Polaroid Portrait Project: BeanStalk 2016
The purpose of this polaroid portrait project is to take intimate & spontaneous snapshots of the many passionate people who perform, produce & partake in our outstanding Colorado music community. Each photo is as organic, unedited & unique as the smiles they showcase.
(If you &/or a friend are featured in a portrait please contact me with your mailing address & I’ll send you the original firstname.lastname@example.org)
A huge thanks to this magical man for founding, running & headlining his own festival.
I’m forever inspired & grateful to play a part in this magnificent musical movement.
The late July heat hung heavy in the air as I stood shirtless atop my roof, stretching desperately for cell service, when suddenly there was life on the other line. Garrett “G.Love” Dutton’s voice, with his signature twang and fun-loving flow, rang through the crackling static in spurts “went surfing – opened the door –first record – Philadelphonic –his own —rest is history”.
What sounds like threads to an unfinished mad lib is actually an abbreviated answer to how he met Jack Johnson.
Journalistic integrity prevents me from paraphrasing an attempt at what I’m pretty sure he said, but the fuzzy fragments from our phone call demonstrate how details are secondary, or sometimes insignificant, in the larger than life masterpieces painted by people with a palpable passion for life. Garrett’s music manifests that feeling and draws from all it’s contrasting colors, mixing his summits with his sorrows and blending his emotions with his experiences till they combine into a uniquely soulful shade of blues based hip-hop rock.
Garrett’s style of songwriting finds inspiration interwoven into everything and everyone, letting song ideas incubate until they come to life; whether it is a playful love song to cold beverages or a poignant breakup ballad to an ex-lover. It’s an all-inclusive creative approach, that’s actually more an attitude, drawing no distinctions between himself and his art while allowing his musical muses to slowly marinate until they spontaneously sprout into song.
For Garrett that uncontrollable creativity sometimes strikes while surfing, and that inspiration was infectiously intact as AKcreative caught up with him fresh out of the water and on his way to sound-check in San Diego to discuss celebrating the 20th anniversary of his first album, songwriting with Cody Simpson, and the magic of capturing creative epiphanies.
AKcreative: How was your evening surf?
Garrett: [Laughter]. It was good. Actually the waves were kind of soft, but it was just nice to get out there and get wet.
Do you ever find yourself writing songs or getting inspired while you’re out on the water?
Actually, yeah I do that quite a bit. Something about being out in the water, you know, you’re surfing out there alone, and you just kind of set your mind free. A lot of times, like I get a song idea when I’m out surfing, and then I’ll just sing it over and over again in my head so I don’t forget it, you know.
And then, like, praying is something that I think is good, to say a prayer that I don’t forget it, and I’ll just keep repeating it over and over my whole session. Then the minute I get out of the water I’ll sing it into the phone real quick before I forget it.
Is there one particular song you can remember that you wrote that way?
I’m trying to think of any ones that have been on my record that I started out in the water. There are some that may have then made the record, and I don’t know, man. It could be surfing, it could be walking down the street, but, I mean that’s kind of like how the songs come about, you know, just kicking down the sidewalk and you get a phrase or a little melody in your head and you start whistling it, singing the words, or just freestyling.
You know, it’s just great to have an iPhone now because you can just record it straight into your phone. And, I mean, back in the day I used to carry around one of those mini dictator things, and I think as a songwriter, you always have to make yourself available to catch those moments when they come. Those moments of inspiration are one of your writing tools, you know, you want it to be real, right? You want it to not be contrived. You want it to be something that’s spontaneous.
So, I mean, those initial ideas for songs come when you’re sleeping, when you’re surfing, when you’re walking, when you’re fucking, when you’re, you know, cooking, when you’re putting your kid to sleep, or whatever the hell you’re doing, when you’re totally wasted or when you’re totally sober. But if it comes, you’ve got to be ready for it. You’ve got to have some way of making sure you don’t forget it and get the initial idea down then fill it out with lyrics and good music around it. Sometimes no one ever hears it, and sometimes it becomes a good hit.
It seems like living is innately what inspires you. But is it difficult to remain actively inspired as an artist? Especially as you celebrate the 20-year anniversary of your debut album.
That’s a good question. I mean, yes and no, I feel very strongly that songs should be inspired. So, you know, I don’t often just write for the sake of writing, or if I do start writing and become uninspired I’ll basically move on to something else. I feel like I’ve done that a lot over the years. I’ve tried to force a song and you know what? They just end up being bad, but it’s good to do that practice as a songwriter. To go okay, I’m going to write this song and I’m going to fill it out.
I’m kind of hitting a wall, but I’m going to plow through that wall, and after 20 years I have a lot of songs, so I really like to let them come organically now. That doesn’t mean when they come organically I don’t put a lot of work into making them something super special after that initial creative burst, but these days I kind of just wait for them to come, and that way I know, or I hope, that everything is going to be of a pure inspiration. So I think I kind of am into a quality over quantity approach these days.
Even with that approach, you wrote a total of 40 tunes for Sugar then mined that down to 16 final tracks.
Yeah, that’s true. I do write a lot, and I’ve been writing a lot since I was 15. I’m going to be 43 this year, so, you know, I’ve almost been writing songs for 30 years. I have a lot of songs, some of them are finished, some of them suck, some of them are fucking awesome, some of them will never be finished, some of them hopefully will be finished, some of them will be recorded, and some of them won’t. But, yeah, I think that’s all part of the process, after you use a pencil or pen, then you’ve got to play them for your band, and then play them for a crowd to see if the people feel them. If the band likes it and then the crowd likes it, that’s usually a pretty good sign that song should be used for a record.
You guys are already exploring even more of the songs you sacrificed for Sugar on the Sweet ’N Blues EP you recently released, and I’d imagine there’s possibly more that could maybe be made into some sort of “Splenda” album.
[Laughter]. The Sweet ‘N Blues EP we just released is all the outtakes of Sugar. But, we actually just did record another record, and I just got the finished mixes today. The record is called Loves Saves the Day, and it comes out October 23rd.
