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Born In The Flood – Making Their Silver Lining Shine

For most bands, even for those who are on tour for weeks at a time, the thought of playing two full-length shows in one evening would seem exhausting. For Born in the Flood, it’s just what was planned for their For Fear That We May Not Be EP release party last month at Hi-Dive in Denver.

Born in the Flood has garnered quite a bit of attention in the past year, and rightly so. The four members, including Nathaniel Rateliff (lead singer/guitarist), Joseph Pope III (bassist), Matt Fox (guitar), and Mike Hall (drums) used most of the same songs for both sets, but they definitely had a deeper sense of emotion the second time around. Maybe it was the effort it took to pull it off combined with the way Nathaniel taps into the darker parts of their life’s experiences, crafting melodic stories on songs like “To Slowly Be Undone.”

With an emotive volume that could easily fill the Fillmore or Red Rocks, skyscraper harmonies emanate straight from Nathaniel’s heart and soul. The other three members are connected to him at the hip, going from jangly, thrashing calisthenics to ballad laden pools of exhaustion strewn across the stage, pulling the audience into their world.

Performing the single from the EP, Fate of the Underachieved, many recognized the tune while others simply stood in admiration. “Motor Powered Man” could easily be covered by Radiohead as Nathaniel goes from the poignant whisper that commands all your senses to stand at attention, and then takes the song into a crescendo of clashing instrumentation. People in the crowd either had their eyes closed, rocking to and fro, or were fixated on the stage, not able to pull themselves away for a second to take a drink from their glass.

After the second set was done everyone in the place was still pumped from the show. Many of us headed over to an impromptu after party around the corner from the venue on Broadway, including Joseph P., Matt LeBarge (who owns and operates Hi-Dive with his wife Alison), and David Soto, our photographer for the band’s photo shoot the next day. The house was still full of people as I said “goodbye” to Joseph around 4:30am.

What seemed to be only a few hours later, I met the guys from the band and Soto in front of the Denver Library, and it was apparent that we were all feeling the affects of staying out until dawn. But the foursome rallied and it only took a little while to get into the groove of capturing the band on film.

Our gang moved over to Sputnik, the bar next to Hi-Dive, afterwards for a reprieve from the heat, to quench our thirst, and to reminisce about their CD release party, Part 1, when Matt walked in laughing as he recognized the boys in the booth.

“I think I’ve gone to an after party a total of three times since I opened the place, and last night was one of those times. It was that damn Jameson…” he says, trailing off and shaking his head.

Born in the Flood had a reason to celebrate that night, having come a long way from where they were three years ago. Nathaniel and Joseph had grown up in the same small town in Hermann, MO, eventually moving to Denver and meeting Mike and Matt to form the band they are now. Although the two had physically left the darker, blue collar parts of their past behind, emotions from life’s memories never really leave, they just evolve over time. Those memories had their place in Nathaniel’s songwriting, but in 2002, it was a brush with death as Joseph battled cancer that took the band in a different direction.

With a renewed sense of life Joseph triumphed over the disease and became a new dad all in one year. Songs became much more personal then, embracing past experiences and going deeper into how they had affected them all. Believing that one can’t appreciate the good and learn life’s lessons by having things come easy, the band sees those tribulations as gifts that have only made them stronger and wiser.

“I almost feel sorry for those kids who got everything they wanted,” Joseph says, contemplating on his life back in Hermann. “I just don’t think you really get to know yourself and what life is all about if you don’t have to fight for it in some way.”

A recent coup for Born in the Flood was winning the Battle of the Bands on, the Denver based live Internet TV company with the tagline “F*ck Television.” ManiaTV put together a contest for the indie underground, giving bands like Born in the Flood an opportunity to stretch their creative muscles in a DIY way.

The band worked with local filmmakers, including Director Thomas Chavez and Producer Bill Rowley. Nathaniel and the band had been drinking champagne a large part of the day, and when it came to the forth shoot of him running down the Speer Street bridge, he got a wee bit tired.

They made it through and finished the video with high hopes, but without really knowing what to expect. “These kids were just starting out so we just went for it. We had a good time doing it. But sometimes when you stick your neck out there, it pays off,” Joseph says.

