Singer and guitarist Caleb McFadden, bassist Justin Daggett and drummer Mike Davis of the Fort Collins prog-rock band Chess at Breakfast don’t have health insurance. This wouldn’t normally be worth mentioning about up-and-coming musicians from northern Colorado, but for a group that just released an album called Wealthcare, it's noteworthy.
"We have a ‘wealth vs. health’ philosophy, which a lot of people in our generation share," McFadden says. "It often seems that a lot of young adults can’t afford health care or aren’t willing to give up other expenses for it. They're forced to face a very frightening decision: Do I go bankrupt to secure my health? Or do I take better care of my finances in order to enjoy my very temporary youth?"
Chess at Breakfast has been making noise in Fort Collins’s burgeoning music scene since 2017, when the band released its debut EP, The Gutshalls, a self-produced collection of songs with a DIY ethos. Like many Fort Collins bands, the group has received support from the Music District, a nonprofit that helps Fort Collins musicians with songwriting, recording, publicity and branding.
“Fort Collins is such an easy and supportive place to be a band — not only in terms of crowd support, but through local organizations that offer support on the business side of things,” Daggett says. “The city is an IV to the music business.”
Looking for greater challenges and camaraderie from more loud rock acts, the band is bringing its music to the Denver market. Chess at Breakfast will play the Lion's Lair on Thursday, May 23.
The group's music is as complex as it are accessible; Wealthcare is no exception. The band recorded some tracks for the project at Coupe Studios in Boulder and others at Davis’s home studio. Over the two years since they releasedThe Gutshalls, the musicians have become business-savvy and receptive to what audiences want: These days, that's political resistance to the current president.
“There are definitely anti-establishment themes on Wealthcare,” Davis says. “Everybody wants to shake up the system right now, and the album sets out to do that by balancing political angst with emotional clarity.”
The songs are sprawling, using cavernous guitars and guttural noise. Despite the album's dark aesthetic, it begins with “Pushing Daisies (On Your Day Off)”, an upbeat song that documents the throes of an existential crisis following the death of a loved one. The next song, “P.O.T.U.S. Blues,” explores the transition between grieving the loss of a loved one and observing the state of the world at large.
“The Senate Needs a Nightcap” ebbs and flows its way through its six-minute run time, striking chords of fuzz-driven punk rock and interlacing it with clever strokes of social commentary. “Wi-fi is the resource we use to log into our lives/The same source they use to challenge our rights,” McFadden sings with a smirk.
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“Maybe It’s Your Birthday… The Dead Are Dead” is a slow burn, beginning with a restrained tempo and layered vocals run through a haunting filter. The song eventually culminates into a drawn-out, symphonic release and the line “Equal opportunity just isn’t the rules.”
“The album deals with personal loss, political frustration and religious denunciation," McFadden says. "It’s the story of a personal, more inward experience causing us to look more largely at the state of the world."
Daggett adds: "But we’re not trying to start a revolution."
Chess at Breakfast, with Mr. Atomic and Rocket Dust, 8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 23, Lion's Lair, 2022 East Colfax Avenue, lionslairco.com.