Quit folkin’ around Colorado.
It’s a sentiment not everyone shares, though it’s quickly becoming commonplace. Music hit an arguable rut when the industry saw green in the reflections of mandolins and unplugged instruments. But just like JNCOs and feather hair accessories, it was just a fad, and the Denver local rock band In The Whale hopes it will ride the wave of angst’s inevitable resurgence.
“I’ve always thought of In The Whale as the band that the hipster sneaks out to see. It’s like, him and his group of friends are into the Avett Brotherss and The Lumineers and The National and bands like that; but every once in a while he’ll be like, ‘guys, I’m gonna go have dinner with my parents.’ But he’s really going to the Hi-Dive to see In The Whale,” says drummer Eric Riley.
In The Whale is a dual force of rock that’s etching its way into local fame. Riley met In The Whale co-founder and frontman Nathaniel Valdez while they were both pursuing degrees in Greeley at the University of Northern Colorado. At that time, both were in separate bands that were taking the seriousness of the pursuit a little too far, they say. So the two of them started In The Whale as an escape from the monotonous burden.
“There were no rules with just the two of us,” says Riley. “But then those other bands broke up, and we just kind of liked this dynamic – it was really fucking cool. It was something special.”
Their subsequent move to Denver from Greeley was backed by the small reach the town had, and was the catalyst to go after something more in their quest for musical sustainability, says Valdez.
“We made it very clear to ourselves when we came to Denver that we don’t want to be one of those bands who have been here for twelve years and haven’t broke the musical hymen,” says Valdez
The two say that the passion for music materialized at an early age out of typical childhood backgrounds. Riley started playing drums in a school program during the sixth grade and Valdez began as a way to rebel against his parent’s authority.
“I got into music because my dad said I shouldn’t,” says Valdez. “He bought my brother a guitar and he bought me a paint set. He was like, ‘Nate, you’re gonna paint, and William is gonna be a guitar player.’
“So I’m like, ‘screw this’ and I’d sneak into the front room where my dad hid this guitar and told me, ‘don’t play this, it’s your brothers,’ and I learned how to play guitar. Then somehow I convinced my mom to drive me to Pueblo, which was a hundred miles away for us, to play for 30 minutes at open mic nights at bars. It was rough being a fifteen year old, underage, playing at a bar with just big men. Big, angry, drunk men.”
It’s an uncommon venture in the world of rock to only have a couple of performers on stage, much less so when the sound is a full, frenetic pulse of classic gritty rock. It’s a trait that In The Whale sees fit, even though the question of why plagues it often from fans.
“It’s super hard to keep just two,” says Valdez. “We always get asked if we need a bass player or whatever. We always have our friends play with us sometimes, though, so it’s not always just us.”
The set up seems fit for the both of them.
“It would be cool to add another member,” says Riley. “But if it’s at the expense of harming the dynamic – it wouldn’t be worth it.”
Being in a rock band in Colorado isn’t without its undoing, the duo points out. It’s often a forgotten genre that’s related to more of the ‘80s-era burnouts and is a taste that’s not much on the pallets of music connoisseurs. That variable often makes it a difficult venture to pursue locally.
“If we play for a crowd of, I’d say, over 50 people, then people get into it,” says Riley. “Occasionally you’ll get the show where it’s, yeah, you’re playing to the bartender or the regulars, and they didn’t want to hear music in the first place. It’s usually a Tuesday and they’re just trying to escape their wives.”
But the act has seen a fair bit of success outside of its home state of Colorado, even if the listeners aren’t sure exactly what they’re listening to. That identity struggle isn’t something so off-putting to Valdez.
“When we played at South By (Southwest) this year we got a really good response,” says Valdez. “It’s always gonna be different here in Colorado because we have a following. People know what to expect. To other people it’s like, ‘whoa, what is this?’”
The support from Colorado die-hards convinced Riley and Valdez to pursue different business avenues that catered more to the success of the band. The duo signed on to the Holy Underground booking/management firm earlier this year, which directed In The Whale to go after new levels it hadn’t seen in years past.
“You’ve got to get out of the shitty band mentality,” said Riley. “Me and Nate have been in shitty bands all our lives. This is really the only awesome band we’ve ever been in. So whenever someone emailed us, we were always like ‘holy shit someone wants us to play. Awesome; we gotta do it!’ But now we have to pick and choose for it to make more sense.”
Those moves have led the outfit through one successful EP, multiple national tours and played a pivotal role in the release of their latest venture, a new seven-inch vinyl titled “Eric.” Intuitive followers can expect another release from them sometime in early 2014 along the same guidelines as the current seven-inch.
With their releases, In The Whale promises there won’t be any shift into the craze of popular genres, only raw and inspired original music that hints at the aggressiveness of angst days past. There will be no folk. There will be just heavy, lasting inventiveness.