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Meet Jonny Woodrose & the Broken-Hearted Woodpeckers, outlaws with convictions

Jonny Woodrose & the Broken-Hearted Woodpeckers started out as a solo for writer Jonson Kuhn. His lively, wiseacre perspective on relationships and trying to get by in this world attracted attention early on, and he was ultimately joined by the band's current lineup, including guitarist Charles Kern, bassist Brian Payne and drummer David Vanderiet. Although the project started in January of this year, it has rapidly developed into one of the most engaging Americana bands now in Denver. Kuhn and company write sometimes profanely humorous songs that are not just silly, but also thought-provoking, like a latter-day young Will Rogers via Woody Guthrie.

Kuhn's obvious emotional honesty and intelligence are present in each track of the band's debut album, the feisty Live From the Garage. The combination of heartfelt lyrical curveballs and expressive musicianship have made Woodpeckers shows cathartic experiences, but with laughs rather than angst as the catalyst. We had a chance to talk to Kuhn about his literary and musical influences, as well as the role of humor in the band's music.

Westword: Seeing as how you use a modified version of one of his book covers on your MySpace page, is author Tom Robbins an influence on your band?

Jonson Kuhn: Yes, he was very much an influence on the name of the band. That book in particular, [Still Life With Woodpecker]. There's a part in there where he gets to describing the idea of an outlaw, but a much more romanticized version — an outlaw with morals, or something like that. It's an idea that the Grateful Dead used to sing about, or Woody Guthrie, but I just don't think that sort of outlaw with convictions still exists. But I got goosebumps, and I got really excited. I liked the idea of creating a band around that concept. I don't know if I've succeeded, but Tom Robbins and that book were definitely inspirations.

Even though some of your songs seem to be about unpleasant circumstances, you infuse them with a wicked sense of humor. Is that something you do consciously, and why does that mode of songwriting appeal to you?

That's definitely intentional. Most of my background is in playwriting and fiction, and I've always appreciated stuff like Shakespeare that has tragedy mixed with a certain degree of comedy. So you have this balance, and no one was ever overwhelmed by one particular emotion. I think that's a really effective way to write anything, especially songs, because you've got such a short amount of time to convey the story. It helps to get people to listen. If they're hearing the same thing over and over again, people tune out. I love it when people stop talking because they're hearing something they weren't expecting or it caught them off guard.

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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.

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