Glass Cases writes songs about the trials and tribulations of millennials — the broke, two-job-having generation currently pushing forty. The band’s name, however, comes from the original gangster of young-adult ennui: Holden Caulfield, the grumpy hero of 1951’s “The Catcher in the Rye.”
"Certain things they should stay the way they are,” Holden opines. “You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big Glass Cases and just leave them alone. I know that's impossible, but it's too bad anyway."
The three-piece band, made up of Alex Van Keulen, Austin Seifert and Cameron Greene, is playing Red Rocks later this month as part of the Local Set series of indoor concerts. The show will also serve as a release party for the group's eight-song album, In Between.
The bandmates consider the record, which includes spoken word, dramatic vocals and big orchestral synth swells, to be Glass Cases' official debut. The musicians use backing tracks when performing live to add more sound than a trio would seem capable of.
“We wanted to make everything very big, like a symphony,” Van Keulen says.
And there's a ukulele. The happy-sounding Pacific island instrument paired with dark subject matter inspires cognitive dissonance in the listener.
“We just found a better synth-and-ukulele mashup with our songs that we found to be more original and creative,” Van Keulen says. “There’s something about the ukulele. This is probably because you can pick it up, and it lends itself to easy songwriting.”
Greene says it's been fun to see how far the band can push the limits of the ukulele. It’s definitely not what you would hear on a Don Ho record.
“It’s nice and happy, but with a few tweaks, you can almost get it eerie when you pair it with the right synths,” Greene says. “We liked exploring that realm.”
Although the group previously released a sixteen-track album, Glass Cases more or less disavows it, because the members have evolved quite a bit musically since they started in Fort Collins a few years back. A handful of the songs off of the original release appear on In Between.
“The album we're coming out with now is one where all three of us are actually in the band,” Seifert says. “Beforehand, it was just me and Alex kind of getting into the music scene.”
The band tackles the isolation, the preoccupation with smartphones and social media, crippling student debt and depression of millennials and their younger siblings, the so-called Generation Z cohort. Seifert, for example, went to college for six years, and felt lonely as many of his friends moved on. At first he thought he was alone as someone not getting through college in four years — but it turns out he was wrong.
“I’m piling up all this student debt,” he says. “I’m finding out there are a lot of people who are are actually going through this. … I’m in between like 'starting my life' and finding a job and moving forward. I’m stuck here in college, and all my friends are moving on.”
Van Keulen says that cell phones and social media have become a ubiquitous part of modern life, but the negative implications that technology has on people’s lives might go unnoticed sometimes. He has contributed lyrics about loneliness, depression and suicide to the album. “Sunlight,” for example, concerns the sister of a good friend who took her own life.
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“They call my generation, the millennials, the 'Lonely Generation,’ because we are kind of cut off from the world," he says. "Less and less real human interaction. I’ve been listening to Colorado Public Radio’s Teens Under Stress series. … The loneliness and depression and suicide seems to be a little more extreme than previous generations.”
“Nights Awake” is about the need for likes on social media. The band realizes that social media can separate people from enjoying the real world because they're seeing it through a phone, but it also helps them promote themselves.
“It’s a double-edged sword, because we as a band, without Instagram, wouldn’t have nearly the same means to connect with people and get people to hear our music,” Van Keulen says. “It’s kind of an unnatural way to experience the world. You aren’t really there.”
Glass Cases’ album-release party happens as part of Red Rocks Amphitheatre’s Local Set at 6 p.m. on March 21. Paul Frost and Compass and Cavern are also performing. Tickets, $60, are available at axs.com.