The Fort Collins DIY scene has been breeding new bands at noisy house shows with diverse lineups for years. For some groups, this is a necessary step in their rise to popularity. For others, like the bandmates in the Crooked Rugs, it shapes who they are, and they have no plans to fully leave it behind.
Even before flagship venues like the Downtown Artery closed, house shows were the best venues in Fort Collins for musicians in their early twenties to network and grow. The Crooked Rugs have been playing these spots almost exclusively since Jayce Haley and drummer Noah Brumbach first formed the band in 2016. The group's now a five-piece, having fleshed out its lineup in 2019 with keyboardist Jay LeCavelier, guitarist Rex Stowers and bassist Finn Stowers.
“The musical chemistry between Jayce and Noah, who have been playing together for years, continues to really drive this band,” LeCavelier says.
The group is deeply inspired by DIY-driven psych-rock acts, most notably King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and the scene surrounding Austin’s Levitation festival and its accompanying record label that popularized cult bands like the Night Beats, Holy Wave and the Black Angels. The members of the Crooked Rugs aren’t here to make poptimist psych-rock in the vein of Tame Impala or Ty Segall; they want to bring something different to the table.
“I don’t look to King Gizzard for what they do musically; I look up to them for their DIY nature,” LeCavelier says. “They’ve always come across to me as very authentic, because they’ve always made an effort to maintain as much creative control as they can. They’ve since branched out and collaborated with different scenes and musicians, and they still somehow maintain that sound that’s authentically them. Having that foundation makes me feel like I’m making something more authentic.”
“At the end of the day, we want to provide a new and different take on psych-rock,” Haley says.
This means taking inspiration from world music like the Dutch band Altin Gün, the Nigerian singer-songwriter Bombino, the Japanese jazz pianist Ryu Fukui, and also using changing time signatures, constantly keeping listeners on their toes. Experimentation is something the bandmates have no intention of giving up, and a lot of that comes from their DIY roots, playing shows with mixed-genre lineups that would raise the eyebrows of a traditional venue or promoter.
“The scene in Fort Collins is really eclectic,” Haley says. “You’ll see indie bands opening for hard-rock bands. Seminal venues up here like Hotel Hillcrest, Pinball Jones and other DIY venues are really inclusive when it comes to genre, and the all-ages nature of DIY shows makes the scene really accessible to younger audiences.”
The people in the scene show up for musicians. The bandmates recall playing a show at the now-defunct Hotel Hillcrest when they accidentally locked their merch box, and everyone at the show assisted them in opening it.
“When we first started playing house shows, we would try to cater our set to the other bands we were playing with. We’ve solidified our sound more now, but DIY taught us to adapt and change,” Haley says.
The musicians would like to develop a presence in Denver eventually, though they acknowledge the differences between the two scenes.
“Denver is a more competitive scene,” says Haley. “Everyone’s trying to get a leg up and play bigger venues there, so it caters to certain bands. In Fort Collins, bigger bands are willing to play with smaller touring acts to share an audience. There’s a deep sense of community up here.
The Crooked Rugs debut LP, IT!, was released on January 15. The record’s scuzzy and eclectic take on psych-rock spans eight songs. Some, like “Let Me Down” and “WHO,” are driving and catchy, the perfect reverb-heavy soundtrack for a house show. “Good Intentions” (originally called “6, 7, 11” because it changes time signatures three times) and “Eternal” artfully move through time signatures and keys, showing off the band’s technical chops.
“'Good Intentions' is our ‘Oh, crap, the world’s ending' song,” Haley says. “It was hard not to get through 2020 without writing about it in some capacity.”
The completely instrumental “Space Pirates” ends the record. “We wanted it to sound like pirates in space,” LeCavelier jokes. “It was fun and challenging to try to get there without lyrics.”
The bandmates self-produced the album in a barn in Durango, all coming together for a week and a half to complete it. The result is an experimental record that stretches psych-rock to its limits.
They had a few recording tricks up their sleeves from their early years as a band, but in true DIY fashion, they learned how to effectively live-track the LP as they went along.
“We’re all students of the process. We’re constantly learning how to best do things, our next steps, and better recording techniques," LeCavelier says. "That mindset is something we never want to lose. The second we feel like we know enough is when we stop experimenting."
The humility and modesty with which the band talks about music is refreshing, and it's reflective of the scene they were brought up in.
The trancey and harmony-driven “Eternal” was written for a songwriting contest in Fort Collins and produced by Maxwell Tretter, a freelance composer and former assistant director of the Downtown Artery.
“He gave us a bunch of themes to play off of, and we chose rain," says Haley. "The idea was to write and record a song in a week. That process hammered home our love of changing time signatures and transitions. That was a turning point as a band, where we realized that we can crank out a song in a week and experiment more,” Haley says.
Fort Collins may not always be home to the Crooked Rugs, but with resources like the Music District, a nonprofit that educates bands on songwriting, musicianship and navigating the industry, the band has plenty of room to keep growing there.
"We have so many resources in the Fort Collins scene, and we haven’t even come close to taking advantage of everything it has to offer,” Haley says.
The Crooked Rugs debut album IT! is out now on streaming services and Bandcamp.