Sugar has just been an awesome record for us, but we had an opportunity to record another record. Honestly didn’t have as much time in between the last record and this one, but this record was a cool record for us because I really had some good tunes that I wanted to record, and actually, we really came together as a band on this record and wrote some awesome tunes as a band. I think some of the favorite ones are some of the songs that Jim, Jeff and I wrote together off the new batch that are coming out in October.
What inspired you to rework some of your lyrics from “City Livin ” off of Superhero Brother into the track “Too Much Month” off of Sugar?
“Too Much Month” is a song that’s written by my old rapping partner Jasper, and he had that song for a while and I always liked it, then when I wrote City Livin’ I kind of just dropped that phrase into the song “City Livin”. So, you know, kind of quoting off my friend’s song
Along the same lines of writing with friends, what was it like working with Cisco Adler and Cody Simpson on the song “Love Yourself”?
Yeah, Cisco is a long-time friend and I just wrote with him this spring for this record. He’s one of these guys that’s a natural connector, and he’s always got something going. So whenever he calls it’s a, “Hey, do you want to do this?” Yeah. I usually will say yes. It was a really cool session. I had that song, and actually that was one that I was going to record on my new record, but it was just kind of the timing of it. I was pretty hot on that track. So they said, “Oh, well, do you have any ideas?” because we’re going to write a song and record it that day. So I said, “Well, I’ve got some ideas of songs that I’m kind of working on,” and Cody chose the song “Love Yourself”, and I figured that fit along with kind of like his vibe and his message, and so we kind of started with this song that I had existing, and then we did kind of rearrange it a little bit and readjust it, rewriting some of the lyrics, we cut it, and it was really cool. He’s actually a super nice guy, great singer, a good writer, and he’s handsome as can be, and, you know, was dating a super model. So all signs point to rock stardom for Cody Simpson.
Going back to some of your rock stardom and relationships, I read in a past interview about your Gibson J-45 having to be reconstructed after getting thrown out of a fourth story window in New York. Was writing the album and digesting that heartbreak almost like reconstructing yourself?
Yes. I mean, in a way. It’s funny because the Sugar record was initially going to be a lot of heartbreak songs, with just songs about kind of breaking up relationships and then it ended up turning — it ended up changing. There’s every kind of song, and I did some co-writing, so you have a song like from Jasper, who has been a struggling musician, just wanting to make music, singing about “I want to pour my heart into my art, and Lord knows I’ve been trying, but I’ve got too much month at the end of my money”.
And then you’ve got Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons, he and I wrote that song” Nothing Quite Like Home”. He was really coming at it like, wow, I’m a rock star now. I never knew I’d miss home so much from the fast lane.
On the new record Love Saves the Day, I feel like the songs, a lot of them were inspired by, you know, getting my heart broken and going through a lot of long-term emotional, distraught from a past relationship. A lot of people go through it, and you’re going to live, but you somehow have to step back, and for me, music’s still a major element of that. Although I don’t think it comes across as depressing, I think that it’s kind of really bad ass. There’s happy stuff on it, but there’s some angry stuff on it too, and I think the Love Saves the Day record is like our heaviest, bluesiest, ‘rock-and-rollist’ record, and it’s pretty — it’s hot.
What would you like to tell your fans who will read this interview, or the ones who are see coming to see you on stage tonight in San Diego?
I’d just like to tell them thanks so much for the love. And, you know, 23 years, we really couldn’t do it without them. It’s that enthusiasm and that love that we get from the people that keeps us going, and keeps us creating music, and keeps us hot on stage and wanting to be on stage. And, you know, we always strive to give them the very best of ourselves. We just want to send love out to those people.
If you’d like to share in some of that love Garrett will be playing at the Ogden Theatre in Denver, Colorado tonight and is touring throughout the country till mid April. For tickets and additional tour info click here, and enjoy his bluesy black and white video for “Nothing Quite Like Home”.
In 2015 as things like privacy, personal freedoms and face-to-face interaction are all endangered; it’s comforting to know that funk is far from extinct. In fact, funk promotes fun, freedom and togetherness through dissolving the very illusions of difference that often lead us to define each other rather then dance with each other.
Euforquestra (pronounced yoo-FOHR-keh-stra) is at the forefront of this funk movement crafting music where many minds and musical tastes combine to create a sound that spins the globe of world music till it turns into a disco ball. With a backbone of afro-beat, funk flowing through their veins and reggae in their hips, Euforquestra has the body build of a dance machine and the perfect formula for a uniquely groovy genre blending sound. Euforquestra originated in Iowa City, Iowa then relocated to Fort Collins, Colorado, where all seven members have since spread out amongst the Rocky Mountains yet remained a tight, talented, ever-touring band.
Everyone in Euforquestra is a life long musician, most have musical degrees, and some have even studied their craft in countries like Cuba, Trinidad & Tobago and Brazil. The fact that they play an average of 120 shows a year and have still managed to release five albums is a testament to the unrelenting passion and road-tested endurance that enables them to consistently produce a large quantity of very quality music. Their most recent studio album Fire was funded through over 200 contributions to a Kickstarter campaign and produced by Kyle Hollingsworth of The String Cheese Incident. Kyle brought his wealth of talents along with an organic and open-minded approach to recording that allowed the band to thrive and play freely, which is part of why they moved in the first place.
Living in a land like Colorado constantly confronts you with peaks that tease the adventurous spirit and ache to be explored; as they’ve learned, some summits are snow capped and others occur on stage. Euforquestra continues to climb and show no signs of stopping. Luckily some of their seven members paused long enough to talk with AKcreative about what makes their local music scene so lovable, the Motet taking them under their wing, and keeping the funk alive.
AKcreative: You’re in the midst of a six-night run with Kevin Kinsella of John Brown’s Body and 10ft. Ganja Plant and you’re coming right off of a double header in Vail last night. How has the Riding Higher Still Tour been?
