How Strange Americans Coped With a Recording Studio Fire

Murry Mercier (from left), Trevor Sinnard, Matt Hoffman (vocals/guitar), Trent Nelson and Michael John McKee of Strange Americans
Murry Mercier (from left), Trevor Sinnard, Matt Hoffman (vocals/guitar), Trent Nelson and Michael John McKee of Strange Americans Scott McCormick
It's hard to imagine a time when the members of Strange Americans didn't feel like they were a part of the Denver music scene.

"I think we were so new that we hadn't been in the scene for a while," guitarist/vocalist Matt Hoffman says. "Now we know a lot of people, but at the time, we were disconnected."

These days, the band, set to release its third full-length, Borrow You, Brother, on Friday, August 11, at the Bluebird Theater, has become a mainstay in Denver. Its members; Murry Mercier (keyboard/guitar/vocals), Trevor Sinnard (bass), Matt Hoffman (vocals/guitar), Trent Nelson (vocals/guitar) and Michael John McKee (drums), are feverishly embedded in the Mile High City, not only with Strange Americans, but through their involvement in a host of other notable bands.

The group's evolution from basement unknowns to one of the hardest-working acts in Denver is nearly as impressive as the band's latest release, which showcases perfectly crafted Americana ballads that offer sincere and thought-provoking lyrics.

We caught up with the musicians recently to ask about their latest album, their place in the Denver community, and their incendiary trip to the Echo Lab in Denton, Texas.

Westword: For this record, you recorded at the Echo Lab in Denton, Texas. Why did you settle on this location?

Hoffman: Trent turned me onto the band Centro-matic a few years ago, and we have covered some of their songs over the years. We really like the band, and most of their albums were produced and engineered by Matt Pence, their drummer at the Echo Lab.

We did the last two albums in Denver, and this time I wanted to get totally out of town and not have to go to the studio and go to work the next day. So we all enjoyed doing this.

We knew most of what we wanted to do, but we were open to the studio inspiration that we would get when we were there. The drum tones on the Centro-matic records always sounded so good that that was enticing as well.

A lot of things came out by exploring and discovering.

Mercier: We knew Matt (Pence) had a lot of creativity when it came to production and that he was a wizard on tape. He has access to so many instruments; I played an original mellotron on some tunes. He was just really creative to sounds and loops. We could get lost for hours on a simple lick.

Are you allowed to talk about the fire?

Hoffman: [Laughs.] Yeah, I think so. Murry, Trent and myself were down there for the second trip, and while we were tracking, Matt (Pence) shuts off all the lights and says he smells something burning and thinks it’s a moth on a light. We keep going, and then we see a lot of smoke, then we realized the building was on fire. It’s a barn, so the ceilings are high, and one corner was on fire from floor to ceiling. We started taking equipment out: the grand piano, amps. We knew that the fire department was just gonna douse the place when they got there. Thankfully, everything was salvaged.

Were you concerned about your record during this?

Hoffman: The first thing Matt did before he ran out was to back everything up. It was frustrating, because we knew that our live tracking was always fast, and we felt that in seven days we could get all the tracking done. But we started a bit behind, and when the fire happened, that really set us back. Knowing that we couldn't get back [to Denton] for another six months, there was a lot of freaking out.

Murray: The fire department had cut open a hole on the roof and, of course, after that, a huge rainstorm happened. So we were on the top of the roof putting tarps over everything and nailing boards back in. Meanwhile, lightning is striking a half a mile away. Once we got it covered, we threw some amps in the car and did some more tracking and mixing at Matt's house.

Why is it important in this day and age to be a hardworking, touring rock band? Is it more for business or the ethos of it?

Hoffman: I’ve been thinking a lot about that. It’s been a long haul, and we need to know how to sustain this. I feel like I’m crossing over into the mindset that we're providing something for people, and it's just that that we want to do.

Sinnard: To be able to do what we want to do and then come back home and have a life at home. I think we’re getting closer all the time.

Being as busy as you are, how do you find the time to step back and look at how far you've come since you’ve started?

Hoffman: I usually just keep going until I melt down [laughs]!

Strange Americans w/ Miles Nielsen & the Rusted Hearts, 9 p.m. Friday, August 11, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue, $15-$20, 303-377-1666.

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Andy Thomas is a music journalist who hopes other music journalists write nice things about the music he performs. He lives in Denver with his wife, their two cats and a massive pile of unfinished projects.
Contact: Andy Thomas