Denver Artist Colin Ward Turns to Street Drumming for Inspiration

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Colin Ward seemed to be an endless river of music. Ward wrote, played, recorded and produced more than forty albums between 2008 and 2013, releasing a new piece of work every three or four months through the Bandcamp page he held under the name Alphabets. But in late 2013, it all stopped — or at least Alphabets stopped putting out new material. Ward was still very much alive, though, making music and figuring out what he wanted to do next. “It sounds kind of heavy, and maybe it is, but it’s kind of like a personal-transformation thing. I had a fucked-up year — a magical but fucked-up year,” says the 24-year-old Ward with a sigh. “I feel new in a lot of ways, and I wanted to start releasing music under a new name.” The result is Killd By, a project that has been coming together since 2014, inside the small room that Ward inhabits at DIY venue Rhinoceropolis. Ward has put on a few low-key live performances as Killd By; recorded material has surfaced via SoundCloud, and a music video and full-length album are on the way. And although Killd By is a rebirth of sorts, Ward is still the same percussionist, electronic musician, producer and visual artist who put out the hundreds of tracks in the past.

A listen to virtually any pocket of time in Ward’s recorded life reveals a mix of high-energy beats and otherworldly sounds. Vocals are there, but they’re hidden under layers of electronic textures, and they come across like blips cloaked in scrambled transmissions from another planet. Bouncing far outside any notion of dance music, the minimalist compositions are nonetheless encapsulations of nonstop movement. In person, Ward comes across in a similar way, with a body that is always in motion and a mouth that never stops putting phrases and ideas together to create a kind of secret but very expressive language.

“The old stuff was more lo-fi, and this new music is very hi-fi, production-wise,” Ward says of Killd By. “But it’s still my alien safari rainforest style.” It’s true: The fresh work is definitely slicker and more polished-sounding, but the incessant motion is still there. Ward studied percussion academically from his early teens until just a few years ago, but he’s gotten more gratification from playing found objects on the street. He’s eked out a living busking as a bucket drummer for many years, a profession he finds to be not only mentally and financially sustaining, but also influential on his other work.

“Drumming is like the ultimate therapy — I think I just became addicted to it,” says Ward. “I’m glad I can be in touch with something so minimal, like playing objects on the street; I feel really grounded. I think my music would be a lot different if I wasn’t constantly practicing and playing street percussion.” Those beats inevitably find their way into everything he does, including making music as Killd By.

Though he has yet to release a new record, Ward’s floodgates have been reopened by the project. After a tough year on the personal front, he sees nothing but positive movement — and lots of music — ahead. “I’ve been street drumming for so long, and so many times people will walk by and say, “You’re killin’ it!,” says Ward with a laugh. “I really like the idea of using that word in that way; it’s that moment when you’re at a show and you get this shock of clarity and you feel this little death — when you hit your zone and you’re no longer fighting upstream, you’re just letting the groove go. It’s more about refreshing yourself in the moment, like a positive death.”   

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