Mike Tallman: It’s been really good. It’s been a nice experience for us to learn a whole new batch of songs that we’ve never played before and work with somebody that we’ve looked up to musically for a long time. We’re towards the end of the run now so I feel like things are dialed in and we figured out how it flows and how to incorporate it into our regular music as well.
What have you learned from performing with Kevin Kinsella?
Austin Zalatel: We were just talking earlier today about how it has helped us develop our reggae pocket a little bit better because we’ve always kind of touched a little bit on reggae and this experience really deepens that I think.
You guys are originally from Iowa, and John Brown’s Body hails from New York. How were you introduced?
Mike: Kevin contacted our manager and said that he was trying to come out and do some Colorado dates. Originally he had a band he wanted to bring with him, Thunder Body, who played on his record as the rhythm section and they were going to come out but logistics just didn’t work out so our manager was basically like, ‘I’ve got some guys who can play reggae and are already in Colorado’. We’ve known a bunch of these tunes for years and years, and we all love the old John Brown’s Body records.
Bringing it back to your manager, you guys met Kevin through him but he also introduced you to Kyle Hollingsworth of The String Cheese Incident, who produced and was featured on your most recent album Fire. When was the first time that you met Kyle?
Austin: I think it was like the fall of 2009.
Mike: Yea, we did some dates with him in the Midwest.
Craig Babineau: That was before I was even in the band.
What was it like meeting him?
Mike: I was pretty into ‘Cheese’ in my younger days and I had met some of the other guys in the past, but hadn’t met him before. Kyle’s cool, we’re all very personable dudes you know, regular old people.
Craig: Yea, the more professional musicians or whoever it is you meet like that the more you see they’re just regular dudes. Some of them get up on their high-horse, but luckily most of people we’ve encountered and worked with have been pretty cool.
Especially out here in Colorado where the music scene is very friendly and fertile for collaboration.
Mike: It’s more of a communal vibe out here rather then a competitive one, and honestly part of the reason we moved out here was the first couple trips we took to Colorado when we played with The Motet and then they kind of took us under their wing and we got to be good buddies with that whole crew. Just felt really at home here.
How did Kyle contribute to the recording process?
Mike: There are several tunes on the album where Kyle did edit lyrics, or forms, or melodies, I can’t remember what all happened on what tune. He came to some rehearsals and was like ‘this tune is way too fast, why are you doing it like that’. He had some liberties and it was great for us you know since we had someone we could just ask. In the past when we were making records we’d spend time in the studio just going ‘what should we do here, should we go to the bridge here’, so this was nice because we could just go ‘Kyle what should do we do’.
Craig: He had a lot of input and the whole time he was on-point.
Did he encourage you to experiment?
Craig: Yea, we did a jam in the studio and all kinds of other stuff.
Mike: The last day that we were doing our rhythm tracking and everyone was playing together he was very insistent that at some point we do some improvising in the studio.
Craig: That ended up being some of those little interludes on the album (Moment #1, 2 &3). Those were spliced out of that 18 minute jam.
It’s pretty crazy and serendipitous that one of your first big gigs in Colorado was opening for The Motet since they are the ideal funk forefathers to usher you and your sound into the Rocky Mountain music scene.
Mike: They had us open the Fox the second time we ever came to Colorado and we were still living in Iowa. We had never even been in a room like that before and we were just playing bars constantly. So it was cool to be on a dedicated rock-hall stage and the Fox is legendary, it’s been around forever, and there’s a lot of history in that room. It was kind of surreal for a minute. I had to let it sink in.
I hope you still experience some surreal moments like that now.
Craig: Yea definitely, I’m trying to think of some shows in particular. This summer we played with Indigo Girls at Iowa City Arts Festival and that was to about 7,000 people or something. Then even having some of the guests, like last weekend in Denver we had Congo Sanchez from Thievery Corporation come up and play and the band that did this last tour with us, Miles Tackett and the Three Times, I think he plays bass in Breakestra but he plays guitar in his band, and he got up too. So there are all these bands that I’ve been listening to for a long time and like their stuff a lot, and here we are just playing with them on stage thinking ‘oh man this is pretty surreal’.
That seems to be a common occurrence out here in the Colorado music scene where lots of bands cross-pollinate very naturally.
Mike: Yea there are a lot of opportunities out here and a lot of people like Congo Sanchez (?) who just happened to be hanging out in Denver and came to our show. I saw him come in and was like ‘man we’ve got to get him up on stage’ and then we go back to playing a tune, I’m not paying attention, and I turn around and he’s already on stage playing.
Craig: I didn’t even realize it was him until you said something. He used to have some long dreads and cut them off recently, so I was like ‘is this some drunk guy that got up on stage, who is this dude’, and when I found out I was like ‘oh shit, it’s the drummer from Thievery Corporation who I’ve been listening to for a decade’.
Austin: It’s cool, and there are a lot of opportunities. We got to play The Fillmore for the first time a couple months ago and that was a big one for us.
Which characteristic of the Colorado music scene do you love the most?
Mike: A big part of it is definitely having the exposure to so much different music. First of all we get the opportunity to play with a lot of people and have opened for a lot of people who we have looked up to for years and years. But even if we’re not working and we’re just hanging out on a weekend there’s probably a show somewhere in Denver, Boulder or Fort Collins that we all want to go see and there’s Red Rocks all summer long. There’s constantly music that I want to see and be inspired by.
Craig: There’s a lot of music and it’s a lot of good music, which is awesome. There are also a lot of venues too and it’s not everywhere you go that there are places like The Ogden or The Fillmore and all these other awesome venues around. We’re kind of spoiled around here. There’s tons of abundance, even down to the smaller stuff.
Mike: We’re lucky for the quality of production and everything else around here. The bar is set very high in Colorado.
Despite living in and loving Colorado you still proudly keeps your ties to Iowa with events like your annual holiday benefit shows and self-started festival Camp Euforia (?), which will be in its twelfth year this summer. How has Camp Euforia evolved over the last 11 years from pretty much a party on a farm into a full-fledged festival?
