Twelve years after starting the celebrated indie-folk band Paper Bird, Paul DeHaven and Sarah Anderson have minted an impressive new project called Heavy Diamond Ring. Rooted in ’70s FM folk rock, their group draws on the brand they forged over the course of five full-length releases with Paper Bird.
"We're kind of starting from scratch," says the 35-year-old DeHaven, who makes his home in Evergreen and is now a stepfather. "Starting over gives me some perspective on how good we had it. There's a lot of great music out there, and it's definitely a serious challenge to get people's attention these days. It can definitely be a rat race."
Built to accommodate Anderson’s gorgeous vocals and DeHaven's guitar chops, Heavy Diamond Ring includes top-tier players Blake Stepan on bass and vocals, Mike Lang on keys and vocals, and Orion Tate on drums, making the ensemble a powerful, soulful five-piece. The band's Americana sound draws comparisons to the impressive vocals and charisma of Grace Potter, the storytelling-driven lyrics of Shovels & Rope and the rock performance style of Fleetwood Mac.
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"In Heavy Diamond Ring, I play guitar and do some backing vocals," relates DeHaven, who grew up in Arvada and Golden and also sings and performs in a project under his own name. "I would say it's not a far cry from the ethos we had in Paper Bird. It was sort of the direction we were headed and a continuation of what we were doing there. The sound is maybe a little more folk rock or indie rock now. We're moving to more Americana-folk full-band territory."
The days of Paper Bird, which spanned from 2006 to 2017, may be gone, but the creative spirit of the group that made a lasting connection with listeners continues to soar. DeHaven and Anderson first met through a mutual friend, while the budding lyricist, singer and guitarist was earning his degree in music at the University of Colorado Denver in 2004.
"I had just gotten back from traveling in South America, and I had come back to Denver to finish college," recalls DeHaven, who lived in the Five Points area at the time. "A friend of mine, who I ended up rooming with, introduced me to Sarah one evening, and we stayed up all night talking at Denny's. I think we talked a lot about music, and we started playing together shortly thereafter. I was just beginning to come out of my shell as a songwriter. I'd been in some punk bands in high school. [Sarah] and I actually had a band called Nous Sommes for about a year before we started Paper Bird. I was 21 at the time, Sarah was a couple years younger. She had moved to Colorado from Ohio originally. I was going to UCD, where I graduated from the music program in 2006."
Now, with a series of festival dates booked for this summer — including the Underground Music Showcase, the RIDE Festival and MeadowGrass — and some touring ahead, DeHaven says the latest iteration of the musicians' ongoing artistry is most welcome.
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"We lucked into a really awesome band with [Heavy Diamond Ring]," he says. "We're super-excited. Sarah and I have been playing together for quite a while, and we've been creative partners for a long time now. As Paper Bird, we grew a lot and got to travel around and tour, which was really incredible, and now we're on to the next iteration of our partnership. I've been lucky to have her in my life. And the other members of the band are some of the kindest and most talented people that we could ever hope to contend with."
The band's self-titled debut drops June 7. With any luck, the emerging group will find satisfaction in its latest iteration. Despite notching critical acclaim and gathering new fans, DeHaven admits to having reached burnout after more than a decade on the road with Paper Bird.
"Sarah and I knew about six months prior to our final show, which was in December of 2017, that it was coming to an end," he recounts. "We had done it for more than ten years, and it wasn't financially sustainable for as many people as we had, and it was just time to move on. Although we were grateful for the successes we had, we were coming home broke after long, grueling tours. At some point it has to start giving back to you, and we just weren't feeling an equal call and response. And people wanted to do other things. Fortunately, we had written some songs for what could have been another record, and we started recording with Mark Anderson, Sarah's brother, and demo-ing tracks for a new project. It took us more than a year to actually make this record and get everything to fall into place, but it was worth it. It was hard, but everyone made the transition, and I think we're all in a happier place now."