When asked which experience gave him more butterflies, playing guitar in front of 10,000 fans at Red Rocks Amphitheatre or earning a good grade from his music teachers at the University of Colorado Denver, Luke Mossman (BS ‘04) didn’t hesitate a second to answer.
“Any of my juries will take the cake for the most nervous ever, for sure,” said Mossman, guitarist for Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, referring to a music jury, a student’s final performance before a faculty panel. “They are way more stressful than Red Rocks or even playing Fallon or any of the late-night shows.”
That’s saying a lot about the rigor of the CU Denver Music & Entertainment Industry Studies (MEIS) program, considering Mossman cried through the first three songs when he headlined at Red Rocks.
“It’s a feeling like no other. I grew up in Colorado, going to Red Rock shows my whole life,” Mossman said. “Just to look out at a giant hill of people there to see your band. It’s just an unbelievable feeling.”
Mentors and CU Denver provide ‘transformative’ four years
It’s an experience he “never thought in a million years” would happen, especially by the age of 34. After studying jazz at CU Denver, Mossman made a living playing local gigs and teaching music lessons for 13 years. He never expected a call from a touring band but always kept an ear out for opportunities.
“I changed and grew as a musician probably the most during those four years [at CU Denver]. It’s all from having great professors at the time.”
He credits his mentors at CU Denver for preparing him for something bigger, calling the experience “transformative. This included Mossman’s childhood private guitar teacher, Michael Lancaster (BS ‘92), now a lecturer in MEIS.
“I changed and grew as a musician probably the most during those four years. It’s all from having great professors at the time,” Mossman said of Paul Musso, associate professor and director of the Guitar Program in the College of Arts & Media and lecturers Drew Morell and Dave Devine.
“All three had an amazing impact on me in terms of motivating me and showing me the way. It made me have a greater appreciation for music,” said Mossman, who plans to release his first solo album this year.
The day Nathaniel Rateliff texted about a gig in Europe
During his days at CU Denver, Mossman lived in a house with other musicians and frequented Larimer Lounge and the Hi-Dive. He jammed with a lot of musicians, including a few times with Rateliff and Night Sweats’ drummer Pat Meese for his band The Centennial.
Years later, it was Meese who suggested Mossman might be a good fit when the Night Sweats needed a guitarist for a European tour in May 2015.
“So then I got a text from Nathaniel,” which Mossman said started a negotiation where he “was trying to be cool” to avoid coming off as too eager.
‘Hey man, do you want to go to Europe for three weeks?’
‘How much does it pay?’
‘The gig pays $100 a day’
‘Well, that’s a pay cut for me, but I’ll think about it.’
“And, of course, the next day I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going. Let’s do this,’” Mossman said.
Mossman’s timing could not have been better, joining the Sweats just weeks before their breakout success. Later that summer, the band made their network television debut on “The Tonight Night Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” to play their hit single “S.O.B.” That ended Mossman’s run on $100-a-day gigs.
Collaborating on Tearing at the Seams album ‘very natural’ for cohesive Night Sweats
For the band’s latest effort, Tearing at the Seams, Rateliff hosted a far-out retreat in New Mexico, where band members collaborated on finishing the album.
“It was all very natural,” Mossman said. “It was so unbelievably easy. We were all kind of shocked. There was no friction. There were no egos. All of us are a little older and evolved, having played in bands for so long that we’ve just learned how to do it.”
“Play every gig that you get a chance to play, whether it pays or not. You can never stop learning.”
Follow your instincts and find your passion
Getting to an easy place wasn’t so easy. Mossman first had to admit that jazz was not his path after making it his focus at CU Denver.
“I woke up one day and was like, ‘I’m not good enough at jazz. I don’t love jazz music enough to be great. I want to play rock and roll music,’” Mossman said. “That day, I quit all my jazz gigs and started a band.”
Mossman encourages music students to do some deep soul searching about their path because without passion for what you’re doing, you’ll lack the commitment to get there.
Play music that you love; never turn down a gig
“At CU Denver, they prepare you to really be a musician and not just a pretender,” Mossman said. “Follow your instincts and play music that you love yourself and hopefully one day you get a call like I got from Nathaniel. And if you’re ready, you’re ready.”
Mossman learned early on to say yes to every gig, even if it’s not exactly what you’re looking for, because you never know where that experience can lead.
“Play every gig that you get a chance to play, whether it pays or not,” Mossman said. “You can never stop learning.”
Guest contributor: John Brown