Musicians with CAM ties rock their way to acclaim in Colorado and beyond
As we move into the shank of the summer concert season, Colorado’s red-hot music scene seems to be reaching yet another peak.
Bands such as the Lumineers, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, One Republic, The Fray, DeVotchKa and Air Dubai are just a few local acts that pack large venues nationwide. The Fray, DeVotchKa and Air Dubai feature alumni from the University of Colorado Denver, while Night Sweats guitarist Luke Mossman is a 2004 graduate of the College of Arts & Media (CAM) music program.
A large influx of talent continues to pass through CAM – and CAM Records – amplifying the college’s enormous impact on music in the Mile High City and beyond. (For more on CAM Records and One Flew West’s journey as a band, click here.)
Powerhouse performers of all musical stripes are emerging from CAM’s programs. Check out the alt-rock stylings of One Flew West (photo at top of page) and the electronic dance music (EDM) of Decadon as well as the Latin-rock rhythms of iZCALLi and the hip-hop of OptycNerd. Individual artists are also drawing acclaim: songwriter Olivia Rudeen, multi-instrumentalist Andy Sydow, and vocalists Emma Mayes and Michelle Ghun are but a few. Several of these bands played in this summer’s prestigious Underground Music Showcase in Denver.
“It’s fun to see these students doing so well,” says Chris Daniels, assistant professor of music business and leader of the rock band Chris Daniels & the Kings. “This is only a partial list and it shows the amazing diversity of our artists.”
Several artists are breaking out, filling venues in Denver and along the Front Range. Decadon’s DJ-electronic-fusion is drawing huge crowds, and One Flew West’s high-energy shows featuring music from their new EP “Selective Memory” are generating big buzz. A pair of One Flew West band members – Linden Jackson (vocals, guitar) and David DiSalvo (lead guitar) – study in CAM’s music business program, which they call a “huge asset” to their development as a band.
“My favorite part of the program is the instructors and the hands-on, real-world approach to the work,” Jackson says. “This business can’t be learned from a book and they know it. I would definitely recommend the program to anyone considering going into the business.”
CAM Records is guided by Andy “Rok” Guerrero, a CAM alumnus (music business, 2008) and current lecturer in the Music & Entertainment Industry Studies program.
Avenhart and PHOX perform at Lynxapalooza on Saturday, Sept. 17, at the Tivoli Quad. Doors at 5 p.m., music at 6:30 p.m.
A former member of the Denver-based supergroup The Flobots, Guerrero currently fronts Andy Rok & The Real Deal, which features CAM student Michelle Ghun (vocals) and alumnus Ben Hatch (drums).
Gleaning the insights of Daniels and Guerrero, here are “12 Artists (with CAM ties) to Watch.” These young artists, fresh from their education in CAM, are passionate about their craft – both in the studio and on the stage.
This CAM graduate has gone on “to cooler, zoomer things,” Daniels says. Specifically, Rudeen signed to The Song Factory, a Nashville publishing company, and is writing songs for top artists across the country. “She’s a very successful songwriter in the mold of Meghan Trainor,” Daniels says. Rudeen has excelled at the prestigious Durango Songwriters Expo; she is a three-time winner of its Write with a Hitmaker contest.
Decadon (aka Donnie Miller, producer/DJ/guitarist)
“This is the new hot music,” Daniels says of EDM. “It’s built around light shows and incredible computer-generated EDM orchestration – plus Don plays killer guitar. It’s as big and powerful as the hippie movement of the ‘60s and is a big part of the sea change in the music business itself.” At the center of the local EDM craze is Donnie Miller, who just signed a major agency touring deal. “He is one of the most successful up-and-coming EDM artists and he’s headlined shows in Denver and Austin and is opening shows with top names like (Major A.) Skurlock and Pretty Lights.”
“They’re a high-energy, fun and crazy band,” Daniels says. “Very aggressive ska.” The band is nine players strong, with several members having CAM affiliations.
“The twin brothers of Viretta – Michael and Robert Moroni – go to our music business program,” Guerrero says. “They perform rock in the vein of Queens of the Stone Age. They grind pretty hard.” Viretta also was part of local-band compilation disc that sent proceeds to the Guerrero-founded Youth On Record nonprofit that works to improve the graduation rates of at-risk youth in Denver Public Schools through music education.
“They’re breaking out,” Daniels says. “They do alt-pop-rock, they have great songwriting and great dynamics.” The band won the Westword Music Award for Best Folk Band in 2015 and was a finalist for KTCL’s Hometown for the Holidays contest. One Flew West has shared the stage with some of the hottest bands around Denver and headlined top venues including The Fox Theatre, The Gothic and The Aggie in Fort Collins. Asked how the band’s success came about, lead singer/guitarist and CAM student Linden Jackson says, “Hard work. We all take what we do really seriously and try to exceed whatever goals we set for ourselves. If you work your (rear) off for your craft, you will start seeing results.”
“They have a very Santana-esque feel, but also very modern,” Daniels says of the three-piece group, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. “They have a wonderful, wild sound.” The band includes the brother-sister team of Miguel and Brenda Avina who both spent time in CAM’s music program in recent years.
Mason Maxwell (recording arts), Brad Gruber and Brian Vu (both music business) met in CAM and launched POPFILTER. The band finished in the top three of the KTCL Hometown for the Holidays contest, which got them their first live gig, and they’ve since opened for national acts Cage the Elephant and Mr. Wise.
This electro-indie-pop-hop duo, which was a finalist in last year’s KTCL Hometown for the Holidays contest, is made up of CAM alumni Chris Scott and Chris Kimmel. Scott is an engineer at Side 3 Studios in Denver, where OptycNerd records much of its music. Kimmel also performs in the Denver-based band Funkiphino and has been a member of the CU Denver a cappella group MIX. OptycNerd is managed by Levi Wharton, also a CAM graduate.
Ghun and Mayes (then Wallingford) both performed with CU Denver’s award-winning a cappella group MIX. Ghun sings for Andy Rok & The Real Deal as well as The Milk Blossoms. The Milk Blossoms won best experimental group in this year’s
Westword Music Awards and “are getting a lot of good critical reviews,” Guerrero says. “They’re becoming the indie darlings of the local scene.” Mayes, meanwhile, stays busy performing with her soulful solo career and new venture Emma Mayes & The Hip.
Vermillion Road is another band that’s recorded on CAM Records and features several CAM students. “They’re definitely hard rock, probably closer to heavy metal,” Daniels says. “They’re breaking out and doing really well.”
Sydow, a CAM music graduate, played at 2015 SXSW and has opened for Dick Dale, Samantha Fish, Delbert McClinton and Tinsley Ellis, among others. “He’s out there making a name for himself,” Daniels says. “His music has an Americana, blues, Southern rock kind of feel.”
This CAM-originated bluegrass group took top prize at the CU Denver Live! battle of the bands last semester and won a gig opening for a national artist. Lead singer Andrea Pares is an “extremely talented student who is going places,” says Guerrero.