MLIMA, a Denver jam band named after a Swahili word for “mountain," launched in 2012. The six musicians in the outfit describe their sound as "mountain groove," a blend of funk, soul and rock. On September 29, MLIMA will release its first studio-recorded album, which we are premiering ahead of the release date below. Tonight, September 21, the band plays its album release show at Ophelia's.
We sat down with band founder Jack Breitenbach, guitarist Jeph Kennedy and saxophone player Zach Simms to discuss their influences, how they have navigated Denver’s music scene, and how they established a sound between six members with diverse musical backgrounds.
Westword: Jam bands are rather prominent in Denver, and you’ve played with large names like the Disco Biscuits. How have you learned from that? How have the mountains shaped your sound?
Jack Breitenbach: Red Rocks and that whole scene has had a huge influence on me. I grew up ten minutes from Red Rocks, so I grew up seeing a bunch of all those bands’ shows.
Zach Simms: My first show [at Red Rocks] was the Allman Brothers.
Jeph Kennedy: Most of us [play in] multiple bands, and we’re making most of our bread off of those bands. [MLIMA] has become our passion project, to where we always put it back into the band. All the other projects I’m in, you go home with loot. I pay the bills with the other bands, and this band keeps the passion alive.
Zach Simms: I’ll go play a wedding, and it’s music that I just don’t care about. [In MLIMA], even if it’s not my song and it’s Jeph’s, it’s so much cooler to me to be a part of. I think this has been an avenue for anything we want to bring to the table, and we try it out.
So you’re paying your dues in other outlets, bringing your best stuff [to MLIMA]?
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Kennedy: After we sweat it out on the music scene with the other bands, we collect our ideas and bring them to this table, it seems. I have a lot more stupid ideas with this band than I seem to with other bands.
Is it difficult to have six people in a band, especially if you are so heavily involved in other projects?
Kennedy: Oh, yeah. Scheduling is hard. We try to meet weekly. For a while, it was Sundays and Mondays.
Simms: When we were working on this [album], it was two days a week. Now it’s more like once a week.
Kennedy: Which none of these other bands would get.
Simms: Most groups I get hired for as a sax player don’t even rehearse. It’s like, learn this shit, let’s go play. I played in a wedding last week with a DJ, and I showed up, we met, and all right, let’s play this wedding! For [MLIMA], putting in two years when you’re actually in the same room working out ideas is next-level. As [Jeph] was saying, sweating it out.... You’re playing these gigs where it’s more of a job than a passion. Then you get to do this, someone’s song that they sat down and wrote, and we get to explore it.
Do you adhere to a specific setlist [when performing]? Is there room for free play?
Kennedy: Oh, yeah. I like to throw curve balls on stage. We do that.
Breitenbach: Sometimes we’ll even learn a song right before the set. It really depends on the vibe of the crowd, which is really important — depending on who is there and if they’re vibing the music.
Simms: And the time. Sometimes we have 45 minutes, so we’ll only play [a certain amount] of songs. And then sometimes we [have] two sets. So we’re playing two and a half hours, or whatever it is, so you want to extend [the set list].
When you find what works in your sound, what is that? What do you find works?
Breitenbach: I feel like we can tell when we’re locked in on a groove, for sure.
Kennedy: I was working at AEG for a while there when I was barbacking with the Bluebird and Ogden and Gothic. So I would get all these ridiculous ideas from seeing these national bands coming along. And I like to hang on to those ridiculous ideas.
Simms: That’s been a big thing. How do we pull off these ridiculous ideas?
By ridiculous, do you mean you don’t know exactly how you’ll execute something but see a piece of something you like? Or things you wouldn’t try with your other bands, but with [MLIMA] you could?
Kennedy: Yeah, there’s definitely more freedom in this band because we take more chances than other bands, I’d say.
Breitenbach: Which is what I love personally doing musically more than anything. It involves the crowd more, which can be a really good thing. It can also be a really bad thing. But we take that risk knowingly.
Since you’ve played with such big names, have you gotten more comfortable taking those risks?
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Simms: For me, the bigger the show, the more comfortable I am. We respond when there are more people there. We respond to that energy.
Kennedy: And it’s a dance-party kind of sound. So it’s hard to do that if we’re the only ones trying to have a dance party.
Simms: There may be ten people on the dance floor at a time, but they’re still captive and watching. But I think we respond better to a dance floor, and I think it’s easier to take that risk when there are a bunch of people there. It’s funny — you think it’d be the opposite.
MLIMA record release show, 9 p.m. Thursday, September 21, Ophelia's Electric Soapbox, 1215 20th Street, $8-15, 303-993-8023.