Roma Ransom: A Colorado Original

I met Roma Ransom two years ago when they participated in the Mountain Acoustic Music Association’s Acoustic Idol songwriting and performance competition in Woodland Park, Colo. I was taken with their craft, their infectious joy, and their chemistry. Hearing them, I was transported back to my travels through eastern Europe and to my previous home in Edinburgh, Scotland, where sea shanties rang out through the pubs on a nightly basis. They’ve been on my radar ever since, and I’m happy to present their music and their story to you. Gordon Lewis’ remarks are included on the band’s behalf. – Darren

A chance encounter 

Gordon Lewis and Grace Easley met in Springfield, Mo., busking in the downtown square. I was riding in a pedicab playing my banjo, and Grace signaled for me to come over to her and play some music and that’s where it began! We started traveling, somewhat like vagabonds, making money busking and getting whatever gigs we could.

At a Santa Fe gig in July 2011, someone broke into Gordon’s car and stole all their busking money. On the heels of that disappointment, the duo came to Colorado Springs and got teaching jobs. They found the local music scene to be very welcoming and tight-knit, so they stuck around.

The Music, The Muse

The band’s self titled album is for sale at gigs and online.

We have a tough time describing our sound since Grace’s and my musical backgrounds are drastically different. The music we create is a giant conglomeration of styles we have picked up throughout the years. I call our style ‘Eclectic Bohemian World Folk.’

That sweet band name, though … 

We’re not true Roma, so I felt like we are ‘ransoming’ the music from the Roma culture, obviously with no intent for the Roma people having to get the music back from us. I also feel that the term ‘gypsy’ is very derogatory to Romani people so I did not want to use that in our name. I see the Roma culture being destroyed in the media … so I wanted to use our band name as a statement to raise some awareness about the culture as well as the music. And if you flip the word Roma, it spells Amor, which translates to ‘Love Ransom.’ So there you have it – many meanings!

A rich musical heritage

Grace started playing violin at age 7 and picked up the viola as a teenager. She also plays melodica, cello, harp, ukulele and lap dulcimer and is a tremendous singer. Grace was classically trained in St. Louis and was a part of the St. Louis Youth Symphony.

Gordon began playing saxophone at age 10 and guitar at age 12. He took piano lessons in his teen years as well as band and choir. He had heavy doses of gospel and bluegrass growing up, but he also played in metal and punk bands. Gordon is a multi-instrumentalist, too, playing trombone, trumpet, clarinet, flute, bulbul tarang, harmonica, banjo, accordion, oboe, balalaika, bouzouki, bass, assorted hand percussion, violin, and any other instrument he can get his hands on. For live gigs, he mostly plays accordion and guitar but he has also been incorporating cajon, foot percussion, looping brass and woodwinds.

The Colorado Springs Scene

We love the Colorado Springs scene and are grateful for the musicians here and the help they gave us to make sure that we got gigs. We love to see new places, meet new people and try to make the most of our youth while we still have it! Playing music is still very fun for us so we figure we might as well keep doing it as long as we enjoy it. Lots of coffee and yerba mate keep us going!

And Beyond

It’s hard to say what our favorite place is to play. One cool spot we recently fell in love with was the Cloud Station in Crestone. It had a great vibe and was very fitting for our style of music. In Colorado Springs we always enjoy playing at The Wild Goose Meeting House, Coquette’s, Bristol Brewing and Rico’s, just to name a few.

On Songwriting as a Duo

Our process in writing a song is usually me coming up with a chord progression/rhythmic idea that’s typically influenced by a certain style I am into at the time. Then Grace will come up with a melody on the violin, and we will usually go through numerous variations on one theme to determine what our favorite parts are.

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Rough Age: Musical Boundaries be Damned

Let us now point our ears south down I-25 to Colorado Springs, a city whose music scene has been called many things but is never boring. As with any other reasonably big urban center, some COS bands languish in obscurity, some gain a regional following, and still others do exactly what they want to do, no matter who is listening. That’s what I think is happening with Rough Age.

“He’s at that rough age.” Get it? Pretty clever band name.

Rough Age flashed lean and hungry onto the scene two years ago, the collaboration of songwriter Nathan Archer with Tracy Santa and Michael Salkind (also a duo called Wild Hares) on bass and drums, respectively. The band’s full length debut, Before It Comes Apart, is available here and here.

It’s a very cool album, not what I was expecting, although it must be said I don’t know what I was expecting. I couldn’t pinpoint a central theme, so I made what I thought was a very levelheaded decision: ask the songwriter what it’s about.

Rough Age, two seconds before they jumped up, grabbed their instruments, and melted your face. (courtesy of

Rough Age, two seconds before they jumped up, grabbed their instruments, and rocked your face. (Image by Sarah Milteer)

“It’s much more of a collection of songs than a concept album,” says Archer. “The common thread seems to be portraits of people losing their shit or struggling in one way or another. A lot of those people are versions of myself or people I’ve known, like ‘Chemistry’ or ‘Tumbling Down’ and others are pure fiction, like in ‘Great Awakening’ or ‘Flammable Parts.'”

Speaking of Flammable Parts, let’s do a wee dissection of this tune. Gentle minor strumming, a touchy bass line sticking largely to root notes (thank you), and a very patient beat, some whistling, some organ. Sparse on lyrics, but they’re delivered in a pensive style that has to be compared to Elvis Costello, which should be taken as a compliment.

In over your head / But then you knew it from the start / She’ll tug and you will tear / Into a thousand flammable parts

In another life, this might have been a hidden track on King of America.

