In the Aughts, Fear Before and Vaux predicated the Fray and 3OH!3 as vanguards of Denver’s music scene. Post-hardcore was a staple, and small clubs across the Front Range played host to it almost nightly. Pre-mainstream hipsters still caught dirty looks from jocks; DIY artists dragged fans to the 15th Street Tavern and Monkey Mania; cars in suburban Taco Bell parking lots blared These Arms Are Snakes instead of Owl City. There was but a glimmer of hope left in the world.
Looking back on the past decade, one would ascertain that it’s been a while since Denvers’ fancied itself a hotbed for burgeoning post-punk acts, but as with any other genre, there are still rumblings here and there. Swing by the Marquis Theatre or Rhinoceropolis on the right night and you’ll catch a smattering of locals shredding technical, metal-inspired riffs amidst odd-timed percussion and gritty, caustic vocals. And in some cases, you’d be impressed at what you hear.
One such case is with Solar Bear, a chameleonic collection of young virtuosos still playing the type of music that predicated Denver’s late-2000s mainstream grab, and playing it well. At the center of the band is classically trained guitarist Marshall Gallagher, a bit of a scene chameleon himself. I had the chance to chat with Marshall about Solar Bear, the scene, and his hopes for the future of music in Denver. And he got pretty personal.
303 Magazine: How long have you been playing with Solar Bear?
Marshal Gallagher: I’ve been playing for Solar Bear for close to two years now. The group actually started in 2007 with two other guitar players, which became three, then back to two, then one, then two again. Now it’s just me, and we’ve had this lineup for a little less than a year. Hopefully it stays this way; I rather enjoy being the only guitar player in any given band.
303: What are some bands you’ve played in before that people from Denver might remember?
MG: A select few might remember The Masquerade Scene, which came to be in my later high school years. We did pretty well around Denver, but it never really caught on with many people outside of our immediate group of friends. Actually, the first time I saw Solar Bear was at our final show. After The Masquerade Scene broke up I played with Aloft In The Sundry, [but] after a while I realized it wasn’t the best fit, and while the music was incredibly original, the main goal of everyone in that band was to fuck people out of their money and make believe they were rock stars. That didn’t end well, but it did yield an awesome new opportunity. I actually decided I was up for joining Solar Bear at an Aloft show, when they opened for us.
303: Tell me about the new album. What was the process for creating it?
MG: The new album [titled Captains of Industry] is by far the best thing I’ve personally done (not to mention the band as a whole) in the studio. We tracked for three and a half days at Eight Houses Down with Matt Van Leuven, and we spoke in British accents for about two and a half of those days, God knows why. Matt was fun and encouraging to work with; it’s always good to have a laid back engineer who knows exactly what he’s doing. We didn’t want to leave; it always sucks going back to the real world after recording music. For mixing and mastering we were lucky enough to score a sweet deal at this Seattle joint called The Mixing Station. That’s the affordable, slightly less involved way to get your album mixed by Casey Bates (Fear Before, Chiodos, Gatsbys American Dream), who is a dude who knows exactly what this kind of record should sound like. Let’s get real for a second, I freaked out a little bit waiting to hear the final mixes; this guy produced a few of my all time favorite records. Brandon Proff did the artwork, which turned out really cool.
303: What should listeners expect to hear on Captains of Industry?
MG: As far as what to expect, it took us six months to write the first three songs, and two weeks to write the rest. It’s all over the place genre wise, but it somehow makes sense as a whole. We all have completely opposite music tastes and it shows, but I’d say this is the first record to define the Solar Bear sound.
303: Are you planning to tour in support of the album?
MG: Absolutely. Two of the guys are finishing up school so time is scarce, but we plan on taking every possible opportunity to hype the record around the country. We’re doing a three week tour in June, a week and a half in November and two weeks in January, basically whenever Stoakes and Marcus get a break from classes. I’m usually in charge of booking, but for the post-summer tours we actually have a booking agent, which will make the whole process a thousand times easier and less time consuming. After that we’re hitting the road full time, with room for a day job of course, until we get that ten million dollar advance for the next record.
303: Give me a general take on the Denver music scene, both the post-punk/post-hardcore niche and everything in general. Who are some artists you’re really digging?
MG: Every time a group of jaded ex-scene kids get together to play music (i.e. every time we practice), the Denver scene takes a tongue lashing. We bitch and moan about the scene all damn day, but it could be a lot worse. Really, we just miss when there were lots of other bands like us in town, because people were still super involved in the style we play and it was somewhat fresh. Denver is home to a handful of really promising bands in all genres, but not enough to represent the city in a big way. Unfortunately the city is being represented internationally by a joke band turned teen pop sensation, a few sorry excuses for hip hop groups and The Fray, who relocated. I’d really like to see some of our underground yet still accessible bands break out, like My Body Sings Electric. They’re a perfect example of a professional band who knows how to churn out a technical gem, disguised as a radio hit. We also have a handful of awesome punk and metal bands (Ideal Fathers, Adai, To Be Eaten, etc), but as in any scene it’s extremely hard to sift through all the bullshit bands who couldn’t care less about their art. That might be us to some people though, according to some we’re just an outdated emo band who should quit while we’re behind.
303: What would you like to see happen for the music scene in this city?
MG: I wouldn’t mind never seeing ICP in this town again. Mostly I’d like to see music fans dive deeper into the scene and discover something beyond the electro pop garbage that’s flooding the internet. I guess that only applies to folks under 18, but really, those are the most powerful, impressionable listeners. I’d like to see some younger bands with serious talent playing real instruments (i.e. Iluminado) and hitting the streets with their demos, flyers and whatnot. If you’re going to go electronic, take it to another level, add some live instruments (Savoy) and maybe some depth to your lyrics. For some reason, a lot of underage kids really love listening to other underage kids sing about drinking, getting wasted and usually their dicks or something. And it’s always layered with some sort of pre-packaged techno beat and lots of auto-tune. I’d really love to see the death of auto-tune, everywhere. As far as the older crowd, I’d like to see more once passionate fans going to shows and trying to discover different music, myself included. I feel like a lot of musicians and fans alike are extremely closed minded and won’t venture too far out of their comfort zone, into what their friends might think “sucks” simply because it’s old or uncool. And I’m talking about all genres, particularly stuff like ska, reggae or jazz. You never know when you might discover something completely different that will alter your tastes completely. Lastly, not everyone is a god damn DJ, and some people need to realize that.
*303 Magazine takes no responsibility for the opinions of third parties, whether we like their music or not. Seriously guys, we love everyone in Denver!