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Luminous Denver singer/songwriter John Statz talks love, passion and the open road

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Conviction isn’t the first word that usually comes to mind while enjoying new artists, but the music and indeed the voice of Colorado based musician John Statz has changed that for me, maybe forever. With a distinct and powerful tonality and carefully crafted ability, John writes songs the kind of heart-on-sleeve Americana-inspired numbers that have staying power, not just on a playlist, but in the bones. On his newest full-length, the aptly named The Fire Sermon, tales of love, passion and loss have swirled through my brain days after first hearing them. Which is the mark of something special; something you won’t hear all the time but should.

PULP: So how is it going? You just got back from tour, right?

John Statz: It’s going well, I’m at I’m at home in Denver right now, which is nice. I just got back from three weeks in Europe and then a couple dates on the East Coast. I’m here for a sec, then in June I’m starting up with some local release shows. Then in July I go out to the out toward the Pacific Northwest.

That’s a pretty busy schedule. Are they receptive to you in Europe?

Yeah. This was actually my sixth trip out there to play. I get a pretty good reaction I think. There’s a small niche of people that are really into Americana and singer songwriter stuff in the countries I’ve been in. By no means does it seem to be a super popular genre over there, but for that small niche of people, they are really they’re they’re kind of looking to discover new stuff open to new American songwriters. Playing there is putting you in front of some really loyal Americana fans.

How long has it been since your last full length?

Just a little over two years ago Tulsa came out, in March of 2015.

How have your newer songs changed?

You know, the subject matter has shifted a lot from my earlier albums. Like these are all love songs. Some are fictional, and some are personal. And whether they’re personal or not I think people can identify with that stuff really easily you know. Most people have experienced both sides or all sides of that emotion. The last album was mostly like “here’s a story about a fictional retired football player with head injury problems” or “here’s a story about the daughter of a failed presidential candidate who froze to death”. It was much more topical and so totally different material.

Do you feel like you changed as a musician at all?

Yeah, I mean I think the biggest change I’ve seen is my voice. I’ve been exploring that more and and just trying to sing out more and and I guess just use use more of my voice than I have in the past. I think that their songs on older albums like that I did were like maybe I don’t even really like the album anymore but I still like one or two songs on them.

So are there songs you don’t like of yours anymore?

No, I mean like my first album came out when I was like twenty one, or twenty. I mean, it was written when I was 19. I recorded it and sorted out and I was in college and it’s like fifteen tracks and it’s just like the first fifteen songs I wrote and recorded. No editing, you know. You could’ve taken out five of the songs easily. It’s hindsight. I I don’t know if I even thought I’d still be doing it eleven years later.

What does the title of the new record, The Fire Sermon, refer to?

So I took the title from a TS Eliot poem. One of those really long multi-part section poems. There’s a section called the Fire Sermon. T.S. Elliott is like some seriously academic poetry that I don’t wanna misrepresent; I’m still figuring it out and it you know it’s not the easiest to read, but I ended up reading the poem when I took the book with me backpacking up in the Wind River area last summer with my girlfriend and her brother. You need a thin book you know so I took this book of poems, and I was constantly like flipping back and forth between the poem in like the appendix at the back for an explanation of like what TS Eliot is actually talking about. Almost every line is notated. So, the fire sermon is the second part of this poem, which is exploring his own sexuality and relationships. And HE took that from a Buddhist sermon called the fire sermon as well, which was a cautionary lesson according to the notes at the end of the fire sermon was like a cautionary sermon on the fires of passion and love and hatred like not you know going overboard in any of those things.

So that’s like the lengthy academic version of these are ten love songs of all different stripes. Some of them are break up songs are angry some of them are really joyous; some of them are about fictional characters, some of them are real. I just thought that the fire sermon as TS Eliot kind of presented it via Buddha seem to set it all up well.

Cashmere, from the Fire Sermon, is a seriously great song. Could you tell me a little bit about the writing of it?

Yeah. That one was one of the ones that just came out really quickly after trip out to the Pacific Northwest. a year and a half ago or something like that a friend of mine went out and played some shows. It just kind of came out. I guess sometimes they happen like that and sometimes they’re more laborious. There’s something intuitive about and instinctual about a good melody, and it felt easy on Cashmere.

Did you start working on the songs that became the Fire Sermon right afterward?

