An Exit Interview With Denver Music Linchpin James Irvine

Longtime Larimer Lounge booking manager James Irvine moved to New York City on March 1st to take up his new position as a booker at The Bowery Electric. Irvine grew up in Evergreen, Colorado, a small city that has produced more than its fair share of artists and figures in the local music industry, including former 15th St. Tavern booking manager and AEG agent Scott Campbell, Patrick Riley and James Barone of Tennis, Brian Marcus of Tjutjuna and Anna Smith of Ancient Elk. As a youth, Irvine had cut his musical teeth in the local hardcore scene going to see bands like Kingpin, Bloodlet and Painstake. He even fronted a similar-minded outfit called Deadlift as a teenager.

But after growing out of hardcore, he got more into late '90s indie rock bands like Modest Mouse, Built to Spill and local punk legends, Acrobat Down, whose previous band, Small Dog Frenzy, had roots through Hans Buenning to Evergreen. Hans Buenning also lived with Campbell while attending CU.

Like Campbell, when Irvine graduated from high school he went to CU Boulder. Though he attended the university for two years, Irvine never decided on a major, and after landing himself in some trouble for tipping over what he thought was a flower pot but was in fact a funeral urn, he went into construction for a few years but never lost his love for music.

As a junior in high school Irvine got to see the infamous Propagandhi show at the VFW Hall in West Denver in the mid-'90s where a riot broke out.

"I got a little pepper spray in my eyes, as did every attendee of that show," recalls Irvine. "It was crazy seeing kids lose their shit."

Irvine also got to see numerous shows at the now defunct 15th St. Tavern, where his future boss Scott Campbell was booking what would become future stars of the indie rock, punk and stoner rock circuits — acts like Queens of the Stone Age, White Stripes, Death Cab For Cutie, Rilo Kiley, The Shins, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Apples In Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

By his mid-20s, Irvine was back in school studying Music Business specializing in management at UCD. Through the school he got his first intern position at a venue, specifically Larimer Lounge. The ambitious Irvine beat out the other potential candidate partly by not being hesitant about his duties, but also because he wore the t-shirt of one of his favorite bands to the interview: Mudhoney. A year later he managed Larimer Lounge when Mudhoney performed at the small club.

"That was a seminal moment in my life," says Irvine. "Mark Arm gave me a hug and drank a bottle of wine with me."

Through managing and booking Larimer as well as, much later, Lost Lake Lounge, Irvine has clearly learned a great deal about the music business, from its lows to its highs. Because of his hectic schedule it has taken a toll on personal relationships but that hasn't eroded Irvine's enthusiasm for his chosen line of work.

Those experiences lead him to co-establishing Vinefield Agency in 2010 as a kind of booking firm. But the vagaries of being a booking agent weren't much to Irvine's taste. He found management more to his liking, and he embarked on a new endeavor in September 2012 with Holy Underground, a company that focused more on artist management. With a small roster consisting of Denver band's Plum, Inner Oceans, Shady Elders and Rose Quartz as well as former Denverites StaG and New York outfit Brother Tiger, Irvine and his partners Rande Kamolz and Brett Rowley won't be spreading their energies too thinly and find a good booking agent for their bands as well as other opportunities.

Irvine says he will miss his family and friends while in New York, as well as the outdoors lifestyle available in Colorado and Rockies games. He'll also miss the ability to not have to walk far to hang out at Larimer Lounge, Matchbox and The Meadowlark. But he won't miss everything.

"One thing I'm not going to miss is the slow culture, the weed culture," says Irvine bemusedly. "I'm more like, 'Let's get shit done. Let's move fast.' The bro culture I'm not going to miss by any means. I think that exists everywhere in a certain sense, but it's more prevalent here. [I'm also not] going to miss dubstep and EDM."

But it was his experiences as someone very involved in the local scene and bringing noteworthy national acts playing the small club circuit to Denver.

"Knowing the local scene here will help in New York a lot," offers Irvine. "You need a support slot to round out the bill. I don't know the bands there that you can get to play on a Tuesday or Wednesday yet, but I know Tim Pourbaix and he can help with that. I have a handful of people to show me the ropes. But it will be an adjustment period for sure."

If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.