Artistic inspiration can come from a variety of places, but nothing gets the creative juices flowing quite like a healthy dollop of struggle.
It’s not that we want musicians to have difficult lives in order to provide us with honest and interesting art, but it’s certainly true that music created by those who have lived in privilege and without turmoil is often bland and insipid.
Daniel Hertel of blues-rock band Verses the Inevitable moved from Indiana to Colorado eight years ago. Then 26, Hertel was struggling with demons of many varieties, and he knew that he had to change something. He knew that running away from his problems wasn’t the answer, but he also knew that the people he was surrounding himself with weren’t helping matters. It was a slow road, but Hertel is now three years sober.
“I grew up around a lot of drugs and alcohol, and I think that a lot of my music reflects that there is a possibility to change your outlook on things, and you’re not trapped by your circumstances,” Hertel says. “There are a lot of innuendos in the songs that point at drugs, love and moving through the journey of life. There’s a way out. I think a lot of my music reflects the journey from an empty place inside to something more hopeful. There are a lot of names in my songs of people who didn’t make it out of the area I grew up in. It’s kind of like soul therapy for me, because I’m able to process through my past.”
Hertel found sobriety and a home in Colorado.
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“Indiana is a very conservative state,” he says. “I think I fit in a lot better in more of a liberal-thinking state, more of a progressive state. Indiana is a lot poorer of a state than Colorado. There’s a lot more pollution and a lot more conservative thinking in Indiana than there is out here, and I fit in a lot better with the people in Colorado. It was between here and California, and I had my cousins and a couple of friends already out here, so I just made the move.”
And he hasn’t looked back, getting himself fit and healthy above all and working hard at his songwriting, initially as a solo singer-songwriter or as part of a coffee-shop double act. He soon realized that, unlike in Indiana, here he had the opportunity to work with a lot of quality musicians, and he felt inspired to form Verses the Inevitable.
“I knew that my songwriting was good enough, but I hadn’t surrounded myself with enough musicians to bring what I was writing to a bigger stage,” Hertel says. “So the band came out of a necessity to move forward with the songs I was writing. I linked up with my harmonica player, and we cut a demo CD. We started distributing that around Denver, started booking smaller gigs and added musicians along the way.”
Verses the Inevitable is a blues-rock band on a very superficial level, but there’s a lot more going on, thanks to the varied backgrounds of the musicians within its ranks. Fiddle player Braden Rauen, for example, comes from a bluegrass and punkabilly background. Drummer Gary Howard has previously played in rock-and-roll groups and jam bands. Keys man Will Snyder is a jazzhead, and bassist Jeremy Johnson is an aficionado of funk. The band’s elder statesman, harmonica player Mad Dog Friedman, is a blues veteran. Guitarist Alex Tyler is also the sound engineer and co-producer on the new album.
“I’d probably say the overall sound is rock and roll, blues, Americana,” Hertel says. “The new stuff we’ve been writing has a lot of funk-jazz influence. It’s a very different sound from what’s out there. That’s what we’re going for — something that people haven’t heard before.”
Hertel prides himself most on his songwriting. In a band of musicians, he says it’s what he offers the group.
“I really try to make sure that what I’m writing has many layers, because I think these days, the songwriting is what some bands think of last,” he explains. “You need to be able to reach some kind of a societal statement with your song, or else it’s not going to be very impactful.”
A child of the ’90s, Hertel grew up listening to and learning from grunge-era bands like Nirvana and Blind Melon, hip-hop acts such as Public Enemy and the Notorious B.I.G., and the music that his parents listened to (the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Marvin Gaye). All of those influences collided to help form the songwriter that he is today.
“I’d been writing poetry all my life, but my songwriting started to change into something more significant when I moved out here,” Hertel explains. “Especially in the last three years, since I’ve gotten my head right. I’m really thankful for the musicians I have around me, though.”
Verses the Inevitable’s debut album, All Debts Paid, came out this year and has been extremely well received, to say the least. The record placed second in the Colorado Blues Society’s Best Self-Produced Album category and won the Best Self-Produced CD award from the Mile High Blues Society, which is sending the CD on to Memphis, where it will compete in the 2017 International Blues Challenge against self-produced projects from around the world.
“The debut album is a little bit calmer than what we bring to the live show,” Hertel says. “Everyone in my band is a stand-alone musician, and together we’re creating a monster. I’m really excited about these last two months, because we’ve really come together as a band and are creating something really substantial.”
The group is up for additional awards, as well, generally in blues categories, a fact that surprises Hertel a little.
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“I honestly didn’t believe that the album was bluesy enough to compete, because a lot of blues these days, I hate to say it, is kind of stale,” he says. “You’ve got guys sitting on stage doing the same thing that people were doing with the blues twenty or thirty years ago, beating a dead horse, and I didn’t really think that what we were doing fit into that box.”
Verses the Inevitable will be at the Walnut Room on Friday, December 16, and Hertel says the band will be playing a couple of new songs that have more of a jazz-fusion sound.
Looking ahead to the coming year, Hertel is six songs into a second album, and he’s looking to book more shows outside of Denver. Success is far from guaranteed, but if he can create a little, and vent a little, he’ll be a happy bluesman.
Verses the Inevitable plays at 8 p.m. Friday, December 16, Walnut Room, 3131 Walnut Street, 303-295-1868; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for $10 advance tickets.