I probably wrote a couple of the songs pretty quick after that; I always go in waves. When I’m preparing to release an album after it’s been recorded I’m not usually writing at all, and then  time goes on and I haven’t written anything in months. While I’ve been preparing The Fire Sermon I haven’t written much. I’ll probably start writing in like a month or two.

It is that by design or is that just the way your brain works?

I guess it is intentionally. I’m doing most of the business end of things myself right now for the most part. I had a publicist in Europe, but I didn’t in the U.S., so all of all of the organizational stuff just takes so much time that it seems important to spend time writing songs while I’m doing all of that. I do enjoy the difference; I liked having both the last albums’ recording time booked a few months ahead; I still had to write a few more songs for them, and I like the pressure of like “okay, the band is hired. The studio time is booked. You have to show up with more songs now.” (laughs)

Do you do you feel like it fuels the creative fire?

I feel like songwriting is best when you’re a well lubricated machine; the hardest part of it just like people say about running or anything else is getting started again after a lengthy absence. We’re all at our best when we just try to keep writing I think.

Do you think like labels like Americana or Roots music apply to you?

I mean I don’t think I’m too roots-y. And I think I’ve done albums in the past that have been much more Americana than this newest one’ though the newest one has has a good amount of Americana on it too. I feel like you know it’s it’s such a hard genre to pin down, but to me it it’s when I hear a certain guitar tone or guitar lick, that’s what Americanas to me I guess. Not so much a label.

These new songs are somewhat unlike your older albums. There’s a bigger cinematic feel to it; these songs you could almost see on TV shows and in movies. Is that something you might have been going for?

Well, I’d give mostly credit for that to Megan Burtt who produced it, and it was her band the Cure for Love that we used on the recording. She’s a Denver songwriter and she’s great. This is her first time producing an album, but she had she just seem to have a lot of visions and ideas for with these songs could go. And we went went big on some of them, and I’m jazzed about it. I’ve never had songs that sound like this.

It has a sort of crossover appeal.

Well, I really like pop music, but and that’s a really wide genre as well. And I think that these songs  are my version of pop music. They still have good lyrics, but the melodies are, you know, infectious as well and I don’t know…I guess I just was trying to do smartly written Pop Americana. I don’t know if that’s even a thing.

I think it is now.


The Fire Sermon from John Statz is out now on Why River records as digital download, CD or 12” vinyl. Pick it up and find out more about one of Denver’s best kept secrets at johnstatz.com

 

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It’s a Punky Reggae Party with Pueblo upstarts Might of Henry

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via Eyeworm Photopraphy

Smooth Ska-Punk | Might of Henry

Like a jump-up jolt of electric shock to the heart, Pueblo’s Might of Henry are here to win hearts and minds with their uplifting jazz-laced ska/reggae consortium. Proudly “Recorded in multiple basements and living rooms” in Pueblo, CO, the Push for Progress E.P., while at times is a touch wanting in clarity, is no less a groove-heavy, well put together and entertaining one way ticket to Jam City, USA.


Darkwave Electronica | Cutworm

Head Trash from Denver’s Cutworm is on some next level ish. At times a touch unsettling in the ears, these seven tracks are the audio equivalent of puttin’ an escape room in a hot nightclub that you’re not sure they’ll let you out of. Dark, pulsating, and heavily distorted, these tracks are an electronic experiment in the macabre meeting the modern club banger, and I’m all in.


Wide-Open Heartland Punk | Sleep Union

Full of big hooks and undeniable sense of resolve, the four tracks on Sleep Union’s Downed in the Harbor dance delicately and defiantly between the indie-fed punk rock charm of early Rise Against and the sharp musicality and bite of Oklahoma City’s best kept punk rock secret Red City Radio, offering huge wide open songs sounding like the alternative-laced punk rock score for your new favorite movie.


Modern Alt-Rockers | The Timberline

Alternately sweet and sultry, Autopilot from Fort Collins three-piece, Timberline, is a shot in the arm of alternative-minded indie rock and modern pop-punk swagger, funneled through some seriously great songwriting and sharp production destined for bigger radio audiences and tons of airplay if they keep this up!

 

All releases available for purchase now thru Bandcamp. Go Local!

