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Features, Print December 6, 2022

100 to 16, Now Down to 4: BandWagon’s Battle Of The Bands Closes in on Title Bout

by Kevin Johnston

Eternal Glory, $5,000 and the cover of BandWagon Magazine are grounds for musical fisticuffs in Colorado. Last month, 16 Colorado bands who stood out from 100 submissions slugged it out (yes, metaphorically) at 4 of the state’s most worthy music venues: Oskar Blues Colorado Springs, The Moxi Theater in Greeley, The Coast in Fort Collins and The Black Buzzard in Denver.

The four finalists rocked hard to surpass their contenders and secure their spot in the final round on December 10 at The Moxi Theater. In the initial rounds, each act was assessed by a panel of celebrity judges on a combination of talent, skill, stye and conduct (along with an element of fan voting) to determine the finalists.

Here’s what the original sweet sixteen brought to the battlefield in the first round.

November 18 at Oskar Blues – Colorado Springs

by Nate Wilde

KREW

Everyone has that band in their back pocket that they keep around just in case the day just isn’t going right and a quick pick-me-up is in order. For fans of local music in Colorado Springs, that “turn a frown upside down” band could very well be KREW.

KREW is a four-piece indie rock outfit that you absolutely can’t listen to with a frown on your face. The group brings a bouncy, energetic 80’s garage-style of rock to the Olympic City and beyond with lighthearted lyrics and unmistakable charisma.

In fact, KREW lists charisma, along with unity, determination, artistic passion, and something called ‘rizz’ (Urban Dictionary can help you with that one) as their biggest strengths as a unit.

Like a pumped-up ska band without a horn section, KREW will bring you out of any funk. With just one dose (as presumably prescribed by any musical physician licensed in the state of Colorado) you’ll be walkin’ on sunshine.

Knucklehorn

Upon preparing to listen to a band with a name like Knucklehorn for the first time, it’s easy to assume you’re not going to hear the most serious music in the world. Well, you’d be right. But odds are you’re also going to be pleasantly surprised by what you hear.

Knucklehorn is a groovy rock n roll band hailing from Castle Rock, Colorado with serious musicianship to counteract their not-so-serious name and, oftentimes, lyrical content. Borrowing themes from the jam band world, Knucklehorn echoes elements of Frank Zappa and Phish with not only their often tongue-in-cheek lyrics but an exceptional grasp of their instruments as well.

In addition to the aforementioned “juggernauts of jam,” Knucklehorn lists The Grateful Dead, Talking Heads, and DEVO as influences.

If that sounds like your cup of coffee, be sure to check out the band’s “Coffee Song” and be on the lookout for a sophomore album filled with Knucklehorn’s groovy goodness early next year.

Cell 23

If you know where to look, you’ll find that Colorado has an amazing metal scene. The state is rife with all of the components to allow for such, including, but not limited to: great venues to support the scene, a legion of dedicated fans, and plenty of top-notch local bands with the passion and intensity necessary to carry the flag.

If you consider yourself part of said metal scene you’ve likely heard of Cell 23, but if not, get ready to fully appreciate their existence.

Cell 23 is a band that has evolved rather quickly into one of Colorado’s premiere alternative metal outfits. Citing influences such as Tool, Avenged Sevenfold, and Lamb of God, Cell 23 blends beautiful yet intense melodies with super-heavy elements making them an especially versatile outfit that represents multiple facets of metal and its subgenres.

When not honing their craft by rehearsing tirelessly, Cell 23 is actively working toward representing Colorado’s metal scene beyond state lines and hope to work on new, original material in the coming year.

OVIRA – FINALIST

Creating a “sonic punch to the face” is something that every metal band strives for, and numerous examples indicate that Colorado’s OVIRA not only have experience with the term, but the territory that comes with it as well.

OVIRA is a monster of a metal band, blending sheer heaviness with melodic elements all while maintaining a constant level of pounding brutality.

The aforementioned face-punch cliché is more than appropriate for the outfit, as each member of the band sacrificed their own “money makers” in the music video for “F*ck You,” by – yes – getting punched in the face at full force with a boxing-glove-clad fist.

