Brennen Bryarly is still terrified of heights. You'd think he wouldn't be by now, but he is. For a decade, he performed the most dangerous job in America, and he spent a lot of time looking down. Now he's soaring to new heights with his music.
Bryarly, of course, is better known locally as option4, a resident DJ at Lipgloss, one of Denver's longest-running club nights, and the curator of the Hundred, a regular showcase for emerging house acts new to Denver. This week, he's ramping up his burgeoning career by releasing a new EP, the dark-house-inflected Into the Night. Before any of this, however, he made his home in hotel rooms across the country, in between putting his life at risk while ascending and working on cell-phone towers, a job that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) once labeled the most dangerous job in America.
option4 EP-release party, with London Dungeon, boyhollow, Jinro and Babyshoe, 8 p.m. Saturday, August 18, Larimer Lounge, $10, 303-291-1007.
"It was strictly a lot of go-get-it attitude," says Bryarly of how he landed in such a deadly profession, despite a relative lack of qualifications. "I was terrified of everything," he admits. "I kind of forced myself to adjust and I got used to it." He had to, out of necessity. Like many in the past decade, his family had fallen on hard times, and Bryarly, who was only nineteen at the time, insisted that he was the family's best hope for climbing back to financial stability. "I'm young, I'm strong, I can do this," he remembers thinking. Initially, his father, Kelly, who had been doing his best to take care of Brennen and his siblings after his wife left the family, resisted. A lifelong musician who began playing guitar at the age of three with the Flying W Ranch house band, which his mother had founded, Kelly had moved the family back to Colorado from San Francisco when Brennen was fifteen. On the West Coast, Kelly had enjoyed a fairly successful career writing jingles, soundtracks and scores for movies and television, and he passed on his love of music to Brennen.
Brennen was born in Colorado Springs, and he lived there until his father moved the family to San Francisco. A year or two after the family moved back to the Springs, Brennan saw his first electronic-music concert: the Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim at Red Rocks. "It blew my mind," he recalls now. "I loved electronic music more than anything else. I saved up for a year and a half and bought my first pair of turntables and a mixer, and I was just a bedroom DJ, but I played house parties for my friends."
By the end of high school, he'd had his first show at a small club in Colorado Springs. His cousin, a sound engineer at the club, helped him get the gig. Around the same time, he was learning to use synthesizers and program MIDI, making his first four-song EP. "The songs were terrible," Bryarly admits. "The first EP, I wrote four songs and we burned it on to MiniDiscs. If I could find that MiniDisc, I would be the happiest person in the world, because all those songs are gone now. I would love to hear how bad it is, and I would put it out in a heartbeat."
He hit the road not long after that in search of work, and he spent the years that followed living out of suitcases, returning home only occasionally. His passion for music remained, however, and he began working on it in his downtime with a portable studio that he took on his travels. At the time, he was heartbroken over a relationship that had gone sour, and to help console his son, Kelly gave him a MIDI controller to use with a copy of Reason that Brennen had acquired.
"I made so many songs it was ridiculous," recalls Bryarly of those long years on the road. "I traveled with a small desktop. I would pack the desktop in one suitcase and a monitor in another suitcase, along with the keyboard, and threw whatever clothes I had room for on top of it. So in hotels from there on out, I would work on music."
For the better part of a decade, Bryarly made music solo in this way, with feedback from his father on how to make it better. But when he finally felt that his family was in a better place financially, Bryarly stopped climbing towers and took a break before going back on the road again, this time as a disaster-relief technician, dehumidifying houses that had been ravaged by hurricanes. Despite realizing a great amount of success in that field, he eventually reached a place where he was able to focus far less on work and devote more time to his music, which is where he is now.
It's been a slow and steady climb that began in 2006, during the rare times that Bryarly was back home. He and his friends launched a record label with the aim of releasing their creative output. "Some friends of mine wanted to start a small record label called Dramatic, because they like to make electronic music, too," Bryarly remembers. "So we had a little record-label showcase at this bar in Colorado Springs called Union Station. It was this biker bar. They gave us a Sunday night, and we were really excited, so we got all our friends together. Five of us played music, and I deejayed a completely original set just on CDJs. I also played live percussion over it."
That show was Bryarly's first official performance as option4. From there, he played wherever and whenever he had the opportunity while he was in town. A few years later, four months before the Snake Pit closed, Dramatic established a club night of its own at the club, called Dramatic's First Fridays. The crew charged eight dollars and even took out ads in this paper to promote the event.
"We'd have, like, eighty of our friends that would come up once a month, and a lot of them were from the Springs," Bryarly says. "We had no pull for anything. That was in '08 or '09. Through that we met Matt Fecher, and that changed everything for me in Denver.
"There was this group called Dynamic," Bryarly goes on. "We had a rapper, and my buddy Jeremy Poley did music for Dynamic to rap. We made an EP, and Matt Fecher saw it on MySpace. He was doing this night called New Music Mondays, and he was like, 'Man, you have to come up from the Springs to play it.'"
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That fateful message lit a fire under an already motivated Bryarly a short time later, when he and Poley realized who it was that had sent it (Fecher was the co-founder and co-curator of the now-defunct Monolith Festival). So on a Monday night, the pair brought a couple dozen friends from the Springs and helped pack out the Larimer Lounge. This made an impression on Fecher — so much so that he invited option4 to perform at Monolith in 2009. And that's where Bryarly made another key introduction, backstage at Red Rocks. "I remember Michael Trundle was drunk, and we rode the shuttle back down from the venue," Bryarly recollects of his initial exchange with his Lipgloss cohort, and the night's co-founder. "I gave Kitty Vincent [Trundle's girlfriend, of Le Divorce] my artist bracelet, because she wanted to go through the back way because they needed to get to Shag. I remember talking to Michael, and he said, 'You know what? Send me a demo sometime.'"
Bryarly went home, got on his turntables and immediately set to work on a twenty-minute demo, one that he ended up recording twice because the first mix didn't meet his own standards. "That demo was phenomenal," notes Bryarly. "I don't even know if he listened to it. I think I played like forty tracks in twenty minutes. I was cutting and going off."
Bryarly sent the demo to Trundle in an e-mail; three months later, he was invited to play Lipgloss with Trundle and then-resident Chase Dobson. Evidently, option4 made quite an impact. Trundle received a good deal of positive feedback, and not long after, Bryarly received an invitation to do a Lipgloss residency, replacing the outgoing Dobson. "I don't know what my life would be like right now if it weren't for that," says Bryarly. "I'd always loved music, but I never took it seriously. But for the last year and a half, I have."
Now, on the eve of his latest EP release, Bryarly's ascent continues. As the one-year anniversary of the Hundred — a curated club night focused on people discovering and appreciating new music rather than just partying — approaches, Bryarly's stoked about how well the concept has been received. "What ended up happening is that it turned into this phenomenon," he says of the night's unexpected success. "It's all about the music and the vibe. That's what we've been successful in building, and that's probably been the funnest thing in the world for me — seeing that happen."