Some albums are built to warm the heart, to lift listeners out of a funk. New record You Deserve Hell, by Denver’s Fathers, is not one of those.
“We were trying to make a darker record if we could,” says Fathers bass player Mhyk Monroe, who also helps run Sailor Records. “What ended up happening with this record is a couple of us just either saw close friends go through or lose friends to suicide or unexpected death. For me it was a lot of stuff that I was in the orbit of, things that more affected my really good friends. But I know Eddie [Maestas, guitar] and Oscar [Ross, vocals] both lost a couple of people to suicide over the course of when we were making this record, and that definitely affected what we were doing and the emotional weight we were putting into the music.”
Things weren’t always so grim for Fathers. The band began as a side project for a host of players from local bands including Lords of Fuzz, Native Daughters, Abrams and Cult of the Lost Cause. Monroe says it was a vehicle he and Maestas used to return to their punk roots and learn new instruments.
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“I had never played bass in my life until I joined this band,” he says. “I bought and learned bass to join this band, specifically. For me, it was just that I'd never done it. It was just an opportunity to do something, to kind of just go for it. People have asked me before, and I always kind of just overthought it, like, 'I'm not going to be Bootsy Collins. I'm not going to be a real bass player.' These dudes were just good friends of mine, and I was like, 'You know what? Fuck it.' The worst thing that could happen is I just suck and we don't do it. We were going to be a one-guitar band, so I said I'd give it a shot.”
Maestas, who had been singing and playing guitar in Lords of Fuzz, was also ready for a change, according to Monroe.
“He wanted to put his guitar down for a while,” says Monroe. “It was just about getting back to doing something closer to the punk and emo-core stuff we used to love and also just trying something new or something we hadn’t done for a while.”
Fathers’ self-titled first album was good, he says, but was also written and recorded quickly, while the band was still forming its sound. Before the record even hit the street, the band had already moved forward.
“The first song we wrote for this record, we actually started writing while we were recording the first record,” says Monroe. “The first one has just a bunch more straight-ahead attack and, like, punk, old-school thrash feel. So with this one we wanted to just expand a little bit, see what else we could get into without sacrificing that."
The change in focus and lots of writing, he says, ushered in a new, heavier sound for Fathers.
“That just sort of came about with time,” says Monroe. “There's even some major-key stuff on the first record. A lot of the stuff that isn't is just sort of like standard-sounding, I guess. The heavy we were going for was more, just, fast.”
The addition of a second guitarist altered not only the band’s sound, he says, but also how it approached songwriting.
“Zach [Amster] joined right after we released the first record, so that changed how we were writing, because it meant that we could write sort of the base of the song and take a little time just exploring sounds,” says Monroe. “So there's a couple of fast ones, and a lot of it is more broad and just sort of heavier in general.”
With the lineup set, Fathers set about adding a new depth to the heaviness of its music.
“With this one, we were trying to be more intentionally dissonant,” says Monroe. “We're playing in drop A, which is deeper. There's a whole other resonance. The same chords sound wildly different than they do in other tunings. I think part of it is because it's got that deeper timbre, it feels darker. It resonates in a different way. It's more ominous.”
Solidifying the lineup, he says, also helped the members of Fathers take the project more seriously.
“Because there was definitely a change for us musically, I think that became a really strong positive motivator,” says Monroe. “You always want it to be the best it can be, but when we first started the band, with our first record, it was more like, 'Let's get together. Let's have fun.' Then, over the course of time it became, 'Let's get together, let's have fun, and let's make better music than we ever have.' It became this much loftier goal, and a much more distinct motivation than it had in the past.”
That’s not to say that the members of Fathers have completely abandoned their fun-loving side. On one tour, Monroe says, the band, its label [Denver’s Sailor Records] and labelmates Muscle Beach went to great lengths “to put ourselves in the position where everyone could party.”
“Back in the day, it was like one person every night had to be the responsible one,” says Monroe. “They were the one that was trying to wrangle everyone, like, 'Come on, everyone. Get back in the van.' We were trying to put ourselves in the position where nobody in the band had to be ‘that guy.’
With that in mind, Ross — the band's singer and owner of Sailor Records — decided to ditch the van for a more luxurious conveyance.
“So Oscar rents this bus, like a full-on bus, and hired a driver,” says Monroe, “which was rad, because I've never done that. I never thought I would. We're just used to piling in a ’74 Dodge with a trailer.”
While a bus is considerably more convenient, it’s a vehicle typically associated with much bigger, more lucrative bands than, say, a metal band whose members have day jobs.
“What was wild about it is, when we played in Santa Fe, we played in this little art spot, and literally our bus was the size of the venue,” says Monroe. “For Eddie and I and the Muscle Beach guys, all of us being old punks, we were like, 'Oh, my God, we're those guys. We look so pretentious right now.' We're not going to do it again, but I think it was one of those things that was like, because we had the money and were able to do it, it was a fun thing to be able to do once, to pretend to live the life for a couple of weeks.”
Even though it’s something he’ll most likely never do again, Monroe says the experience was worth the cost.
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“I had never toured like that,” says Monroe. “We each had a bunk. I hadn't slept that well in years. The last time I toured, it was very much, like, using a backpack for a pillow and someone else in my band using my shoulder for a pillow, and everyone just sweating out a ridiculous amount of alcohol all the time. “
And while he concedes that living like a rock star for one tour was fun, Monroe says helping run Sailor Records, playing meaningful music and supporting the Denver scene is a much more important and ultimately rewarding goal.
“I think a lot of it partially is not knowing what we're doing and partially not caring how it's been done before,” he says. “We're a local label, and the only designs Steve and I have are just to contribute to Denver. There's so much good music in the city that we just wanted to give it a voice and a vehicle to get heard. So it's not like we're trying to compete on some massive global scale, so it doesn't fucking matter if we release on a specific cycle on a specific day of the week, the way Sony would. None of that shit matters. All that matters is that people get their art heard and people have a better idea of all the rad shit that's going down in this town.”
Fathers plays a record-release show for its new album, You Deserve Hell, at 9 p.m. Saturday, November 2, at Lost Lake, 3602 Colfax Avenue. Tickets are $12 plus fees and available at the Lost Lake website.