Psych-blues outfit Dragondeer’s first full-length record, If You Got the Blues, was a new type of production for the group.
“We recorded the first EP in my basement, and we all sort of self-produced it,” says Eric Halborg, the group’s singer. “For this one, we went out and recorded it with a seasoned producer. Also, the songs have been road-tested. We’ve toured on them and have been playing them for a long time. So we had a real idea of how we wanted to present them once we got in with this new producer.”
Impressively, the producer that they collaborated with was Marc Howard, who’s also worked with musicians such as Bob Dylan, R.E.M. and Neil Young. They worked with Howard at his studio in Topanga Canyon, California, just outside of L.A.
“We walked away from that record a different band. Mark Howard was like, 'Look, I’m going to challenge you guys. You guys are either going to cut a cool record, or it’s not going to happen,’” says Cole Rudy, the band's lap-steel guitar and mandolin player.
In the process, the musicians stuck to a strict and demanding recording schedule. Howard mixed the tracks live instead of patching together the songs through edits. The result hinged upon the way that the four bandmembers were able to adapt and work together.
“I felt a lot closer to the guys after that,” says Halborg. “It really pushed our limits, and we got stronger from it. It was like trial by fire.”
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The album showcases Halborg’s raw voice, rambling harmonica solos, and bluesy, groovy instrumentation that fuses it all together. The core of the record is connected to the message of the first track, which shares the title of the album: “If You Got the Blues.” Rudy wrote the song, and Halborg felt a certain resonance when he began singing it.
“It started hitting me in a way that spoke to sticking by your friends, sticking by your loved ones. People hit rough times and things fall apart. Singing that song over and over became symbolic of the fact that the four members of this band have stuck together and hashed out our personalities and artistic visions.”
The band also dealt with external factors throughout the songwriting and recording process. “Darkest Rocks” deals with Donald Trump.
“That particular song was written in the early days of Trump running for President,” remembers Halborg. “We were seeing a dark underbelly of American politics, and it was being exposed in real time in front of us. The notion of the song is to rise up your tribe and make it your art. It’s about making the people around you strong and giving each other support.”
Rudy expands upon Halborg’s sentiment: “If the President of the United States has less common sense than I do, then something’s really wrong.”
As for the band’s choice to make bluesy emotional songs rather than angst-ridden rock music, well, as Rudy puts it, “It’s who we are, man.”
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“It’s what we do," Halborg adds. "It’s how we try to treat each other, people in our inner circles and other musicians.”
The band is stoked to celebrate its new album with a hometown release show on March 10 at the Bluebird.
“Denver music feels really good right now, man. A lot of our friends are doing really cool stuff, and there’s a lot of love going around,” says Rudy. “We’re all Denver cats, you know. I think a lot of people around here can relate to the things we say on this record. It’s just our impressions of what our lives have been for the past few years. I just can’t wait to share this music with everybody and to let people dig it.”
Dragondeer album-release party, with Eldren and the Dendrites, 9 p.m. Saturday, March 10, $14, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue.