“We just saw this guy beating the shit out of his guitar,” says KoKo LA, from the band RAREBYRD$, about the first time she saw Vahco Before Horses play at Mutiny Information Cafe. “I just knew I wanted to work with him.”
After introducing herself to him, KoKo LA and her musical partner, Key-Lady, discovered that Before Horses was more than just a compelling performer. He was also a wealth of musical knowledge and experience who wanted to connect and create community.
“He gave us a place to practice and hone our craft,” Key-Lady says. “We all felt like we’ve always known each other. It’s a lot easier to create when everyone involved is your homie.”
The community that Before Horses gave RAREBYRD$ and other Denver musicians is the newly formed Glasss Records. A collaboration started by Before Horses and partner Amanda Gostomski, the ambitious label will put out records from over a dozen artists this year. But, as Before Horses says, this is not just a record label; it is a movement.
Ten years ago, Before Horses, now 44 years old, moved from New York City to Denver. “I didn’t really do any music when I first got here,” he says. “I kind of lurked around the underground for a bit. I’d always been looking for something that would remind me of Andy Warhol’s Factory, or the Lower East Side with Basquiat, Keith Haring and Madonna — those kinds of movements. I wanted to put it together, but I always told myself it had to happen organically. But, as Warhol said, ‘You could put that together.’’’
While a decade ago, Denver wasn’t quite ready for an artistic movement on par with that of New York in the ’60s, Before Horses saw a flourishing arts and music scene taking shape. But he also saw deficiencies he wanted to fix.
“I’m from San Francisco, where, if you’re into hip-hop, you’re a surfer, but you also like hard rock and doom, so everyone meets somewhere in the middle,” he says. “When I first got here, I noticed a serious division and lack of gender as well as racial equality in the music scene. That gets draining, and it’s not the way I was raised.”
From the time he arrived, Before Horse’s vision for his creative movement was starting to take shape; he just needed the proper players to bring it into being.
“Once I found Princess Dewclaw, everything changed,” he says, speaking of Gostomski and recalling the first time they met, when her band was playing at Streets of London in October 2016. “Musically, they reminded me of the B-52’s and the Cramps. It was magic, and they changed the course of my career. The members all split up [into] a lot of bands, and they’re all filmmakers and graphic artists. They are a Factory themselves.”
Through Gostomski, he met other artists, including EVP, Pearls and Perils, and Grave Moss. Those bands and their artistically diverse members represented what Before Horses wanted in his scene: forward-thinking artists from different backgrounds for whom creation and collaboration are paramount.
“She is one of the most forward-thinking people that I’ve ever met,” he says of Gostomski. “She can see things like a museum does. She curates. She is a force. People don’t know how powerful of a music mind she is. When she mentioned that a label was needed to bring certain people together, I jumped on board.”
The two set out to form Glasss Records. In the age of digital music, starting a record label may not seem to be the most sound musical investment. As he recruited a team of investors, Before Horses convinced them that they were not investing in products or units, but something larger: a creative movement.
Before Horses, who had been a painter exhibiting in the East Village and Alphabet City since 1998, had experience with the patron model that has long funded projects in the visual- and classical-arts worlds, and he put that model to use to help fund Glasss Records.
“I work with a team of investors and patrons I’ve been working with for the last ten years, collecting funds and forming partnerships with different vinyl pressers and cassette makers,” he says. “By eliminating the step that would prevent product from being out, you can get more product out.”
When pressed to explain who these patrons are, Before Horses declines.
“People in New York, France, London, California — they’re all over the place,” he says. “They’re people who want to stay quiet and push art and different movements. The people I’m working with are straight up about the cost and what they want out of it. It’s how I deal with people. It’s what they want. I tend to deal with people by finding out what they want right away, because if you don’t, it’s a long, weird process.”
With this support, Glasss Records is set to put out a slew of vinyl records from a host of Denver bands, including Gold Trash (which Before Horses performs in), Pearls and Perils, EVP, Super Macho, Abeasity Jones, Chromadrift and others.
“I want to push albums that no one else is paying attention to, but when you hear them, you get goosebumps,” he says. “Watching a RAREBYRD$/Abeasity Jones performance is one of the most psychedelic experiences I’ve ever had. It’s mind-blowing.”
Because the musical genres of Glasss Records artists are so diverse, Before Horses is hard-pressed to find unifying characteristics among the acts. But that’s how he likes it.
“I just found a group of people who got it,” he says. “The music they make is brilliant, because they are brilliant people. On my roster, there are half a dozen producers. I’ve already watched them produce other people.
They’re all in their twenties. A young female producer? I have half a dozen in the clique; we’re bringing that power to the industry. I have faith in all the artists involved. I put my name on these products and back them 100 percent. It’s their chance to take it, and all I ask is that they tour, because there are great audiences out there to discover them. I ask that they have the drive to find them.”
While Before Horses is confident in the artists with whom he is working and driven to stay on task, he’s not pie-eyed about it, either. He understands the pitfalls of the music industry and concedes that creative collaborations often fail when collective visions become clouded. Warhol’s Factory was no exception.
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“This is where people will laugh at me, because the Factory failed,” he says. “But why did Warhol fail? He didn’t realize everyone was leeching off of him and taking his money. I want to be straight up with the artists and put out their product. Once it’s out, where they take it is up to them. Everyone is seriously motivated, each one handed a product that is going to handle itself.”
As a label, Glasss will continue to scout artists and ensure that young musicians are given resources to succeed. As a collective and a movement, Glasss Records has already met Before Horses’ aspirations, he insists.
“I thought about it my whole life, and how I always wanted to be around a group of people this intelligent and future-forward thinking who are also talented and stylish. I look for style. Everyone involved is fashion-forward. It’s not important, but it just so happens to be that way. There’s no design to it. It’s super-organic, and that’s the one thing I can put my back into.”
Glasss Records Presents, Wednesday, October 25, Aztlan Theatre, 976 Santa Fe Drive, $8.