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The Blue Rider's Mark Shusterman on not taking rock and roll seriously

The Blue Rider, which formed nearly a year ago, was initially the brainchild of Mark Shusterman, Rett Rogers and Scott Beck before they brought in Alex Eschen to add his guitar wizardry to the mix. Shusterman is probably best known for his tenure in Constellations and Widowers. With the Blue Rider, he's largely set aside his interest in experimental and atmospheric psychedelic music in favor of the raw emotional expression of the music he grew up with, channeling the sounds of Nuggets artists and classic R&B and soul through a modern lens. We recently sat down with Shusterman and chatted about his favorite abstract-expressionist painter and the importance of making music fun for audience and performer alike.

Westword: What is the significance of the band's name to you?

Mark Shusterman: It suggests movement. Progression and excitement. Something fresh and new and off the beaten path. It also reminds me of my favorite painter, Kandinsky, who had the Blue Rider period in his career. His idea with art was that you should be able to create it, and for anyone to be affected by it, you don't need a formal arts education to understand it. You didn't need shapes, figures or forms.

Shapes we can recognize as human beings, but forms is something not everyone knows about it. Especially toward the second half of his life, he was into the idea of being able to look at something and having it affect you without your knowledge of anything else. I think music is the most abstract of art forms. We don't understand why a major chord makes us feel happy or a minor chord makes us feel sad. That's why I'm a musician. I've made all kinds of music. I like the idea of it affecting you without a need for a formal education in the art form.

You've done a lot of experimental music in the past. Why did you want to do a relatively straight-ahead rock-and-roll band?

I was getting a little sick of going out to shows and it was just a bunch of people standing in a room. A band taking itself extremely seriously on stage, and no one really having any fun. I was also listening to all this old rock and roll and soul music, too. Those were groups that had to make music that was fun, that people could dance to and get together and have these exciting emotions. I wanted to do that for people and put on a real show for somebody. I wanted to do something that people could just really enjoy, not think too much about and just dance, have fun, smile, laugh. We try to put on a really intense live performance, and in the year we've been together, we've become known for that.