Mile High Makeout: Sharpening the Saw

One of the most beautiful things about the Denver music scene is the cross-pollination that occurs among bands. It seems as though every musician worth his or her salt has at least two musical projects going on at any given time. The word “incestuous” gets thrown around a lot, affectionately.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the Skylark Lounge to catch some singer-songwriters. The Skylark recently engaged Gregory Dolan of Kissing Party to book “Underground Thursday” shows that are a little different from the psychobilly stuff usually associated with the club. It’s an exciting development, but it remains to be seen whether the historic bar’s modest sound system will be able to keep up.

On this particular night, the Skylark’s little stage featured mellifluous singer Tim Pourbaix and charmingly tortured artist Jason Cain. As I drank in Pourbaix’s impassioned performance, I looked around the room and spotted Andrew Solanyk and Eric Mocko, two of Pourbaix’s bandmates from his other project, Killfix. When Cain – whose band, Astrophagus, will be releasing a new album at the end of this month – took the stage for his Janovian set, he was joined by Born in the Flood’s Matt Fox on lap steel.

I was watching Widowers on the hi-dive’s stage a couple nights later and remembered that I’d received MySpace friend requests from frontman Mike Marchant’s solo project and from Women Gathering Gems, the experimental project of Widowers drummer Cory Brown and keyboardist Mark Shusterman. This wasn’t the strongest set I’ve seen Widowers perform, but I still marveled at the ability of its members to spread themselves so thin, yet so effectively.

A week or so later, I found myself chatting with the six members of Bad Luck City and the topic of moonlighting came up again. Bad Luck City’s drummer, Andrew Warner, also plays with Red Cloud West and Jefferson Slaveship, and probably others I don’t even know about. Jeremy Ziehe, the band’s new bassist, once played with Red Cloud and now also plays with Overcasters. The group’s fiery fiddler, Kelly O’Dea, was hard pressed to name all of the projects with which she’s involved: Strangers Die Every Day, Coyote Poets of the Universe, Tarantella, Painted Saints and Juice O’ the Barley. This reminded me of another extremely talented moonlighter, Carrie Beeder, who has played violin and cello with Bela Karoli, the Wheel, Nathan and Stephen (now Hearts of Palm) and probably a bunch more.

When I enthused aloud about the way in which creative energy gets shared, dispersed and amplified by all the collaborations in the Denver music scene, I was taken aback by Josh Perry’s response.

“It kinda pisses me off, actually,” the Bad Luck City guitarist said. When I asked him why that would be, he responded, “I just don’t see how people find time for it all, I guess.”

“Just work a few hours a week and be poor as fuck,” Warner responded matter-of-factly. “What else do you have to do with yourself?”

Of course, the situation isn’t as simple as Warner suggests. I looked across the room at guitarist Greg Kammerer, who has the responsibilities of being a husband and father. I thought about all the musicians I know around town who have families, health problems, ailing parents and a host of other difficulties that answer the drummer’s glib question definitively and harshly.

However facile and reductive Warner’s statement might have been, it also revealed such clarity of purpose and values that I could only smile admiringly. Essentially, it’s a variation on the tired “do what you love” cliché, the other half of which is, “and the money will follow.” It’s obviously bullshit, especially when you’re talking about playing music. For most musicians, a more accurate adage would be, “Do what you love and the money will disappear.” But Warner’s question was so unpremeditated and sincere that it transcended its own corniness. What else do you have to do with yourself? A hell of a lot, right? Feed your family, pay your medical bills, get your meds adjusted, take the dog to the vet, keep a roof over your head, buy diapers, fight that speeding ticket, yell at the neighbors. The list is endless.

And I think that was Warner’s point. Not that we don’t all have a lot to do, but that we have to keep an eye always on why we do those things. When we’re clear about our purpose and priorities, all those pressing matters still exhaust us with demands on our attention and time, but they aren’t quite as loathsome because we understand the big picture. Maybe that’s what keeps Denver’s talented musicians involved in so many diverse and divergent projects. The money certainly doesn’t follow, but maybe if you do what you love, the money doesn’t matter quite so much.


-- Eryc Eyl