I’ll cut to the chase: of the six Denver bands mentioned in this article, two of them I had picked two months ago as bands with promise. Snake Rattle Rattle Snake is one. The other, and the one I want to focus on at the moment, is Churchill, whom I specifically wrote about here and here as a band worth watching. Just newly formed this past year, Churchill was voted into the Hometown for the Holidays Top 3 local bands–right alongside two other veteran bands who have been in the Top 3 before. (I’ll be interviewing them about this sometime soon.)
Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks this band is worth watching.
This past Friday, Churchill played in a four-band lineup at the D-Note, not too far from where I live; so I went to followup and see for myself how they are progressing. To say I was pleased is an understatement. They’re still finding their “stage legs”, but they’ve grown more comfortable onstage, they’ve tightened their vocals, and they’re writing great new material. A fully enjoyable set of folk-rock with a bit of newgrass thrown in. It’s still hard to describe them, harder still to describe their appeal; but trust me, the appeal is there. It’s that intangible sense of sound, flavor and personality that just grabs you and makes you want to hear more. It’s music that stirs the soul.
Some might think it’s way too early in the game to call it, but I’m willing to go out on a limb. I’m telling you, keep an eye on this band. Whatever “it” is, they’ve got it. Churchill is still developing, but if they stay on course, they’re on a trajectory that’s going to take them all the way to the top.
The surprise of the evening was the opening act, a newer band simply called “Churchill.” To tell you the truth, at first, they seemed the most unlikely candidates to win over an indie rock crowd. The four guys and two girls opened their set with “Please come my way, Lord/Please come my way”, in gospelly four-part harmony underlaid only with a bass/snare drumbeat.
Huh? I thought I was at a rock concert, I thought. This looks and sounds like something from my old youth group. But that impression only lasted a moment. From there, they launched into an innovative jazzy sound that still sounded a bit gospelly-bluegrassy, but very, very cool. And things only got better from there.
It’s really hard to describe Churchill’s overall sound; in fact, I spent most of their set trying to figure out how to categorize them. How do you classify a drum-and-bass combo that is decidedly rock, overlaid with mandolin, cello, a little bit of keyboard and acoustic guitar? Was it bluegrass, folk, alt-rock, or what? All I know is–it worked. It worked well. And I wasn’t the only one there who thought so. They won over the gathering crowd in a way I’ve rarely seen a warm-up act accomplish.
I had a brief conversation with Tim Bruns, the band’s guitarist and one of the lead vocalists, after the set. His description of their sound, while still leaving us scratching our heads, actually makes the most sense. He told us they started with guitar and mandolin, and a bluegrass sound; and as they added musicians, the sound evolved into something more akin to rock…”but we didn’t want to get rid of the mandolin.” The result, as he describes it, is a band that plays rock music on acoustic instruments. That definition is still a little simplistic, but it’s a fair description nonetheless.
Based on hearing this one performance, and their freshly-released EP–I’d say Churchill’s strongest asset at the moment is that they have an incredibly solid drum/bass combination. These two instruments form the backbone of pretty much any modern band, and the strength of these pieces (or lack thereof) can make or break a band. That said–this band has one of the strongest backbones of any new band I’ve ever heard, and it gives them a great foundation to build on.
Another thing they have going for them is their songwriting. The tunes are memorable, great melodies, great lyric. I know a song is good when it stays in my head. Their stuff stayed there for days.
Their weak spot–at least that evening–was the vocals. Where the drums/bass were on the mark, the vocals drifted a bit. I say this guardedly because their vocals were much stronger on the EP–so I know they are capable. For whatever reason, it didn’t always translate into their live performance. Whether that’s a consistent issue can’t be determined until I see them play again.
And I would definitely go see them again.
If you’re following this blog (thank you if you are), you probably can already tell that good music excites me. So does real potential. I see in Churchill, not a band who has arrived–but a band that is certainly on their way. They have the raw materials, the oomph, to take them places–the potential to really become something special.
Churchill is a band to watch–and I’m going to look forward to watching how things go for them.
Danielle Anderson, who goes by the stage moniker Danielle Ate the Sandwich, is an indie musician from Ft. Collins, Colorado. Known for her quirky stage presence and for featuring a ukelele in her music, Danielle is attracting a growing fan base both locally and nationally through her recordings, live performances and her homemade videos on YouTube.
Danielle Ate the Sandwich will be playing tomorrow night, Oct. 24 at the Meadowlark, 27th and Larimer in Denver, along with Andrea Ball and Dan Craig. Show starts at 8:00 PM.
A couple of days ago, Danielle graciously agreed to chat with me for a few minutes…
OOMPH: So, let’s start with an offbeat question…how did you come to play the ukelele?
Danielle: It was left on my door step by a friend as a “stop being a grump” present after the coffee shop I loved and worked at had to close down.
OOMPH: [laughing] And you just picked it up? Literally?
Danielle: Yeah, very literally. I think it was left as more of a toy, and we didn’t expect that I’d pick it up and really start playing it and that it would eventually kind of replace my guitar!
OOMPH: When did you get interested in music, and how did it become a full-time type of gig for you?