The band goes from rough, shouting vocals to clean melodies, all atop lightning-fast double kicks and chugging guitars. It makes the perfect soundtrack for beating up your steering wheel in traffic or starting a mosh pit in a fast food line.

Be it at this year’s battle or not, pick your own scenario for listening to OVIRA, but be forewarned about that “sonic punch in the face” thing, because that is guaranteed.

November 19 at The Moxi Theater – Greeley

by Dan England

Slot Machine Buddhists

According to a statement made in preparation for Battle of the Bands, Slot Machine Buddhists have big plans for 2023. Namely: sex, drugs and rock and roll.

But they’ve got to get through 2022 first. Thank goodness they’ve got their fun and possibly goofy attitude to help them along. They named a 2022 EP All Sham, No Wow after the infomercial (IFYKY) and play songs such as “Gnomenclature,” “Monkeybrains” and “Face Punch.”

Still, as even their name suggests a philosophy that life shouldn’t be taken too seriously, it would be a mistake to dismiss their music in the same manner. They play a grooving, classic style that could fit along with the psychedelic rock bands of the 60s and early 70s, though they prefer to be grouped — correctly, as it turns out —  with Queens of the Stone Age, Jack White and The Cars. 

They formed in Loveland in 2015 and have made music ever since, developing a raw, real alt-rock sound along the way. Their musical accomplishments are light (their biggest obstacle so far was getting their bass player to stop wearing shorts) but they hope to change that at this year’s BOTB and look forward to 2023: They’ve at least got one of their three goals nailed down.

Sweet Asylum

Sweet Asylum call their music “progressive/alt rock,” but that comes with a caveat: “Maybe?”

They further describe their sound as a Wes Anderson movie projected through a distortion pedal. So, yes, that would fit.

“We’re serving our own desires as creators,” the band tells BandWagon, “but more importantly, we want everyone we meet to gain some positive psychic inventory from our energy.”

They all live in different cities and admit to having musical projects other than this one, but they’re committed as well: Their first full-length record will be out in 2023. 

“We’ve carved out a really honest creative process,” they said. “We’re very lucky to have four gifted songwriters in this band and have valued each other’s input. Our strength is our ability to listen to each other without ego and get the best of four worlds.” 

They consider Greeley their spiritual home, as it’s where they met and wrote the majority of their music having formed the full band in 2019. 

Their influences include an eclectic mix of Rush, Tame Impala and the Fall of Troy. So there’s a lot going on, but they also want to keep it simple when on stage. Their overall goal is the goal of many bands when they play live: “We want to help people party and be happy,” they said.

Defeats the Porpoise 

Yes, it’s a goofy name, and yes, they like to play a fun style of punk, surf, ska, grunge, gypsy, and yes, they could see their origin story playing out like a mockumentary a la Spinal Tap. But their name does carry some weight, if you believe their answers to questions recently posed by Bandwagon Magazine.

“We actually do care about sea creatures,” the band states. “It is the human race that constantly defeats the porpoise in the perpetual repeating of history and destruction of the environment.”

But this Greeley band doesn’t want to get too wrapped up in the imminent destruction of the Earth — this is punk, grunge and gypsy, remember, not death metal — as songs such as “Skellies” demonstrate (“underneath you’re just a skeleton” seems to be the chorus). 

They were founded in late 2020 when two WeldWerks Brewing employees wrote songs fit for a guitar/drum duo. They added a bassist they met while working another job at Cheba Hut, having discussed forming a band with him many times in between stacking White Widows. 

They are comfortable with who they are, even having self-effacing, lighthearted “concerns” about their raw power and sex appeal causing fatalities.“We write whatever we want, do whatever we want and are just ourselves,” they said. “We don’t try to be any certain genre.”

Thrash Hard City – FINALIST

This Longmont band doesn’t like labels, preferring to let fans decide what kind of music they play. But if you really want to know what to expect, all you have to do is look at the band’s name. 

Thrash Hard City presents a more modern take on thrash; these guys won’t play Slayer. They say they are influenced by the Deftones, System of a Down and Coheed and Cambria, and you can hear it in their two singles – with a heavy dose of the hip-hop/metal mix best personified by Rage Against The Machine.

