If the project Theo Smith is working on right now pans out, his dreams will murder his reality. But from the nonchalant way he talks, he's either downplaying the possibilities or hasn't fully grasped the epochal implications.
Most folks around these parts remember him as Lord of Word -- a brand name as good as currency backed by gold. But looking at him -- sitting across the table over a plate of hot wings, the ballcap on his freshly shorn head as unremarkable as his surname -- it's hard to believe that a mere five years ago, he was the man.
Dude was a badass, a consummate performer with more charisma than a Beltway pub full of politicos. Lord of Word and the Disciples of Bass didn't just put on shows; they were events. Folks went shopping before the gigs, fully expecting to get some horizontal action at the end of a pulsating set. And while his band was called the Disciples of Bass, those words also described his legions of fans. In no short order, he not only fronted one of the most lionized acts in the city, but also performed at Red Rocks when it was absolutely unheard of for locals to grace God's stage; took home multiple Westword music awards; shared the stage with the captain of the mothership and the progenitor of funk, George Clinton; and recorded with jazz virtuoso Josh Redman.
But today he's not the Lord. He's just Theo, and the only thing he wants to talk about is his new solo album and how he's fiendin' to bring the "party back to the people."
"I don't care if I take a break for two years, three years or four years," he says in his Lou Rawls-like drawl. "I'll still come back and rock the shit out of any mike or stage. I just want to prove to everybody that I can do it solo."
Since Lord of Word and the Disciples of Bass opened its last can of funk in the spring of 1998 (leaving a gaping hole in the scene), Theo has written over sixty songs. And he's spent the past six months in a nondescript recording studio in northwest Denver with Ryan Conway, his producer/collaborator, picking over a dozen tracks that -- from the sound of the rough mixes -- are light-years ahead of anything he's done thus far. His cadence is as flawless as ever, and the new songs showcase stunning vocal arrangements, with three-part harmonies crooned by the Lord himself over chest-stomping beats put together by Conway. The new material is an evolution of Lord of Word's trademark funk, exhibiting the sensuality of Barry White and the raw sexual tension of Dirty Mind-era Prince while incorporating the finesse and positivity of Al Green-inflected gospel.
Theo may have been out of the game for the past five years, but recognize: The Lord is coming back for his people.
He's also about to give listeners a Lordgasm. Yep, that's the name, and that's exactly what it sounds like -- an audio experience so euphoric that you'll probably need to towel off after listening to it. Together with Conway and an unnamed physicist friend, Theo is starting an audio revolution. The technology behind his new record could be the biggest freaking thing in the music world since Napster -- a mind-melding, 360-degree sound that would render obsolete all other forms of audio delivery. It's like surround sound, only through a single pair of speakers.
"When you're listening to vocals, it will sound like I'm walking around you, as opposed to panning left to right," Theo explains. "It's hard to conceive, but when people hear the new technology, it will blow their minds."
Lucasfilm and Sony are among the handful of companies that have had the opportunity to experience the technology, Theo says. And while some of the industry's marquee names will no doubt adopt the system -- whose official trade name is so top-secret, he requests that it be kept under wraps until later this summer -- Lordgasm will be the consumers' first chance to hear it for themselves.
That Lord of Word will lead the revolution appears lost on the humble musician -- until I point out just how epic it could be, drawing the parallel to an artist going from recording in mono to recording in stereo.
"You know, I never thought about it like that," says Theo, as if a thousand-watt spot had just illuminated the inside of his cranium. He'd never considered that those wanting to hear the sonic advancement would need to buy his album in order to do so. And if the technology delivers on its potential, everyone involved with the project will be thrust into the national spotlight -- not to mention a much larger tax bracket.
I hadn't seen Theo for years until I ran into him at the opening of Rise, where he moonlights as a dancer. I asked what he was up to; he talked about the album for a few minutes, then disappeared. Ten minutes later, he was back with a set of headphones and a disc player. He couldn't wait to spread the word about the new album, which has a tentative August release date.
Rise occupies the building at 1909 Blake Street that was Dick's Last Resort and then Alice Cooper'stown, and bills itself as Denver's equivalent to South Beach. I've never been to South Beach, but if it looks like a Las Vegas impression of Miami, the owners have nailed it, right down to the palm trees and pretty people. The opening party attracted nearly 1,500 of this town's bold and beautiful, all sporting brand names I can't even pronounce. Oh, yeah, hotties everywhere, Jack. I may be married, but I'm not dead.
Inside, the club is 18,000 square feet of posh righteousness. The VIP area upstairs has already played host to Usher, a P. Diddy crony, who "couldn't believe a club like this is in Denver," says Kevin Larson, the former Pandora's lingerie pusher who's now promoting Rise. Opening night was as close as I may ever get to the VIP room; I'm not exactly VIP material, especially in my civvies -- a comic-book-illustrated button-down not unlike something your thirteen-year-old brother would wear, chain wallet and weathered Docs. I'm sure I got a pass because my name was on the list.
But that's okay, because I prefer the outside of Rise, where the palm trees are. I'll be content just to sit on the patio and people-watch from the comfort of the pre-formed plastic couches or -- get this -- beds. Surrounded by palm trees and kerosene candles (or kerosene torches, depending on how close you stand to them), being on Rise's deck is like visiting an ocean resort, sans the ocean. And it's as close to South Beach as I'll probably ever come.
Still, I'm dying to see how those damn palm trees withstand a sub-zero Denver winter -- or a holy-shit-it-can't-be-snowing-in-the-middle-of-summer blizzard.
Are you listening, Lord?
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