If you’ve ever found yourself wondering what “Weezer with a banjo” would sound like, your answer lies in Denver’s Whitacre. Described as such by lead singer/guitarist Paul Whitacre, for whom the band takes its name, Whitacre stands at the forefront of a new generation representing Denver’s folk scene — think, The Lumineers with a lot more grit. All it takes is one listen to the band’s breakthrough song, “Within the Mountains’ Shadows” with Paul Whitacre’s snarling delivery, the menace of the banjo and rapturous build ups, to know that these boys are not playing around. Five members deep, the band, rounded out by bassist Joey Wenberg, banjoist Chase Perry, lead guitarist Robert Bullington and drummer Mark Cunningham, are quickly making a name for themselves in Denver — selling out venues across the city and getting down to the nitty-gritty.
Struggling to find his bearings with his solo material upon moving from Indiana to Denver in 2016, Whitacre the band was born from a pick-up game of basketball between Whitacre and Cunningham.
“When I moved out here a couple of years ago things weren’t going well. I played a pickup basketball game with Mark and pretty much went from zero to 100 from one Instagram DM of him saying I’m interested in starting a band,” says Paul Whitacre.
Cementing a musical bond between each other, everything and everyone else fell into place. Whitacre, the principal songwriter of the group, brings his unique writing edge and lets the band fill the pages with sound. Although coming from a menagerie of different backgrounds, folk-rock was the common direction they all agreed upon. Cunningham comes from punk-rock roots whereas Billington explored the waters after learning guitar at age 13, going anywhere from bluesy jazz to death metal, and everywhere in between, but somehow finding his way time and time again back to folk and Americana. Whitacre himself, a folk musician through and through, also finds inspiration in the rather unlikely mainstream pop radio. The band blends their diverse styles together, and work to create the monumental songs Whitacre is known for. Speaking of their connection, Bullington sees it going deeper than the music itself.
“We all have fairly similar life values. I think we see eye to eye on everything across the board pretty much. When you can really have that trust in other people, then it just makes you more willing to be vulnerable in a musical and creative environment. I think also we all have a common goal, so to all be on the same page and working together, I think that’s what’s driving a lot of the success too. This is our dream to do this forever”
The band, sacrificing building families and trading in their commercial vehicles for band transport, have their sights set on eventually playing a sold out Red Rocks show of their own one day, but it’s a different mission first and foremost that they want to impart on their fans and even the most casual of a listener.
“We’re trying to create music that tells the story that life is extremely difficult and we’ve all been in those situations, but there’s hope that you can come out on the other side in a better position — there’s a lot that’s tied up into that. I would say as a band, the way that we carry ourselves in our day to day and on stage and the lyrics that we’re putting into our music, everything is pointing to this common theme of difficult things that happen in life and we want to be in that together,” says Paul Whitacre.
Truth be told, Whitacre is taking more and more fans on the ride with them. Working on their forthcoming full-length album, Seasons, that journey may, in fact, take them to the top.