Teacup Gorilla: The Holes They Leave (In Review)



It’s not quite minimalist, not sparse enough for that. It’s not an explosion in the sky, either. No, the debut e.p. by Denver’s Teacup GorillaThe Holes They Leave – occupies a middle place that immediately brings solace to the weary ear. You know when you’re sipping your Pabst at the venue and the band is chopping away, and you catch yourself watching intently as well as bobbing your head almost in slow motion? That’s what this is. In drink terms, we’d call it a “Franzy Reed,” which is an imaginary blended music beverage consisting of Lou Reed’s warbly chat and Franz Ferdinand’s staccato chisel riffs. With an Ian Curtis olive and a Dean Wareham cherry clinging to the same tiny umbrella. All good ingredients.


Teacup Gorilla is a trio that coalesced via several previous projects: Sondra Eby (drums, vocals, glockenspiel); Daniel Eisenstat (guitar, vocals); and Eric Suzanne (bass, vocals). “The e.p. merges our dark, indie sound with words from bassist Eric Suzanne’s recently-published multimedia novel, Riding SideSaddle*,” says Eby.


Please check out Riding SideSaddle*. I so love it when musicians have their hands in other creative works that then come back around to benefit the tunes.

The e.p.’s five songs are pretty seamless in style. There’s a ton of breathing room. Strumming and single-note picking, glock sprinkles, and spoken vocals. To my ear, the bass is the anchor of the project. It stays put so everything else can explore. Without (and perhaps with) previous knowledge of the novel, the lyrics are pretty heavy. They hang, wet blanket style, over the music bed and damn it works. Eby says the band members’ vocals have always been a mix of spoken and sung, even in previous projects.

RELEASE GIG THIS WEEK: Thursday, July 9, at Hi-Dive with Bad Luck City, Coastal Wives, and special guest Jen Korte. Can’t make it Thursday? Then get to The Bakery on Friday!

Teacup Gorilla will also be touring the Midwest for two weeks in August, promoting both the album and the novel.


Way Out West with Anthony Ruptak & The Midnight Friends

Arizona, California, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington, you’re welcome. Denver is lending you one of its best and most beloved bands. You are not entitled to keep Anthony Ruptak & The Midnight Friends, but you may enjoy their brilliant tunes as they embark on their first tour of western states this summer with Jacob Russo.

Don’t know Ruptak? From the bio: Anthony Ruptak is a proto-folk-rock band featuring the sounds of bowed upright bass, ambient electric guitar, unconventional standing cocktail drum kit, and acoustic finger-picking driven melodies. Eclectic and passionate vocals convey Ruptak’s mature and stark storytelling.

There is a live track here, recorded at The Walnut Room in Denver, that’s an excellent introduction to the band.

As others have noted, there’s the slightest Ben Gibbard quality to Ruptak’s voice and singing cadence, but unlike Death Cab’s frontman, he bellows like a Fleet Fox with a tail of fire.

When the Midnight Friends lock into their groove, it creates a really inclusive space for audience and band, which is part of the reason audiences are so quick to sing along. Ruptak’s melodies beg for a chorus of voices. Straightforward songs with nuanced playing that straddles the line between folk and ambience.

The band has shared the stage with the likes of A. Tom Collins, Paper Bird, The Yawpers, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, The Tinder Box, Nathaniel Rateliff, and dozens more. They even went to pre-political-thaw Cuba to entertain U.S. troops.

Now, western brethren, they’re heading your way. We know you’ll love ’em, so tell your friends the Midnight Riders are coming.

The tour kicks off at home at Lion’s Lair on June 26th with Poet’s Row and Tree Machines.

