Syntax Issue 10
Denver Syntax

The story of Todd Ayers and Liz Forster is one that hinges on elements of inheritance, talent and ambition. For better or worse, Ayers and Forster are a stark amalgamation of potential and success, both in-action and just within their grasp, at the tip of their fingers and already realized.

We have all heard the tales of unrequited success and of a life lived with so much possibility. We have all heard these tales of ultimate tragedy and wild triumphs. These are nothing less than the stories of the human condition. And just like so many of us, somewhere in this devilish painting you will find the faces of both Todd Ayers and Liz Forster.

To talk about either Ayers or Forster one must begin with a litany of names – of who they are and who they’ve worked with and what they’ve become. Some of these names that represent so much of who they are sound like: Todd Ayers, Liz Forster, Ghost Dance Society and, Sonnenblume.

(In the Mp3 Player at the bottom of this page, there are tracks from all their projects. Use the drop-down menu.)

Forster was born into it. Her father played bass in the national bluegrass act Hot Rize, and later co-founded the famed E-town music series at the Boulder Theater – a nationally acclaimed live, weekly radio variety show that airs on NPR. At the age of three, she picked up the violin. Then, the flute. Then, the piano. Then, guitar.

Ayers was born into it too. Music found him in his earliest of formative years. The saxophone. The guitar. He is a self-taught audio engineer. What followed were years of performance and studio work with some of Denver’s biggest acts: Twice Wilted, Ron Miles, Volplane - the band that would evolve into Bright Channel, The Dinnermints, The Emmas, Tarmints.

Now living together, Ayers and Forster met 15 years ago, while both were working at Robb’s Music, in Boulder. Ten years later, in 2002, Forster sang some back-up tracks for a project Ayers was engineering, and quickly Ayers found her remarkable. Forster’s talent for finding all the wrong notes in a couple of practice attempts and then nailing it on the recorded take was obvious. Soon after, a bond between the two was formed. And not long after that, the couple’s first act was born: Ghost Dance Society.

Only a recording project, G.D.S. is ambitious, and as a result, probably won’t see the lights of a stage. Which, as a listener, is a tragedy. However, sitting with Ayers in front of the music and learning why that may be so, is not difficult to grasp: The sound is layered, its textures are woven together in a symphony of dance and subtle contemplation – utilizing the life around them, and sampled textures. “Shadows in my Room”, one of the act’s highlights, is a torn-down bluegrass tune that speaks to Forster’s upbringing. Too, the rest of the collection resonates with a power and driven sonicscapes that are, in the end, maybe best suited for the silver screen; for those languid moments of creeping back and forth between the world of the living and the dead.

Through the years both Ayers and Forster have written songs. Ayers’ solo work is weighty, filled with an obvious darkness that has affected rooms of listeners. But after years of gloomy and heavy songs, the burden to sit in those rooms became overwhelming and Ayers forced himself to step back and reevaluate. Recreate. Now working with Ron Miles, Ayers has a new body of solo work that undoubtedly reaches for the brighter spaces between the clouds.

Forster’s solo work, like Ghost Dance Society, may never spend time in a public forum. But it will break your heart. “Away” is a spacious, heartbending song that resonates with such force that it will expel the melancholy songs from your backwards days. Still, despite her obvious power as a solo songwriter and performer, there is reservation.

And so, while their solo projects are quiet and in the background of their lives, evidence of their musical production – the evidence that lives and breathes in public spaces – is the space rock trio, Sonnenblume (German for “sunflower”), which includes drummer Zack Littlefield. Their sound is voluptuous, but not overweight. Everything weaves in and out of a multidimensional warp set backward and forward and pivoting on the pendulum swing of a fuzzy cyclone grinding and heaving an airy symphony sound. Heard as a recording they will certainly lull you into their swell and imply that, like any great symphony of film: in multiple listens, you will discover new paths, different vistas. Once on stage, however, and they’re not interested in the impossible and unnecessary: of recreating their recorded sounds. And really, they don’t – for nearly the opposite happens when they’re in the room: everything explodes into kaleidoscope washes of light.

…and out in front of it all is the same girl that sang “Away”, but now she’s seven foot tall with her platform boots; as colossal of a force as you will see on a stage, peering down onto you…

As a songwriter, the spotlight shines on one. Despite their velocity as solo performers, I’m not certain that either Ayers or Forster are necessarily comfortable with that, and as a result, the quashing of any possible narcissism finds its best fit in Sonnenblume. At its best, Sonnenblume is the apex and amalgamation of Ayers’ and Forsters’ work. Sonnenblume finds its force; its glue and impetus in their drummer, Zack Littlefield. Having this third party, this third being working so tightly with them as a conductor and influence more than anything else – has enabled both Ayers and Forster to concentrate on their third of the pie.

For Liz Forster, Sonnenblume is a necessary door that she needed to walk through. Admittedly, she’s still working out her vocals and where her ultimate impact is. Now, she’s taking more responsibility with writing songs. And while it seems that both Forster and Ayers are perhaps past their rockstar prime – they are right where they need to be. If anything is apparent in talking with them, their reverence for something so much greater than them, you or I is at the fore.

Just listen to the songs. They will break your heart.

Because if there is a vehicle for looking at this axiom – the one which says that music is bigger than all of us – I say that it’s within the fact that two people need four acts to try and sort this all out.

Stay tuned with the couples acts, their dates and their upcoming releases (on Sonnenblume’s next album, Forster’s “Away” has been blown up into cosmic proportions):

Sonnenblume: www.myspace.com/sonnenblumetheband
Ghost Dance Society: www.myspace.com/ghostdancesociety
Todd Ayers: www.myspace.com/toddayers
Liz Forster: www.myspace.com/elizabethmurrayforster