Mike: It’s been gradual. From year to year if you look at it there doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of change, but if you look at what’s going to happen this year as opposed to five years ago it’s drastically different. It’s little steps, we figure out a little more every year. It’s a totally legit festival, but it still has an intimate feel to it and I think that’s what people really like.
Craig: I kind of came into it with an outsiders perspective because I didn’t go to like the first nine Camp Euforias. So I came right after joining the band and didn’t really know what to expect but it’s an awesome festival.
I heard that at last year’s Camp Euforia you had some rough weather that unexpectedly spawned a Motet/Euforquestra barn party?
Mike: Yea, Saturday night there was this torrential downpour that shut down the main stage, which is an outdoor stage, and all of our Colorado homies were all there and we were just sitting around on this farm with this massive storm blowing through. Our second stage is inside in a barn so we were like lets just take the gear over there and lets all play. Everyone just wanted to play, it doesn’t matter what, and us, The Motet, Juno What, and everyone else weren’t going to be able to play. We set up and did three or four Euforquestra tunes and then it just became a jam session with that little group of people and we did some Earth Wind & Fire, some Stevie Wonder and some Talking Heads.
Craig: It was packed in there, and everyone was pretty much trying to get in so it was just overflowing and sweaty. We had to carry all our gear across this field that was like a mud-pit, I think our bassist Adam fell in the mud, it was a shit show but it ended up being pretty sweet.
You guys have kept that close comradery with The Motet and you mentioned them ‘taking you under their wing’ around the time of you opening for them at The Fox. As your friends and mentors, what have they taught you about music, funk or even life in general?
Mike: Man, that’s a deep question. We met Dave and Scott, their former percussionist, and a bunch of those guys have done a lot of studying of Afro-Cuban music and Afro-Brazilian music, which is also something that we did a lot of earlier in our career. We don’t do as much of it now but it was a very big period for us, where we were doing this west-African stuff fused with this Afro-Cuban music and we met them when that was mostly what we were focused on.
They thought it was really cool and interesting that a bunch of dudes from Iowa were playing all this Afro-Cuban music, so I think that kind of spawned them taking us under their wing. They’ve given us lots of opportunities to open big shows and we’ve traveled together, toured, done festival bills, and thrown crazy barn parties. They were guys that we looked up to for many years and now they’re just our ‘homies’.
What are Euforquestra’s plans for this upcoming year?
Mike: We definitely want to record and release a little bit of music at some point this year, probably not a full album, but possibly a couple singles or an EP or something – that’s a big goal. We have some up coming shows that aren’t announced yet that we’re all pretty psyched about. It’s going to be a good year. Everything’s feeling really good
What would you like to tell your fans who are reading this interview?
Mike: We love you and thank you. We’ll keep playing if you keep dancing.
For info on Euforquestra’s current tour click here and for a daily dose of funk watch their music video for the title-track off of their most recent album Fire.
“I think my spirit animal is a unicorn laying on its back drinking champagne,” Hunter Welles says smirking as strands of springy blonde hair bob outside of his ponytail.
It’s under an hour till The Magic Beans take the stage, and as Hunter and the rest of his band mates sit sipping beers in the green room, it becomes clear that his spirit animal is an appropriate analogy for their band. The Magic Beans are the unicorn in a heard of horses, standing out by bringing both a unique sound and a magical live experience. It’s an elusive combination, yet they seem to so naturally succeed at it.
Their talent and passion have always been rooted in a foundation of friendship and nourished by the simple intent of making good music, sharing it with everyone, and having fun. They’re doing all of that, and consequently changing music from a pastime into a potential career – one that could follow in the same footsteps as some of the predecessors turned peers whom they’ve already shared a stage with such as The Disco Biscuits, Umphrey’s McGee and Lotus.
For a band that’s still somewhat in it’s infancy, The Magic Beans have accomplished a lot: releasing the double-album Sites and Sounds, performing an entire Talking Heads bluegrass set, hosting their annual Beanstalk Music and Arts Festival, collaborating on a Coffee IPA with Odell Brewing Company, and all the while touring across the country playing everywhere from a friend-filled fire pit, a Phish parking lot, a festival main stage or a string of sold-out shows in their native Colorado. Their organic and open-minded approach to making music together has spawned a self-titled style of “space funk”, which is a far-out blend of genres that orbits around an array of influences without being bound to any particular one.
Some beans are bound for burritos, but the truly magical ones sprout into something much more significant, and these beans are destined to do just that. On a snowy Saturday at a condo in the tiny ski town of Avon, Colorado, AKcreative sat down with The Magic Beans to talk about mountain lion defense systems, play with cell phone sound effects, and discover how they are truly a champagne guzzling unicorn.
AKcreative: 2015 just started and you guys are already hitting the road running; coming off of a four night opening run for Electron, two shows in New Mexico, and now bringing it back to Colorado to continue your Cool Beans Winter Tour. How did you guys get the chance to partner with Electron?
Scott Hachey: I guess it was through our manager Ryan Noel who also works with the Disco Biscuits, and we were also openers for the Biscuits earlier in the year. They heard of us because of Ryan and then through playing with them a couple times we’ve become slight friends with them I think.
Casey Russell: The way they put it we’re ‘homies’.
Scott: Yea, that’s what they said on stage, that we’re ‘good homies’, and they really wanted to make an impact when they played here and fill the rooms so we helped them do that.
Would you say you guys share a similar fan base or demographic as The Disco Biscuits?
Casey: Definitely, I would say a big part of our fan base are people who would call The Disco Biscuits one of their favorite bands. Maybe not a big part, but definitely a certain sector and there’s also some similarities between both of our live shows.
In addition to the Disco Biscuits you guys have paired with tons of other musicians who are considered legends in the exact same scene you’re becoming a part of, like Umphrey’s McGee, Lotus, and The Motet. What has been the most memorable moment of your career thus far?
