In the annals of the singer-songwriter genre, Colorado has had plenty come and go. Most trickle down from a creek of folky John Denver run-off, clad in denim, acoustic guitar in tow. John Common is nothing of the sort—he’s an educated music historian made up of equal parts Nick Drake, Miles Davis and Wilco. His latest outing, Beautiful Empty, is an under-produced gem featuring some of the finest players in Colorado, and one that stands out not only as a personal best but a sublime work, completely at home sandwiched between Ray LaMontagne and Tom Waites on your iPod. Here, he talks about assembling the A-Team of Colorado musicians, his rigorous exfoliating regimen and that awesome Chuck E. Cheese band.
French Davis: What led you down this unplugged-lush-strings-and-thick-harmonies path on this latest album?
John Common: I wanted to explore a different direction for me—away from electric guitar-driven, indie/alt/whatever rock and more toward something that breathed more. Something that used orchestral sounds and arrangements, something with a lot more vocal harmonies, less head, more heart than my previous records (Good To Be Born and Why Birds Fly). I had about 30ish songs written and a pretty concise notion of the sound I wanted to create…I wanted it to be the kind of record that immediately affects you, but unfolds the more you listen. So I put together a band of what Miles Davis called “motherf—rs” to make it real. The band includes a bunch of artists and friends of mine from Colorado’s indie music scene. Everyone is ridiculously talented.
FD: There’s a maturity in your sound that shows remarkable restraint—something composers don’t start to exhibit until later in their careers. How did you get there so early?
JC: Well…I’m actually 87 years old. But you wouldn’t know it because I exfoliate religiously and use ridiculous amounts of moisturizer. Honestly, I don’t think I could have made Beautiful Empty if I hadn’t made Good To Be Born and Why Birds Fly first. Those prior two records were very layered and dense…very intellectualized and painstakingly produced. I still love how they sound but there was no need to make them again. I was ready to try a new direction. Isn’t that the whole point—to keep pushing yourself into unfamiliar territory?
FD: Musically, there are a number of influences that seep through to me. What stands out to you?
JC: Oh man…I’m probably too close to accurately answer that question. What someone hears in a record is often very different from what influenced or inspired the artist who made it. And then you have the issue of how one person’s Wilco is another person’s Bread, or whatever. I can tell you several records that I used as sonic signposts when we were making Beautiful Empty, each one for different reasons: Sufjan Stevens, Illinoise; Robert Plant/Allison Kraus, Raising Sand; Calexico, Hot Rail; Nick Drake, Bryter Layter; Mark Kozelek, What’s Next To The Moon.
FD: What are some of your favorite local venues and why?
JC: Bluebird. Because I love curtains. Fox Theatre. Because their stage and sound are very good. Walnut Room. Because their green room is really dark. (I wish they’d add a stage door though.) The Ogden. Because their monitor system sounded like mains. Soiled Dove. Because their curtains automatically retract and every time we’re there, I think of that automatonic Chuck E. Cheese band.
John Common plays the Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder, June 12, 7:30pm, $13 in adv; $18 DOS.
303.443.3399 for info.