Denver Shred Guitarist Rod Wess Marries Metal, EDM | Westword

Denver Shred Guitarist Rod Wess Marries Metal, EDM

Get your mind blown when he plays the Trailside Saloon on Saturday, February 17.
Denver shred guitarist Rod Wess mixes metal and EDM into his solo sets.
Denver shred guitarist Rod Wess mixes metal and EDM into his solo sets. Courtesy Rod Wess

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Rod Wess is a metalhead to his core.

The Denver native and shred guitarist recalls his first concert in the 1990s, at the historic Aztlan Theatre, where he saw Cannibal Corpse with its original lead singer, Chris Barnes, and Cynic.

“That ended up being a pretty wild show,” he says. “I mean, Cannibal Corpse. It was pretty violent, but the musicianship — it was just awesome to see a band come together with that level of force.”

Another formative turning point was getting a chance to see Megadath, featuring Lakewood native Chris Broderick on guitar, along with Slayer and Testament around the same time. He’s been a loyal metal fan ever since, and names Morbid Angel and AC/DC among his biggest inspirations.

So it’s no surprise that Wess started his musical career in a similar vein, specifically as the guitarist of former Denver death-metal band Distant Haven.

“We all came from liking Metallica, Megadeth, Morbid Angel, some pretty hardcore bands, which is a little surprising since you don’t see a whole lot of African Americans who necessarily listen to that music, but that’s what I’ve always been into,” he explains.

But there’s more to Wess’s creative output than just straight metal nowadays. In the early 2000s, he startled dabbling with EDM and eventually started splicing it into his solo work. Then he became a DJ before performing solo, which allowed him to tap into both the EDM and metal markets locally. “I didn’t realize how big of an EDM scene it is out here in Denver,” he admits. “But I’m just excited to be adding some sort of representation and doing something that’s bringing some diversity to the scene.”

His latest single, “Shaolin Tactics,” also showcases his love for hip-hop, particularly Wu-Tang Clan (if you couldn’t already tell by the title). Blending all of those elements is “a bit of a balancing act,” as Wess describes it, but ultimately what he creates is truly unique and unlike anything that anyone in Denver is doing.

“I just try to approach each track individually,” he says of his previously released songs. “I take each track and make it the best I can. There are tracks that I have that are a little bit more thrash-based and heavier, where I have tracks that are a little more EDM.”

The same can be said of his live set.

“In the overall set, there’s a progression there from something that’s a little bit more melodic, something that’s a little bit more EDM, and then it progressively, in a lot of ways, gets heavier,” he explains. “The balance comes in the mixture of tracks I have, because there are some that are a little bit heavier than others.”
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There's also some hip-hop influence in his music, as evidenced by his latest single, "Shaolin Tactics."
Courtesy Profectum Media
See it for yourself at Trailside Saloon on Saturday, February 17, when Wess takes the stage for a show that also includes local metal groups Endoterra, Jawa and Author of Your Downfall. The lineup is presented by Swinging Noose Productions.

While Wess is still focused on making a name for himself in the eclectic Denver music community, he’s noticed that one particular subculture was quick to embrace his style.

“A lot of metalheads are digging what I’m doing,” he says, adding that he believes EDM fans would enjoy his music, too. “When I see a lot of the drum-and-bass stuff, I see a lot of people headbanging, like full-scale headbanging. I know they would love this music.”

It makes sense, since Wess isn’t just a guitar player, but also a self-taught DJ. He decided to discover the ins and outs of a DJ deck after initially trying to team up with an already established DJ didn’t pan out. Wess currently uses a Denon controller, paired with his ESP LTD guitar.

“I had to learn how to be a DJ within, like, a year’s time. Honestly, it’s still a work in progress,” he says, adding that it’s “a split-brain type of thing” whenever he hits the stage.

“There are times when I’m jamming,” he continues. “It’s easy to dismiss what DJs do, but when you get in there yourself, you realize it’s an art form in and of itself. … But it’s also a different type of performance. Going from playing solo-classical to a full-scale metal band to now doing this, it’s just a different feel.”

The way Wess sees it, he operates like a one-man band. “I would relate it closer to being in a band than playing full-scale solo-classical,” he explains. “You get that same kind of rush and feel because you got the beat and bass in there. It all comes together as this massive type of performance.”

Rod Wess, 7 p.m. Saturday, February 17, Trailside Saloon, 10360 Colorado Boulevard. Tickets are $10-$12.
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