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Paul Baker performs as Redwing Blackbird.EXPAND
Paul Baker performs as Redwing Blackbird.
Sarah Martinez

Hear This: Redwing Blackbird Finds Beauty in the Bleak

Social distancing? We want you to keep enjoying the music that Denver artists are making...but from the comfort of your home, rather than at a club.

Redwing Blackbird’s ten-song Too Klaus for Comfort opens with the track “It’s Replicant Not Replican.” At first glance, the song title seems like a cheeky reference to sci-fi god Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

The book was famously made into the film Blade Runner and concerns the plight of artificial humans who aren't afforded the same rights as their creators.

Coupled with the album’s synth- and guitar-driven sound and Paul Baker’s vocals, which fall somewhere between Peter Murphy and Ian Curtis, the title evokes a certain Joy Division-for-smart-asses tone present throughout the record. Baker, the sole member of the Denver goth/death-rock/protest/post-punk project Redwing Blackbird, says he is making a point about the state of the world and tying it to Dick’s dystopia.

“We can’t even recognize other sexualities and races as equals right now,” Baker says. “It’s the same problem in the future with artificial humans. So it’s kind of a sci-fi commentary on the condition of our country. That’s kind of the place I was coming from.”

Baker is a fan of Philip K. Dick. He performed a graveside set where Dick is buried in Fort Morgan, during a festival that honors the author, who never lived in Colorado but wanted to be buried next to his twin sister. Baker showed up in his white hearse and performed in a cape with a set of headless mannequins.

“I definitely jumped on the opportunity to play that,” he says.

The album's title, Too Klaus for Comfort, is a nod to actor/maniac Klaus Kinski. Baker sees an analogous comparison between the actor's madness and commitment to his craft to that of the current president, himself a consummate showman and insane person.

The album, which covers a lot of thematic ground over ten tracks, includes an ode to Margaret Fuller, the first full-time woman critic in American journalism, and the political state of contemporary America, currently headed by a president who failed to denounce neo-Nazis after one of them mowed down a protestor in Virginia. Baker says the song “Capitalist Hands” has gotten some traction in Europe during the whole Brexit fiasco.

The album is the first in a trilogy, and Baker says he plans on working on an EP of cover songs by artists who influenced him over the years.

Baker doesn’t consider himself a “happy songwriter,” and writes most of his songs in a minor key. He finds a certain beauty and authenticity in bleak subject matter.

“I went to Target the other day, and you’re seeing this on social media, all this toilet paper being bought and people fighting,” he says. “The experience I had with people is we are all scared, but when you make eye contact with your fellow human being right now, there seems to be a greater sense of compassion and empathy than I’m used to seeing. I think that is what you can find in dark subject matter.”

The goth culture can be vain and self-absorbed sometimes, Baker acknowledges, and he wanted to make a record with a goth and death-rock sound — some people have described his sound as a cross between post-punk band Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and stoner weirdos Ween — that expands beyond those genres' tendencies to be introspective.

“I didn’t want to make a record that was me, me, me, my issues, my feelings,” he says. “I wanted to kind of address the issues more politically."

Baker moved to Denver from Arizona in 2009 and left behind all of his music equipment except for a couple of guitars and an amplifier. He started playing goth-influenced music in the early 1990s with a band called second skin, but admits that being goth in 120-degree Arizona heat can be tedious.

“The beautiful thing about Colorado is you have a winter, so you guys can have a nice sense of fashion,” he says. “In Arizona, if it gets 72 degrees, everybody's breaking out their jackets and their winter wear.”

When he came to Colorado, he was playing dark folk music, but he's switched to a more gothic-influence sound that shares a political spirit with punk bands like Dead Kennedys and the Clash.

When he performs as Redwing Blackbird — his youngest daughter chose the name to honor her grandmother, a bird lover — Baker constructs all of his own bass lines and drumbeats and drops them into a software program. On stage he plays guitar and sings, while triggering the backing tracks. He says other bands like Big Black and Sisters of Mercy have used drum machines as their primary source of rhythm, and he likes the freedom it offers him. He has a version of the famed Roland 808 drum machine he picked up off of Mix Master Mike, of Beastie Boys fame, when Grand Royal records closed down.

“Technology is allowing me to do it all,” he says. “I don’t need to worry about whether the bass player’s wife is going to let him tour this week. I kind of carried it over from the dark folk stuff when I’m stomping on the floor and playing the guitar. It’s kind of a natural progression in technology.”

Too Klaus for Comfort is available at bandcamp.com. For more information, visit redwingblackbird.org.

Listen to Too Klaus for Comfort and more favorites from Westword writers on our Westword Staff Picks playlist.

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