Macon Terry is sitting on the rooftop patio of Weathervane Cafe, drinking carrot juice. He’s talking about the thing he’s spent most of his life doing, which is playing music. The longtime Paper Bird bassist has been a fixture on the Denver scene for years, also logging time with Gregory Alan Isakov, Natalie Tate, Patrick Dethlefs, Poet’s Row and others. But now he’s ready to spend some time focusing on his own music. The band he fronts, Clouds and Mountains, will mark the release of its debut album, Slumber, with a show this Friday at Syntax Physic Opera.
Snow starts to fall lightly on the rooftop at the Weathervane, and Terry pauses. His demeanor changes as he describes the reason that music has played such a prominent role in his life.
“I devote so much of my time to music and performing because I feel like I would’ve probably killed myself when I was a kid,” he says. “I was really depressed. I felt really alone, and Weezer’s ‘Blue Album’ and Blind Melon’s first album totally saved my life. I recognize that — that music totally saved my life.”
It wasn’t long before he was making music of his own. Clouds and Mountains actually started in a basement in Houston in 2012, with Terry recording some songs he had written for fun with a couple of childhood friends. The resulting demo tape was well received, but he didn’t have time to focus on that music until years later.
“I was really busy with Paper Bird and other projects,” Terry says. “I was overwhelmed by being the bass player in so many other projects that it was really difficult to pursue my own. It was just exhausting.”
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It didn’t help that the bass player he wanted had just moved to Chicago to go to school and he couldn’t find a permanent lineup. “It was constantly feeling like I was getting knocked down by not having the ideal situation,” he says. For a while, members of Chimney Choir and Natalie Tate were part of the group, but then they went off on tour, and other musicians subbed in and then left, leaving Terry, and the band, with an identity crisis.
“Mainly, I like the aspect that the band can be a potluck,” he says. “You have to be flexible, especially in a place with such a vibrant and social music community, where everyone can cross-pollinate.”
If there were ever moments of doubt, Terry had the name Clouds and Mountains, which became a sort of mantra, to keep him going. The name came to him in the New Mexico desert.
“I was just zoning out, looking out the [car] window,” he says. “And the clouds were just about to touch the mountains, and it was such an intimate scene, and it filled me with happiness and sadness. It felt really good, and after a while, just saying ‘Clouds and Mountains’ felt good, as a reminder that everything is going to be okay.”
Last summer, Terry decided to simply document his music with the musicians around at the time. So he went to his basement with an eight-track recorder and a Clouds and Mountains lineup including Robin Chestnut, Rachel Sliker, Jeremy Averitt, Blake Stepan, Kris Drikey and Natalie Tate.
There were no particular goals for the recordings. But Terry kept coming back to dub over parts, mixing and mastering, and slowly he realized it was an album he needed to release, he says, “to clear the palate.”
Slumber feels deeply rooted in a particular time and place. You hear more than music. You can hear footsteps from the room above. You can hear one of Terry’s roommate’s dogs bark. You can hear a bandmember cough.
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For Terry, this project is a chance to focus on himself as a songwriter and musician, a moment to pause and reflect on who he is, and, as always, a good excuse to play music with friends.
“A lot of the songs on this album have to do with just taking it easy,” he says, “trying to treat myself better and trying to really not burn myself. I have a really hard time focusing and chilling out. It’s about being able to just slow it down a bit and not have so much on your plate.”
Terry has slowed down a bit, but not much. He’ll be hitting the road with Clouds and Mountains and the River Arkansas after the album-release show, and then it’s back to Denver to (what else?) play music some more.
“People might never tell me that what I’m doing is helping them, but I just have to have the blind faith to give back through music,” he concludes. “To help people not feel alone.”