(Unanimously and without hesitation each member answers ‘Umphrey’s’)
Josh Applebaum: Yea, opening for Umphrey’s was pretty huge. We have all been listening to them since we started listening to live music and they’re honestly a huge inspiration for us so that was unreal.
Hunter Welles: Also Beanstalk (Music & Arts Festival)! The last Beanstalk was pretty epic and this year’s will be even more epic. I’m looking forward to it.
Scott: Playing with The New Mastersounds and the Particle guys was pretty cool. Luke Miller (Lotus) has played with us a few times too, which is just crazy because I’ve been seeing those guys forever.
Hunter: The Motet guys were a big deal for me to get to play with too.
Josh: That was a long time coming. We’ve known them for so long and always hoped to get to play with them but never had till then. (Hunter cues dream sequence sound effect as Casey makes note to recorder about his Afro)
When you were starting out as a band did you ever foresee sharing stages with acts like that and transitioning rather quickly from paying to see them to getting paid to play with them?
Hunter: Honestly I never imagined it, and it was never about that. Our path and where we’re going right now was never something that was imagined by any of us, except maybe Scott, since it’s been his dream.
Scott: I just wanted to be in a band, and people may not know that the first few years of us playing we played for free pretty much. Pooling all of our money together and saving to record this album that we just did a year ago, which I think says a lot about our crew and how it really was just for fun for a while, and still is, but now that we’re older and have a great fan base we’re really trying to see if we can make a career out of it.
Josh: Our fan base is the best part. People literally keep showing up show after show and there are some who have literally seen 50 or more of our shows, and they choose to spend their night or their weekends with us, which is so cool.
Casey: When we first started kind of getting a following at our shows we would see a bunch of our friends and then a few random people or friends of friends.
Hunter: That’s what was cool, is that it literally brought all of our friends together.
Casey: Exactly, it brought all of our friends together and now I’ll see a bunch of people that I don’t know and then in the back corner or wherever I’ll see all of our homies who have been there the whole time. They’ve seen the whole progression and we’ve obviously been there too so it’s still pretty crazy to us.
Cody Wales: For me it was weird joining the band and trying to get a grasp on ‘The Beans Family’. People would come up to me and be like, ‘dude I’ve seen you guys 45 times,’ and I’m just like whoa I don’t know any of these people, but I’m slowly getting there and it’s awesome.
Casey: We’re a family band and the fan base just started as a family thing. That’s what lead us to progress and now it’s just about trying to give back as much as we can to that, get as good as we can get, make it as big as we can, and help that family spread.
Hunter: I mean honestly one of my favorite things about the band is that I’ve met some of my best friends through playing music and all of our fans have been really cool people.
Scott: I agree with that. We’re all into the same things and we’re just fans too. I’ve met some of my best friends at our concerts, so we don’t even see them as fans. I think that word ‘fan’ is so weird and it’s just friends usually, unless we haven’t met yet.
How was it that you all first met and started making music? You recently posted about a monumental birthday party five years ago at your old mountain house west of Boulder, which sounded like it’s where the seed that has sprouted into The Magic Beans was first planted.
Hunter: That’s it! It was literally the first time we played for people.
Was it billed as a Magic Beans show or had you even come up with a name at that point?
Hunter: We were Mountain Lion Defense System. Basically I got a puppy and one of our roommates saw a mountain lion out on our deck so the idea was that we’re going to be a mountain lion defense system and protect my puppy by just playing jams all the time.
Had you guys actually practiced at all before that party or just loosely played music as friends?
Scott: I mean we played music together every single day, just jamming out, and I think we had maybe two songs at that point. It wasn’t really a performance, we had a party and all the equipment was just set up in one room so we just kind of billed it as we’re going to play a set of music. It was loose, but it was fun. Our first real gig was at the Fox opening for Springdale Quartet, and the first actual Magic Beans show with Casey in the band was at Quixote’s.
Casey: Outside, as it was raining and we played “What is Love?”
How did you guys come up with the name The Magic Beans after abandoning Mountain Lion Defense System?
Casey: There was this crazy homeless dude at one of those first shows just screaming about planting magic beans and we were like that could be a cool band name.
Could you tell when you first started playing together that, for lack of a better word, there was something ‘magical’ happening?
(Dream sequence chime sound effect – lots of laughter)
Casey: I would say that there was a definite chemistry, and I came in later so these guys kind of had everything already figured out. We all enjoyed the same things and when we played music together and hit a certain spot in a jam or something it was clear we were all on the same page.
Scott: You asked about when we played our first show, and at that point we would kind of just play a bunch of jams in different arrangements. When we decided to truly be a band, that’s when we had to actually write songs, so I feel like the chemistry you’re talking about in our improvisational parts was there way before the songs were since we’ve been playing together for so long.
What was the toughest part of transitioning from a group of guys who played at a party into a full-fledged band?
Scott: Deciding on a band name. The band name thing was tough.
Hunter: We were definitely unsure about everything when we first started.
Scott: We just knew we wanted to play shows so we needed a name.
Josh: Yea, we were Jamonster for a little while, but I’m happy with what we landed on.
Has your music always encompassed such a wide range of sounds and styles?
Hunter: Absolutely, we’ve gone through a lot of transition. When we first started we only had electrics and “Mind Over Matter” and “Underwater Oasis” were two of our only songs.
Scott: We had two areas in the house and whenever Josh came up we would do the electric thing, and once he left we would always be out on the porch picking acoustic. We probably did that even more then we played electric. I had songs written that were much more acoustic based, but then when we jammed out it was always way more fun and not very acoustic. To incorporate your last question that was one of the biggest humps for Hunter and I, tying to combine the acoustic and electric stuff and finding a tone on stage since playing an acoustic instrument in an electric band is pretty tough.
How would you describe your specific sound to someone who has never listened to The Magic Beans?
Casey: Space funk.
