This month we're discovering new local musicians as well as celebrating new music from established Colorado acts.
Artists like Sydney Clapp cut her teeth in our scene performing with other bands and has recently debuted her first solo single. We also get to know a rock band that formed right before lockdown, Fern Roberts. Local favorites King Cardinal released new music this year as did Heavy Diamond Ring, Zach Heckendorf, and Nat Tate.
We also get to know emerging electronic mainstays Goslings and Liptruce; both acts have released their best music over the last year. John Lensing, who has spent much of 2020 being nomadic, used to pay his rent by performing on the 16th Street Mall. He has a kind-hearted new single that you will hear this month on Indie 102.3.
Lastly, we'll profile emerging talent you should know who have already blown up on Spotify like Dafna, ZEMBU, and Rossini. Get to know the artists below, from their own words about navigating life as a musician during a global pandemic.
Meet the musicians (Virtually): We will livestream our Local 303 Meetup on Nov. 9 at 4 p.m. MT on our homepage or watch from our YouTube page.
Meet November's picks:
Latest Release: “I LOVE YOU,” Self-Release, Sep. 25, 2020
About: A 20 year-old singer, songwriter and producer from Boulder, Dafna's eclectic taste brings forth an exciting combination of sounds. Practicing classical piano since the age of 4, Dafna’s interest in music began early on, and she was 11 years old when she began writing and singing her own songs.
It wasn’t until after she graduated high school at the age of 17, however, that Dafna began producing and recording her music from her bedroom in her parents' basement, which led to the subsequent release of her first single in January 2019, "if you're a dove." It was called a “hypnotic blend of folk and minimalist electronic pop” (Amelia Vandergast, A&R Factory).
Since then, Dafna has independently released eight other songs and an album, amassing over 400,000 streams on Spotify alone. Dafna has also collaborated with several other artists, making waves in the EDM scene with Covex (Taste of Love, Jealous) and Mielo (Lonely Game), and working with Guy Margalit on his most recent album "SADDERDAYS."
While attending University of Colorado, Boulder as an electrical and computer engineering student, Dafna continues to play local shows with her own band. Notable performances include headlining a nearly sold out show at the Fox Theatre, opening for Goth Babe and JAWNY at CU Boulder's sold out Homecoming show, and singing with Covex on the main stage at Decadence NYE.
What it’s like to be a musician in 2020: Being a musician in 2020 means that I have the capability to do everything from the comfort of my bedroom. My room is where I write my music, record and produce my music, record and edit videos for my music, and now even perform my music via livestreams. 2020 has forced me to rethink how I can pursue a music career without ever leaving the house.
Get Social: Instagram, Twitter, TikTok
Latest Release: Meet Them at the Door, Self-Release, Oct. 2, 2020
About: Fern Roberts began as an occasional open-mic moniker for songwriter Joshua Tryan. Finally, after years of writing songs only to reveal them to a handful of close friends, Fern Roberts emerged a full trio, playing two shows in February 2020, just in time for a global pandemic. Despite having no shows, no fans, and no following, Fern Roberts stuck together, and continued to make music for the sake of joy. The band’s debut release, “Meet Them at the Door” is a story of grief, loss, crisis and redemption, told through guitar, bass, and drums.
What's it like being a musician in 2020: Having a band of my own and playing my own music has been a lifelong dream. We played our first show as a band in February 2020. One month later, Amos and I were asked to stay home from our jobs. When the lockdown began, we were devastated that we couldn’t play shows. We had planned to record our album in April, which had to be postponed as well. While not being able to play shows is a huge bummer, the joy of playing music together has been crucial in sustaining our spirits during this remarkably challenging time. I don’t know what I would have done without this band. The songs on “Meet Them at the Door” tell a story of overcoming crisis. While the story isn’t about this particular moment, many of its themes and lessons are applicable. We hope that these songs are meaningful to those who hear them!