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Stand By This Man: A Talk with Andy Hamilton & the Rocky Mountain Contraband

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It’s no secret to anyone listening that country music, once a proud American traditional style made up of Appalachian roots, blues, and European folk traditions, just ain’t the same. Gone are the homespun recordings and the cowboy tales. In its wake, a new version oft dubbed pop or “crossover” country has taken its place and taken over the charts, largely while eliminating many of the tenets and traditions that made this uniquely American art form what it was.

But there are still plenty of artists interested in country music as a continuation of tradition. While not technically or sonically as rudimentary as early country acts sounded, (his music has the twang and production of late 60’s and 70’s legends Merle, Waylon and Willie) Denver based Andy Hamilton and his Rocky Mountain Contraband have serious chops and a back-to-basics approach all their own. Taking sounds and cues from those AM radio crooners and American outlaws and bringing them into our modern conscience with an updated sense of humor is more than enough for me. The superb songs on their newest self-titled offering bear that out, but Andy Hamilton and Co. have something even more important. Something that’s absent in the modern era of auto-tuned artists and hick-hop charlatans masquerading as country music: real soul, undeniable musicality, and songs made with honesty and heart.


How did you get your start in country music? Was the genre something you always enjoyed, or did you come to it later in life?

Andy Hamilton (guitar/vocals): I grew up hearing country and southern gospel from my granddad; he was a southern Baptist preacher and used to have a radio show in Knoxville, TN. It always gave me some kind of sentimental feeling hearing that music, but it wasn’t ‘til I was in my 20s that I really discovered an appreciation for it. Over the years I had written a handful of country songs, never expecting to do anything with them. But then maybe five years back a good buddy of mine got cancer and when I was asked to contribute a tune for a benefit compilation, I recorded this sorta gunfighter ballad I used to play. After the comp came out I got a slew of emails from venues wanting to book us, so I figured alright, maybe it’s time to put together a country band.

Have you played any other styles before country? Do you think they’ve informed your music now?

Oh yeah, I played in rock-n-roll bands since I was a teenager. I studied classical piano and jazz guitar ‘til I was maybe 16, then I hit that point in my life when I needed the exact opposite. I found myself totally enamored by all the classic rock riffs and just couldn’t get enough. Still to this day when I hear a Zeppelin tune or some Creedence I can’t help but crank it up. Just the other day The Rolling Stones came on in my truck; that opening riff in “Brown Sugar” and I got thinking how many hundreds of times have I listened to this tune and it’s still so damn good!

I hear old country greats like Gram Parsons, Waylon Jennings, and the Flying Burrito Brothers in your sound; but are there any modern practitioners and musicians you take from, country or not?

There are some really amazing singers and musicians doing it right: Zephaniah Ohora is a country singer out of Brooklyn, of all places. He just released one of the best country records, hands down. My buddy turned me on to John Moreland a few years ago. John writes some of the most heartbreakingly honest songs and delivers them in such a way that you gotta have a heart of stone not to feel something.

Your music seems to take a lot from older country and western acts rather than modern ones. Do you feel you have any relationship to the modern country aesthetic or scene?

Classic country resonates with me more than anything. We like to draw from the old greats, then make it our own. I’m a huge fan of Faron Young, Roger Miller, Moe Bandy, Willie and Merle, of course. There are a handful of newer country artists who are keeping it honest; Zephaniah, as I mentioned, Amber Digby, Casey James Prestwood. I know a handful of players in the modern country scene; they’re all really great people.

How do you feel about the sound and style of modern country music?

Man, drum machines and autotune have no business in country music. I have to say this, there is a lot of music that’s churned out and mislabeled as “country”…it’s being marketed by the powers-that-be as something it’s really not. I’m not gonna name names, but I think it’s pretty apparent when some pop artist just bought a pair of boots and a new hat. Then there’s the recipe for writing modern country songs that just sounds like bros at a frat party: it’s so transparent and soulless. But some folks really like that stuff. I mean REALLY like it. It’s just not for me.

Can you tell me a bit about the Rocky Mountain Contraband? They’re an exceptional bunch of musicians. Where/when did they come into the fold?

