Music News

Holding Court: How a Prog Band Pissed Off a Racquetball Player

Liontortoise holds court.
Liontortoise holds court. Caleb Dane
Members of Liontortoise took over a Fort Collins racquetball court to film the video for “Montgomery,” the first single off the group's upcoming six-song EP, Sisters. The four-piece progressive instrumental band, in true punk spirit, dispensed with asking permission beforehand.

“We kind of just showed up,” guitarist Jeff Riley admits. “We didn’t really say anything to anyone or ask for permission.”

That drew the ire of a racquetball aficionado, who busted in the door, demanded to know “what the hell is going on here” and immediately stormed off to the front desk to lodge a complaint about the musicians hogging the court. The drums were also apparently quite loud. (In their defense, the bandmembers did try to film the drum part quickly.)

Fortunately for the band, the employee behind the front desk was a bass player. She laughed and told the band that she’d played in local bands for years and was unperturbed by the intrusion.

“She thought it was cool,” Riley says. “She was like, ‘Yeah, you guys do your thing.’”

The band recorded Sisters during the pandemic last year. Riley says the recording process was nice because it got everyone out of their houses and gave them something to look forward to, even if they had to wear masks while they laid down tracks.

COVID was such a bummer,” he says. “The band was seeing a lot of momentum booking shows, and we were in the middle of planning a small tour. Of course, COVID happened and ruined all of our momentum. We weren’t even planning on recording the new record that soon. It forced our hand to buckle down and get it down.”

Riley considers Liontortoise to be a progressive band, but the chugging guitars and double-kick drums bring a hard-to-ignore metal essence to the songs. That’s not to say it’s headbanging music. The instrumentals are deep and meticulously structured.

“There are definitely some huge metal influences,” he says, adding that the band utilizes odd chords, tonality, song structures and time signatures to form its offbeat and unique sound. When the bandmates were writing the newer songs, they set out to show their various musical interests, but did it in a way that gave a cohesive feel to the songs, even as they shifted from metal to jazz. Riley adds that he has a background in jazz, but strove for a darker sound when writing Liontortoise music, to pay homage to those metal influences.

“I knew I could do the jazz and the lighter stuff,” he says. “But what I needed to do was dig deep to try to make heavier, darker, angrier stuff. I don’t know if 'angry' is the right word, but darker stuff.”

There’s a lot to unpack in the songs, and Riley hopes people give the new record repeat listens, because there are little nuggets of sound that might go unnoticed the first time around. The songs are chock-full of harmonies and interplay between the instruments.

“I want to say there are at least ten to twelve guitar parts on any track,” he says.

Liontortoise eschews traditional vocals in its music. There are non-verbal vocals at times, and Riley sees instrumental rock bands becoming more popular as he and his bandmates look for ways to make the style enjoyable to listeners, and not just endless virtuosic guitar soloing. He adds that there is a time and a place for such playing. He takes inspiration from noodle masters, but he wanted to do something different.

“Personally, I always found that kind of boring,” he says. “They are such great guitar players, and they are really great musicians, but there was something missing. ... I’ve noticed other acts and musicians who have done the instrumental thing, and it’s becoming less of a ‘Look how sick I am at playing guitar.’”

Sisters will be released on September 3 on Spotify, Apple Music and Bandcamp, where listeners can find a pre-order link. The video for "Montgomery" premieres on July 1.
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