Get Social: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube
Hometown: Chicago burbs now living in Denver for 20 years
Latest Release: “Bright Lights,” Suborbital Records, Oct. 30, 2020
About: “Goslings — the next weird-ass local musician that we’re excited about.” -303magazine.com
Goslings, the brainchild of Patrick Shorten (of Patrick Shorten and His Country Band), was born in a dark and difficult time in Shorten’s life. After recording many demos in his home, longtime friend and collaborator Chad Skupien (Suborbital Records) knew they had something to bring to life. Shorten and Skupien released their debut “Troubled” in April 2018 - an ambitious 10-track LP. The album is full of buzzsaw synths, ethereal piano and electric guitar — all of the key components to dark synth-pop. But Goslings takes that and plunges the ’80s-pop era into the future, creating a spacey science-fiction-feeling collaboration of the times.
Goslings’ single from April 2020, “AL (Artificial Love)” is an electro-funk and pop infusion that questions what we may view as love in a technologically advanced future.
Shorten is a stay at home dad to three small kids and is training them for a life floating in space.
What's it like being a musician in 2020: It’s like putting on a soaking wet pair of white tube socks every morning for eight months straight and being surprised each day, wondering, “Why are my feet cold?”
Heavy Diamond Ring
Formed: Sarah and Paul started the project in late 2017, and the lineup solidified in early 2018
Latest Release: Cover of Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” (Single), Self-Release, June 2020; “Friday Night” (Single), Self-Release, Jul. 2020; “Drank All Your Wine” (Single), Self-Release, Sep. 2020, “Already Gone" (Single), Self-Release, Nov. 2020.
About: Fourteen years after founding indie-folk giants Paper Bird, vocalist Sarah Anderson and guitarist Paul DeHaven embark on their latest collaboration. Heavy Diamond Ring harnesses their proven partnership and their distinct synthesis of open-hearted, All-American folk-rock towards soaring new heights. Led by Anderson’s smooth-as-honey vocals and DeHaven’s rugged guitar chops, the band is rounded out by Blake Stepan (bass), Mike Lang (keys), and Orion Tate Ignelzi (drums). This is road trip music at its best.
What's it like being a musician in 2020: It’s very weird. It’s challenging. And it’s rewarding, in its own way. In the absence of the “normal” way of doing things, we have been giving ourselves a lot of time to write, and record. In lieu of summer tours, we went to a cabin in Minnesota, set up a demo recording rig, and did a bunch of writing. In lieu of shows, we’ve been taking those songs to the recording studio. We have missed performing and connecting with an audience, but the time has been spent more deeply connecting with each other, why we do this, and what we want our music to say.
Get Social: Instagram, Facebook
Latest Release: "Bluebird Day" (Single), Self-Release, Aug. 7, 2020. Watch for our new holiday song out mid-November called "Holes in My Sweater."
About: "I moved to Denver on a whim," says King Cardinal founder Brennan Mackey. "I'd been living in Chicago, working a finance job that I didn't love, and I knew exactly what the rest of my life would look like if I stayed there. I decided I wanted to throw everything up in the air and see where it landed."
It makes sense, then, that the cover of King Cardinal's stellar debut album, "Great Lakes," depicts a man catapulting himself headlong into the unknown, trading safety and security for adventure and excitement as he leaps over a protective railing. If the record is any indication, Mackey's own bold leaps have paid off in spades. Recorded over seven days at Texas' famed Sonic Ranch studio with GRAMMY-winning producer/ engineer Ted Young (Israel Nash, Banditos), "Great Lakes" pushes the band's raw roots rock into lush, sonically daring territory with hints of cosmic country and delicate folk. Consisting primarily of live performances captured without embellishment or ornamentation, the album is direct, raw, and loose, with a palpable sense of camaraderie and musical kinship that showcases the five-piece group's exceptional musicianship and the powerful emotional depth of the vocal interplay between Mackey and fellow singer Texanna Dennie.
