Music News

The Don'ts and Be Carefuls show songwriting growth on the Sun Hits EP

"I actually just got out of jail four hours before that show."

Casey Banker, frontman for the Don'ts and Be Carefuls, is relating the story of how he was arrested last year just before a gig his band played on Halloween at the Skylark. Apparently, three months prior, keyboardist Dane Bernhardt had flicked a cigarette out the window on the way to a show at Road 34 in Fort Collins, and Banker, who was driving at the time, was given a citation.

When he failed to show up for the mandatory court date, his license was suspended and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. He didn't find any of this out, though, until one day when his boss informed him that he couldn't work until he cleared up the matter. "He went to pay it finally," adds Bernhardt, picking up the story, "and they were like, 'We have to arrest you.'" Upon posting his own bail, Banker remembers, "I got out and drove as fast as I could to the Skylark, got my costume on, went to the show and had a great time."

As that story illustrates, Banker and company are not ones to let misfortune cramp their style, and they've all had their share of trials and tribulations, to be sure. Late last year, for instance, Banker suffered an illness that prevented him from singing, and it happened just as the band was in the midst of recording a new album, which pushed the sessions back by a few months. Around the same time, there was a critical lineup change that brought Bernhardt on board, and a good chunk of this year has been spent getting him up to speed musically. And then this past summer, bassist Cody Witsken suffered a planking-related injury — all of which suggests that this outfit is more aptly named than perhaps intended.

Originally based in Greeley, the Don'ts moved to Denver in 2009, where they ultimately recruited Bernhardt —who was a member of the Silver Cord at the time — after he saw the band play at Wax Trax. Over the course of the next year, the group shed a bit of its earlier post-punk sound without losing the youthful exuberance that went along with it. The band's latest release, the Sun Hits EP, couldn't exactly be described as darker than 2009's Risk Assessment, but the songwriting explores a different side of human experience than its predecessor.

"It's in the title track and in the last song," says Banker of the title's significance. "It's sort of a metaphor. It's sort of a reflection of when the sun hits you and it makes you feel really good — someone is like the sun when the sun hits you. Originally it was going to be — and still is — kind of a concept album that starts with the beginning of a relationship, but toward the end, it's completely gone and completely fallen apart.

"In the beginning, when I say the sun hits you, that's the best part," he continues. "It's what makes everything worthwhile. At the end, when the sun hits you, you realize it's the lie. That also ties in to the cover art. When you see this person, and this person looks at you and says your name, it feels really good. But at the end you try to get away from that, and you realize that's all bullshit."

The cover art, whose design echoes that of Vampire Weekend's last album or M83's most recent release, was produced by the bandmembers' friend Broox Pulford, of Wombmates.

"There's a reason I chose the image and wanted to do this idea," Banker explains. "I think the EP, in general, comes from a relationship standpoint. It's kind of a woeful CD in that sense. I'm emoting quite a bit on this one. The last one was about society and finding your place in it and being disaffected with how things are run. I don't know if you saw the artwork for our first CD, but you probably didn't, because there really wasn't any. It was just some lines and our name. That was really non-striking.

"I wanted to get through to people and make kind of a statement with this cover," he goes on. "It reflects the songs because it's sort of like you're looking at this girl, and she's looking right at you, and she's very beautiful. She's beautiful, but she has a cold expression on her face; she's thinking her own thoughts, she's very independent. You can appreciate the beauty of someone, but at the same time, they can be very cold to you. I wanted to capture that, and that's kind of the experience I went through."

Sun Hits, ironically, has a warmer feel than the band's previous effort, even though the arc of its loose storyline ends in tragedy. "The greenery and the face paint and the Native American feel to the artwork is a reflection of the sound of the music," observes Banker. "It's more natural-sounding than our last one, which was raw and direct and had that cold, post-punk feel to it a little more. This one is a lot more raw with reverb. Then Luke's tribal drumming style, the way he hits the drums, I thought that gave us a more organic feel."

"I didn't ever intentionally use more 'tribal' drumming," interjects Luke Hunter James-Erickson. "My introduction to drumming was through the djembe, on which I trained for roughly a year. Since I was a kid, I've listened to an awful lot of music that has come out of Africa, specifically from the '50s to the '70s. I can only imagine these things have had their influence, but when I come up with a drumbeat, I try to feel out what kind of drumbeat best fits the music and go from there. There's more of a visceral origin than a calculated one."

Engineered and produced by Bryan Feuchtinger at his Uneven Studio, Sun Hits very much reveals a group whose members have grown immensely as songwriters. With any luck, it will be heard live by people well outside of Colorado.

"We've tried to book three different tours, but things have fallen through," laments Witsken. "On the first, we didn't get enough dates booked on time. For the second tour, Casey got sick. We had several dates booked, but we had to cancel them all. But we're going to try to book another one as soon as we're able."

You can bet they'll be careful not to throw anything out the window this time.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.