Would you say that is the defining term for your style, or is it a an ever evolving mix of space funk and other mashed up genres titles like ‘groove-grass’ or ‘jamtronica’?
Casey: That’s the really fun part about the music we play and depending on who is asking and where we are I’ll say things totally different and it will all be completely true. If it’s a guy who looks like he’s into country music I’ll say ‘we play a bunch of bluegrass’ and when we’re at a funk show I’ll say ‘we play a bunch of funk and other stuff too’.
Scott: It’s hard to describe our music because if you’re not in the live music scene you wont understand when someone says ‘space funk’ so sometimes I sugar-coat it for people and say it’s ‘bluegrass funk fusion’ and they’ll be like ‘oh that’s interesting, those are very different’ and I’ll answer ‘ yes, that’s why we’re fusing them’.
Hunter: We’ve got a certain vibe that we definitely try to bring into whatever genre of music it is that we’re playing. So even if it’s blue grass it’s still a certain type of ‘beans grass’ and if it’s funk there’s a certain way that we play it that’s never traditional.
Josh: You can’t say we’re a straight funk band, that’s the Motet. We’re ‘funky’ and we’re ‘bluegrassy’ sometimes so it’s become our own distinct genre.
Scott: Disco Stu says ‘We play party music yo’! (Cow mooing sound effect – eruption of laughter) Next question. (More laughing)
What are some of the ways that you guys attempt to stand out in a saturated music scene and not just be another average semi-memorable jam-band?
Casey: I would say we have an advantage because there are lots of different sides to our sound and that helps us stand out since it’s a big part of the whole jam-band, festival, or just live music scene, especially in Colorado. I think people get kind of bored of the same thing all the time, so it helps us stand out that we can kind of fill a couple different fixes of what people want in one night. People can stomp around and do the bluegrass thing, then get spacey, funky and all dance. But it is hard to stand out though; there are a lot of good bands out there doing similar things.
Hunter: I personally like to see bands that play a lot of different genres in one show. I’ll go to see a band sometimes, be like ‘wow, this is awesome’, and three songs later when it’s all sounding somewhat the same it’s still pretty awesome but I really like variety. I also like so many different genres of music that it’d be hard for me to just say ‘I’m going to be in a bluegrass band’.
Casey: Honestly I think that if I was in a different band that was just playing one thing I’d be bored. Maybe not, I mean if I was in the Motet I would love funk, but doing one thing just isn’t as fulfilling for me.
Scott: I came to a conclusion about a year ago as far as standing out in a competitive music scene, since I work so closely with it, and I’ve realized that it’s really important to kind of put on the blinders in some way and just hone the craft. That’s what I’ve been dedicated to these past couple years is trying to be a better musician and relying on what you know. It’s been hard to describe what we do, but it’s definitely been working, so I’m tapping into exactly what it is we do. It got a little out of control fast and we’ve gotten way tighter in this last year. We used to be really freewheeling in our live show with lots of energy coming off stage and we kind of learned to cap it up. It’s still that way we’ve just gotten more focused and understand that what came naturally for us before can now be controlled a bit more. Playing better music, that’s the way to get recognized. We’re already getting the gigs that we need to and I just want to see everyone enjoying themselves at our show, that’s the point, and if your music’s good you’re going to make it.
You seem to be succeeding with that mentality, and it’s a very genuine way of simply letting the music and your fans speak for themselves.
Scott: Word of mouth works great. If everyone has a good time they’ll be like ‘hey check this out next time other friend’ and that’s how it works right? I’m hoping.
What are you guys hoping to accomplish in this next year?
Hunter: Red Rocks would be nice.
Scott: We’ve done a ton of touring everywhere, so now we’re focused on picking out the towns where we’ve seen a response nationally and turning outward since we’ve been doing a lot in Colorado. Chicago, Minneapolis, Indiana and Austin are all places where we’ve gotten good responses so we’re going to focus on going there like three to four times in one year. Really making sure we build those specific fan bases as opposed to just trying to hit tons of different places.
To conclude our conversation, is there anything you’d like to tell your fans reading this interview?
(Short pause to think followed by loud cougar growling sound effect and more laughter)
Cody: That and thanks! We’re going to try our best to keep making good music and putting on interesting live shows.
Scott: No, no, no actually erase that last part – cougar growl!
To check out The Magic Beans in a city near you click here and to get a taste of some space funk watch this live video of The Magic Beans performing The Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” featuring Clay Parnell and Steve Molitz of Particle at 2014’s Beanstalk Music and Arts Festival.
(Interview from 3/8/13)
Asking Scott McMicken of Dr. Dog a question is like tossing a kite into a tornado of thoughts. Answers turn to rants, memories generate musical epiphanies, and rather than simply skimming the surface Scott decides to dive right in. Skinny-dipping through the truth with words soaked in a sincerity that’s both candid and clever.
This poetic perspective is interwoven into everything Scott says and sings, and it’s what elevates Dr. Dog’s songs from simply enjoyable to emotionally enlightening. Whenever your band begins to call up comparisons to The Beatles you know you’re doing something right, and although Dr. Dog isn’t nearly as big, they still share the same eclectic style and superb songwriting abilities as the fab four.
Their music is a raw and rambunctious mix of lushly layered harmonies and pulsing rock-driven instrumentation that is both infectiously catchy and cleverly composed. AKcreative caught up with Scott before his show at The Boulder Theater to chat about the innocent inception of his band name, touring with My Morning Jacket, and how a couple of ‘dudes washing dishes’ turned into Dr. Dog.
AKcreative: Where did the name Dr. Dog come from?
Scott: Well there’s no really grand reveal to that one. As I remember it Toby and I were 18 and we had been playing together since we were in eighth grade. Then I moved away my senior year of high school and after that moved right back. During that whole year apart I knew it was a disaster. I knew I was going to get back as soon as I got out of high school and my family moved away. We just held on tight to this thought we had of making music and knew that we would do it someday. So when I did come back I had all these songs and all these recordings from my house and he had the same. It had this extra pre-tense about it because we’d been apart and now we were back together. Here are our songs and there was a lot of focus in this weird insular world kind of way so we literally had a conversation like what’s our band name? I suggested Dr. Wing, he said what about Dr. Dog and I was like ‘ok cool’, that was it. There’s nothing too cool or exciting about it.
