Hertel started the record three years ago, when he'd been sober for around three years and had experienced a wide range of emotions as a result.
“In my previous writing, I was touching on emotional stuff,” he says. “But I feel like I was mostly focused on street stories and stories from the past. I felt I was present for the writing of this one. I tried to dig into those emotions around family and community. It felt a little bit more in the present moment.”
“Bad Side of Town,” which he sings with co-vocalist Madalynn Rose, who appears throughout the record, asks, for example, why the good people live on the bad side of town and the bad people stay on the good side of town.
“It’s a reflection on consumerism and materialism,” he says. “As a country, we're kind of losing our way on what is important. We're putting a lot of importance on the material. The community and the family — those things that don’t cost anything — are being pushed to the wayside.”
Hertel is married and has a young child, so he’s mostly homebound these days. But he spent much of his twenties working day jobs in restaurants, saving up funds and then hitting the road on travels that gave him perspective on the priorities of the United States.
“I never really traveled with a lot of money,” he says. “I was always kind of just going from place to place. I always found that I was getting the most love and sense of community in places that were really poor.”
Hertel spent time in Asia, South America, the Caribbean and Africa; he hopes to make it to Antarctica before it melts entirely. On his travels, he usually picks up a $50 guitar wherever he's spending time and bangs out chord progressions and lyrics. Upon returning home, he fleshes them out with collaborators.
Along the way, he’s been put up overnight in villages where everyone is poor but no one is left out in the rain. “In Africa, there were multiple occasions where there’s a couple different villages I went to in Zambia, and these people don’t have any money. They don’t really have anything at all,” he says. “They were always willing to feed me and put a roof over my head at night.”
He says that living in the city can make him feel lonely, and that feeling has only grown with the COVID pandemic and the lockdowns and resulting isolation.
“It’s been a massive struggle for a lot of people to feel that sense of closeness to somebody else or a family or a community,” he says. “The last few years have been especially rough on everyone.”
The negative aspects of technological advances, including the onslaught of social media, have been exacerbated by the stressful situations that have permeated the United States over the past few years, Hertel explains. People spend hours and hours on social media and smartphones, interfacing with people but not really talking to them.
“Societies in general around the world — Western society — we spend so much time distracted from what is happening outside,” he says. “We have a lot of online friends, but those close friends or close family we used to rely on, it’s not as common anymore.”
That thought brings him back to all those “poor places” he traveled to that were rich in community, culture and love. While the sidewalks of Denver have become clogged with makeshift tent cities, Hertel doesn’t recall encountering a lot of homeless people on his travels.
“Even in Africa, it’s like people are still living in a situation where family takes care of family,” he says. “Even if they're poor, they're living together communally.”
The first single off of Quantum Folk, “Dark Matter,” deals with finding meaning and connections in an increasingly disconnected world. That philosophical bent extends to the record as a whole, specifically in the alternating male/female vocals of Hertel and Rose, which he says reflect the yin and yang quality of the universe.
“There is just such a co-mixing of the masculine and feminine in the universe,” he says. “It’s in the names of the planets and the stars. Ancient cultures were naming things. Different planets had feminine kinds of names. There were masculine names and gods. It was all purposeful.”
Quantum Folk debuts on Friday, August 27. At 8 p.m. that same night, Verses the Inevitable plays its first show in two years at the Lodge at Woods Boss, 675 22nd Street. Tickets are available at events.ontaptix.com. For more information, visit Verses the Inevitable online.