Music News

Bleak Mystique Searches for a Modern Sound

Sam Shapiro and Aidan Hutchings
Sam Shapiro and Aidan Hutchings Peter Vo
Sam Shapiro, lead singer and guitarist of Denver band Bleak Mystique, has been mostly alone this summer while his bandmates are out of town. But he wanted to release music, so he recorded the band’s latest single, “Truly Enamored,” on his own.

“It was the last time I was going to have studio access,” he recalls. “I had written that song the day before. I went into the studio the next day and tracked it, mixed it and everything. It’s all me. That’s the first time I made a song just out of necessity.”

The mellow two-and-a-half-minute pop song, which drops on Saturday, July 23, showcases acoustic guitars and sounds manipulated in a psychedelic fashion with vocal harmonizing. Shapiro says the song’s lyrics, which are about his girlfriend, are pretty straightforward. It’s a snapshot of early-twenties romance and not wanting to miss out on opportunities because of youthful caprice.
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Sam Shapiro
Peter Vo
“A lot of times when you're young, you feel like you don’t want to be in a relationship because you're young and this is the time to be young,” Shapiro says. “Sometimes you meet someone who changes your entire perspective on that.”

He reluctantly cops to being a relationship-oriented person anyway; he’s been writing a lot of love songs lately.

“I’ll write about breakups and dating culture,” Shapiro says. “It’s hard to write a song about a societal criticism or do the Willie Nelson thing and write about the government. That is so hard to do. Maybe when I’m a little better, I’ll go for something like that.”

Bleak Mystique springs from an earlier band, Cherry Blossom, which included Shapiro and bassist Aidan Hutchings and dissolved around the beginning of the COVID lockdowns. Jack Billeaud was recruited as Bleak Mystique’s drummer after a few other drummers didn’t work out.

“We met at [the University of Denver],” Shapiro recalls. “The other guys are...I think they're music minors now, but originally they were just musicians in the area.”

The band's sound evokes a number of styles and eras, veering from power pop to 1990s alternative, with an occasional sprinkling of White Stripes influence. And Shapiro’s vocals are reminiscent of Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One-era Ray Davies.

“I can’t really call myself a huge Kinks fan or anything,” the singer notes. “I grew up on the Beatles...and the Mamas and the Papas and a lot of those ’60s bands that are kind of Kinks-adjacent, especially early Who. The Kinks are kind of similar-sounding, so maybe that’s where it comes from.”

He says that at a recent band meeting, the trio talked about how to proceed stylistically in a way that will give them a more unique, focused sound. “We were kind of all over the place in the last year or so of releasing music,” Shapiro explains. “We're pretty young. We're figuring out what works and what doesn’t. We’d get into one kind of music for a few months and then kind of move on to the next thing.”

For his part, Shapiro takes inspiration from Foo Fighters, PJ Harvey and Hole, and sees that era of music as the band's primary impetus. “We will probably lean into the ’90s alternative thing,” he says. “A lot of people think it’s just like rock now, or harder rock.”

“Truly Enamored” serves as a good example of what the band wants to do in the future, he adds: keep its rock elements but modernize its sound.

“That song is a lot more modern,” he says. “It kind of takes from Harry Styles's latest album, Harry’s House, with ‘Boyfriends,’ where they’re doing a lot with backwards guitar and it’s kind of ambient. The guitar tracks weave in and out, that kind of thing.”

Harry Styles — a boy-band member turned solo pop star — might be outside of the general wheelhouse of rock band influences, but Shapiro has been enjoying the production on Styles’s latest output.

“It’s just kind of an ambient thing,” he explains. “It comes from shoegaze. I mean, it comes from the Beatles, but then it kind of worked into shoegaze, and now it’s a pop thing, I guess.”

In Shapiro's opinion, a lot of contemporary bands rely on gimmicks with their sound and presentation, showcasing bad hair, ring-collared T-shirts, etc., while playing ’70s-style rock and roll. Despite his affinity for ’90s alternative, he sees Bleak Mystique eschewing the throwback image. He wants to live in the now.

“I want people to be like, ‘They have their own sound, and it’s modern.' It’s [about] what's happening now, and it’s about what people relate to now,” he concludes.

"Truly Enamored" can be streamed on major platforms starting Saturday, July 23. For more information, visit bleakmystique.com.
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