That it did. With hundreds of submissions the ManiaTV staff pared the list of finalists down to around 20, which included Born in the Flood. Viewers along with the band’s friends and family all showed their support by voting for their favorite, and the foursome came out on top winning the number one spot.

Part of the prize included a chance to play live in the ManiaTV studios, where they performed “Fate of the Underachieved” and “Motor Powerman.” Joseph finished the second song in a very “Who” like fashion, smashing a television on stage and then going for his guitar, which crumbled to pieces as it met the floor.

The band relished the experience, which resulted in invaluable publicity and exposure to untold thousands, along with rotation on 99.5 The Mountain and a year’s free subscription to CD Baby that enables them to distribute their new EP online.

The band also feels very fortunate to get booked on New Belgium Brewery’s summer tour called Tour de Fat, a take off of Tour de France that will also include other local bands DeVotchKa and Cabaret Diosa on the bill. Now in its third year, the tour is a unique blend of carnival-esqe entertainment geared for bicycle enthusiasts and those intrigued by off-the-wall sights and sounds.

“People come out for the bike ride, but they encourage them to dress up and get crazy,” Joseph explains. The tour goes through Seattle, San Francisco and a number of other cities, and in Boise the band jumps on the bill, going into Mazula, MT and Durango, CO, but they are not yet confirmed for the Ft. Collins show on September 24.

After taking a few bites of his late lunch, Joseph elaborates on what they considered to be the “luck and timing” factor that’s contributed to where they are today. “That [CD release] show was really a test of whether or not press is as valuable as we thought it was, and it obviously is. There were so many people there that probably had never been to the Hi-Dive, and had definitely never heard of us, that came out and were just so enthusiastic. It’s one little opportunity that leads to another.”

The band, like our city, has grown and blossomed through the good times and bad. As the Denver Art Museum evolves with modern, silver angles that point to the sky, the bands, artists, and fans continue to turn Denver into a collective of creative individuals with something more to offer than sports bars.

“A couple of years ago I didn’t even know there was a scene,” comments Nathaniel. “I think more and more, we just want to develop here. There’s probably 60 good bands and everybody’s kind of doing their own thing. It encourages everyone to continue to grow and raise the bar without feeling like it’s a competition.”

This was evident at the previous night’s shows, from the people mingling in the crowd to the bands that took the stage with Born in the Flood, including Red Yellow Orange (a side project for Alan, lead singer/guitarist in Atlas), Joshua Novak, D. Biddle, and Kissinger – all friends of the band.

Kissinger is an act from Austin that had previously played with Born in the Flood in Denver, and who then housed them when the band ventured to SXSW this past year. Reflecting on the Texas band, Joseph contemplates the future of his own group, “They’re in the same place as us in terms of getting really good exposure. They were picked as one of the top three bands in Austin by The Chronicle, along with Spoon.” Looking down at his 2 ½ year-old daughter who had accompanied us in the booth, he continues. “I know we’re going to have to make some decisions real soon about what our next steps are going to be.”

For Nathaniel, his aspirations seem to lead him back from where he began, but on his own terms. “I would like to just make a decent living making and playing music that would enable me to move back to the country and raise a family. I just want to be a good man, one that has virtues, that is morally good and true. I know it doesn’t sound very ‘rock star,’ but that’s what I want to have some day.”

The four guys have plans to tour, but are also consumed with songwriting. They currently have another 17 tracks picked out for their full length along with additional songs and their side project, The Wheel. So far the acoustic duo, made up of Nathaniel and Joseph, has played three gigs and is planning to record an eight song release some time before October.

“It’s similar to what we’re doing because I’m writing the material for this too; you can still tell that it’s me. But it has a different quality,” Nathaniel explains.

Although he’s only been around for a quarter of a century, Joseph has endured more than most people have in twice the time, but with good friends at his side. With a sense of conviction he says, “There were enough bands here for Matt and Alison to open this club and make it viable. The relationships between most of the local bands and the clubs, they just work together so well. If one band does good, if one club does good, it’s good for everybody. I think a lot of people in the country have their eye on this area right now.”

People have their eyes and ears on Born in the Flood as well, and for once, this is a good bandwagon to jump on. You’ll get your chance again when they play with Bright Channel, another Denver star, at the Hi-Dive on Saturday, August 20.


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