Syntax Issue 10
Denver Syntax

There are yet two bastions of oral storytellers left in our culture: comedians and songwriters. And while many acts in the Queen City embody this ideal, Tyler Despres represents this correlation, this axiom, with near-perfection. For where you factor-in bravery – which one ultimately should with comics and solitary musicians alike – Despres again epitomizes what is rich about this pursuit: mostly that, if it is to occur - the fall down to the floor is much further than the measurement from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet.

As in comedy, there is something much larger about being a solo songwriter – something that, if you don’t pause and create a dialogue around it – you will miss it. You won’t bother to stand for those extra minutes and listen to the troubadour… sing.

In public, Tyler Despres is one of the most humorous men I have ever known. His aptitude for playing off what is being said in conversation is uncanny. And oftentimes, hilarious. Most of the time, he is on – rousingly and playfully skipping through the jungle gym of conversation and language. But, as we all know – one can’t be expected to be on every night. Still, even on those off nights, Despres plays with the words floating around him and through him as though it’s a word puzzle, and he’s a crossword junkie.

Alone on the stage with only his guitar, Tyler Despres takes some rather large gambles –most notably with the harmonies he creates between his vocals and guitar lines. Ranging from a low hum, to conversational and then falsetto – Despres vocals are both brave and completely captivating.

And while Tyler Despres does the solo songwriter thing, the fact is: he likes his rock. He likes it big and loud and raucous. Proof of this is his main focus, his primary band: Dualistics, a Denver act that has received some high acclaim and noteworthy attention. Still, while Despres loves his electric trills and the sweat beads running down his face, his work as a solo artist is looking awfully provocative.

Figure this: You’re in an established Denver band. You’ve played Red Rocks. Still, you continually show-up at Denver’s best open stage, week after week. On a several occasions you write a new song that you play an hour later, in front of a room full of strangers. With all infirmities on his sleeve, this blue-collar, experimental approach is what Tyler Despres has been exhibiting. And with grand results. Many times, after Despres takes the stage and weaves his way into his first song, the room goes quiet. Eyes turn toward the stage.

These are the kinds of risks that comedians take. These are the kinds of risks that songwriters take. These are the kinds of risks that a brave soul takes.

As a songwriter and a humorous soul – the primary tool at one’s disposal is language. Words. Stories. And it is Despres’ sense of story which, after the initial grasping of his vocals and guitar work, will astonish.

“Ground Fault Interrupter” is a song about a man that goes to commit suicide by dropping a toaster in his bathtub only, to his surprise, he is not killed. The man takes this as an omen that he was saved by God. However, it was the ground fault interrupter which saves him. A common device in contemporary homes, the interrupter shuts-off the power to the toaster’s circuit – thereby alleviating the man from being electrocuted.

Certainly, like a joke, Despres’ lyrics are punchy, clever and concise. He does not muddle around in the wake of obscure tongues – the kind of lyric writing that often is seen in heavier, more fully-arranged bands. To his credit, Despres’ breadth and depth as a musician, a songwriter and an entertainer is much vaster than one act can contain.

Despres has held his musical aptitude in his back pocket since he was a child. Quickly after learning how to play - he internalized the power, of not just music in general – but of playing music. With people. For people. And now, several bands and years later, Despres is comfortable in talking about playing music for people as a kind of reciprocal therapy. As a kind of musical philanthropy. For just as the sonorous roar of Dualistics infects people and literally moves the molecules of the rooms that quartet inhabits – Despres’ solo act has the same affect – albeit in a much more hushed, storytime kind of way.

In the same manner that comedy and songwriters overlap in the world of language and story, there is also a marriage between Despres’ two musical projects. Now older, more refined and sophisticated about his approach – admitting what this all means and has meant, feels much more comfortable now.

As is the case with any endeavor, preparation is necessary. As playful and off-the-cuff anything can feel, the imperative of learning one’s process is paramount. Despres is no different. As he has grown with age, he has also grown in sophistication – with regard to his process; of learning it, of knowing how to write, when to write. The spark that consciousness can be – in the light of being alive and also in the creative production of work – is a necessary, and important facet. Engaging in conversation and playfully working off of what is presented is again akin to creating work – for it involves being awake and aware and finding that muse, that spark of inspiration by walking through your days with your eyes open.

With these life lessons and time diligently practicing them, Tyler Despres is surfacing – as a solitary artist in a world of collectives. In part, I see him wiping his eyes clean, as if waking from a blurry sleep and walking downstairs with his guitar over his shoulder. For everything is becoming clear: Despres’ real aptitude and penchant for creating work that both connects with those around him and in front of him.

Stay dialed-in with Despres’ walk from the bedroom of his life. A new EP is coming this summer of 2009.