7/2 – Boise, ID ~ The Crux
7/3 – Portland, OR ~ The Velo Cult Bike Shop & Tavern
7/4 – Tacoma, WA ~ Independence Day BBQ show w/ Sporty Lee
7/5 – Seattle, WA ~ The Blue Moon w/ Sporty Lee and Medicine Bows
7/6 – Portland, OR ~ The White Eagle
7/7 – Chico, CA ~ 1078 Gallery w/ Jeb Draper
7/8 – Sacramento, CA ~ The Torch Club
7/9 – Sacramento, CA ~ The Shady Lady
7/10 – San Francisco, CA ~ Optical Underground
7/11 – Los Angeles, CA ~ Genghis Cohen
7/12 – San Diego, CA ~ The Tin Roof
7/13 – Phoenix, AZ ~ The Trunk Space
7/15 – Tempe, AZ ~ Yucca Tap Room
7/16 – Tucson, AZ – The Fly Catcher
7/17 – Santa Fe, NM – GHOST (diy space) w/ Cole Bee Wilson
7/18 – Grand Junction, CO – The Local w/ Mount Orchid
7/19 – Montrose, CO – Town Hall Tavern
7/24 – Denver, CO – Denver Post Underground Music Showcase

Helicopter Copter: Denver Collaboration Uplifts, Refreshes, Challenges

Musicians and music writers alike do get tired of the same. old. thing. Our fingers, usually so merrily picking and typing, grind to a halt. Our songs stop coming. Words don’t flow. Finding new ways to interact with art is, I’d say, essential to creating art.

On a day when my inbox was flooded with coverage requests from bands flitting through Denver on their way to bigger and better, something homegrown caught my eye: an art project I would come to realize is remarkable.


I became acquainted with Michael John McKee when writing a previous review of Glowing House, a band among several for which he is drummer. Michael is now the mind and heart behind “Helicopter Copter”  – a mixed media art project incorporating “adventurous processes, materials, and collaborations.”

McKee, under his aircraft-ish art moniker, started an experimental song-to-video collaboration among four Denver artists called “Whisper Down the Lane.” The players are McKee (drums), Ian Argys (guitar), Neil McCormick (bass) and Merne Judson III (videos). Here’s what happened, in his words:

Each of three musicians recorded two primary tracks (thematic musical ideas) and passed one to each other musician. Having received two primary tracks, each musician recorded secondary tracks onto the primary tracks. Secondary tracks were passed again, and tertiary tracks were recorded. All recorded layers were then passed to a videographer for visual content, recorded in Colorado. One video was released each week, between March 26 and April 30, 2015.

Helicopter Copter describes itself as a “sound experience,” exploring the ways in which music and sound is created and perceived. Challenging musical paradigms. Asking where music lives and dies, how it consumes and is consumed. The evolution of the songs and attached videos unfolds right here.

I love to imagine the second musician listening to what the first had recorded. The sparks igniting in his musical heart as he considers what comes next. There is a certain solitude that comes through loudly for me when I watch the videos. The way the images roll along, the absence of voice … there’s a melancholy thread to each film. I like to believe it just happens to feel that way as a glorious, unrehearsed consequence of the method used to create the songs.

There are standouts in each film: Ian Argys’ innovative, clutterless riffs in #1, Neil McCormick’s driving bass line in #2,  Michael McKee’s jazz session drums in #3, Judson’s shimmering nightscape in #4 … aaahhh. Throughout, there is plenty of Colorado snow that, to me, stands in for the vocal – a mute witness to each scene. I think the best way to take them in is all at once, headphones in, lights down, somewhere that you won’t be disturbed.

What do you take from the series? What might you and the band do different the next time the muse taps your shoulder? Perhaps Helicopter Copter can illuminate the possibilities. A beacon, if you like, that points to unknown musical shores.

Read another good review of the project on Westword.