In its earliest form, though, King Cardinal was a far lonelier enterprise. Ever a self- starter, Mackey adopted the King Cardinal moniker to record his self-titled first EP as a mostly-solo project, and after relocating to Denver, built up a fanbase using Reddit to crowdsource a network of house concerts. His early songs were sparse, acoustic, and poetic, inspired by the likes of Steve Earle and Ryan Adams, and they earned Mackey an invitation to perform at the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival alongside stars like Punch Brothers, Brett Dennen, Lake Street Dive, and more. Perhaps most importantly, though, the music attracted a crew of kindred musical souls who would go on to help Mackey flesh out King Cardinal's follow-up EP, "Once A Giant," into a full band affair. Marquee Magazine hailed that collection as "excellently crafted Americana," while Westword praised the band's "raw, gut-wrenching emotion," and Scene called the EP "elegant and blissful" while applauding Mackey's transformation "from solo singer- songwriter to confident and earnest frontman." Dates with Ben Sollee, Sam Outlaw, Darlingside, and more followed, as the band expanded its reach beyond Colorado for the first time with national touring.
What's it like being a musician in 2020: It's definitely been tough. However, being a musician and trying to eek out a living as a creative has always required a HUGE amount of flexibility, so we're already conditioned to uncertainty. As for me, I've spent a lot of my time writing as much as possible, livestreaming, trying to learn videography, and digital marketing. I've also really focused on trying to be present and connected with our fans. An incredibly supportive community has coalesced around the livestream I do every week. Somehow I feel more connected with our fans now than I ever did when we were playing out all the time. At the end of the day, I think we're being forced to innovate and grow in unexpected ways. It will be interesting to see what everyone's built once we emerge from our little caves.
Get Social: Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitch
Hometown: Maple Plain, Minn.
Latest Release: "Talk to Me" (Single), Cowtown Records, Sep. 2020
About: John Lensing writes songs for the same reason he street performs: to make people care —about themselves, about others, and things that sometimes hurt to care about. He has toured/street performed from North America to Europe, and has been called “an artist to watch" by No Depression.
What's it like being a musician in 2020: There's a lot of uncertainty. Everything we do has a new moral weight to it. I used to pay my rent by street performing on 16th Street Mall in Denver. I always felt secure knowing I could go back in a pinch. With the pandemic, even that had to be put on pause. There's no crowds, and if there were, that'd be a whole different problem. Besides that, 2020 has been a good excuse to blur the lines of what a musician is to me. I spent a bit of time helping at the encampments for unhoused people in Minneapolis. I'm now in Sitka, Alaska helping with the election; plenty of COVID tests between all of it. I'm lucky to have stumbled my way into this. Mostly, I've just been taking myself less seriously, and trying to be gentle. I hope most people have. As long as we're learning and trying, that's enough.
Get Social: Instagram, Facebook, Spotify
Hometown: SA is from Olympia, Wash. Luke and Kim are Colorado Natives, and the band originated in Denver.
Formed: LIPTRUCE formed in 2017. However the three members have been playing together since 2013.
Latest Release: Liptruce S/T, Self-Released, Nov. 2019
About: Denver's Liptruce cultivates sensual electro-pop-alt with melodically vivid songs, relatable lyrics, and a tour de force on stage comprising of Sarah Angela (vocals, synth, guitar), Kim O' Hara (electric guitar), and Luke Mehrens (drums). The band recorded their self-titled debut album at Echo Bar Studios in Los Angeles with multi-platinum Grammy award winning producer/ engineer, Bob Horn.
