What kind of shoes does Robert Smith wear?
With that joke, courtesy of drummer Andy Thomas, Denver's despAIR jordan joined the ranks of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Jon Cougar Concentration Camp and REO Speedealer.
The year-old group's primary songwriter, Josh Friedman, hates coming up with band names, so he gleefully accepted despAIR jordan so he could get on with making music; the act's debut, Before Your Wings Gave Out, dropped on January 18.
While the group does give off heavy Cure vibes, its deliciously ridiculous name nods to shoegaze, a genre that emerged in the late ’80s, a few years after the overpriced Nike shook up footwear fashion. Shoegaze favors sonic effects and distortion, and its purveyors often stare at their pedalboards — hence the name. The music, which is less intense than punk or other types of rock, is nonetheless played at a volume that invites tinnitus. (My Bloody Valentine hands out earplugs at its gigs.)
And although despAIR jordan’s logo is a hijacked version of the Air Jordan's, instead of old number 23, Michael Jordan, jamming the ball, it’s Smith, the world’s third-saddest post-punk singer. The group has also made T-shirts with the same logo, which you should probably order before a team of high-paid copyright lawyers seizes the lot.
According to guitarist, lyricist and singer Friedman, the initial concept for despAIR jordan involved combining the post-punk revival of Interpol with the punk rock of Philadelphia's Beach Slang and a slowed-down version of English band Foals. Friedman also decided to sing an octave lower than usual, experiment with longer songs and play around with the dynamics of the music.
“I’ve got a relatively simple setup,” he says. “But it’s been a whole new way of playing guitar for me rather than just moving from riff to riff — just being able to stretch out and see what kind of soundscape you can create rather than just going from one part directly to the next.”
Friedman is happy where the sound ended up.
“I think you can definitely draw a parallel to what we are doing with some of those bands, especially with Interpol, just the general feeling of it,” he says.
DespAIR jordan came together in part as an excuse for socializing. Friedman has played in a number of Denver bands over the past two decades, including post-hardcore outfit SleeperHorse. Drummer Thomas hails from Tin Horn Prayer, guitarist Danny Aranow played with Sugar Skulls & Marigolds, and bassist (and hi-dive co-owner) Matty Clark was also in SleeperHorse.
“We kind of had a rule for the band,” Friedman says. “We were looking for people, and we were like, ‘Okay, it can’t be anybody’s first time playing with anybody' — because the whole point was to spend more time with our buddies, who we don’t see enough.”
He pitched the concept of what would become despAIR jordan to Clark, and early jam sessions took place in the basement of the hi-dive.
“They have a really subpar rehearsal space down there,” Friedman jokes. “Matty and I would just kind of workshop the songs and figure out what the sound was going to be.”
For the most part, the music that despAIR jordan makes is less rowdy than that of the members' previous bands.
“We’ve come from so many different genres,” Friedman says. “A lot of us have come from heavier bands. And this is not heavy music, by any stretch of the imagination, but we bring some of that aesthetic to a kind of mellower, less in-your-face kind of music. That’s one of the things that makes it cool. We always joked, ‘Oh, despAIR jordan: New Sounds in Adult Contemporary.’”
Friedman sees this new sonic palette as an opportunity, particularly with local bands he hopes to play with in the future, as it offers new possibilities for live combinations. Of course, 2020, the year that had to be measured in dog years, made live music a dubious proposition, at best. DespAIR jordan canceled its soft opening, a warehouse show, because of a snowstorm that hit Denver in early 2020. The bandmates wound up playing a more or less private show at the hi-dive for their wives and friends. Practice has pretty much become a thing of the past for the time being because of the uptick in COVID-19 cases.
“When November rolled around, it just got too heavy. We decided to pause it,” Friedman says. "But it’s been fine. I’ve been going [to our practice space] about once a week by myself and just demo-ing some new songs and sending them to the band to see what they think.”
Friedman has never been a prolific songwriter, and he tends to stew in his creations for extended periods of time, especially the lyrics. He taps into how he’s feeling, or he tries to put himself in someone else’s shoes. The six-song album covers a gamut of emotional states and topics, from the disintegration of a previous band to friends in destructive or abusive relationships, as well as his own relationship with his wife. Much of it is autobiographical or about people who have been close to him. It’s important to him that his songs make some kind of sense, even if they can be vague. He says he's proud to have avoided anything truly cringe-worthy on Before Your Wings Gave Out.
“When I sit down to write, I sit down with the expectation of ‘All right, man, you’re a grown-ass man with a college degree,’” he says. “‘If you're going to be rhyming that with hat, there’d better be a good reason for it.’ That’s the thing with writing: You are only as good as what you make yourself not write.”
Before Your Wings Gave Out is available at bandcamp.com on January 18 and comes with a free T-shirt.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.