In spring 2015, the career of Denver-based hard-rock band Space in Time nearly came to a screeching halt. Longtime singer Mike Atencio had stepped down, and the rest of Space in Time's members didn't know if they could continue without him. Yet all along, one of the group's early fans had expressed interest in playing some role in the vocals.
“I kept telling Vaughn [McPherson, keyboard player] that I was hoping to join and do a Lita Ford/Ozzy thing with Mike, but that didn't pan out,” recalls Suzanne Magnuson, who is the current lead vocalist.
The very suggestion seemed to come out of left field, even to one of the band's founders, guitarist Javram Ciel-Tilton. He was aware of Magnuson's vocal gifts from her tenure in Americana band the Legendary River Drifters, and he fondly recalled Space in Time performing at that band's final show at the Oriental Theater in November 2012. Magnuson's prodigiously powerful voice had been heard in Denver largely in the context of folk and country bands like the River Drifters and her previous band with husband Curtis Wallach, Pillage My Village. But even her turn as one of the garage punks in Dudebabes didn't immediately suggest her as a vocalist to fill the shoes of the mighty Mike Atencio.
However, like the members of Space in Time, Magnuson grew up as an avid listener to all forms of rock, including punk and metal. She had been a longtime fan of bands like the Clash and Iron Maiden even as she became very focused on folk and country music when she started her own bands.
“But I always felt like a rock-and-roll singer in a folk band,” says Magnuson. “So the progression felt really natural. I'm just loud as hell and I finally had to join a band as loud as I am.”
Space in Time's blend of '70s-style boogie rock and the darkly dramatic, melodic heavy metal of bands like Judas Priest was the perfect vehicle for Magnuson, who joined the group in May 2016, a mere seven weeks after giving birth.
“When I was told Suzanne wanted to join as a singer, I said, 'That'll happen in a year,' because she'd just had a baby,” admits Ciel-Tilton.
“I hadn't been in a regularly performing band for years, and the opportunity arose,” adds Magnuson. “I was almost as excited to get a night out as I was to play music.”
The new, self-titled EP, with a striking cover by David Bonds, who has done the artwork for every Space in Time release thus far, is a step forward from the group's last album, the 2013 full-length Rock and Roll. Because of the band's punk roots, there has always been a political undertone to the lyrics — even when they seem to be about something more fantastical.
“The songs about wizards and shit are by Javram,” Magnuson says with no small amount of humor at Ciel-Tilton's expense. “But seriously, we're very different writers, but I feel our themes complement each other.”
Whether those themes are police brutality, as in the song “Battle Lines,” the environmental issues of “Pray for Rain,” or the exploration of the pitfalls of succumbing to groupthink heard in “Heaven's Gate,” a nod to the cult led by the late Marshall Applewhite, Space in Time does more than just rock hard.
With Magnuson fronting the band, Space in Time lost one commanding and iconic singer and got another with a similarly passionate flair for the dramatic. So beyond the lyrics taking a turn toward what Magnuson calls the “situational” and topical, the band has remained on the trajectory of development that it's cultivated all along, helped by what every other member of the band seems to agree about after its democratic, collective fashion.
“Space in Time ain't shit without Yancy Green on drums,” concludes Ciel-Tilton.
Space in Time, with The Night and Wild Call, Thursday, July 14, 9 p.m. at the hi-dive.