What's it like being a musician in 2020: Oh lawd...the only thing keeping me going lately is music. Otherwise my life is a confusing one. Dreaming again of when we can tour, play for giant swarms of sweaty mouth-breathers and feeling the energy in a room in that moment when the people singing my lyrics are louder than my own singing. No one knows what the near-future holds but I'm writing, recording and rehearsing. We'll be ready when the music comes back. -SA
Get Social: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Spotify
Formed: 2012 was my first show in Denver
Latest Release: Songs for the Trees, Self-Release, Oct. 2, 2020
About: Whether playing solo, accompanied by an acoustic ensemble, or floating amongst ethereal synths and electronic beats, homegrown Colorado artist Nat Tate brings us the sound of warm spaciousness and gentle vulnerability. The command of subtlety and unguarded emotion in Nat's voice has a way of bringing us back to forgotten places inside ourselves. Nat's well-loved, long-time presence in the Denver music community earned them Denver Westword's voter-awarded title of Best Singer-Songwriter in 2016 and 2017. With previous releases "Given Day" (2013) and "Broken Open" (2017) under the name Natalie Tate, Nat (they/them/theirs) brings us a new album representing their most personal and stripped down work yet.
"Songs for the Trees," released Oct. 2, 2020, reflects a time of growth and healing as they took time away from performing to reconnect a direct line to their musical heart.
What's it like being a musician in 2020: Being stuck at home gave me the motivation to dive into recording a new album. The limitations of having to record in a simple way with just voice and guitar in my living room really served the songs I had been writing, which were very personal and introspective. I recently released the album and the feedback I've gotten from folks about how the songs are comforting them during this time lets me know that I am of service as a musician. That helps me feel aligned with my sense of meaning and purpose when the outside world feels so unhinged. Folks have been very generous in their support as well. I think as a whole, our appreciation for the role of musicians has deepened. Like everything we value and miss, we don't take music's existence for granted anymore.
Get Social: Instagram, Facebook
Hometown: Naples, Fla.
Latest Release: "Heartbreaker" (Single), Self-Released, Oct. 30, 2020 and "Party People" (Single), Self-Released, Sep. 4, 2020
About: The son of a church choir composer, Rossini found music trickling through his bloodline. An upbringing molded by his father and choir director uncle, Rossini could play the piano before he learned to speak. Discovering a knack for songwriting in high school, he followed his passion to Paris after graduation. He would spend three years in the music capital of Europe, where he delved further into his writing and the culture surrounding the Paris music scene. Following stints in Los Angeles and Naples, Fla., Rossini relocated to Denver with producer Pridemore.
Rossini's debut single, 'Party People', was praised by Denver's 303 Magazine as having "a Max Martin-like intuition, riding across a massive dance beat as if “Thriller” was paved out of a real-life apocalypse."
The October 30th release of his sophomore single, "Heartbreaker," sees Rossini team up with producer Jesse O’Brien (Natasha Bedingfeild, Wu-Tang, Alabama Shakes) to deliver a vocal powerhouse with brooding undertones to match.
What's it like being a musician in 2020: Life as a musician in 2020 despite the obvious has been AMAZING! I’ve been able to lock down and focus on my craft more than I’ve ever done before. At first there was a big panic thinking that music would have no outlet but that quickly changed. People started streaming live shows. The music community just got stronger and it gave me a sense of confidence I never felt before. 2020 has taught us to grow closer and network more since we couldn’t actually go out and meet up. So 2020 for me has been a blessing.
Get Social: Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Spotify, Soundcloud, YouTube
Hometown: Fairplay, Colo. now based in Denver
Formed: My heart wants to say 1995 (birth year) but my first official song was released in 2020 so we could go with that!
Latest Release: "Golden Air" (Single), Self-Released, Aug. 6, 2020
About: Colorado has been home for Sydney Clapp during the most creative phase of her life. Her music has received a wide range of references from psychedelic to experimental folk to indie rock to singer/songwriter. Clapp feels comfort in this wide range of musical references and her intention is to create diverse sounds and let the music evolve naturally. She finds comfort in artists like Beck who have created many different songs, flavors and sounds throughout their lives.
2020 has been a prominent year for the songwriter as she released her debut single. Her follow-up debut EP, "Cradled By Sound," will be released in 2021. Clapp spent the past few years in Colorado working with producer Greg Garrison (Leftover Salmon, formerly Punch Brothers) and musicians Erik Deustch (The Chicks ~ formerly The Dixie Chicks), Kevin Matthews (Gasoline Lollipops), Dave Devine, Olivia Shaw and more to record her EP.
