High Plains Underground Archive

Why Fissure Mystic Was Among Denver's Most Unforgettable Bands

It's a rarity that any band lasts ten years and remains interesting up to the end, much less a band of people who have played music together since the members were in middle school. Fissure Mystic started in 1998, when Taylor Evans-Rice, Fernando Guzman and Andrew Elkins were in middle school together. Inspired by a mutual love of Nirvana and, later, an admiration for bands like Television and Sonic Youth, the trio played music in Guzman's parents' basement in southeast Denver and they all went to George Washington High School, where former Sin Desires Marie bassist Yoon Park was a teacher. Not that any of them really knew about the legendary, Denver post-punk band at the time.

During their high school years, the guys in Fissure Mystic developed their own sound, their own world of music and storytelling that would yield some of the most original, captivating and powerful music that came out of Denver in the first decade of the 2000s. Even in the early music, the members mulched the experiences of their everyday lives and blended it with their creativity to produce a deeply imaginative music that transcended yet articulated universal personal experiences of young people who are yearning for more than mundane reality. In doing so, Fissure Mystic took those everyday experiences and found the mythic possibilities inside them as fuel for their songwriting. These are some of the things of which great music and art are made.

Like so many young bands, especially in the late '90s and the early 2000s, Fissure played where it could like high school talent shows and curiously open venues like the bar McDonough's in far east Denver. As Fissure started playing shows the original trio thought it best to bring in another player, and that figure presented itself immediately in the person of Andrew Elkins' younger brother, Simon. It turns out the younger Elkins was a key component, the secret ingredient, that helped Fissure, then called Fisher Mystic for many shows, attain its next stage of songwriting, because his own imagination proved as powerful, if perhaps more productively unusual, than that of his bandmates.

Andrew Elkins brought a strong ear for pop melodies and structure, Evans-Rice brought a knack for intricate and vibrant guitar work and an openness to ideas and solidifying them, Guzman, a powerhouse drummer in any context, also had a vivid sense of atmosphere and rhythm that elevated the band's songs beyond the usual rock and roll sensibility and of course Simon Elkins looked like he might be channeling another universe and often seemed to be on stage.

My first encounter with Fissure Mystic happened on September 18, 2005 at the hi-dive. Whatever other bands played that night seemed to fade into the background with how immediately Fissure Mystic entered your imagination and suggested daydreams and fears transmogrified into release and an otherworldly connection. The should-be classic “Colfax Culture” delineates amusement and fascination with the lurid sights on the Denver section of the longest street in America. I was reminded of Television, certainly, but also Slint. Rarely do I go up to a band after a show and ask it a bunch of questions, but with Fissure, my then-girlfriend and I were so blown away by them we had to talk to them and they were the nicest, most humble guys playing some of the most interesting music of that time. I asked them if they'd ever heard Spiderland by Slint but they didn't know who Slint was though later they told me their teacher, “Miss Park,” had asked them a similar question. So I gave them a copy of Spiderland shortly thereafter and they could see why someone might make that comparison. The same kind of angular, wiry yet organically drifty dynamics informed Fissure Mystic's music.

If you went to see Fissure you were sure to go on a strange tour through many of the small venues in Denver. I never saw the Greeley or Fort Collins shows nor any of the infamous shows in Fez's parents' basement with the likes of the Photo Atlas. But I did try to see Fissure as often as I could because the songs were so good and never got stale.

Sometime in the summer of 2007, Simon Elkins left the band and has since become something of an arborist. This left a hole in the band even though it carried on and became better known. Many of its later fans never knew the incarnation that included Simon. By June of 2008, the remaining three members put out a new EP that revealed some of the more math-y and even prog influences of the band while maintaining the dreamlike quality of the songwriting. It was a fascinating contrast and balance of ideas—something Fissure Mystic always seemed to possess.

By July 2008, Fissure had a new member, Suzi Allegra, who also wasn't short on the strange ideas and imagination that Simon Elkins and she had long been a known songwriter in Denver for her work in bands like Catatonic Lydia, the Pseudo Dates and later Fingers of the Sun and Ancient Elk. Allegra also brought some serious bass chops and vocal ability to the band that changed up its sound even more. Within a couple of years the group was becoming something of a cult phenomenon in Denver and eventually the guys from the now defunct blog Speaker Snacks released the lost Fissure Mystic album around the time Fissure was breaking up in 2010. The compilation of unreleased tracks included essays by various of the band's fans including yours truly. Over the years, I knew that Mike Marchant was a major fan for years as well as Brian Marcus from Tjutjuna and Pale Sun and Mark Weaver, Marchant's former bandmate in the late, great Widowers. It wouldn't be appropriate to call Fissure a band's band because the technical aspect of the band didn't matter as much as how the songs always offered you a glimpse into a place of deep imaginative exploration and emotional expansiveness.

It's difficult to say when Fissure went into inactivity but the last time I saw the band was on February 5, 2010 at the Meadowlark. Its sporadic activity over the previous two years spelled that something was off somewhere but the guys were always too private and classy to have a blowout about why the band wasn't really a thing anymore.

In 2013 yet another version of the band with a stand-in for Andrew Elkins appeared for one show. It was a December 18, 2013 edition of On the Record where a local band will cover an entire release by a more well-known band. Fissure Mystic chose the 1988 Sonic Youth album Daydream Nation. They were given an option for opening act and they chose to ask my own band Pythian Whispers and it was an honor to get to share the stage, for the first and likely last, time with one of the truly great bands of the current era. We covered “Mildred Pierce” but Fissure took on one of the monumental albums of the alternative rock era like they owned the material.

There are some other local equivalent of cult bands in Denver and should be written about, but Fissure Mystic was one of those I was the closest to because it stood out from most other bands of its time. With a handful of homemade releases and no “official” release, it's difficult to track down Fissure's music, but there are videos on YouTube. Still, I hope someone takes the time to re-issue what is possible of this great band's recorded output.

What follows are several images of Fissure from its playing the final Monkey Mania show before it was run by the people in Pretty Thigh to that 2013 performance. The line-up changes, the way venues looked at that time and some of the people in attendance at the shows. Although it's a bit on one band it also hints at what Denver music in the underground was like before the last two to three years brought on big changes in the environment for music in the Mile High City.

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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.
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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.