Denver moody art-rock trio Shadow Work’s latest single, “Warm Tones,” opens with guitarist and vocalist Rafael Nava’s anguished vocals over a dreamy, ethereal guitar melody. Drummer Ben Zickau adds a pounding, urgent drum line that drops in and out. The song eventually cascades into a noisy climax that again recedes to the soft beginning...and then it’s over. This sonic trip all happens in less than three minutes.
“It’s kind of a roller coaster in some ways,” confirms bassist Joseph Szlanic. “It has a lot of hills and valleys. By the end, it has a really strong resolution. It’s definitely a journey.”
When Nava wrote “Warm Tones” — which is now available to stream on all major platforms — he relied on emotion and lyrical wordplay to the point that he became unsure of his own intent with regard to the meaning of the words.
“It’s hard for me in those times to fully see the big picture,” Nava confesses.
So he passes a question about the lyrics to his bandmate, Szlanic, who is happy to oblige.
“'Warm tones' is a song about being a product of your environment and the cycles we find ourselves in because of it,” Szlanic says. “The subject is desperate to break free from the patterns of relational dysfunction.”
The song packs a lot of emotion, he adds, noting that it took a bit of work on his part to discern where Nava is coming from.
“It hits home in a lot of ways,” he says. “We can all relate to the idea of wanting to do better with the hand we’ve been dealt.”
Zickau says he can’t top Szlanic’s interpretation of the lyrics, but musically, the song was fun to compose.
“That song was kind of an experimental avenue in terms of the writing process,” he says. “Most of our songs start with a rhythm section, but this one started with a melody and a guitar line. We were kind of augmenting that. That’s something I always wanted to try.”
Nava doesn’t see the song as representing a massive style shift for the band, but one that reveals another dimension to Shadow Work
“I come from a background of a lot of acoustic guitars,” he says. “It comes through in certain ways in this song compositionally. … I think it’s another side of Shadow Work that people will hopefully like and at least see.”
The band recorded the song at its own studio, but producer John Scott, who has worked with Crumb, Joyner Lucas, Snoop Dogg, Lil Baby and Trey Songz, mixed and mastered the track. The band had been looking for a so-called “fourth member” to help them with the production side of the music, and Scott’s name kept coming up in albums the band enjoys. Crumb, in particular, has been a big influence on Shadow Work.
“Having John Scott on the audio engineering side of it has been an honor, just having his vision,” Nava says. “It’s one thing to play it live and even record, but to have his hand on the mix and master was truly a pleasure.”
Szlanic says the summer has been going well for the band, which recently toured the southeastern United States and numerous festival appearances and has another tour planned. The band is basically trying to find its audience on the road, and they want to hit up the midwest and the Pacific Northwest.
“As time goes on, we will continue to expand on those routes,” he says. “We will find where we connect with people.”
They plan to release at least one more single before the end of the year and an EP that will out next year.
“We’re honestly putting our nose to the grindstone,” Szlanic says. “We're playing a lot of music, and we're recording a lot of music, as well. We're planning a lot of things for the future. It’s been busy, but it’s been satisfying.”
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