Julie Davis had an idea for what would become the video for “Carnage,” a track off her band Bluebook’s 2018 five-song EP, The Astronaut’s Wife. She would put some ladybugs on her face, and the director, Rett Rogers, could shoot close-ups of the insects crawling on her.
She ran into a problem, however. It was winter in Colorado, and no ladybugs could be found. No katydids, either, for that matter, as the song is about katydids offering themselves up to a cat so they don’t have to die out in the cold as the winter approaches.
Davis did the next best thing: She ordered ants online ($4.99 and free shipping gets you thirty, in case you were wondering).
“When they came in the mail, they were so big,” Davis says. “They were almost an inch long, and they had these big red thoraxes. I didn’t want to put them on my face. They had these huge red pincers.”
Davis put the large insects in a jar, and she and her now-five-year-old son kept them as pets for a while. The ants would get their moment in the sun, as Rogers shot some close-ups of them that appear in the video.
Tragically, the ants came to a bad end.
“They all died, and some ate each other,” Davis says. “We were going to put them in an ant farm, but they all died. I feel bad, but it’s funny they came in the mail.”
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“Carnage,” a haunting black-and-white video shot largely in the back of a pickup truck making loops around Davis’s neighborhood, is about a year old, but it wasn't premiered until February 11. The song is also several years old, as are many of the songs on The Astronaut’s Wife. Davis, who started Bluebook in 2003 as a solo project, jokes that she's covering her own songs, but the challenges of raising a son and working as a tutor don’t leave her much energy left to write.
That's changing, however, and the longtime Denver musician — who has worked with Nathaniel Rateliff, Gregory Alan Isakov, Ian Cooke and others — has recently written three new songs. Her Bluebook bandmates, Jess Parsons and Hayley Helmericks, have been encouraging her, and she hopes to record around ten new tracks this summer.
“They're both songwriters, and they want to support me,” she says. “They want to encourage me and write with me, if that helps.”
Davis has been experimenting with immersive sets made with fabric, glue, paper and chicken wire, among other materials, for about the past year. She hopes to give the audience an experience that differs from the average show. Her husband, Joseph Pope III, who helps build the sets, dubbed them “sonic looms." They built one for a show at the Roxy, which took on the appearance of one of those salt lamps you can buy at a gem and mineral show.
“I’ve been obsessed with doing this,” she says. “It’s about making something that people come inside of that is out of time. It’s liminal. It’s not the normal setting for a show.”
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Bluebook is playing a Valentine's Day show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, but the museum has some restrictions in place for how one of the sets can be installed. So Davis is back to square one as to how she’ll build what she envisions as a bandshell for her set.
The clock is ticking.
“I don’t know how it’s going to go,” she says. “We're still waiting for our supplies for our prototype, which is classic us that we're putting it off. There’s always so much going on. We finish one thing, and I’m like, ‘Oh, shit, we have a totally different thing to do.’ So it’s always kind of a scramble.”
Bluebook appears with Joe Sampson at the B-Side Music Valentine’s Edition from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, February 14, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, 1485 Delgany Street. There is a happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m. The show is free with museum admission and $5 after 5 p.m.