“Our music is the soundtrack to every hard head pushing through life’s friction,” the band says, and they’ve pushed through life together, thus far. They’ve known each other since they were kids, having fueled their adventures with candy bars and Mountain Dew, and finally formed a band this May.

The band prefers to think of their name as a destination, they said, not necessarily a music style, no matter how well it fits what they play. In their words, Thrash Hard City is “where bums get to be bums and we don’t give a f***. Come as you are and do as you please.”

November 25 at The Coast – Fort Collins

by Valerie Vampola

Clementine

These Fort Collins newcomers may look like average punk teens, but they have old souls, with a surprisingly pro sound that pays homage to 2000’s alternative rock. Maybe they were like 2 years old when Green Day’s American Idiot was sweeping the nation, but they capture that same upbeat alternative-punk sound and attitude.

They bring a modern alternative edge to their sound too, citing influences like Young The Giant, and take pride in knowing how to shred just as much as any seasoned player – especially on the fun and mosh-worthy “Anime Girls.” Formed in 2020, with an EP The Basement under their belt, they are ready to, in their words, “kick ass and take names” going into 2023.

2MX2

2MX2 is a Latin urban hip-hop band, composed of vocalists/rappers O1, The Juice, Lolita, producer DMD, and drummer Kenny O. Their eclectic sound is a melting pot of old-school 80’s rap/hip-hop, trip-hop and Mexican folk music, with the intention of creating a unique blend of cultural influences.

Their music features calls to action and themes of social justice delivered in Spanglish, all wrapped in a musical style that pulls influences from artists like Run-D.M.C., RJD2, and Bad Bunny. They’ve floated around the Denver/Boulder/Fort Collins scene since 2012, eventually touring with Flobots. They are looking forward to releasing a full-length album in 2023, after teasing fans with lots of singles this last summer and continuing to win the hearts of more as they share their individual stories of Latin-Americans living in Colorado.

The Timberline

Fort Collins based trio The Timberline revives the pop-punk sound played by artists such as Yellowcard, Taking Back Sunday and Blink 182. They’ve always enjoyed the songwriting process, even back when they formed in 2017, bouncing song ideas and sending recordings via email while they all lived in different states.

The Timberline have two full length albums, their newest being Ultraviolet, released in March of this year. Their songs have upbeat drum grooves and catchy choruses that people can sing along to, which they show off in their title track and “Take A Little Time,” all reminiscent of the days when Paramore dominated the airwaves. They’ve shared stages with some rising punk and alternative rock acts like The Unlikely Candidates and TX2 and are looking forward to releasing some new tracks in 2023.

Neighborhood Watch – FINALIST

Students by day, rockers by night, Neighborhood Watch is your friendly local Fort Collins band. Playing indie rock jams in everyone’s backyard (or the local tea shop) even with snow on the ground, they can be seen playing the “Thunderstruck” riff behind-the-head or rolling in the grass mid guitar solo.

Their music echoes that of bands like The Backseat Lovers and Flipturn, with danceable drum grooves and bright, clean guitar riffs. Formed in January 2022, they hit the ground running with two singles “Stuck on You” and “Trying,” and a Battle of the Bands victory at Colorado State University. They have an EP and full-length album on the way in 2023, and are ready to bring their fun and entertaining backyard shows to an actual stage.

November 26 at The Black Buzzard – Denver

by Kevin Johnston

Milquetoast & Company

“We don’t stay in the same place sonically for long,” Milquetoast & Company tell BandWagon. “We try not to become stagnant. When we hear something in a new piece that we are writing, we go where the sound wants us to go.”

Milquetoast & Company’s pursuit of these ideas makes for a trip into micro-worlds of melodic chamber-pop, arena folk, smoky jazz and, “gypsicana,” if you will. In the band’s words, the sound is “a copious collection of subgenres,” but the throughline of band-founder James McAndrew’s croon and a distinguished polish in the arrangements is Milquetoast’s bread and butter.