Danielle: I had been writing songs in secret, in my bedroom, since highschool, but never really had the courage to play them out loud in front of people until my second year of college, which would be 2005/2006. I would play open mic nights a lot and eventually got asked to do some legit shows. I didn’t consider myself a full-time musician until this year. The big boom came after having a video featured on youtube’s homepage. This led to a lot of national attention as well as local attention. In January I quit my job as a seamstress at an alteration shop, partly because I wasn’t happy there, and partly because I wanted to see if I could make it playing just music. I could and I have been and it’s been unreal! I’ve been interested in music my entre life, but 2009 was defintely the year it all came together and really started to make sense.
OOMPH: So how did your video get featured on YouTube? Chance, or something else?
Danielle: I think it was chance. There were a few people who said they were in cahoots with YouTube, telling them about me and my videos, but I’m not sure if I believe them. I think it was chance, considering a featured video on any given day can range from Weezer’s new video to one of a cat tackling a baby. Know what I mean?
OOMPH: Yes, I do. One of my questions was going to be how the Internet has helped propel your career. I think you answered that one.
Danielle: Yeah, in addition to what I’ve said…I think it would have been possible for me to climb my way up the local music scene ladder, but because of my success on YouTube it’s been a quick jump. I’m also able to tour nationally and have people show up. I think it’s interesting to a lot of people that I’m doing it my own way. A lot of new musicians are doing it themselves with no label or team of experts and apparently it’s possible to do that. [EDITOR’S NOTE: This statement is evidence of my claims in this previous post.]
OOMPH: What musicians would you say have most inspired you?
Danielle: Everything I’ve heard has inspired me, good or bad. I didn’t really listen to a lot of singer/songwriters while I was growing up, but Regina Spektor was a woman who did her own thing and really inspired me to do mine. I also liked Simon and Garfunkel and listened to them before I really wrote my bulk of songs. I’m currently listening to a lot of 60s folk and getting into those iconic singer/songwriters, and I can’t say they’ve inspired my past songs, but they will inspire the next set of them–and aside from the songs, they’ve served as role models. I can look at the people behind the songs and aspire to be like them and say what they said. And of course, I don’t want to be exactly like anybody, but it’s nice to know that who I am has a big part of who my songs are, just like they were a part of who their songs were. Make sense?
OOMPH: Yes it does–everyone gleans off the ones before, in my opinion, and it works into who they are.
Danielle: Yeah, agreed.
OOMPH: The next question sort of ties in…is there anyone in your personal life that has particularly encouraged/inspired your music career? Mentor, teacher, anyone like that?
Danielle: Veronica May is a singer/songwriter currently living in San Diego. She used to live in Fort Collins, and I would watch her play and see how much fun she had and how much fun others had watching her. I think she unknowingly gave me the push I needed to be brave enough to start sharing my songs.
OOMPH: This might seem like an odd question…but what sorts of things make you mad? What, if anything, would you say you are fiercely passionate about? And do you ever let that kind of thing come out in your songs?
Danielle: Occasionally. I wouldn’t consider myself much of a political person and I usually think political bands are very alienating. I get upset about equal rights and gender stereotypes, war… religion gets me going some days. But I usually try to take those out of the big general scope of the universe and bring them into my universe. I hope that adds a little bit of softness to the tougher issues. I’m not trying to yell or scream how I think things should be. I’m writing the songs to try and understand the way things work.
OOMPH: What do you hope people will get from your music? What do you want them to take away from a concert?
Danielle: Danielle ate the Sandwich live is a very different thing from just listening to the songs. I think I want the songs to speak to people in an individual way. I want them to listen to the words and appreciate them. I like the idea of people singing along as well. I never really think of myself as an emotional healer or that I could be so lucky to have the power to affect people, but the fact that I do is pretty stinkin’ amazing. When I imagine people listening, I think of them all alone and close to speakers, feeling something different because of what I’ve done. Maybe I make them feel worse or maybe better, I guess I just want the songs to do something for people. At a concert, I’d want people to have fun and laugh and then most importantly…shut up and listen. I like that I have a weird, awkward rambly stage presence, but take performing the songs very seriously. I try to shake up the mood a bit. I hope that makes people pay more attention.
OOMPH: Any future plans–recordings in the works, tours? What are you working on?
Danielle: I hope to start recording some new songs this winter and hopefully have a third album out by the spring. I think next year will be a year full of touring. I’ll go on month tours instead of week tours like I”m been doing. I’ll work hard, of course, and try to write some more good songs. I just want to be wonderful! I think Marilyn Monroe said that.
Don’t forget to catch Danielle Ate the Sandwich on Saturday, Oct. 24, at the Meadowlark at 27th and Larimer. You can purchase Danielle’s music from danielleatethesandwich.net.
Taking a cue from my own weekend picks, I went to the Hi-Dive Saturday night to catch Elin Palmer’s CD release concert. I was in the mood for something different, and that’s what I got.
Palmer is Sweden-born and Denver-raised, a prolific local musician who has recorded and traveled as a background violinist with artists such as The Fray, DeVotchKa and M.Ward. She’s now branching out with her own blend of indie music infused with traditional folk music from her Swedish roots.