From the start it just felt right and I fully understand some people not liking it. I think if I were to look at it objectively as if I just came upon this band called Dr. Dog I don’t know that it would immediately resonate with me. It is kind of loaded in some pretty corny ways, but within our own little world it has always felt perfect.
My Morning Jacket is a classic example. When I first heard of them was probably after their second album At Dawn had come out and right when I met my girlfriend at the time she gave me this tape that had At Dawn on one side and Tennessee Fire on the other by this band My Morning Jacket. I still remember my first impression of that band name was so soft and almost ‘emo’ or something and I didn’t like it. But as soon as the music found a place inside me the name then took on its own color and life. It builds its own meaning once you understand what it really is a title for.
As a fan of My Morning Jacket how was it to suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly tour with them in 2004?
It was very unexpected. I mean touring in itself was an unexpected thing at that point in time. Just doing it as a band was something awesome and totally out of left field, like a dream come true. It did a lot for our band for sure. First and foremost it structured our band from the inside. We had been having a lot of people associated with the band and the identity of the band back then was a loose cast of characters. With a tour on the table it forced people to be like is this something I really do or not. Some people fell away and others really rose up, that’s what gave us our first solid line-up. That was really influential and we road that line-up out for five or six more years. Toby and I were both in a lot of bands just because that was the deal at the time you know, you’d start bands out of a joke with your buddies. We had played a lot of shows at crappy bars in the Philly area, but Dr. Dog had played so rarely live and they got us acclimated with that. It was entry point into playing every night and already having been a big fan of theirs then seeing them live every night, witnessing what they bring to the live show and how much they give every night along with getting to know them as people and realizing that these idols of ours were very relatable people. There just dudes like us, they’re totally reasonable, they truly care about what they do, don’t take themselves too seriously and all these things that were real positive affirmations in the course that we were trying to set out for ourselves. So we couldn’t have asked to tour with a better more influential group then them. They just laid it out unconsciously and their actions speak much louder than any words would.
I’m pretty sure you were touring with My Morning Jacket around the time of your album Toothbrush, which was the demo that got handed to Jim James and sparked your sudden success.
That band has influenced us on so many levels and at the time we didn’t have any albums, we just had tons of recordings and there was never the notion that an album was necessary. We weren’t functioning with any sort of expectation; we were just doing our thing. So when My Morning Jacket was coming to town on tour that same girlfriend of mine who had turned me on to them in the first place was like you should throw a bunch of your Dr. Dog songs onto a CD and we’ll bring it since she knew them and has seen them play at a tiny bar when they performed to 20 or 30 people. She had put them up in her house and stuff when they were really coming up so she was friendly with them and anticipated hanging out. So we did and took hours of cassettes over to her dad’s house because he had a way of digitally converting them. We put ten or so songs on a couple CDs, decorated them all up and everything just as something to pass on and of course dong that lead to the tour and many more things. It all came about just to throw a mix-tape together for Jim James and it ended up being I guess our first album.
We did the tour and were playing a bunch of songs, none of which were on Toothbrush. We had a whole new set of songs that we hadn’t recorded and Toothbrush was kind of a four-track album that wasn’t so reflective of our band. We came home from that tour and they had already asked us to go on another leg a couple months later so in preparation for that we took the money we made from our first tour and bought a nicer microphone and some studio monitors. Hooked it up to the same eight-track we always had and recorded our new music as a way to have something else for sale while we were on tour and also something that would be a little more like our live show.
Even with the making of that album My Morning Jacket was a catalyst for the intentions behind Easy Beat. When we went back out on tour with Toothbrush and Easy Beat for sell, still making them ourselves, that just ended up leading so many other things. It lead to us getting an article in The New York Times, it lead to our manager finding out about us who’s still our manager to this day and who has helped us out immensely. As soon as he got involved he was like ‘I’m going to get you to South by Southwest and we’ll try to get you a booking agent’. We didn’t have a record deal of any sort whatsoever so he started connecting us to that, pretty much getting the gears going and all of that was a direct result of My Morning Jacket.
Is there anything about those early experiences with them and the hardships of striving to succeed as an artist that you try to keep alive in your current music?
That’s hard to say because I don’t think we have yet to experience a point of distraction. For whatever reason, which I’m highly thankful for, we just kind of still work in the same way we always have. You apply yourself in an ever-shifting context. So far we haven’t really had to stop and prioritize things to say what we’re about or what we’re supposed to be doing. It must have something to do with the type of dudes we are because we don’t really buy into any sort of myth that we’re trying to propel. There’s no bigger picture other than the simple motivations of any given day and the desires you put into writing a song and playing a song. I think our ability to stay focused on the thing that got us here in the first place has only been enhanced. We’ve come this far while we shied away from a lot of aspects of certain career choices we gravitated towards others and all of those things in an almost intangible way have instilled values that were there at the beginning but not yet defined because they didn’t need to be. We were just dudes washing dishes and enjoying this side of life musically. I think that as time goes by and this structure starts to build around the band as this business or something like that, all the efforts that have gone into that have specifically been there to foster that initial idea. We never stepped outside of the boundaries of what we were comfortable with and the more you do that over time the more you start understanding yourself, what drives you, and what works for you so that as those decisions come up they become easier to make.
For us a lot of it does come down to specific sort of boring things like what’s your process like and since we have always recorded ourselves and still very much enjoy that there’s kind of an internal logic that you just respond to with that. We’re never like what’s our next move or where do we go from here?
Exactly, you wouldn’t want to constrain or cage your creativity in any way. Yet you still need some sort of structure, like the banks of a river, which will result naturally from your actions and give them a specific place to pour into without limiting anything too much.