The Still Tide: Stirring new e.p. just released, tour underway

Man oh man, Denver is blessed with a glut of great bands, many of which consist of artists who came here from somewhere else. (The native Coloradan is an endangered species.) Such is true of The Still Tide – a local trio by way of the Big Apple. You’ll know Anna Morsett, singer and songwriter, from Ark Life, Kaki King, and These United States; Jacob Miller, lead guitar, via Anthony Ruptak and The Kissing Club; and Aaron Latos, drums and keyboards, for James Fearnley, These United States, and Karl Berger. Guest member Natalie Tate also appears on recordings and at various Colorado gigs.

image by Ty Hyten / www.tyhyten.com

image by Ty Hyten / http://www.tyhyten.com

The gang of three previously toured and recorded as Yet Cut Breath, and The Still Tide was a solo outlet for Morsett in the wake of helping to create Ark Life and while nurturing other projects, too. Fate saw that the three should reunite over the past year and craft the sound that led to the March release of the “Half Empty Rooms” 4-song e.p. and subsequent tour.

I am emotionally caught up in this recording. “Field of Bells” is a tightly-wound, melancholy tune that dips into deliciously minor keys. I might be hearing a glockenspiel or chimes, and I really love Anna’s vocal delivery. It’s given softly, not forcefully, which causes me to pay closer attention to the lyrics. Some singers play tricks, having written something completely lighthearted that sounds utterly sad. But this is no trick.

In “Empire,” the initial guitar swell makes me think of Bedhead, which is always a good thing. The melody flows like a lazy river, nodding to jazz chords while ascending into a blur of fuzz about three minutes in and then reducing itself again to a quiet beat. The feeling of this song is like waking up to a sweet-smelling rain.

image by Ty Hyten

image by Ty Hyten

The rest, you can discover on your own. Sadly, you’ve missed the e.p. launch, and you’ll have to be in Europe to catch a live show from now until June (unless you’re in Brooklyn on Friday night – The Living Room, 9 pm). But The Still Tide’s dreamy tunes will be echoing again in Denver soon enough. Patience, friends.

Letting it Flow with The River Arkansas

Is Mike Clark a one-man Colorado music institution? Seems that way sometimes when you consider his much-loved bandography: The Ghost of Michael Clark, The Haunted Windchimes, and The Sugar Sounds.

Mike Clark

Mike Clark

Not to be outdone by himself, Clark now fronts a band called The River Arkansas (he lives beside said river) with some of our state’s best players, including members of Clouds + Mountains, Spirits of the Red City, and Princess Music. “Golden Light” is the band’s debut, and it tips the hat to Clark’s previous endeavors, drawing from rock, Americana, soul, and gypsy folk.

The River Arkansas is Clark, Macon Terry, Robin Chestnut, Rachel Sliker, and Danah Olivetree in whose lithe hands banjo, drums, violin, guitar, cello, upright bass, and more make a mighty noise.

The sound of this band is absolutely at home at any mountain festival, but don’t assume it to be another one-trick folk pony. No way. This’ll play in the city.

Just to mention a couple of my favorite tracks … “Cold Lonesome Feeling” rolls along with a loose R&B tempo and gets a little zing from some jangly lead guitar licks. Sample lyric: “Well I try my best to be kind / But my heart’s somewhere down the line / Breaking free, shaking loose, and busting out / Well there ain’t no love left in the city / Ain’t no heart in the walking dead / A cold lonesome feeling in my head /


Contrast that with the title track, a slow-burning and mournful missive in which violin and cello soar over some truly reflective lyrics. I’ll take this one with my 6 a.m. coffee or my dram on the porch when the sun’s going down. It is a beauty.

The album’s getting its proper Denver debut at Mercury Cafe on April 1st. In the broadest terms, this band sounds like Colorado. That alone ought to get you in the door, but the nuanced performances throughout the recording will keep you coming back and maybe even haunt you. Just a little.

Thirteen Questions with Tyto Alba

TYTO ALBA is a brilliant indie rock four-piece “born” in August 2014 that I’ve been listening to a lot lately. Meet singer/songwriter/guitarist Melanie Steinway, guitarist Matt Rossi, bassist Ryan Self, and drummer Jeremy Van Zandt. Steinway and Self previously played together in Howl Moonshine Howl, while Rossi and Van Zandt performed in Umbrella Weather.

Melanie and Matt were kind enough to entertain my queries for the latest installment of “Thirteen Questions.”

1) Why an owl for a band name? MS: It’s the scientific name of barn owls. I love the way it flows. It feels simultaneously graceful and powerful and therefore really emulates our sound. I love animals and most of my artwork circulates around animals and nature, so the name felt perfect in that aspect as well.


image by Ian Glass Media

2) Can you describe the melding of your two bands into one? MS: It was a bit more complicated than melding together two bands. MR: While Melanie and Ryan carry the melody and softness, Jeremy and I bring in a bit of dissonance and a more aggressive edge. The relationship between the two solidifies our sound. 

3) What’s everyone’s day job? MS: I’m a tattoo artist, freelance illustrator and fine artist. I just make things look pretty. I’ve also recently become a caretaker for two baby guinea pigs, so that’s pretty sweet. Ryan is an online high-school teacher, and Jeremy works part-time as a silkscreener at Indy Ink, but if you’ve got a job for him, hit him up because he sleeps too much. MR: I am a full-time student at MSU Denver studying music production and management. When I’m not in school, I work as a band coach for local high-school rock bands. Other than that, I work part-time at a local boutique where I sell sparkles and candles.

4) How was SXSW? MR: Melanie and I had an amazing time mingling downtown. Our rhythm section is a bit more withdrawn and had a good time enjoying the local food and drinks. MS: I had such a great time and met so many amazing bands and people. I saw Milo Greene live, which was great, along with several Philadelphia bands that I hope to pursue a long-term relationship with, namely Vita & the Woolf, Tutlie, and Owl & Wolf. We also met a great Denver band called Mega Gem. It was such a valuable experience as far as the music scene goes. Also, the food trucks in Austin are amazing. I can’t wait to go back. 

5) Where did you record the “Oh Tame One” ep?  MS: In our drummer’s living room in the good ol’ DIY fashion with our friend and fellow musician Noah Simons of Denver post-punk band Male Blonding. It went very smoothly … because we had been working on solidifying the songs for months. Noah mixed the album as well, and then Brian Bash of Sonido Studios mastered it. 


6) How did you create the e.p. cover art? MS: I went through two drafts. I made the initial artwork into a t-shirt design and progressed to the second design, which is a bit more stark and looks better at that smaller size. I did it initially with pen and ink and added the color in Photoshop. It’s hard to say how long it took since I chronically multitask while I’m working on artwork. I love doing all of the band’s art. It’s branding at its most personal. 

7) Is Denver a hard place to break out of? What do you think of our music scene? MR: The scene has become much more revitalized as the city has gained popularity over the last few years. We’re starting to gain national attention out here. “Breaking out” is sort of a hard term to identify. MS: The music scene here is pretty tight-knit, so it takes time to establish yourself after walking into the city as someone nobody knows. I love how everyone seems to play in everyone else’s band, and people are just so supportive. Illegal Pete’s has done wonderful things for the music scene here, most notable for us being the SXSW Kickoff Show at the beginning of March. That really helped us and a bunch of other local bands raise money to cover the cost of traveling to Austin. I’ve also seen some bands host some really impressive benefit shows for fellow musicians and friends in need that have suffered expensive injuries, which is really heartwarming. I’m looking forward to participating in this scene and seeing where it heads in the next few years. 

8) Touring plans this year? MS: We may go to Kansas to play with some musician friends of mine or Montana, but we’re mostly staying in the area to work on some new material in preparation for a full-length album. There are more local scenes we’re looking forward to exploring like CO Springs and Fort Collins. I’m from Boulder, so it’s fun to bring the band there every once in a while, too. 

9) If the band was starving on a deserted island, who would get eaten first? MR: Probably me. I’d be able to give up one of my legs. Being that I’m the most energetic of the band, I wouldn’t mind getting a sweet pegleg and hopping around. Melanie would probably be the tastiest, though, seeing as she has the best diet of the band. 

10) Does this band have a collective ethos? MR: We all want to explore music to the fullest; music is all we see. MS: The thrill that we all get playing in front of a receptive audience is like nothing else. The sense of community … of family … it warms my heart and makes me feel so full. I love how social of an art form it is, and I constantly look forward to the brilliant new people we get to meet every show. 

11) Most bands imagine themselves to be democracies, but aren’t. Who’s in charge? MR: Melanie. Duh. MS: Haha, I suppose that would be me. I brought the band together and handle the basic songwriting, as well as most of the promotion, booking, and visual/artistic aspects of the band. But everyone contributes. Matt handles a lot of our social media, Jeremy prints our t-shirts, and Ryan helps out with applying to festivals and also made us a sweet stage marquee with our name illuminated.

12) Can you say a few words about your songwriting process? MS: I’ll bring a basic song to the table, and over the course of a band practice it will completely transform in energy and often change time signature. It’s really exciting to see a song morph like that once everyone puts their piece in. I used to get really emotionally attached to the way I wrote a song, so it makes me happy to see myself progress in being able to love a song without being overly attached and embracing its transformation within the group. 

13) Why should someone come to Hi-Dive on April 9th for your e.p. release gig? MR: Because we love running around on stage. I try really hard not to swear excessively on stage because Melanie glares at me, but sometimes I can’t hold it back. Also Jeremy usually takes off his pants halfway through the set. Melanie usually ends up chucking around the drumset in a rage at which time Matt, Ryan and Jeremy attempt their flawless Kenny Loggins set that they’ve been trying to revive since the ’80s. Also we have this kickass new sign with our name on it that Ryan made. MS: We put on an energetic and engaging show. We’ll have our e.p. that I made by hand for sale, and we’re also playing alongside two killer bands: All Chiefs from Boulder and Oko Tygra from Denver. We love the Hi-Dive and it’s going to be a great night!

Brolly is Here (Resistance is Futile)

What’s that joke again? Oh yeah – Colorado should be called “East California.”

Yes, we do have our share of sun-drenched transplants, and none more radiant of late than Brolly.

Brolly is: Jacob Ithurburn (primary songwriter and vocalist, guitarist), Cody Martin (guitar, electronics wiz, trumpet), Kristen and Chelsea Famularo (married) on drums/voice and keys/uke/voice, respectively, and new bassist and Boulderite Adam Burkett. (Chelsea also grew up in Denver.) Brolly has a pair of e.p. recordings, and their new crowdfunded video could drop any day.

Brolly comes to us from Northern California. I’m writing this a couple of hours after witnessing their first Denver gig on Feb. 3rd, an opening slot for The Moth & The Flame and Saint Motel at Larimer Lounge. Fact: They were not easy to follow.

Denver, I am proud to be among the first local music writers to tell you: This is YOUR band now.

Mile-high music lovers always rally around great bands; I know that will happen in this case. But Denver is not just going to absorb Brolly. It’s going to launch them.

Brolly has a densely melodic guitar attack with a monster backbeat. Three-part harmony? Standard. Their sound unpeels in layers, revealing varied sonic tones as songs progress. I don’t think I’m blowing smoke up anyone’s kilt by stating that they are a musically gifted bunch. Not a bum vocal note, and oh boy I was listening.

Jacob Ithurburn-@stubbornsounds

Jacob Ithurburn @stubbornsounds

On this night, the mix was sweet (kudos, sound guy), so there was no flat spot anywhere as I listened in front of, beside, and behind the stage. What is not so easy to describe is the emotional, yearning feeling that Brolly’s music summons in the heart of the listener. I was moved by the band’s collective honest, unassuming demeanor. It’s precisely the right foundation on which to craft such impassioned songs.

Brolly is new to these parts but by no means new to the stage. Of all the music cities they could have moved to, they chose Denver. Show ’em love. Browse the gig photo album here.