Late last year, Dragondeer frontman Eric Halborg was listening repeatedly to John Coltrane’s 1965 jazz masterwork A Love Supreme, and says he found the way that Coltrane chants the album's title phrase near the end of the first track, “Acknowledgement,” particularly appealing.
One night around that time, Halborg, who lived within walking distance of Cheesman Park, set out to attend a full-moon seance at the park hosted by metaphysical shop RitualCravt. The event was canceled because of heavy rain, and as he walked through the downpour, listening to the rhythm of the rain hitting his hood, Halborg started thinking about Coltrane’s chanting again and came up with his own mantra: “Manifest the light, manifest tonight.”
The concept of manifestation was something he’d learned about from husband-and-wife duo Jerry and Esther Hicks, who wrote about what they called the "Abraham-Hicks teachings." Halborg had listened to recordings of the couple in the early days of Dragondeer, the psych-rock and blues act he co-founded over six years ago.
“[Esther and Jerry] were these mediums who thought that people would talk through them, that spirits would talk through them,” Halborg says. “Their big thing was manifesting things in your life. It was basically like, 'Think things into existence.' It was certainly something that I'd never thought of. I don’t know if it's just more positive affirmations or what the exact sort of power of it was, but it was being able to conjure things into your life that you're wanting, almost by willing them in your mind.”
The concept has influenced the band's approach to songwriting. While Halborg says some songs take months to come together, other times “the rabbit pops out of its hole and you get the whole thing at once.” Dragondeer had the latter experience with its brand-new, Afrobeat-tinged single, “Manifest,” released on the local label Color Red.
“There’s not much rhyme or reason to it, but that was definitely one,” Halborg remembers. "Vocal melody, words and all of that just came into my head, and I dictated it into my phone."
Afterward, he went home and wrote the music for it. Originally, “Manifest” was a three-minute song, but the band — Halborg, bassist Casey Sidwell, guitarist Cole Rudy and drummer Carl Sorensen — began stretching it out during live sets. Once the musicians got in the studio at Color Red’s headquarters earlier this year, they expanded the song by nearly eight minutes with solos by guest players, including New Mastersounds guitarist and Color Red co-founder Eddie Roberts; Analog Son's Jordan Linit; RAQ keyboardist Todd Stoops; and the TNERTLE horn section, which includes baritone saxophonist Leah Concialdi, trumpeter Alice Hansen and trombonist Jon Kenney.
Halborg says that Color Red's creative team, which has released four other Dragondeer singles over the past three years, encourages bands to record with guest players. “They’re collaborative spirits, and it brings a different energy [to the sessions],” he says. “It definitely was pretty evident on ‘Manifest.’”
The song will be part of a full-length album to be produced by Roberts and released in 2021. A few weeks before the pandemic hit, the band had been in talks about traveling to Japan to work with producer Lee Popa, who’s worked with acts from Jaco Pastorius to Ministry, and is part of Color Red's Japan outpost. But the band ultimately decided to record at home through the summer.
Sidwell, who lives in Los Angeles, came back to Denver to lay down bass and drum-bed tracks with the rest of the band; percussionist Will Trask and keyboardist Casey Russell also joined in.
Roberts and Popa mailed four recordings, all laid down on tape on a Tascam reel-to-reel, back and forth between Denver and Japan in order to collaborate on mixing the cuts. At one point during the recording sessions, Roberts asked the bandmembers to improvise for nearly 45 extra minutes to fill up a tape. Even though it was well past midnight, they continued playing, improvising for the better part of an hour.
While it might take some time to sort through the jams, Halborg says he hopes to finish the other seven tracks for the album over the next month and a half.
In the meantime, Dragondeer will perform along with Deer Creek Sharpshooters and Spectacle for a Facebook live-stream benefit on Sunday, November 15, at Broken Shovels Farm Sanctuary, which offers a home to unwanted farm animals, many of whom have suffered abuse and neglect. The animals will provide an audience for the bands.
The event is the culmination of Feed the Flock Week, a series of virtual events that runs from November 9 through November 15. Fans of the farm are being asked to make a donation to help pay for hay and food for the pigs and birds.
“When [Broken Shovels Farm] reached out to us to see if we had any interest in playing that, I was like, ‘Absolutely,’ because they're just doing a good thing,” Halborg says. “They're giving shelter to animals. They're keeping them from slaughter. I think there were a bunch of animals that were rescued that got abandoned in COVID, and a lot of animals that got displaced during the fires. They’re trying to raise money for shelter and hay, food for the animals, because I think they have quite an influx of animals for the winter.”
Dragondeer, Deer Creek Sharpshooters and Spectacle will play at Broken Shovels Farm at 4 p.m. Sunday, November 15. For more information, go to the Broken Shovels website. Hear more at Dragondeer's website.
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