That’s a nice way to put it.
In that sense, what was it like making Be The Void and reverting back to your old style of self-sufficient at home recording as opposed to big name producers and professional studios?
That’s a great question because it lays out exactly what I was just trying to describe. Because this is one of those instances involving things we’ve done enough of as a band to gain more self-knowledge. To put it quickly Shame, Shame was our first record with ANTI Records, which was a much bigger label then what we’d been working with, Park The Van, which was started by our friend. We kind of grew and developed with that label, but then we stepped into this very well established label and they obviously had more of a mechanism or system for how to do things and more money.
At that point I feel like we were definitely unable to expand the banks of that river on our own. We had just been floating in that river for too long and it was time. We’ve taught ourselves a lot and gone from radio check mics and cassette tapes to a 24-track studio with pre-amps and compressors. We’ve slowly acclimated ourselves to all these ways of working, did that for a while and it felt like we hit a ceiling there. So the natural idea as well as what Anti could bring to our table made us like lets find someone to work with and step outside of our comfort zone. That’s what we did for Shame, Shame and in many ways it was cool and did exactly what I hoped it would through shedding a different light on the process and offering new ideas. Most importantly it showed us what we weren’t willing to step into or get involved with. So we ended up kind of backing away from that and finishing Shame, Shame on our own. As soon as we finished that album our drummer left and that’s right when Eric Slick and Dimitri Manos joined. That’s been a new era for the band and they’ve really solidified the essence of what the band was.
If there was ever a point in the history of the band that we strayed or got wishy-washy and unsure about where we were or what we were doing it was right around Shame, Shame. The completion of that album and those two dudes joining put things right back on course. Then we got to tour with them for the whole cycle of that record and get them kind of in the groove feeling the changes that were coming as a result of this new input. So by the time we came to Be The Void they were already well-worn and in the band. Everyone’s enthusiasm was at a maximum and we said to ourselves ‘ OK we don’t need to work with any producer or go to any other studio, we’ve got so much new stuff on the table. Then there was this guy Ben Allen who is a producer down in Atlanta and he was actually pursuing us. He’s cut his teeth in the hip-hop world and done some interesting stuff with Animal Collective so he’s clearly this really well versed and extremely experimental open-minded sort of producer. So even though we already said we weren’t going to work with anyone else I thought that we might as well give this dude a shot. We went down for about a week making no real commitment other than just going down there, hanging out, recording and seeing how it felt. He was pushing us and knowing everyone in the band as I do it was interesting to see the effect he had, in a very graceful way.
With his presence somehow it just seemed to make people set aside stuff and challenge themselves more. For three or four months before we were about to head down to Atlanta in the back of my mind every night as I lay there going to bed I’m thinking ‘I don’t know if we should do this’. That seems very promising and that could very well make for an awesome album but I think that right now we just need to focus on ourselves because we have so much within our selves and together we’re just full of ideas and energy.
It felt kind of negative to walk away from it, but the reasons were not because it was sort of stressful doing it that way there was just so much inside of ourselves. The point in all this is the recognition and affirmation of that thing that I always felt when we were just starting. We’ll do this on our own and we’ll do it with a lot of joy and excitement. In many ways making that decision was both a renewal and a reminder of something that immediately tied me back to the earliest days. The way we talked about doing Be The Void, very overtly, was to have one foot in the past and another in the future of our band. We felt that connection to the freedom and the experimentation of our early days. Combining that with all the experience we’ve gained as musicians and this newly captured excitement about playing live shows with a more dynamic and powerful sound. If you want to capture that good feel and essence of a live performance you do have to allow for more sonic fidelity. The process and sort of design going into that record was, not too sound overly romantic, but that the world our band inhabits doesn’t exist, it’s with in these walls.
All we’re accountable for is this very moment and it is very important that within this moment we all feel 100% comfortable and totally in control. It’s not just this romantic idea, there’s strategy, and when we went into the studio we got rid of a lot of crap, we made it feel new, recorded hours of music in there, and by the time we went to do that album it felt like a new place. The basic question was what do we do and what’s the next step for our band, not commercially or in some sort of objective way. In essence it’s funny how you can go through all these complicated shifts only to arrive at this necessity to make the same exact decision you’ve made over and over and over again. Yet it feels like a new decision because the world around it has changed.
There’s this sort of spectrum that Toby and I have always liked to understand Dr. Dog in, on one end there’s this really fundamental musical chops and a respect for the tradition of music. Not feeling the need to think of your self as an artist creating some break from the historical narrative of music or whatever, and on the other end is complete abstraction and the notion within music that there are realms that really have nothing to do with anything else and they kind of create their own logic. The band was formed on that idea. If you look at it one-way Toby and I are basically one dude at this point and although there are differences, they come together to create.
How has the addition of Eric Slick and Dimitri Manos influenced Dr. Dog?
That was the well-balanced meal we were looking for. Eric and Dimitri joining really re-affirmed and actually enhanced the two primary pillars that we were built on. Expanding the experimentation and abstraction of what is essentially psychedelic music for lack of a better word. Music that just evokes some sort of imagery or feeling that transcends the sum of its parts.
Is there anything you’d like to tell your fans?
Stay tuned because we’re going to keep coming out with new stuff. We just put out an EP (The Dr. Dog Fall Sampler), we’re going to put out another collection of older material later in the year, and then get started on our next record, which I’m really excited about. Be The Void was our first album with Eric and Dimitri and by the end it really showed me how the collaborative efforts of the band are at an all-time high. I think I rely more on everyone in the band than I ever have before.
When you’ve got the full force of a band behind you I think it expands your imagination for melody, phrasing and things like that, which become more and more compelling. The next album will be one inch closer to our live show.
Dr. Dog is currently touring across the country in support of their most recent album Live at a Flamingo Hotel. For ticket info click here and for a taste of their truly unforgettable live show watch their most recent music video for “Heart it Races”.