Music News

The Beatdown

From the moment my head hits the pillow until I drift off into the tranquil land of all-you-can-eat pizza served up by Kathy Sabine in a whipped-cream bikini, I spend countless hours staring at the glow-in-the-dark star pattern on my ceiling, wrestling with life's nagging profundities. If I spend my last ten bucks on coffee and smokes, will I have enough gas to get to work until payday? How much blood will I have to sell to pay for my kids' braces? You know, trivial stuff like that. Dan Rutherford, meanwhile, struggles with more pressing matters -- like which band to see this weekend.

"You're always fighting," explains Rutherford. "I know, at least myself, personally, I'm always fighting. What great show am I going to see on a Friday or Saturday night? You know, you could have Bright Channel playing at one place and you might have D.Biddle playing at another, and then Hot IQs are playing somewhere, and Born in the Flood is playing at the opposite venue."

That's not such a bad problem to have, considering that there wasn't any problem at all a few years back. "When I first started hanging out in the scene, there was maybe a handful of bands that you could go see that were worth your time," recalls Rutherford, who runs Morning After Records. "Between then and now -- even in the last year -- all of a sudden, it's like every night of the week there's great bands playing. I think we've definitely evolved from having just a handful of bands. And I wouldn't say that the scene has peaked yet. We're not going to be at our peak until people actually get out of town consistently and become more successful on a national level."

While Denver has had world-class talent for as long as I can remember, it's only flirted with national prominence. Even though acts such as the Fluid, Spell, Sixteen Horsepower, Apples in Stereo, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, the Samples, String Cheese Incident, Leftover Salmon and Five Iron Frenzy kept threatening to break through, Denver's never really risen above cult status -- until now. Mark my words: By the end of this year, we'll be an undeniable player in the industry.

Leading the charge is the Fray, whose Advance Warning segment on MTV begins airing next week. Coming off a stellar performance at the Triple A convention and a slot supporting the Killers on a sold-out bill at Red Rocks last week, this act is poised to make a massive dent with its hotly anticipated Epic Records debut How to Save a Life, slated for release next month. The disc's first single, "Over My Head (Cable Car)," continues to pick up steam with one station after another adding the song to rotation -- Alice 105.9 and San Francisco's KFOG among the latest.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg, Leonardo. Blackout Pact, which recently inked a deal with Thursday frontman Geoff Rickley's Astromagnetics imprint, will issue its inaugural disc, Hello Sailor, around the same time. And Vaux is now laying the promotional groundwork for its Lava Records debut, Beyond Virtue, Beyond Vice, which hits stores on October 25. (Listen to selected tracks from both discs at

A slew of other homegrown acts are also making substantial national inroads. Earlier this month, Cephalic Carnage's video for "Dying Will Be the Death of Me" was picked up by Fuse, and MTV2 is airing an edited (read: censored) version. Dressy Bessy performed on Late Night With Conan O'Brien after generating reams of praise for Electrified, its latest effort. And DeVotchKa -- after collecting an exceedingly positive notice from Filter magazine's Mikel Jollett on NPR's All Things Considered -- is turning heads with the title track from How It Ends, the group's latest album, which is featured on the trailer for Everything Is Illuminated, a new independent film starring Eugene Hutz (Gogol Bordello) and Elijah Woods. (Check out the trailer at:

Finally, last week Cat-A-Tac made it to #11 on CMJ's Top 20 Adds chart, which is compiled by the same folks who earlier this year ranked Matson Jones (which joined Sympathy for the Record Industry's roster a few months ago) at #34 and Hot IQs at #73 on the magazine's Top 200 chart. (For the uninitiated, CMJ is the final word when it comes to documenting college-radio play.) The Swayback and Hot IQs have both been selected to perform at CMJ's Music Marathon next month in New York City -- and they won't be alone in the Big Apple. Rutherford has been invited to sit on a panel there titled "How a City Becomes a Scene."

Rutherford is more than up to the task of representing Denver's scene -- at least on the indie side of things. "I think I can serve as well as anyone else in this market could," he says. "The indie-rock scene is definitely a vital part of it, but there are a lot of different scenes in the whole Colorado music community via people that play -- if you have to break it down from venue to venue -- the Soiled Dove and Herman's Hideaway, versus people that play the hi-dive and Larimer Lounge, versus jam bands or whatever.

"We obviously don't encompass everything," he adds of the indie scene. "But I think that's a big part of it. Maybe I'm only representing a small segment, but I think it's a segment that, for a lot of years, was overlooked by a lot of people and is definitely one of the hottest things going right now. We're definitely trying to branch out and show people that there are things that are going on in Denver. And I feel really privileged being asked to speak, and I've got to jump at the opportunity."

Rutherford is always ready to seize an opening. Along with Ben DeSoto, who books the hi-dive and runs Public Service Records, and hi-dive owner Matt LaBarge, he put together a shrewd, Denver-based showcase at South by Southwest, and Rutherford also plans to co-host a party with Warner Bros. at CMJ. And he's not stopping there. Rutherford's already working on the next phase of Morning After's evolution, the debut disc from his latest act, Atlas -- yet another jaw-dropping local band that's likely to keep plenty of people up at night.

Upbeats and beatdowns: This Friday, August 19, Peter Black (formerly of the Funeral), Yer Momm and Wigdan Giddy host "Rock Stars Are Dead!," an end-of-summer bash at the Walnut Room featuring a performance by the Vanity, with special guests White Girl Lust taking turns on the ones and twos.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Dave Herrera
Contact: Dave Herrera