Thirty seven-year-old indie artist and Denver native Joel Van Horne, aka Covenhoven, drops his third full-length recording, A Kind of Revelation, in June. To celebrate, he's releasing a documentary, A Kind of Revelation, which Westword is premiering.
We caught up with Van Horne to talk about his work, the documentary and where he finds his inspiration for his songcraft. See the full documentary below.
Westword: What's the story behind this video?
Joel Van Horne: It's a nine-minute mini documentary featuring some of my new material in advance of the upcoming record that drops in June. I'm releasing this short video, along with a new single, as a way of announcing the record and my show at the Bluebird on June 12.
How'd you get into playing music, and what's the background of Covenhoven?
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I've been playing music and writing songs for a long time. I took up the guitar when I was eleven years old and fell in love with it right away. I've been making music ever since. Covenhoven started around the time that my last group, Carbon Choir, was coming to an end. I put my first record out as Covenhoven in 2013. I guess you could call it a solo project, though it has expanded and become something much different. I work on all the aspects of the project alone. I play 90 percent of the instruments, and I write and arrange everything. I also create the art for the records. It's kind of all me with Covenhoven for now. I don't know if it will always be that way, but from the first record until now it's feeling like that.
Were you born in Colorado?
Yeah, I was born here and grew up in Lakewoood and have lived here my whole life. I've spent some time in Boulder and Littleton. I've been living in downtown Denver for about five or six years now.
Can you tell me a little more about this documentary?
I went out to Big Sur with a guy named Shaun Boyte, who is a videographer who lives up in Rollinsville. We'd met on a different project about a year ago, and we hit it off, so we decided to do some filming for my new release. We toured up and down the West Coast and did some camping in Washington, Oregon and California. I'll often pick a place and go there and then create music around the experience. So this is from my time in Big Sur in the fall of last year, sometime in late October. Big Sur is one of my favorite spots. This upcoming record is chapter three in the bigger, overarching story of Covenhoven. The first record was based on my cabin of the same name [Covenhoven] that my grandfather built in Wyoming. I grew up going there as a kid, and I still go there. I love it. It was the centerpiece of my childhood. I paid tribute to my grandfather and made the record in memory of him and that cabin. And the second record I did in the Canyonlands area of Utah. I spent about a week in Canyonlands and Arches alone writing music. It was kind of an homage to writers like Edward Abbey or Everett Ruess. I always loved those guys, and I wanted to explore that same idea musically. So I made a record called The Wild and Free, which was chapter two of my place-themed recordings. The new release is very oceanic, and it was inspired by the places I'm in, in the documentary. What I talk about in the documentary is using a place as a centerpiece and a muse, like the cabin or the desert or the ocean, in this case.
How many tracks are on these records?
The first one was ten, the second one was eight, and this one is nine cuts.
Are these self-released?
Yeah, I'm an independent artist in every sense of the word. In the last couple years I began touring, so things are starting to become more regional and national, but I'm at the beginning of that whole process.
How many CDs do you usually create at one shot?
I make a run of about 500 to 1,000 CDs at a time. I sell them online and at shows. All of the art on the records is mine. I wanted to be a visual artist before I became a musician.
How do you describe your sound?
I would say if you were to mix Sigur Ros with Fleet Foxes or something like that. It goes from intimate guitar and voice stuff all the way to big orchestral arrangements. Those are bands I really love. I also like Bon Iver, the National and Radiohead a lot.
Where do the songs come from?
Essentially, I'm just trying to write a story — and each song is a story within itself. My music is very tied to the earth. I have a sense of reverence toward our natural world. I try to translate the way I feel when I'm alone in the wilderness into the songs. So it can manifest itself in all kinds of different ways, lyrically and sonically. For A Kind of Revelation, I dwelled on water and the ocean and what that experience is like when you're standing on the shores of the West Coast and looking out at this seemingly endless body of water and all the stories that it can hold. I tried to dream up feelings and thoughts and things that might come out of that.
Is music your full-time occupation?
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Yes. I studied music at CU-Denver. I got a degree in jazz guitar. I also teach music. So music is pretty much my full-time focus. My goal is to be able to go out and tour with my full band, which includes seven or eight musicians.
What's on the horizon for you?
The big show at the Bluebird Theater in June, with a full band that includes the string section and everything. We'll have about a nine- or ten-piece group. It's the most exciting show I do all year.
Preorder Covenhoven's record and download the first single, "Where to Begin," at the Covenhoven website starting March 12.