With Soul Canon, Petals of Spain has forged its musical identity
Diversity is Petals of Spain’s commonality.
Petals of Spain doesn't consider its latest release to be a full-fledged album. "It's more of a culmination," bassist Mason Shelmire asserts. "We wanted to get something out."
That something is Soul Canon, a record that represents a good two years of a band forging its own identity, exploring different sounds in the process, from jazz to pop to hip-hop. "I think it just pulls on different styles," notes Hunter Hall, who, aside from singing and playing piano, guitar and keyboards, is one of the band's principal songwriters. "I aspire to write songs in different genres."
Listening to the record, it's impossible to miss the impressive musical chops of Shelmire, Hall and the other players — frontman Nic Hammerberg; trumpeter Wesley Watkins, formerly of Air Dubai; drummer Dylan Johnson; and guitarist Tyler Imbrogno — all of whom are schooled musicians. Soul Canon also features the first song the group created collectively: the funky, groove-infused "Lady Luck." With its brash horn lines and hip-hop asides by Watkins, it's a contrast to tunes like "I Gotta Know," one of the band's more recent pieces. The soaring electric-guitar lines, the carefully coordinated harmonies and the brash lead vocals of Hall recall the most epic work of Queen.
The frenzied "So You're Gonna Quit Now" veers in an entirely different direction, with its syncopated stretches of power chords, moody vocals and dark urgency. And the speedier guitar lines are more vintage metal than Brian May. Overall, the EP reflects a growth process that pulled from a variety of sources.
"I think we developed our sound in that time," Hall observes. "'Lady Luck' is kind of an homage to where we were. Although they were developed over two years in proximity to each other, in a certain way, these songs are all a cohesive piece."
If there is a consistent theme to the EP and the band's general approach, it's diversity. While Soul Canon — the title is a play on the last names of Drew Sowell and Jeff Kanan, the veteran engineers/producers who oversaw the recording — captures different phases of the group's evolution, it's also a reliable hint of what's to come.
On the heels of Canon's release, the band's members have been hard at work on a new set of songs for a full-length release later this year. While the forthcoming album won't have the same long gestation period as Soul Canon, it will certainly feature a similar fusion of styles. That approach goes back to the bandmembers' collective experience, from childhood stints in professional choirs to music degrees earned at colleges across the state to time spent in a wide array of cover bands.
"We used to call ourselves the 'melting pot of music.' That's what we went with for so long," recalls Hammerberg, one of the outfit's founders. "We've gone through jazz, rock and pop, and we're all music-school students."
But those common roots run deeper than college classes. Hammerberg first met Hall as a young singer in the Colorado Children's Chorale. The pair made contact during a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, during a performance of Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem." Their friendship and connection continued when Hammerberg went on to study voice at the University of Northern Colorado and Hall attended the University of Denver as an opera and performance major.
The band came together in the heady aftermath of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, when "hope" and "change" were still buzzwords on the city's consciousness. "We were on the streets during the DNC, and were really hyped up on the energy," Hammerberg remembers. "That got the ball rolling."
The shared training of the players has helped them stake out a path. "We all know how to read music," Hammerberg notes. "If we're learning charts, we'll bring in charts. I would say that music school has helped with rehearsing, with really knowing how to get things done."
But the academic experience of studying voice, opera and performance in the classroom isn't the only element that helped steer the band's ambitious sound. The quintet has a deep love for pop music, and it comes through in the way the musicians lead their lives outside of the band.
Hall, for example, has had roles in the local musical-theater scene, serving as music director for productions like the current run of Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at the Vintage Theatre in Aurora. But along with Shelmire, he also juggles duties in a cover band that plays at weddings and a local Beach Boys cover band. Not surprisingly, this diversity carries over to the band's music. "I think that's why people interpret our genre as so diverse," Hall observes. "We have been exposed to and inspired by so much music from different backgrounds."
Appreciation for a wide range of sounds is the glue that holds Soul Canon together and will most likely color its subsequent releases. "We feel a certain nostalgia for 1940s swing, or Puccini, or the Beatles," Hall concludes. "It's all the same."
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