Flaural Is One of Colorado’s Best Bands, Even If It’s Hardly Ever Here
The busy quartet will play the Underground Music Showcase July 28 before its latest tour, which starts in September
By John Wenzel
If there’s such a thing as laid-back professionalism, Flaural has it.
Seated around a wooden table at the RiNo bar Pon Pon last week, the members of the Denver rock band — all fashionably scruffy dudes in their mid-to-late 20s — sounded relaxed but strategic, sipping on hair-of-the-dog beers and sparkling water under a hot, bright skylight.
“A lot of bands in Denver don’t leave Denver,” said singer and bassist Collin Johnson, 28. “When we started out almost five ago, we definitely made it a priority to be a touring band.”
“Every show in our earliest tours was us trying to find the coolest band in that city to play with, so then you’d meet people who might already like it and each city would kind of grow with each visit,” said multi-instrumentalist Connor Birch, 27. “Of course, we also played a show in a batting cage once.”
Flaural’s never been afraid of experimentation, but thanks to its goal-oriented playing and touring, the band has developed a growing national profile that includes festival appearances (Audiotree, Grandoozy, Tomorrow Never Knows), dozens of West Coast tour dates, and opening spots for acclaimed indie-rock groups such as Real Estate, Spoon, Built to Spill, Foxygen and Denver’s own Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats.
With a new album (“Postponement,” released in April), bustling tour schedule (largely from High Road Touring, which books an alt-rock alphabet of names from Aimee Mann and Alabama Shakes to Wilco and Yo La Tengo) and a clear vision about what it takes to reach the next tier, Flaural is hoping to transform its assured songwriting into a national brand that just happens to hail from Colorado.
It helps that Flaural immediately stands out from the agreeably ramshackle sound of many Mile High City acts. Even as Colorado’s music scene has matured in recent years, exporting indie names like Rateliff, Gregory Alan Isakov, DeVotchKa and Tennis — but also high-profile bluegrass, jam-band, jazz and EDM acts — Flaural resists the label of “Denver band.”
Its members are proud to be from here, they’re quick to say. But they want to make music full-time, and soon. Investing too heavily in the booster-y, back-patting network that’s common in local music scenes is the beginning and end of many Colorado bands. Fortunately, the average listener doesn’t have to root for Flaural while listening to its songs, giving it DIY points or grading it on a curve against more accomplished national acts.
Flaural is already at a national level, as crowds will see when the band plays The Underground Music Showcase main stage at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 28, an outdoor stage located at the corner of Archer Street and South Broadway. It’s just hard to say what that level sounds like.
“Our booking agent describes it as ‘mutt-rock,’” Birch said. “It’s a bunch of different genres cross-bred in one place.”
On “Postponement,” which was produced with Denver’s James Barone (Beach House, Tennis), Flaural’s music communicates urgent but wordless sophistication via driving percussion (from drummer Nick Berlin), textured arrangements and hallmarks that span ’60s surf-rock to contemporary alt-rock darlings. There are reference points galore — the dreamy, John Lennonesque vocals of Johnson; the Steely Dan-meets-Grizzly-Bear riffs of guitarist Noah Pfaff; Birch’s squiggly, interlocking synths — and describing them as art-rock or psych-gaze or some similar word-salad at least offers potential listeners a taste.
“Linking up with James (Barone) was really fun,” Johnson said. “At the time, he was working on the new Beach House record with Peter Kember (Spacemen 3, Panda Bear), and then he’d come back to us and be like, ‘Peter Kember uses this or that Pro Tools plugin. Let’s try it!’ We’ve gotten really lucky, recording-wise, by having people who are willing to invest the time to make us sound as good as possible.”
Even with Flaural’s sonic goals, patience has been a virtue and a necessity. Its members, three of whom live together (minus Birch) in a house/practice space on Washington Street in Capitol Hill, have limited funds and full-time day jobs. The fact that “Postponement” came together over a period of three years — all while the band was touring and releasing additional EPs of original music — is as much about real-world boundaries as the exploratory creative process.
“Crown Lanes Studio (Barone’s private studio where the album was recorded) at any given time might have 30 guitars, four distressors, multiple rare keyboards, uncountable different drum kits, or whatever else you couldn’t — yes, couldn’t — imagine,” Johnson said. “That really played a large part in some of our decisions of what to incorporate instrumentally.”
A little over two years ago, Johnson’s father died after a long struggle with ALS. The “Postponement” scorcher “The Thinker” pays tribute to him lyrically (“Nobody likes when you’re not well / Come up, come up, and feel better now”), while the album’s cover art resembles a clock stopped at 3:27 (for March 27, the day Johnson’s father passed away in 2017). Like many of Flaural’s songs, “The Thinker” went through numerous iterations, lyrically and instrumentally, over the course of several years until its pieces clicked together just so.
“We often hear, ‘Oh, you guys are a lot of fun to watch live because you’re always smiling and laughing,’ ” Berlin said. “That’s probably because we’re (messing) up our parts. But you’re always your own worst critic.”
That’s what you get for filling your songs with complex, soaring passages that push listeners toward a hazy melodic bliss — but that would also instantly intimidate many musicians.
The most common influences that Flaural’s members hear hurled back at them are psych-rock, both old and new (Pink Floyd and Tame Impala, respectively), but the music also carries, to this critic’s ears, the jazz-inflected experimentation and nimbleness of Chicago bands such as Tortoise and Trans Am, packed with dazzling polyrhythmic flourishes and dark melodic undercurrents that waver between mischief and ruin.
Like the fast-growing, immersive-art company Meow Wolf, Flaural is a little bit (and often, a lot) of everything, a kitchen sink whose kaleidoscopic disposal filters down to a smoothie glass with a wide straw. The increasing number of fans on its regular tours — the band is launching another one in September, including its first-ever East Coast dates — seem testament to that.
“A friend of ours said it best: It’s not selling out; it’s buying in,” Birch said with a laugh, in response to a question about loyalty to the punk-rock ethos versus trying to make a living as an artist. “Honestly, we don’t want to be the band content to play through blown speakers and work bartending jobs forever. It would be really nice to just have the freedom to make music all the time. That’s what we want.”