It’s the oldest story in the book: Two local musicians are booked to play background music at an antiques fair in Littleton, there’s chemistry between the pair, and, hey, presto, a new country/Americana outfit is born.
All right, perhaps it’s not entirely typical, but it’s certainly natural. The only way the 5 & Dimers’ origin story would be more organic is if the musicians had met while performing at a farmers' market. Guitarist and pedal steel man Jeff Rady (formerly of Strange Americans, among others) and vocalist/guitarist Dustin Devine bonded over a shared love for the Bakersfield sound (Buck Owens, a lot of Merle Haggard) and 1990s artists like Dwight Yoakam and Garth Brooks.
“Dustin and I wanted to do some original stuff,” Rady says. “We decided to put up equal money, go into the studio and record whatever songs we had — see if we could get something out of it. We didn’t really have a band together at the time, so we barely cobbled the songs together.”
Over time, Rady and Devine pulled in keyboardist Peter Sheridan, bassist Chris Loftus and drummer Ryan Elwood, though the lineup shifted more than once during the recording of the band's debut album, If It’s All a Game.
“It turned out really good,” Rady says. “The recording was interesting, because I didn’t want to do anything with ProTools, and I didn’t want to be in there forever re-recording parts or perfecting solos. We all can play pretty well, so a lot of those tracks are first, second or third takes. I was pretty adamant about going to tape, which nobody really does much anymore. The thing with tape is, it’s pretty temperamental. Sometimes a session would get shut down because the tape would overheat. So the whole project is just on a wing and a prayer.”
One has to wonder: If recording to tape is such a royal pain in the ass, why do it? According to Rady, the sound's authenticity is unparalleled. When listening to the emotionally textured country music that the band produces, skirting the line between gritty outlaw and road-weary Americana, it’s clear that he’s found a way to capture it beautifully.
“You have to think differently about what you’re doing,” he says. “You can’t take too many risks. But then again, if you don’t play well, it’s going to be stuck on tape, too. It’s this severe balance where you really have to focus super-hard. I like that better, because I don’t know how long I was going to be able to keep those guys in the studio, or how much money I was going to have to get them back in for overdubs and stuff. Having the tape made sure we got it done quickly.”
The title track of the new album is the first song that Rady and Devine wrote together, and Rady is quick to admit that he was simply trying to write a countrified Teddy Pendergrass song. The lyrics are centered around being in bands when you’re young and believing that you’ll hit the big time, then getting to a point down the line when you realize that probably won’t happen. The guitarist points to seeing a lot of egos and shallowness in the Denver country scene, as bands are looking to rise.
“For me, it’s a little bit hokey,” he says. “I think that a lot of bands seem to be more concerned with the superficial aspect of dressing up and wearing ten-gallon hats and stuff like that. Going to play a truck stop is a fun, hipster thing to do, but the music sometimes can be secondary. I don’t like how you have to do this superficial country outward aspect to the band — that’s gotta be what sells the music instead of the music itself. I think that’s somewhat prevalent here in Denver. There’s not a lot of country bands, I guess. What is being considered country is more like roots rock to me.”
On January 27, the 5 & Dimers play a CD-release show for If It’s All a Game at Swallow Hill Music. Rady has taught guitar at Swallow Hill since 2008, so the surroundings are certainly comfortable enough. He says that the band will be playing the new album pretty much in its entirety.
“I think we’re trying to get some more new material down,” he says. “We’re going to do the whole album for sure, and then we kind of curated some special covers that we think relate to where we’re coming from. Some stuff that’s out of left field, like Christy Moore’s “Ride On.” Not really necessarily straight-ahead country, but seeing if we can make it our own.”
The 5 & Dimers will be looking to write and record a new album in the new year with the current lineup, and Rady hopes that they’ll be out there playing every honky-tonk and festival they can, now that the group has its sea legs. This is clearly only the beginning.
The 5 & Dimers play with Top of the Hill at 8 p.m. Friday, January 27, at Swallow Hill's Tuft Theatre, 71 East Yale Avenue, 303-777-1003.