Archer readily confesses the Costello influence, but there are others that we would all be so lucky to have on heavy rotation. “I’ve always loved songs with a sense of drama and danger, however gratuitous – stuff like Nick Cave, the Toadies, and especially Richard Thompson lately,” he explains. “We all love that early punk/pub-rock era, too – Elvis Costello is a huge (and probably obvious) influence of mine – I actually played keyboards in a Costello tribute last fall. I like to think I picked up a little of his vocal delivery, or his ability to deliver edgy, bitter lyrics with a sweet melody.”

Before It Comes Apart takes its name from the lyrics to “San Gabriel.” Grant me this indulgence to be dredged out from my heart / Before it comes apart

roughage

Archer: “I guess it’s both an accurate description of catharsis for me and an admission that some of the autobiographical stuff has been simplified in the lyrics.”

The album was recorded and mixed by a band friend, Dan Nelson, who runs Rainwerks Studios out of his house. Archer says more than half of the album (especially drums, bass, and electric guitar) happened live, much of it in one take. So if you’re looking for something as polished as your church shoes, keep looking. The mix is edgy.

I further asked Archer and Salkind how they would describe their music to someone who has never heard them, without making comparisons to other bands.

NA: “Smart-ass, catchy rock and roll with a touch of country.”

MS:  “A lot of power pop, some new wave (the non-synth variety), and some R&B by way of London in the late 70s.”

Another song from the album, “Al Jazeera,” seems to have some buzz. Acoustic driven, with a strum pattern that is part Sea Shanty, part Horah. A true head bobber about, well, I don’t know. It’s sorta cryptic. Holed up in your castle /You swear you’ll never leave / You’ll be replaced tomorrow with a new regime / Now, all around the world are shiny new facades / I saw it all on Al Jazeera

I’m a lyrics lover, and I am not satisfied with a song unless I know what’s being sung. In fact, I don’t appreciate the music bed as much if I am frustrated by not “getting” the lyrics. I like Archer’s writing. He describes his process: “It’s weirdly important to me that lyrics read well. I probably overthink them a little bit, but I want every song to have a setting, some kind metaphor or imagery, and some kind of narrative flow that directs the dynamics. A lot of these songs have several pages of backstory that never made it into the lyrics, which is why I can’t seem to write anything under three minutes. Too many verses. Hell, some of them have two bridges. Once I hit on a sound that really excites me, I’ll work backwards from it and think of a half-dozen stories I could build around it. It takes me a long time.”

The rock crowd will get into opening track “Adelita.” Santa has a rolling beat going, and there’s a dynamic shift late in the song that could easily free form into epic jam madness in concert.

“Achilles” is catchy as hell. It’s poppy. The bass and lead guitars compete to stay memorable, and they both win. Musically, this might be my favorite. There are numerous cross-genre moments on the album. You’ll listen to it a few times before you get a “sense” for it.

So where is Rough Age playing live? Next show is Aug. 31 at the Commonwheel Arts Festival in Manitou Springs.

I’ll give Nathan Archer the last word, and it’s about being in a Colorado Springs band.

“I think the local show experience sums up the good and bad pretty clearly: a bunch of great bands playing mostly to each other. I think we have a fantastic amount of talent here, but it does feel like there’s a pretty limited audience for original music. We’re probably better off than most; we’re not completely alien to the typical bar band and can play a few places the more experimental bands can’t. But there’s still this expectation with most people that a bar band should be playing classic rock covers and formula blues, and if you want to get out to where the ears are, you always have to fight it.”

(And fight it, they do!)

Eliot Lipp: The Colorado Questions

Credit: Hilarious Arson

Credit: Hilarious Arson

Electronic music pioneer Eliot Lipp has three upcoming back-to-back shows along the I-25 corridor: 9/26 Hodi’s Half Note, Ft. Collins / 9/27 Bluebird Theater, Denver / 9/28 Black Sheep, Colorado Springs. So charge those glow sticks and get ready to have your face melted by a bonafide beat-making mover and shaker.

That’s right, peeps. After 8 years of criss-crossing the planet, seven solo albums, a bazillion collaborations and just as many diehard fans gained along the way, he’s still got love for the mountain people.

This little blurb from his website is a better introduction to the uninitiated than I can provide. Besides, it’s a pretty darn accurate description of his music.

“Lipp’s omnivorous tastes are apparent, from the obvious funk and myriad manifestations of hip-hop though less explicit reference points as jazz fusion, folk and techno. His well-earned reputation as a producer’s producer stems, in part, from his craftsmanship. Never content with well-worn breaks and effects, his work incorporates a fetishistic love of analogue gear with sampledelic flourishes, intricate rhythmic patterns and more than a few leftfield surprises. But his melodic instincts and tunefulness are what have earned him such wide appeal, his songwriterly connection to music’s storytelling possibilities, even without words.”

In advance of his Centennial State swing, we had some things on our mind to ask him. Four simple questions, actually. He was kind enough to offer this exclusive mini-interview.

SS: Do any particular Colorado moments stick out in your memories of touring here?

EL: I found this pink Chewbacca suit at an after-party once. I wore it with some ski goggles and nobody recognized me, so I just ran around messing with people all night.

SS: Does the Colorado audience “get” you?

EL: Yeah, they get me. I’m trying to take the crowd on a sonic journey through different styles. Colorado is always the place I feel most comfortable doing that. I think you have to get really weird before you start to freak out the crowd in Colorado.

SS: With three back-to-back shows in Colorado, will the set change nightly? Do those decisions occur on the fly?

EL: Yeah, I’ll probably play different songs every night.

SS: What do you most look forward to about playing in Colorado?

EL: I’m going to debut some stuff from my upcoming album. I’m excited to see people’s reactions!

We wanted to ask more questions like does he like bacon, who he’s named after, does he date musicians, etc., but we thought the better of it. Not because we figured he wouldn’t answer those, but just because it seemed lame.

For more fun with Eliot, check out his website and enjoy the sample below.