First up at 10:00 PM was local artist, Andrea Ball, whose 30-minute set began on a weak footing but gained momentum toward the end–meaning I wished she had done her last song first. (I became a fan, nonetheless.)
Next was Norwegian Sissy Wish (the only non-local act present), who showed up late because of the “damn GPS” and caused a half-hour delay between the first and second acts. Her electronica set trended the opposite direction of Ball, beginning strong and losing traction–meaning I wish she had stopped after three songs. At least her set was interesting to watch; Wish wore a vest made of old cassette tapes (remember those?), and her instrumentation was basically a flat table filled with wires and devices that looked like a mad scientist’s lab.
Elin Palmer took the stage with her band around midnight, playing a nyckelharpa (a rare Swedish folk stringed instrument), and switching to accordian and guitar as the evening progressed. Accompanied by varying arrangements that included bass, cello, violin, keyboard and drums, her skill and range as a musician was obvious. Every song contained unique musical textures, creative arrangements, and smooth harmonies. She even sang a song in Swedish, and closed the show with a quirky cover of Buddy Holley’s “Everyday.”
Regrettably, Palmer’s set lasted only about 30 minutes–possibly because a cello had been damaged earlier in the day, which might have resulted in some songs being cut from the list. Also, at times Palmer seemed a bit uncomfortable and distracted at times–perhaps a result of the mishaps of the evening, or possibly that she is still finding her feet as a solo artist. Hard to tell for sure when it’s the first time you’ve seen her perform. Even with these negatives, the music was enjoyable–definitely something you don’t hear everyday.
This was my first encounter with Elin Palmer’s music, but it’s apparent she is well-connected and well-liked; she had a good turnout of enthusiastic fans. She is an artist worth watching, and her record is worth a listen. If she can fill the shoes of a solo artist, she has both the talent and potential to go far.
This is a re-post from an article I wrote on Examiner.com two weeks ago. Saw this girl play at the D-Note again tonight. Definitely a standout. OOMPH Scale: 8.5 –J
Open stage nights at the local club are typically the place for the more unpolished local talent to show their stuff–the more amateur types who sing and play for fun but don’t really have aspirations of music careers. However, every so often, open stage nights also good places to find the undiscovered talent, the “diamond in the rough.”
Monday night at the D-Note in Olde Town Arvada, one of those diamonds showed up.
After a string of musicians ranging from the okay to the mediocre, 21-year-old singer/songwriter Brooke Shellberg (who goes by “Brookefield H.” onstage) set up her keyboard, took the stage, began to play and sing–and captured and commanded our attention throughout her four-song set. With vocalizations reminiscent of Norah Jones and a jazzy quirky style, she was the surprise of the evening.
It wasn’t that the performance was perfect; “diamond in the rough” is a trite expression, but a fitting description in this case. By her own admission, Brookefield H. is just getting started playing out solo, and it takes time and experience to own the stage and get comfortable with it. But when the awkward moments are erased by nearly flawless vocals and creative original songs, you know that all that’s needed is a little artist development and a bit of experience to make the diamond shine.
Brookefield H. is new to Denver. She has no CDs to sell, no demo, no press kit–just a great voice, a current, memorable style, and a lot of promise. She is working on getting more dates in local venues in the days to come; meanwhile, if you show up at D-Note on Monday nights, you’re likely to see her take the stage from time to time. If you do, you’re in for a treat. Brookefield H. is just beginning the journey, but she is one to watch.
Listen to him play for a half minute, and you’ll know 32-year-old guitarist Josh Blackburn is not a novice. Listen to him for an hour, and you’ll wonder why he’s doing solo gigs, playing cover songs at the Baker Street Pub, instead of touring the country with a band.
His opening set last night, September 30, at the Baker Street Pub in the Denver Tech Center, showed just how much of a range this guy has. Armed with only an electric guitar, a few effects, a loop pedal, and a surprisingly rich gravelly voice, he played everything from alternative to classic rock to Stevie Ray Vaughn–and Stevie Wonder. (Try to imagine “Superstition” played only on an electric guitar!) Yet he made it all sound believeable, as though there were a full band present.
Several times through the set, Josh wowed the crowd with powerful lead guitar solos, which he played over multiple guitar loops created on the spot. He took numerous requests from the crowd, and turned down a few. “No, no M.C. Hammer,” he said at one point, grinning. “I can’t touch that.”
The audience loved it.
No, Josh Blackburn isn’t a novice. He isn’t even a newcomer–he’s been playing in and around Denver for four years, and before that he played in bands and recorded with industry professionals. He isn’t really starting up; he’s starting over, with a new crowd, making new fans. The good thing (for us) is that Josh is playing fairly steadily these days, so there are a lot of opportunities to catch his act around town. He’s a regular this fall at all the area Baker Street Pub locations (he’s at the Boulder location on 28th Street all this weekend), and numerous other places in the area. Check his MySpace page for his current schedule, then do yourself a favor and go see him play.
Josh Blackburn might not be new to this scene, but he is definitely one to watch.