Former Hi-Dive Doorman Aaron Mersmann Returns as the Bassist for Varma Cross

Varma Cross from Lawrence, Kansas is playing Friday, January 16th, at Carioca Café with Joy Subtraction and Hooper and on Saturday, January 17 at The Oriental Theatre with Photo Atlas and Holy Fear. Though the guys in Varma Cross are Kansas natives, the shows will be a homecoming for bass player Aaron Mersmann, who spent five and a half years in Denver immersed in the local music and art scene even though he never actually played in a band while living in Denver. He had been a member of legendary Lawrence bands like Jumbo's Killcrane and Panel Donor and had done tour managing with Appleseed Cast and the Anniversary. While in Denver, the affable Mersmann made strong connections, in part thanks to a job manning the door at the hi-dive.

See also: Denver's Ten Best Small Venues

Varma Cross has been together since March 2014 and its members had all but dropped out of playing in bands for several years -- for Mersmann it had been more like ten years, while Isaac Diehl, the band's guitarist, had just been writing music on his own for around six years. Varma Cross, Diehl says, draws a bit more influence from acts like Hüsker Dü, Guided By Voices, the Replacements and the Wedding Present than its members' previous projects did. Drummer Bryce Boley, singer Kelsey Richardson and Mersmann and Diehl had been friends since they were younger, and 2014 represented the year they finally lived near each other again and could form a band that was fun for everyone.

Mersmann had spent a great deal of time on the road even before moving to Denver. Ironically, it wasn't initially his idea to move to the city, but his stay ended up being longer than that of his friends who prompted the move.

"A couple of friends had planned to move out here, and at first it was, 'We'll see if you move out there or not,' recalls Mersmann. "The week before they were leaving I said I wanted to go and they let me come with them. I fell in love immediately, and it was great. I got really lucky in that I had a mutual friend with Matt LaBarge and Allison Housely, who set me up with a job interview at the hi-dive. I ended up getting a door position with those guys and the night they wanted me to start working, which may not sound like much to some people, was Wednesday nights. Back then, in the fall of 2004 was Off the Wall with Jason Heller and Al, which was crazy. It was 250 to 300 people through the door every Wednesday night. It was skateboarders, BMX-ers, tattoo artists, musicians, everyone involved in fashion. It was packed and it was fun.

"I was the new guy in town working the door and everyone that came by, it was an opportunity to meet new people, and I did that. So every week I would come home and tell my roommates, 'Oh my god I just met all these people.' They weren't having the same experience I was having, unfortunately, so they decided not to stay and left after a couple of months. That made it really hard for me. I could have turned tail and went home or rode it out. There was no way I was leaving. It was too great."

"The that very first afternoon in Denver, my friend Mark Benning, from Carrier, told us to go to this house at 226 Bannock, or whatever, and introduce ourselves to his friends the Swayback," remembers Mersmann, "And that they would hop in the car and drive us around and show us where to look for an apartment and give us some job leads or whatever. Eric Halborg answered the door. Eric and Bill Murphy and Scott Bagus and Eddie Dugan -- those four guys lived in that house together. Those were the very first people we met. We told them Mark said maybe they would help us out. Eric jumped in the car with us and hey, I stayed for five years.

"I really have the hi-dive and all those people to thank for that because it was really welcoming and inspirational. It made it easy to be away from home. What Claudine Rousseau and Matt Paris were doing with Strelka helped with that too. It was really comfortable."

• BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS • - 49 of the Hi-Dive's Most Unbelievable Shows - Seven of Denver's Most Underrated Bands - Why DIY Venues Are Vital Are Vital to the Health of the Entire Music Scene - DIY or Die: Why Denver Need Under-The-Radar, All-Ages Arts Spaces

If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.

Latest Stories