The Raven and the Writing Desk is the same band Denver has known for the past four years in name only. Spouses Scott Conroy and Julia Libassi are still the band's leaders, and they are still clinging to the literary name of Raven and the Writing Desk. But beyond that, the project has little in common with the one you might have heard before.
“It’s just that when people get one glimpse of you, they think that they know everything, and that’s just not true,” Conroy said. “We’re playing incredibly different music than people think when they hear our band name.”
The new music, and the new band lineup, which now consists of Conroy, Libassi, Kramer Kelling and Scott Roush, is the result of over a year of turmoil and over a year spent far away from Denver.
Before last year, The Raven and the Writing desk was known as an art-rock, chamber-pop baroque band. Then their drummer quit. When he walked away, the group lost his “chaotic style,” his “presence and force,” as Conroy puts it. He was replaced by Roush. Two months later, just as the then-six-piece was adjusting to the new rhythm player, and two weeks before it was supposed to head to the Treefort Music Fest, their multi-instrument player Adrienne Short walked away, “inexplicably.”
“I wouldn’t call it an open wound, but it was never explained,” Conroy says.
The band regrouped, again, and made it to Treefort. Then, weeks before the five-piece was supposed to set off on a Northwest tour, their marimba player, Neil Mitchell, with whom Conroy and Libassi had played since they first arrived in Denver, walked away. Conroy and Libassi’s creation was falling apart in front of them.
“That’s when we sat down and went, ‘Okay, we aren’t The Raven and the Writing Desk as people know The Raven and the Writing Desk,” says Conroy. "Julia and I both had a bit of an existential crisis. It definitely took some soul-searching to find out what we were going to do next.”
There wasn’t a lot of time to soul-search, however: The band was due on the road. So they wrote new material, reworked a live set, and set off as a four-piece, determined to move forward.
“We really had something to prove to ourselves,” Conroy says. “Canceling the tour wasn’t an option.”
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The new music is nothing like the old. Libassi’s lyric-writing has matured, and the hooks and melodies are more clear. It’s also stripped down, calm and full of tension, reflective of the real-life tensions they went through restructuring a band while sleeping in a van and traveling the country. Conroy says they considered scrapping the name, but in some ways this new sound is more fitting. It twists and turns, forcing listeners to lean in and explore. It reflects the problem, the riddle the band found themselves in.
“We call it dark pop,” Conroy says. “It’s dark and haunted.”
Because this incarnation of The Raven and the Writing Desk came into form away from Denver, Conroy says, their EP-release show tomorrow is less of a homecoming and more of a “coming-out party.” In fact, he says, they have found themselves more at home on the road than in Denver venues.
“You get to have a fresh set of faces and a fresh set of ears,” Conroy says. “It’s a chance to reinvent yourself every night. There’s something that’s incredibly comforting about that. These people have opened up their homes to us, and we’re going to lay it all out for them. These people put this together for us.”
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The band spent months playing in DIY venues, garages, living rooms, small venues, and even a pizza shop in Montana. After this Denver show, they will be around some, but they plan to spend the rest of 2015 out on the road again. Conroy says. "We live in Denver — this is where we reside,” but really the new Raven and the Writing Desk isn’t a Denver band at all. It was born elsewhere (roughly ten of the more than 100 shows the group played in the last year were in Denver), and it will most likely grow and change elsewhere as well.
For old fans of The Raven and the Writing Desk, or those who have heard the name over the years in Denver, the band will be playing FoCoMX in Fort Collins tonight and Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox in Denver Saturday for the release of its EP, Some Get Started. But don’t harbor any expectations.
“We’ve changed dramatically,” Conroy says. “The mood and the vibe is a whole 180.”