Patrick Dethlefs on Fall + Rise: "I feel like, with the new album, I just got better at writing songs"

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Dethlefs got support early on from some Evergreen friends and then was taken under the wing of Mark Anderson of Paper Bird. Over the last year and more, Dethlefs has experimented with his songwriting to a far greater degree than before, and the result is Fall + Rise, his latest effort, which exudes a notable amount of emotional depth and sophistication. Dethlefs may be young, but his songs are, at this point, the work of an artist coming into his own. We spoke with the mild-mannered yet passionate songwriter about his evolution as a musician and his latest release.

Westword: You were born in Tacoma. Where did you move to when you came to Colorado?

Patrick Dethlefs: There might have been a short bit in Littleton, but shortly after that, we lived in Golden for a year or two. Then we moved up to Kittredge, which is near Evergreen. I went to a lot of my schooling in Evergreen, but then I ended up going to Lakewood to go to Jefferson County Open School. But I did go to Evergreen High School for a few months.

I had fun up there with friends. That was the main source of fun, hanging out with friends. We did a lot of hiking. I'd come down to the city quite a bit and hang out down here. I'd go to a lot of shows. I went through a bunch of different phases of music. I started going to see a bunch of Denver bands, like Paper Bird and Laura Goldhamer. I'd go to Brooks Center Arts a lot and seeing that old pop punk band, folk band the Fainting Fansies. Hanging out with people like that.

Oh yeah, the acoustic crust punk band.

Yeah, exactly. The guy, Mark Anderson, who plays in Paper Bird now, and plays on my new album, was in the Fainting Fansies, which is crazy.

Did you ever go to the Pitchfork House?

Yeah, he lived there, too. I was in high school then. It was cool because I'd never been around that sort of thing in Denver before. But I went to house shows often. I remember seeing Paper Bird playing there in the attic.

It's the Mouth House now, right?

I think it is the same house.

What made you want to get an electric guitar when you were a kid?

Before I was twelve, my neighbor had an electric bass. We were into pop punk and music, probably more pop than punk, Sum 41 and things like that. So he had the bass, and I said, "Oh, I'll get an electric guitar and I'll start learning that, and hopefully we'll start this band." We never really started that band, but it did start me learning. My parents bought me that guitar, and I started learning that guitar on my birthday.

You mentioned you've been through various phases of musical interest. What got you interested in something other than punk?

I grew up around my dad, and he was into rock and roll and jam band music. A lot of older stuff and singer-songwriter stuff as well because he wrote songs. He was into Jackson Browne. I remember going to see the Allman Brothers a bunch at Red Rocks. He eventually showed me Led Zeppelin and classic rock. Then I got into jam music and then into more folk songwriting.

How did you get introduced to the folk world?

I don't know. It may have been getting into bands like Paper Bird. I consider Jackson Browne a folk musician. My parents listened to that music, so even Simon & Garfunkel may have been my first exposure to folk or folk-influenced music.

When was the first time you saw Paper Bird?

There's this coffee house in Evergreen where I saw what may have been the beginnings of Paper Bird, when it wasn't Paper Bird. It was at this place called the Coffee House or something like that. But that Pitchfork House show I mentioned might have been one of the first shows I saw them and then I ended up playing with them down the line.

You met them through being in Evergreen?

Well, yeah, Mark Anderson and Sarah Anderson, who are in the band...I went to high school with Mark, and I met him kind of young, but I'd known him a long time from going to school and then I just kind of heard about the band through him, and I ended up meeting a bunch of people through that. Now I have Mark, Sarah and Susan, which is Mark's twin, on this new album, which is kind of cool. Sort of a family effort.

When did you start playing acoustic guitar?

It was probably pretty shortly after I started playing electric guitar. I remember my dad getting my first acoustic guitar, and I was probably playing acoustic and electric pretty evenly. But I eventually made the switch to playing more acoustic. I think acoustic guitar just has a distinct sound. Writing my own songs seemed easier to do, just grabbing the acoustic guitar and playing. I really like finger picking, and I like rootsy music. I love the sound of electric guitar, and I have electric guitar on the album, but having an acoustic guitar in the band as well sounds really nice to me. My first acoustic guitar was an Ibanez, but my dad had a Martin, and I have it now, so I guess I grew up around one.

Where were your first shows?

I did a middle school talent show in seventh grade. Then I remember playing again in high school with a friend. It was the first time I'd played in front of people in a really long time, and I was so nervous. At the end of high school, I got into bluegrass music, and I played with two of my friends -- one on mandolin and one on upright bass. Then we just started playing out a lot.

How did you get into bluegrass?

Jerry Garcia was in this band Old & In the Way with David Grisman. When I was listening to jam band music, I would listen to Yonder Mountain String Band. But I started listening to more traditional bluegrass, which goes really well with folk music -- it's sort of another part of it. Then I just ended up getting really invested in it and going and taking some lessons, just to kind of learn the technique of it. I got into it a while, and, I mean, I still like it a lot, but I think I've kind of taken that to be another phase.

I'll still play it with people, but I'm more focused on songwriting and doing something a bit more creative and not trying to buckle down to a particular style. I like a lot of older songs and bluegrass is based on this repertoire. I like that, but I also kind of get tired of hearing the same song. There's no need for me to play that song. It's been played by so many people that it could be fun to sing, but it's not as fun as playing a song that you've written yourself.

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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.