The music may be an acquired taste for some, but like any artisanal offering, it’s well crafted. “Sonically, it takes a little effort to traverse the journey with us,” the band states. “Like us or not, we put a lot of effort into what we create. We aren’t here to waste anyone’s time, time doesn’t come back to us.”

Seizing the moment is the Denver-based outfit’s M.O. The ensemble are, as it happens, a band of transplants, hailing from cities across the nation. Having completely reiterated the band with a new line-up around 2019 (after nearly a decade-long absence) the Company is united in their new home and ready to rock, with plans to release the album Run Rant Rave in March, 2023 and tour the nation.

Julian Fulco Perron

Culture is cyclical. Musical trends repeat themselves with a certain level of predictability, but once in a while an artist’s throwback throws you a curve-ball. Denver-based Alaskan native Julian Fulco Perron’s early 70’s bohemian-pop sound is one such surprising revival, and he goes all-in. 

Citing influences like The Beach Boys and Paul McCartney, Perron carries the retro hippie aesthetic through every step, from the initial songwriting to the final visuals. “I appreciate older physical formats such as film and tape,” Perron tells BandWagon. “I also take on a bit of filmmaking by shooting my own music videos with my 1965 Canon Super 8. I value limitations and see them as new ways to explore and create. We have too many options today. Things are too perfect. I try to place myself in the mindset of these early artists.” 

As a retro-obsessive recording artist and film-maker who plays every instrument on his albums himself, translating the vibe to the stage required patience, versatility and effort.

“It has been a challenge deciding how to portray the music live and keep an authentic, on-brand version of the songs intact,” Perron says. “With my new live band, I think we have done just this. I can’t wait to showcase the work everyone has put in on bringing these songs to life.”

As for 2023, Perron’s throwback will move forward a few years, focusing on hips rather than hippie, grooving into disco and funk-inspired territory.

Suitable Miss

Sarah Perez and Kelsey Gant are family. And their story of forming a female-fronted punk band together as both cousins and best friends sounds like the plot to the next cult Netflix series. Indeed, like a “coming-of-age” movie about trying to find your place in the world, the band says their music is emotionally vulnerable, and, like young music fans, they shroud “the feels” in makeup and clothes as dark as the shredding passages of lead guitar and pounding drums in their music. 

“Combining aspects of bubblegum radio pop with the blistering intensity of metalcore / post-hardcore has always been at the forefront of our sound,” Suitable Miss tells BandWagon (think Sleigh Bells meets a poppy Evanessence). And this combo of extremes parallels the rarity of the band’s diversity itself. Their self-sufficiency (each member doubles as an engineer or director) and tenacity (they’ve played over 50 shows this year) could make Suitable Miss the new face of pop punk.And that face is still fresh. The band just formed in Denver in 2019 and has wasted no time, playing big stages state-wide, touring the nation with more releases and heavy touring planned for 2023. As heavy pop-punk goes, Suitable Miss hit the mark.

Black and White Motion Picture – FINALIST

There is a tradition in Colorado’s music scene of capturing the mystery and vastness of the West. Call it gothic folk or dramatic rock, trails of reverb on whammed-out electric guitar, rolling snare and impassioned, yearning vocals are touchstones of one of the state’s staple sounds.

Black and White Motion Picture’s dueling vocalists Juls and Josh lead such a charge, expressing agony and longing on the band’s singles “I Can Be Cruel Too” and “Strange.” Their tormented energy is picked up by the Denver group’s rhythm and they run with it.

That mesh of rhythm and pain; of drama and propulsion drove the band from their core formation in August of 2018, to the current line-up finalized in the fall of 2021. Their identity and dedication have only grown stronger as the band has used this year’s BandWagon Battle as an investment in themselves as artists. “We have put a lot of time and energy into getting the band to this point,” BWMP tells BandWagon about their preparation. “We have missed family get-togethers, events with friends and have worked odd hours at our day jobs to make time.”

With a batch of new songs finished just in time for Round 1, the sextet is dedicated and ready to put their next musical era into motion.

Witness the final round between Ovira, Neighborhood Watch, Black & White Motion Picture and Thrash Hard City on Saturday, December 10 at The Moxi Theater in Greeley. Click here for tickets at BandWagonPresents.com!