Let’s get this out of the way from the start: The “A” in music entertainment giant AEG stands for Anschutz. That’s Phil Anschutz, the Colorado Republican billionaire who has stakes in large concert venues worldwide. Tracksuit Wedding, meanwhile, is a talented, vibrant, enjoyable, bluesy rock-and-roll band also based in Colorado. So what do these two things have to do with each other? Well, Tracksuit Wedding keyboardist and founding member Libby Anschutz is Phil’s middle child.
This relationship creates a fascinating paradox. Tracksuit Wedding’s brand of rock and soul is heaped in bluesy emotion, lovelorn angst and R&B sensibilities. The imagery on the front of the group’s new album, Now or Never, is rockabilly lowbrow: a tattoo-style illustration of a big red muscle car loaded with instruments. Put it all together, and this is the language of the struggling musician.
To be clear, we’re not accusing the band of being inauthentic. Everyone suffers heartbreak, regardless of their bank balance. Tracksuit Wedding is a real band, and Anschutz is determined to do as much of this by herself (and with her bandmates) as possible.
“I’ve been trying to work on establishing this for what it is, on our own,” she says. “I have friends in the AEG office [she held the community-relations post at AEG for a while], and our manager is in the AEG office here in Denver. But that’s not getting us any special treatment. You don’t get gigs that way. People ask you to be on a bill because they like your music. We’re just trying to get out there with this album and see if we can build a fan base. We feel like we’ve got strong material, you can really move to the music, and the live show that we’re doing is compelling, fun, entertaining and tight.”
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When it came to Tracksuit Wedding’s September 15 record-release party at Ophelia’s, AEG had nothing to do with it. The act booked the venue because of the “great vibe, great food” and the availability of the date.
As Anschutz tells it, her dad wasn’t too keen on the idea of his daughter going the rock-star route. “He was pretty suspect in the first few years, and wasn’t sure this is what he wanted me to be doing,” she says. “He wanted me to keep it as a hobby, and he’s moved on from that. He’s supportive, and he’s been sending out our CD to all his friends. [It came down to] overall apprehension about the music business. The history of the music business, if you think about the 1970s, ’80s and some of the ’90s — there’s some negativity associated with some of it. I think in today’s day and age, musicians have to work harder and live cleaner. You can’t do some of the stuff that those musicians did.”
Fortunately, a general lack of partying hasn’t halted Tracksuit Wedding’s ascension. The band is releasing Now or Never and has secured some high-profile gigs opening for the likes of Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. As Anschutz said, if a band like that asks you to open for them, you hope they dig your tunes.
“Last year we had Michael Franti perform at our annual fundraiser that we started four years ago, called Sing It to Me Santa,” Anschutz says. “Playing with him was awesome. We just opened a couple of nights ago for Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats at Belly Up in Aspen, and it was an incredible show. We’ve had a pretty quiet summer because we’ve been getting ready to launch this record, so it was really good for us to get out and play outside of our rehearsal space. Our set went perfectly. We got a great shout-out from Nathaniel himself, and his band seemed really receptive. We couldn’t have been happier.”
Accusations that the band is getting a leg up are inevitable, but Anschutz is adamant that that isn’t the case. Maybe Phil will send a CD to a friend or two, but it doesn’t appear that he’s strong-arming people to make things happen for his daughter’s vanity project. That’s not the way that events have unfolded thus far. In fact, the band formed in 2012, a full five years ago. Progress has been slow and steady.
“For a couple of years, we were a cover band,” Anschutz says. “The lead singer I had at the time got pregnant with twins, and so we rotated, and my childhood friend Ali [Frankfurt] had been playing bass in that project. She took over as lead singer, and we started writing music. As we did that, we solidified the lineup with the addition of our drummer, Trevor Mariotti, and our guitar player, Stu Miller. So Josh Skelton, myself and Ali had been in the first iteration of Tracksuit Wedding together, but the lineup changed at the end of 2014 with the addition of Stu and Trevor. Susan Phelan joined as bass player in 2015, and we had her for two years. She announced in early February that she wanted to leave, and we were able to recruit Joaquina Lluma.”
Anschutz played drums early on, but as the group started to improve, she realized that she wasn’t “studio-ready” as a drummer and switched to keyboard. She’s been playing piano since she was about five, but music took a back seat to athletics when she went to college.
“After college, I was in corporate finance,” she says. “I worked at Qwest [Phil Anschutz’s telecommunications company], in national account sales. I did some venture-capital work, I did oil and gas exploration work, I taught yoga for a year, and I had a child.”
By 2012, though, she was ready to dive back into music, and she had not lost her musical chops. Since forming that year, Tracksuit Wedding has continued to grow and evolve, getting better and tighter. The new album is impressive: The production is big — maybe a tad polished for some — but the tunes are memorable, anthemic and truly heartfelt. Singer Frankfurt, also of the Blackouts, has a rich, honest, raw delivery that complements the songs beautifully. Still, Anschutz prefers playing live to studio work.
“These musicians that are playing with us are so spot-on, have really put in their time over the years,” she says. “Everybody’s played in lots of different projects and bands, and it shows on stage now.”
Nevertheless, the keyboardist is delighted with the way the album has turned out.
“It’s definitely a mom-and-pop-made record,” she says. “We spent a lot of time and money on it — it was a labor of love. We made changes in the band’s composition as we made the record. We started a horn section and then decided maybe that wasn’t what we always wanted to be. That was a big decision we made about halfway through the record.”
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Besides the band and the aforementioned Sing It to Me Santa, Anschutz is involved with Take Note Colorado, Governor John Hickenlooper’s statewide music initiative dedicated to providing access to music education and musical instruments to every K-12 student in the state. She’s raised money at a number of events throughout the year and will continue to do so.
On Friday, newbies should make their way to Ophelia’s and give the act a try — without prejudice.
“We hope to get out and tour this album — get some runs set up for next year,” Anschutz says. “We’ve got some great festivals under our belts, and we’re trying to map out where to target next year.”
Tracksuit Wedding, Friday, September 15, Ophelia’s, Electric Soapbox, 1215 20th Street, Denver, 303-993-8023, $10-$25.