What's it like being a musician in 2020: It feels important. Creativity has felt important for my own sanity but it also feels important for our communal sense of well being. In heightened times of collective chaos, suffering and trauma I believe we have the power to soothe each other's spirits through outlets like music. Can we solve tangible and real problems, systems and policies with music alone? Probably not. But I think the human spirit is the most powerful vessel of energy that exists in this world and music can at least reach out to hug our worried minds and broken hearts for a moment. And that work feels incredibly important to me.
On a more personal note, 2020 has been an impactful year. I've been creating music alone in my bedroom the past five years and I finally decided it might be a good idea to start sharing those creations! I released my very first song this August and it was just such a beautiful experience that I'll never forget. I also found out that the very first song I recorded main vocals on, "Tear Down the Grand Ole Opry" by John Hartford (originally recorded for Greg Garrison's album, "Sycamore"), was added to a John Hartford tribute album alongside Leftover Salmon, John Carter Cash, Fruition, Yonder Mountain String Band, and more. The album was reviewed by Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal, American Songwriter and more. That was a pretty cool experience to be a part of!
Get Social: Instagram, Facebook
Latest Release: "HAWK TALK" (Organically Elevated / Missing Piece Records): https://ffm.to/zachheckendorfhawktalk
About: Since releasing his self-titled debut album at age 16, Heckendorf has released a series of critical and fan-favorites: "The Cool Down," "Speed Checked by Aircraft," "Artifacts" and an EP titled "Up." He’s toured the U.S. extensively as a headliner and has supported artists such as Rodrigo y Gabriela, John Butler Trio and Rogue Wave as well as Michael Franti and Spearhead at Red Rocks Amphitheater. Zach returns to songwriting with a renewed vigor and a mission to invite his listeners into the catchy world he's created with his new album "HAWK TALK."
What's it like being a musician in 2020: It's quite an adventure! The external circumstances are really pushing everybody to get creative with their musical and business hustle. The main thing we all need to be right now is flexible and I'm quite inspired by many of my musical friends and how they've adapted to the situation. Luckily, I've been able to perform throughout the summer in order to store up some fat for the winter/second wave of COVID.
Hometown: Seattle, Wash.
Latest Release: "Retrograde” (Single), Self-release, Aug. 9, 2020
About: ZEMBU is an indie-pop electronic producer and musician based out of Colorado. She combines ethereal, warm production with layers of soulful vocals and reflective lyricism centered around the intersection of her identities.
“Recall,” ZEMBU’s debut EP, was released earlier this year in March and featured on Spotify and Apple’s Editorial Playlists, “Fresh Finds,” “Fresh Finds - Pop,” “Fresh Finds - Indie,” “Brand New Chill,” “Study Break,” “Indie Covers,” and “Today’s Chill.”
What's it like being a musician in 2020: 2020 has been full of all the feels. So many feels that it is difficult to try to articulate all of them. I have been in a constant flux of adapting, learning, changing, and full-on experiencing this year.
I think about this year and think about the BLM movement, COVID-19, the fires, the Presidential election, + EVERYTHING else. At this very moment, I feel the tension and reality as the election nears. The lives and ecosystems at stake under another Trump administration and the necessity of a continued fight for equity, no matter the outcome of the election. It's strange to think that by the time this article comes out, we will know the election results.
In Northern Colorado, we just saw the East Troublesome fire burn through 140k+ acres in one day, changing communities, lives, and nature overnight. This is what 2020 has felt like--processing and reflecting on the gravity of the moment while recognizing there will be a different tomorrow.
Though things feel stagnant as a musician in most ways, this year has created the space to help me remember who I am as a Queer mixed-race person in this country; remember my ancestors; remember the Black and Brown activists who have led the way in social justice; remember what matters and learn to move forward thoughtfully and responsibly as a musician and a human.
Get Social: Instagram, Spotify
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