Syntax Issue 10
Denver Syntax

Water has long symbolized change, speaking in tongues of time. It has carved much of the terrestrial landscapes we find wonder and elapsing statements about our historicity in – testaments to our mortality on this planet sea. Rivers and waves of water are easy analogies of perpetual motion, flux and the impossibility of stagnation. Denver’s analogy to all these fluid stories is a melancholy musical liquid, the sinuous river of Spires: a quartet that sails on a morphing, carving sound.

Founded by frontman Justin Sharp and drummer Marlon Chance, the duo picked-up guitarist Ian Gassman from Night Owl and added Jake Lueck on bass. All four players had previously come from very different backgrounds – much louder, sometimes obtuse and sometimes poppier previous work. It was Sharp and Chance who first put hammer to nail; constructing the wooden vessel that Gassman and Lueck would finish with sail and rudder after she was conceived.

What came to be Spires was something brand new for the four – it wasn’t unexpected, but different. It pushed each of the players to dig into their musicianship. A guitar player, Lueck, mainly a guitar player before - had to shift his mindset on playing the bass. Gassman exploited his long love of picking patterns to explore a melodic structure. Sharp, the primary songwriter for the band, found his ears evolving: new sounds and styles caught his attention, affecting his choices in song stylings. And Chance’s drumming choices weren’t left to strange possibility: he narrowed his vision, reaching into each song to find what he could provide – usually a more simple current is what was in-tow.

Thing is, after so many years between all of them in previous bands: this couldn’t have happened before. Thing is, this is the way it works: you grow up, you experiment, you learn a process and you find what you do best.

Unlike so many others’ approach, theirs is a deliberate one. They aren’t afraid to pull a whole song apart and sit and stare at it, in physical space. Let’s be honest: because of every ship on the water, there is a whole lot of invisible math floating around on the seas.

I picture them in a cabin, where, beyond the door, you can see the boat yard – the sea just beyond the harbor. In the salty air, they diagram the parts and pieces out: the melody; everybody’s tone and texture and movement in the song. Really: they map out the song on a drawing board. Then, they begin dropping anything that complicates the vision of the boat. Afterall, sailing and floating is elementary. But as a collective, what the band understands is that the most elegant carving pattern in the water comes from absolute simplicity. This is where a song also is: in the simple spaces that echo with the reverberations of historical incantations – yes, primal song.

Sure the outfit feels waterlogged with so many musical stylings that came before them. Comparisons don’t really belong in their story. What does belong in their scroll, however, is the band’s ability to take the potpourri pot, reach inside and pull out the understanding of what works together. Coupling that kind of understanding with the proclivities that each of the four in the band naturally possessed created a kind of discovery: a new kind of intelligence. And then, voila! A sound that felt authentic and, like the harbor: like home.

Spires is a new band – they’ve been playing out for just over a year. What is intriguing is their sense of understanding about the industry. Just as is the case with their instruments and their writing process, they seem to be progressive about their approach to recording and gigging.

Their first recording was only four songs long. In some ways, that was even too much in one burst: ever seeking to simplify, the band has been leaning toward even releasing just one song at a time in the future. Collectively, they believe in a new idea: that the LP is an antiquated vessel for music. In the sixties, the seventies, the eighties and nineties that was the measure of any band. But these days, so much is different: people have more access to music, shorter attention spans, alternative ways to interact with music through the internet. So, why would you remain with the old ideology? Why not adapt, follow a new tributary, go upstream to find the source of understanding.

With only four songs on their first EP, Spires is a treat for the adoring fan – providing the eager ears with six additional songs that they only play live. This adds-on to what the band already has: it gives listeners a reason to attend their shows. And while their live show has found time to marinate and grow over these last six months six that they began raising the eyebrows of the local musical community: they are a band to listen to at home, in the car. Their swirling symphonies are dynamic. Starry. Tight, lush and oftentimes overgrown only because they lean further and closer to the ocean’s edge, in yearning – hiding beneath a system of caves that is revealed only at low tide in the middle of the night, after the entire day has been spent by the sea, cleaning these tunnels and echo chambers of pop and color.

If Spires can be conceptualized in any way, it’s in vignettes: as a cinematic voyage. There is really nothing declarative about their sound, the lyrics or the compositions. It’s odd how their discovery is like mathematics in tidiness, where everything seems to run alongside everything else, like brothers of streams: their songwriting approach, the diagramming, the song structures, their approach to the music industry and their hope for this band. There is a parallelism here in their cultivated understanding – a kind of sophistication that is the lava stone for this story – a story that, just like the volcano attacking the violent sea to create new land, a bigger island: this is just the beginning.

Look to the horizon for their ship and stay abreast of their next harboring: www.facebook.com/spires

Listen to Spires, here: listentospires.bandcamp.com