BY SAM DESTEFANO
Modern life is notoriously busy. We run from this to that all day long, taking in the world at a 100 miles an hour. But if you’re like me, every once in a while, something in the world catches your attention and you just have to stop and appreciate it. At the end of the day, it’s those moments that stand out. Discovering Kyle Emerson’s new record “Only Coming Down” was one of those moments. It’s super hooky and it’s got a really modern sound, but at the same time, like reconnecting with an old friend, it feels strangely familiar as it pays tribute to so much great music that has come before. We were lucky to catch up with Kyle about his song-writing process and evolution as an artist.
You have a song on the new record called CA/CO. So, which is it, California or Colorado?
I’m splitting time between both places, but we are very much based in Colorado. Pretty much everyone in the band has ties here. Even the guys I play with in LA are from Colorado originally.
I spent the majority of 2016 living in LA with my first band, Plum, and when they disbanded, I wrote my first album “Dorothy Alice” in LA. I decided that I felt more comfortable launching the project from the ground up in a place like Denver. I had more resources and more people, I felt more connected in Denver and for the vision I had for that record specifically, it made sense. I ended up moving back to Denver, but then I fell in love and was tired of the long distance thing. So I’m back out here in LA, for that reason.
What’s it like being an artist living in LA?
It’s been cool to be immersed in a city full of such a diverse music scene. There’s something in the air, people hustling, working really hard at it. There’s a cool show every night. I miss Denver, but it’s been nice to have a different perspective. It’s not unheard of to constantly feel like you’re getting your ass kicked out in L.A..
There’s this weird energy in a city like LA, not many people here grew up here. They left their family and hometown to pursue something, making a big sacrifice and going without the comforts of home. That can be kind of bleak sometimes, but there is a lot of beauty in it, too.
Can you tell us a little bit about your new album “Only Coming Down” which just came out in November?
It was recorded a bunch of places in Denver. Basements, living rooms . . . I did it with my buddy Mark Anderson, who used to play drums with Paper Bird and James Verone who plays drums in Beachhouse. I had a solid group of three or four people who played live with me the past few years in Denver. They for the most part, played on the record. We tracked it from March to October, it was one of the longer recording processes. Normally I go in and do something in two weeks. I took my time with this one. I definitely thought a lot more about the production and layering, I wanted to have many different textures on the record. In the past I had gone a little more raw and I’m really proud of the guitar moments. The new recordings seem a little less guitar centric than my previous albums. Whether it was synths or drum tones or keyboards or female vocals, we were trying to layer it a little differently than I had in the past.
Okay, so how would you describe your latest sound?
I spent a lot of my formative years getting into 60s and 70s artists and records, and that will always be a part of what I do. But, this was a record where I was listening to a lot of modern music and music from the 80s and 90s. I wanted to make a record where you want to repeat songs. A lot of division for this record wasn’t super musical in the sense that I want to use this exact band or this type of genre as a reference, but more of, like, feelings. I want this record to feel this way and I want people to have this experience. It was less of chasing a brand and more of chasing an emotion.
Do you think genres are dead?
I think it’s hard to label yourself. With the goal of making a record that made people feel like they’re having a really good conversation with a friend. Sometimes you come away with a similar feeling like where it has some form of catharsis. I want to combine my favorite parts of music I’ve always loved. With genres, if you’re just trying to rip off the Beatles, you’re missing out on decades of music, production and cool things that went on that the Beatles didn’t have access to.
The music industry feels like a double-edged sword, artists are fighting for a few disposable seconds of a short-attention-span culture. What is your take on being a modern band today in the industry?
I think you can have lengthy conversations about how Spotify ruined the way people listen to music. Or how memes and gifs have spoiled the process. It’s hard to get people to want to listen to 40 minutes of music in a row. I totally get that, with all the content. But if you hear a song that really moves you, you’ll listen to the whole thing. if it has a deep enough impact on you, you’ll look up another song or find out where it came from. There are many different avenues to discover music but people’s relationship with music, in general, is still founded on the same thing. You like something if it’s catchy or has a melody that sticks in your head. Back in the day, you went to a record store and you took one home and you listened to it, or you heard a song on a radio. Despite the various ways people find music, the connection listeners have with music is still the same. I think something’s lost and something’s gained with how music is accessed. But it is kind of a fool’s errand to break down the pros and cons of yesteryear to today.
Is it harder for “up-and-coming-bands” to make it today in an over-saturated market?
