Bassist Dan Africano packed up his gear and moved to Breckinridge a few months ago, because he didn't have a good reason to stay in Denver. He's a professional musician, after all, and the COVID-19 pandemic dried up all the gigs; there wasn't much to do other than ride his bicycle around the vacant city.
"I came up here to wait out the storm," Africano says. "And I've been doing much better. … A big difference in my day to day, for better or worse, is really trying hard to not think too far in the future, because it's a pretty grim prospect."
Most of his friends, also professional musicians, are feeling the strain of not being able to tour, but so far, no one has thrown in the towel. Everyone appears to be waiting for the day they can go on tour again.
Africano, known for his work with bands like John Brown's Body and Ghost Light, has been keeping as busy as possible playing impromptu gigs on Main Street in Breckinridge and luring friends from Denver up to join him for the small-scale performances. He also downloaded a copy of Pro Tools to mix the songs that will form Resurrection, the first EP from his latest project, Death by Dub, a dub-reggae outfit that's been releasing singles through the Color Red record label for the past year.
Death by Dub formed indirectly from Africano's other group, the Denver Reggae Social Club, a band mostly dedicated to covers. He recruited some of the musicians from that band to play in Death by Dub. After a fruitful January recording session, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and he had to start mixing the songs from home out of caution. The move from studio to home inspired changing the tracks from merely a collection of singles into an EP with its own thematic arc.
"I decided not to just release singles and make it more of a substantial project," he says. "I picked four songs that I felt represented a good theme and just kind of chipped away at it from there."
The tracks on Resurrection address the cycle of life and death, but Africano says there is a lot more meaning listeners can pull from the songs. For example, they are a snapshot of the current social atmosphere in the world.
"A lot of people are screaming, 'We've got to change things that are wrong with the system!'" he says. "One way to do it is to tear it down. You think about what changes need to be to invigorate the system to grow in a new direction – and then actually make that change."
The songs make good casual background listening, but are also deceptively complex and worth repeated deep dives.
Dub music emerged from reggae in the late ’60s and involved sound engineers taking an existing song and manipulating it with audio effects like echo and reverb and stripping and bringing back other elements via a mixing console. In a live setting, Africano runs the microphones from his drummer's set into a series of pedals that he uses to manipulate the sounds.
"Dub has such a deep element on top of what reggae is," he says. "If you listen more intently, you'll notice instruments disappear. You'll notice the effects that happen on certain instruments. That's kind of the engineer's art form on top of the performance."
Death by Dub comprises Africano; trombonist Scott Flynn; Ryan Jalbert and Mike Tallman on guitars; Drew Sayers on saxophone; Jonny Jyemo and Jeff Franca on drums; and Wylie Jones on piano and organ. Elliot Martin contributes vocals on the song "Special Request," which also has an instrumental version on the EP. The group has also collaborated with collage artist Curtis Bergesen, known as Collage the World, to bring a multimedia aspect to the project.
Because of the pandemic, Africano's not sure when everyone will return to the studio, but he still has a few tracks leftover from the January session, so another release in the near future isn't out of the question.
"Once you put one project across the finish line, then you can actually focus on the next," he says. "I've kind of been putting those off, and now that this album is coming out, I can shift my focus and start thinking about what I'm going to do with those next tracks."