On a warm summer night, a number of us from Denver’s music community gathered at Lannie’s Clock Tower in the heart of the city’s downtown bustle to be the first to hear tracks from the Epilogues’ long-awaited album, Cinematics. Virgil Dickerson, purveyor of Suburban Home Records, poured refreshing Moscow Mules from a sitting position while his leg mended, and Pete Turner, the owner of Illegal Pete’s and founder of the Greater Than Collective, asked us to raise a glass for this momentous occasion.
The members, Chris Heckman (vocals/guitar), Nate Hammond (keys), Jason Hoke (drums), and Jeff Swoboda (bass), thanked us and showed their gratitude for this evening, a night when they could finally say that the next chapter of their band was ready to be opened and read aloud.
Most recently, I spoke with Jason, soon after a new single was released prior to the album release date of November 6. The song was “Paradigm Shift,” and I couldn’t help but wonder if the title and lyrics were representative of the journey the four guys had endured over the past three years, the negotiations with Sony that dragged out further than expected and eventually went south, and if this led to a shift in how they envisioned their career and how they would take their band to the next level.
Jason said, “That song specifically, and lots of material on the album talks about that experience. It’s hard to think, when you see things line up like that, when the momentum’s rolling and everything’s happening, everything good is happening,” he paused, laughing, “It’s hard to think that it’s gonna change and it’s not going to work out. Even though we told ourselves we wouldn’t, we got our hopes up.”
But then things didn’t go as they hoped. The tumultuous nature of the music business often leads to the A&R person who saw a future for a band and a label ready to make that next album happen, are then here one day and gone tomorrow. For the Epilogues, the plans to walk down the aisle with an imprint label within Sony Music Group, well, the guys were left at the alter. The marriage was off.
“Unfortunately, that’s an all too familiar part of the music business for a lot of people. Those high, highs and the immediate low, lows… ‘cause things don’t always work out. In the end it probably worked out better for us.”
Yes, this experience that the Epilogues endured is truly unfortunate, but not unique, considering how many bands before them have gone through similar music business experiences when it comes to signing to a major label. While those deals do work out well for some, there’s no denying that for many bands and solo artists, they’ve learned the hard way that the DIY or indie route has proven to be more beneficial to their music-making career.
Some of those bands are right here in Denver, are friends with Jason and the other members, and had voiced their concerns while the guys were in label discussions. “There’s a lot of talent in Denver and there’s a lot of people that have kind of paved the road in front of us. We’ve learned lessons from them and we try to keep those in mind. But in the end you have to experience it for yourself to really realize how it works.”
After the dust-off and boot-strap pulling, the key to moving forward was to get to the point where the Epilogues are now, to taking those first songs – “Fallout,” Hunting Season,” and “Futurebox,” – and having them weave seamlessly with new music in a comprehensive fashion, meshing the new with the not-as-new.
“There’s a lot of these songs on this album that are older songs. They’ve been revamped, scrapped, some of them have been completely thrown away or redone. It shows the development over the years. You can year that on this one album. That was the challenge. People already knew those songs, so how are we going to fit them in? Something that we really thought about was where we placed the songs on this album.”
This thought process goes back to the argument, mostly led by the band or artist themselves, about the long lost tradition of listening to an album from beginning to end, in the way the artist intended. To experience the album as if it was an album spinning on turntable or even on a disc drive, track 1 to track 2 and so on. This is of course, something that’s been lost over the last 15 years as digital has taken over, people buy this track and that, or get free downloads of a specific single being promoted as a way to eventually sell the entire album itself.
Where this tradition came to mind, even prior to speaking with Jason, was the seamless and logical transition from the title track, an instrumental made for the big screen, which flows in an angelic dreamstate to the next track, “The Keene Act.” It made sense musically, as if “Cinematics” was the lucid introduction to the next act in this theatrical play, “The Keene Act,” the journey of which we as listeners were also participants.
“We take a lot of pride in the way the album flows together,” Jason explained. “It was a big part of fitting those songs in there and making them seem like they were in there the whole time.”
Another example is that flow of a standout track, which throws a shoutout to the teen angst filmmaker of the 80s, “My Misinformed John Hughes Teenage Youth,” right into the fan favorite, “Hunting Season.”
Jason reflected on the initial concept for the album as a whole versus an amalgamation of a bunch of songs, “It was almost like a soundtrack. Where you’re listening to some music that was part of some film. It’s important to us that people do listen to the whole album versus piecemeal, but if people eventually do do that, that’s fine with us too.”
And in regards to the naming of the track “My Misinformed John Hughes Teenage Youth?”
Jason laughs again, “Chris definitely named that song. Chris named all the songs on the album. As soon as he came to us with that name it immediately made sense to all of us. We all kind of grew up in that era. We all grew up thinking that’s how life was going to go. We were the geeky underdog that was going to pull through and make things happen! And everyone wanted to be like us.”
Jason, cracking up again,“But that’s not always the case. Sometimes you’re just a nerd, which is what we are.”
At this week’s in-store performance at Twist & Shout Records the band once again thanked the fans and did play the newer tracks like “My Misinformed John Hughes Teenage Youth?” (which Chris admitted, was becoming one of his favorite songs) and “Call Me A Mistake” along with old favorites.
Beyond the CD Release Party Saturday, October 6 at the Summit Music Hall, the Epilogues have tour plans in the works, now that they are free to be all they can be…free from the constraints of label deals and all that jazz.
“Definitely touring at the end of the year. And then lots and lots of heavy touring after the holidays, and probably most of next year alongside with more writing. We’ve got another album that we’ve got in mind that we’ve already started on. So yeah. We’re not gonna wait another three years.”