If it weren't for Craigslist, Northern Colorado-based band Native Station would probably still be a duo. The band began in 2015 with guitarist and lead vocalist Greg Benton and his cousin Thomas Troutt, also a guitarist, playing as a twosome in Virginia. After moving to Northern Colorado in pursuit of a more lively music scene, the cousins began seeking out other musicians through Craigslist ads. First they found bassist Brett Cunningham and debuted as a trio, then added keyboardist Blair Clark and, finally, drummer Casey Laurent. It took several years and many Craigslist postings to unite Native Station's current roster of members, but watching their dynamic and chemistry on stage as they start to play live shows again, it's clear Benton and Troutt's patience paid off.
Don't let the band's name fool you: Native Station is made up almost entirely of transplants. "We're all kind of scattered," says Clark, who moved to Colorado from California. "Brett is from Maryland, Greg and Thomas are from Philadelphia, and Casey, our drummer, is the only Colorado native." So why is the outfit named Native Station?
"There's not a big story behind it," admits Benton. "We wanted something that sounded homey and had a nice rhythm to it, and that's just what we came up with."
Despite a lack of Colorado roots, Native Station gained traction in the state's music scene with its first mixtape, shifty.SHIFTY (The Harvest Sessions), released in June of 2017. The group performed at northern Colorado mainstays like the Aggie Theatre, Larimer Lounge, Dickens Opera House and Lost Lake before releasing a debut studio album, Morningstar Drive, in 2019.
Native Station's music has been categorized as everything from alternative and rock to quasi-metal and pop-punk, but truthfully, it's all of those things and more. "I like to say the best way to describe it is you put Incubus and heavy Coheed and Cambria together, with weird keyboard sounds," laughs Clark.
"I'd say it's like a big anthemic rock sound, with stories interwoven," adds Benton. "We dance around in so many different areas, but it's mostly a harder melodic rock."
An eclectic mix informs that versatile sound.
"I like a lot of hip-hop, everything from Jay-Z to Kanye West to Big Krit," says Benton. "I like Dave Matthews, Radiohead, Coldplay, but then I also like bands like Coheed and Cambria, Pierce the Veil, Audioslave and Pearl Jam."
Clark, who has studied jazz and classical music in the past, favors progressive, borderline music and experimental sound, but is still in touch with her love of more traditional instrumentation as well.
"I don't do it as much anymore, but I do still sneak in some jazz extended choruses and stuff in there," she says. "A lot of that just has to do with all the Bill Evans and Miles Davis I listened to when I was younger."
Native Station's strong suit is making songs that are undeniably exciting: songs with peaks and valleys, twinkling piano melodies that burst into gut-busting guitar riffs, and energetic vocals that make you want to stomp your feet and belt along with Benton.
"I think, especially now, arrangement-wise, we try to be deliberate about where things are placed," explains Clark. "Lately, with how we've been writing stuff, the newer material is definitely more theatrical than it has been in the past. It used to be someone would bring in a skeleton of something. Lately, it's been more like we work on it together — someone comes up with a riff, and we build everything on top of that. So say the bassist is just noodling around as we're warming up; we'll take that riff, and someone will jam on top of that, and we'll kind of just formulate a song organically."
"We try and take a really dynamic approach to the way we arrange songs," adds Benton. "Lyrically, it's usually what I observe. I do a lot of people-watching, and it's kind of stories from that perspective, or what I've seen going on in the world."
Even when performing melancholy tunes, Native Station played with pure, unadulterated joy, seemingly elated just to be in front of an audience again. That was on full display when the band played thr Larimer Lounge a few months back.
"I think that Larimer Lounge show we played was the first time we had actually played in front of people in like a year and a half," says Clark. "It was kind of daunting in a way, like we hadn't anticipated there being so many people. It was very freeing, but also like, what are we doing here?"
Benton is itching to get back to being on stage. "It's been too long," he says. "We got back from touring, and we were going to take a little time and get some stuff together and get back at it, but things changed, and we had a much longer time off than we anticipated."
Being able to play for a live audience again also means the opportunity to enchant new fans, especially those who may not feel comfortable going to a stereotypical rock show. It's not lost on the members of Native Station that having a band with multiple members of color is somewhat unusual in rock.
"When me and Thomas first started, we started in the Bible Belt in Virginia. And we wondered what kind of opportunities would be present, would there be hindrances there, but it was not something that we let dictate how we moved or how we behaved or anything of that nature," says Benton. However, being a person of color is not something he's looking to capitalize on, either. "You're aware of it, but it's something that we haven't played off of. We don't make a big deal out of it. I can understand, I guess, that we are a novelty in the scene, in that you could pull a hundred bands out of this area and you're going to get like, one, that looks like us."
With his long locks, he's also tired of clarifying that, yes, he is a rock musician. "Every time I walk into a guitar shop, it's like, 'You either play reggae or hip-hop.' We'll go to shows and we'll get the traditional, 'Yah, mon, what's good, Jamaica, mon,' and it's like, 'I've never been outside this country.'"
But once he starts shredding guitar, Benton's rock-star status is unimpeachable, reminding the audience that, after all, Black people invented rock music.
For Clark, who is a transgender woman of color, Native Station's presence is a powerful signal to other musicians and listeners that no genre can be gate-kept.
"To be frank, being a person of color and being transgender, I feel like if I'm more visible about who I am, it'll give other folks permission to be themselves in that sphere," she says. "They won't feel so afraid to be safe at a show or feel like they can't be themselves when they're at a show. At our shows, that's how it should be."
Native Station is opening for Octopus Tree at an all-ages show at the Oriental Theater this Saturday, June 5, at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $15. The band will also play a 21+ show on Saturday, June 12, at 7 p.m. at the Aggie Theatre in Fort Collins, with the Crooked Rugs and 13 Fridays. Tickets for the Aggie show are sold by table only: $100 for a table of four or $200 for a table of eight.
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