I think there’s been so many bands that have benefited from the internet culture and Spotify streaming. For, just as many bands that have been discovered through these channels, there are bands that have been overlooked. Purists are still four or five guys getting together in a room, rehearsing, recording at a real studio and playing live. That was the one way to do it and now you have more people that can make a song on their laptop in their bedroom, which makes playing live a whole new experience. I think there’s beauty in all of it. I wouldn’t want to go without some of the music I’ve discovered through mediums of this era versus 20 years ago. But it’s tough, certain people are benefiting while others aren’t. I really don’t know the rhyme or reason, it can be the right place, the right time, and that’s how it’s always been.
I get why there’s been competition between bands in the scene, but at the end of the day, the more people making music and expressing themselves through music rather than violence is a good thing. People choose to deal with pain through art even if it means making less money.
I would love to see Denver embrace the local music scene more. It is one of the few places where it seems like there’s not a whole lot of industry. So cities with similar size like Portland, or Austin or Nashville have a really strong presence of bands that are regularly breaking out, you’ll see them on late night tv or at Coachella. Denver, has this talent, but we don’t have as many bands breaking out on a regular basis. It would be cool to see Denver on the map with an identity musically. I do feel like there’s been a shift recently where there’s a push for people to connect with local music. Having something like Open Air, Colorado Public Radio and the amount of venues in Denver, makes this all exciting. Denver is on its way.
Now that you’ve launched the record, what’s on your horizon in 2020?
I’m always writing, but I’m definitely taking my time on this next album. I’m sure we’ll play festivals this summer, along the west coast promoting the last record. But I’m always working on the next thing. There’s more influencing this record than the past two. But I’m leaving it open-ended and just seeing what’s happening as i take one step at a time.
We finished this record in 2018, mixed in December and mastered in January of 2019. So, it’s been done for over 10 months before putting it out. I’ve probably written two albums worth of songs since then. That’s kind of my process, I write a ton after putting out a record, to see what sticks. For now my process is writing as much as i can and then a theme presents itself in a really organic way.
It makes you think when you’re writing and recording a record, the decisions you make, need to be timeless. It’s nice when something sticks with you and you can play it years later, because it’s still relatable and pertinent. I think that artists that go on tour and sort of live their music night in and night out have to think about this. I imagine it would be difficult for these introspective, sort of sad singer-songwriters to get into that head space every night. So, that’s been a big influence with the music I’m making now — my relationship with it outside of the recording process.
Some song writers are capturing a moment in time and they’re not as worried about it and those albums are beautiful. Specifically for “Only Coming Down’ there was a bit of a consciousness of that aspect of playing live that I was more aware of than ever.
Speaking of playing “Only Coming Down” live, you have an upcoming show at the HiDive.
It’s gonna be the trio. We have a show in Greeley on February 20th at the Moxy and then the album release show is at the HiDive on February 21st, then we will be in Manitou Springs at Lulu’s Downstairs with the Spirettes. We’re gonna make our February shows as fun as we can. We’ll be playing old and new stuff, I’m excited to be sharing the stage with some amazing bands. Also, we just got our vinyl in so this small victory is reason to celebrate our album release at the HiDive with our family and friends.
I love vinyl! It’s such a cool part of the art form.
I think just as much as making a live set super fluid, or making a mix cd or a playlist on spotify, it’s an art form. It’s especially impressive when you hear Dark Side of the Moon for the first time through headphones. It’s cool when you have to think about it without the ability to skip a song. It’s a whole different experience. People’s heads change when they listen from start to finish. One of my favorite records from front to back is Channel Orange by Frank Ocean. It’s so incredible when someone can put together 17-18 tracks and it flows. You can’t beat the feeling of a record from start to finish.
Will you be playing as a three piece at the HiDive?
Yes, Dan Volmer is playing bass and Tommy Freed is playing drums. A trio is practical. I’ve always been such a big fan of bands who keep it simple. It forces all the musicians to be in tune with each other. It’s a cool challenge when three people are trying to sound like five people. Whereas when you have five people, you know when not to play. It’s been exciting to hear these songs in a different context and make them feel full. As much fun as it was to layer the record as we did, all the songs started with me and a guitar. It’s bridging the gap between where the songs came from in their infant stages to where they ended up on the record. It’s nice to find that middle ground between the two when you play live. Sometimes a song on a record might have had a certain production style versus how it sounds live. Sometimes less is more, sometimes it’s the opposite. I’ve always enjoyed bands that treat the two as completely different things.
Thanks for your story, Kyle. We can’t wait to help you celebrate “Only Coming Down” at the HiDive. Dibs on the first vinyl record! See you all there.