To fully appreciate the dynamics that control the ebb and flow of Denver’s music scene is to know the collective breath-holding that local artists, fans and interested business parties have been doing lately. You see, milestones of various size and significance have dotted the last 15 years of Denver’s musical history, with each subsequent mark prompting locals to once again resume ritualistic behaviors in anticipation of the arrival and anointing of a new national music king. Forget the groundswell — a mere ripple in the local waters was historically enough to get folks to start chanting the oft-repeated yet never-realized “It’s Denver’s time.” Of course, the arrival never came to fruition, so you can certainly understand when Denverites in specific and Coloradans in general are a tad hesitant when the topic of ‘the next big thing’ is broached. They’ve traveled that road before and know all too well what it feels like to get stood up at the prom, over and over.
Remember The Samples or Big Head Todd & The Monsters? Of course you don’t. What about The Apples In Stereo? Yes, that’s correct — the ones better known as the Cartoon Network band. Ever hear of 16 Horsepower? You have? Oh, you’re from Europe. And what of The Psychodelic Zombiez? Call it the Fishbone rule of opening doors but never getting paid for the service.
The cynicism evident in this melodramatic metaphor is designed solely to drive home a point, but to be fair, all of these bands and others along the way could justify the buzz they brought to Denver, having at one time basked in the glow of critical praise and fan appreciation.
Which brings us to today and the latest crop of hopefuls. The Fray has become arguably the most commercially successful act to have real ties to the local Denver music scene, while DeVotchKa continues to build tangible momentum, doing plenty to help its cause with a Bonnaroo appearance. Matson Jones, The Swayback, Drag The River and dozens of others are also making significant waves and creating a stir that, for a change, extends beyond the borders of Colorado.
It’s clear that the major difference between the excitement of today and the promise or yore has everything to do with strength in numbers. Artists are no longer in this alone, which means they don’t have to be so quick to flee the scene for more fertile ground. It is precisely this set of circumstances that makes it possible for a band like A Shoreline Dream to not only thrive in the Denver music community but perhaps become one of its next prophets.
For a band that recently celebrated its first birthday and whose debut album doesn’t even hit stores until September 19, A Shoreline Dream is already larger than life, thanks to a sound so lush you’d swear its producer died of exhaustion in the studio (or was secretly taking performance-enhancing drugs, but don’t tell the World Anti-Doping Agency). In listening to the group’s forthcoming Avoiding The Consequences it’s easy to understand why A Shoreline Dream is yet another sign of the eminent Denver music apocalypse. Venture only two minutes into the first cut (appropriately titled “Preludes”), and the remaining chapters in this musical journey become instantly apparent.
That bands like Sigur Rós and A Shoreline Dream can generate such strong visual imagery with their music is a testament to their ability to transcend a music industry rampant with vacuous noise (yes, vacuous noise) and do more than simply go through the motions. But here’s the rub:
For A Shoreline Dream, the process of realizing Avoiding The Consequences was quite organic, effortless and fluid in many ways. The songs’ textured layers and complex dreamscapes belie their basic foundations, which were rooted in everyday jam sessions. No grand scheme or big conspiracy – just four guys, some instruments and vision.
Just the same, you’ll have to excuse A Shoreline Dream’s vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist Ryan Policky when he sums up the band’s fundamental approach with the simple motto of: “Let’s play some shit and record it.” Clearly he’s being modest about the group’s uncanny ability to turn raw jams into gems of ethereal awakenings, and his bandmates Erik Jeffries (guitar), Gabriel Ratliff (drums) and Enoc Torraca (bass) aren’t offering up any alternative interpretations.
Kaffeine Buzz: One of the things that stand out about your music is how you treat the vocals. They seem to be much more atmospheric, complementing the song rather than driving it. Was that a conscious decision to approach it this way or more a byproduct of the direction you were going?
RP: It’s definitely a production style I’ve always liked. I don’t like it when the vocals are so in front of your face. They’re an instrument as well, and you can play off the various instruments. There are parts where the vocals are the primary focus, and there are parts where guitars are the primary focus, and sometimes they’re a symphony together.
Erik Jeffries: I think it fits our song structure. Writing songs with these guys can be tricky, because if you take the classic sense of what a song has with chorus and verse, we’ll (instead) call it a ‘versey’ type of thing or a ‘chorusey’ type of thing, but it’s never a true thing. So then trying to match up a vocal style to a set structure, per se, doesn’t really work well. So when you find opportunities in the production to say, ‘Hey, should it be a little loud or over the top with the vocals?’ because that’s where the energy is or that’s the culmination of the emotion of the song, then do it. Other times it just ends up being a part of the texture.
RP: Initially when we did these songs, they were jams, and we have pretty much stayed true to those jams. And that’s the non-traditional song structure, based more upon the emotion of what we were doing at the time. Often times, we went with exactly what we had.
KB: The album comes across as having been a bit more laborious than that, so it’s interesting to learn that it was much more organic and natural, because it’s so lush and very layered.
RP: It’s the backbone of it that’s the raw element. It does have that production quality of being symphonic in tone afterwards, but we’ve left the backbone as is.
EJ: When we recorded in January, we had spent all the months up to that preparing for it. So when it came time to actually record, we already had four of five sessions of getting things prepared so we knew how the sounds were going to come out and how the rooms were going to work. There was a lot of preparation to get to that point so that we could pull it off without it sounding overly produced or overly edited while still retaining that flow and same energy we get when we get in the same room and just start jamming together.
KB: Was it a pretty painful process?
RP: I can’t even count how times we re-organized the room, based upon tone. But that’s what was fun about it – that first process of trying to figure out how we’re going to set the room up so that we can record it correctly.
EJ: To the point of, ‘Have the amp in the kitchen facing north, have the bass stack in the main room facing south, and you’re dead on.’
KB: And determining what Feng Shui has to say about it?
EJ: Oh, absolutely. We had to put tape on the floor just to remember where everything was at.
KB: Well the effort definitely shows. We listen to a lot of CDs, and so many of them fall flat, just from a production standpoint. And it’s real easy to lose your listener because of that.
Gabriel Ratliff: I think the strongest thing about this album and project is we weren’t looking to fill anything or be a certain style. We were trying to stay emotionally in the moment together. You can’t really ask for much more out of an album when you’re getting that same vibe 7,000 times later after fixing and fine-tuning and listening to it over and over again. If you’re not loving it, then how can you expect some else to as well?
KB: Do you think there’s a tendency to not want to go through that laborious process?
RP: I think we have the advantage of having our own studio and knowledge of how to record. A lot of bands are worried about how much it’s going to cost them and how long it’s going to take. It’s a learning process. Early recordings I’ve done have been terrible in comparison. They didn’t sound like we sounded live, so it’s a learning process.
KB: With as layered as your sound is, talk about the challenges of translating that into a live setting.
RP: Vocal layering can be a bit complicated, but as far as the vibe goes, as long as you hit the same vibe, people don’t notice that there aren’t all those layers. Take Tori Amos for example. Her albums are super lush. She has tons of layers in her vocals. But when you go and see her live, you don’t think about it. She still has that same quality to her music. I think that’s what we’re trying to hit – keeping that vibe intact.
A Shoreline Dream has taken its sound on tour, and returns home this Friday for their CD release party for Avoiding the Consequences at hi-dive in Denver. You can find A Shoreline Dream at myspace.com/ashorelinedream and ashorelinedream.com. Listen to two new remixes of the single “Love is a Ghost in America” at filter-mag.com and Beatport.com, including the “Heart Failure Mix” by drummer Gabriel Ratliff.