject of heat and light. It was like, 'May I love with heat and light, may I live with heat and light, may I die with heat and light, our children be born in heat and light.' It was really beautiful."
"We all believe in the power that words hold," Call muses. "We wanted something that vibrated right in the kind of energy and goals we wanted the album to bring."
As it happened, though, the band's first recordings were not as bright or as hot as they felt they should be. "We tried to go the cheap route and went to a friend of a friend's studio," Egan explains. "It didn't work. We felt like what we had was flat and didn't communicate any emotion."
Disappointed with the output of its initial sessions, the group was pointed in the direction of Chris Fogal's Black in Bluhm studio and were surprised to find "the best studio experience I could have hoped for," Vaught enthuses. Subsequently, Fogal and the outfit re-tracked the entire EP in three days and noticed one glaring change upon completion. "The biggest thing that changed," notes Egan with a laugh, "is we actually got what we wanted." One of the reasons for that was because the Park Hill studio had such a relaxed vibe — maybe even a little too relaxed at times.
"We all showed up at like ten in the morning, and I was in the drum room recording," Voss recalls. "I had just finished a song, and I asked Chris how it sounded and he said, 'good,' then I asked the guys how it sounded, and heard a few seconds of silence. Chris then said, 'They're all sleeping.' It was a good feeling, because we knew that we had nothing to worry about and that everyone's parts were solid."
Completing the new record is just one piece of the puzzle for this young band. This summer, the Rouge hopes to tackle another of its goals, one the guys have dreamed about since they were kids: touring for the first time. "At the risk of not sounding cool," Egan sheepishly confesses, "this is the summer of a bunch of little boy's dreams."
"At some point in our lives," Vaught concurs, "we all dreamed about driving up the coast and playing rock and roll, and we get to do that right now."
The tour hasn't been completely confirmed yet, but the highlight thus far is a stop at L.A.'s famed Knitting Factory, where the group will showcase for a few labels. All in all, it's a lot to take in for a band that considers being humble the most important characteristic a band should have.
"We're not better than anyone else," says Vaught. "We've been given a gift to make music that we hope people can connect with."
"I hope," Egan concludes, "that we never lose the feeling of graciousness that we have now."
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