I started this band a few years back with my good friend, Dave Barker. He’s a killer drummer and had been playing pedal steel guitar a few years. We wrote and recorded a full album, then ditched it. Playing country music is a different animal and we realized if we were gonna do this right, we had to really study the music and learn how to play our instruments. We didn’t want to come off as rock musicians “playing country.” You know? We didn’t want to fake it. Both of us play with Casey James Prestwood & the Burning Angels as their hired guns. That gig has opened some doors to studying under some really big names in the genre. I feel really fortunate for that opportunity and how it’s forced us to progress as musicians.

How long have you played in the Colorado scene?

In Colorado alone I’ve been playing since the late 90s. I was in a handful of rock, metal and psych rock bands. Here in Denver I had a band called Houses that was one of my favorite bands I’ve ever played in. There was some real magic there.

Do you enjoy it?

I really like playing in Colorado. People don’t come out to dance like in Austin or Nashville, but man, there’s so much opportunity to experiment with new sounds onstage and the crowds are really accepting.

Anything you’d like to see more or less of in Colorado music?

I would love to see more country players. We live in the West; this is it, man! But where are the country players? We’ve got a good collection of bands here, some are more true to classic country and some are doing their own thing. I just hope it continues to grow.

This album was recorded all over Denver in various studios. Was this happenstance or something you were actively going for?

It really came down to time and money. We did a couple tunes with our buddy, Chris Fogal at Black In Bluhm. Chris has a great ear and is fun to work with. The Christmas tunes we threw together pretty last minute, so we recorded those with our own gear at Dave’s shop. In the future I would like to spend a good week in the studio, getting sounds we like and really crafting songs.

 

 

How long did it take to come together? And how was the recording experience for this batch of songs?

All in all it was a few days. We had a couple guest musicians, so some of the instruments were tracked in Nashville, then sent back to us. The overall experience was a little disjointed. I really like to connect with the people I’m recording with as much as possible, and that proves challenging when we’re working all over the place. But everyone was super easy going through the whole deal and I think it all came together nicely.

What would you like listeners to come away with after listening to this EP?

Well, I hope listeners can hear the effort we put in and appreciate the musicianship. I would love more people to discover a love for country music. There’s so much more than the tripe what’s fed to us on the radio and sadly, much of that gets overlooked because people don’t know where to find it. But it’s out there.

Any release / show plans here in Colorado?

No release shows for this EP. We did just play a couple weeks ago and I failed to mention we had new tunes out. I’m not great with self-promotion. My plan for this year is to write, record, and release as much music as I can when I’m not out on the road. I’ll book a release show when we put out our first vinyl.

Sounds like a plan!


If you can’t wait for the vinyl from Andy Hamilton & the Rocky Mountain Contraband, head over to rockymountaincontraband.bandcamp.com to nab the digital release to hold you over.

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Denver’s SPELLS are the only Rock N’ Roll Juggernaut that can save you now.

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All Live Photos by: Seth McConnell. Promo Shots by: Crystal Allen

Now at an astounding mix of 14 singles, splits EPs and full length records over a paltry 5 years, Denver’s Vacation Rock crushers SPELLS (yeah, you heard me, all caps) are back on their proverbial bullshit again with their newest ripper Big Boring Meeting. From day one, SPELLS has excelled at bringing forth the kind of frenetic and feverishly revved up garage punk that makes their records and live events a high energy dance party for anyone within earshot, and Big Boring Meeting ain’t changin’ a damn thing.

All Live Photos by: Seth McConnell. Promo Shots by: Crystal Allen

Live Photo by Seth McConnell / Promo Shots via Crystal Allen

From the initial pummeling of its’ first track Deceiver, the tempo and intensity of this record is full throttle; an unstoppable amalgamation of Pop-fury and unchained melody intertwined. The EP, which clocks in at just under the 10 minute mark, is a controlled chaos of surf rock and garage punk gut punch delivered straight to the solar plexus.

 

 

But what also bears repeating is the underlying power pop-ness of it all; for all it’s rock n’ roll savagery, the music of SPELLS is just as catchy and fun as they come. With a constant driving rhythm section and call and response vocals from the entire band (and lyricism from the acerbic-laced caustic resonation of vocalist L’il Stevie Shithead) the entire band rides the line between hardcore punk and jagged pop with an unholy gusto that dares you to keep up!


Bonus Alert! Right now, SPELLS is offering their entire discography for $9.25 via their label Snappy Little Numbers and Bandcamp, which is too much killer rock n’ roll for most to handle. Don’t be scared. (spellsrules.bandcamp.com)

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