Byron Shaw might well be considered a Colorado music icon given his longevity and successes in the music scene here. His early success came with The Jonez, a reggae-influenced rock act he launched in 1986 that came very close to national stardom, thanks to interest from multiple labels after their unforgettable performance at SXSW in Austin in 1991. However, The Jonez broke up not long after, setting Shaw loose to launch other projects, including Denver’s most beloved ska outfit, Judge Roughneck, who has been a perennial favorite at Reggae on the Rocks for literal decades, and his own passion project, BSP. Shaw also dedicates time to community based causes he cares deeply about; he joined the Board of Directors for City Park Jazz earlier this year, and spends his days working with the homeless in Denver. Here, Shaw talks about his passion for helping the less fortunate, the debt he owes to Bill Bass, and his new music video about homelessness, set to drop in the coming weeks.
French Davis: Hello, Byron. How are you today, my friend?
Byron Shaw: I’m groovy, baby. Just finished up rehearsing for tomorrow at Reggae on the Rocks.
FD: What is this, number 16, 17?
BS: We’re in the 20s now, dude. I think somewhere around 24 maybe. I think last year was 23 times. Our drummer played there when he was seven years old. His first time, he was seven years old. He played with his father’s band, Lion Soldiers — they opened up for us that day — and he is now 27 years old. I believe there’s magic up in them hills.
FD: When did you start BSP?
BS: Well, we had a band called Bliss with Elizabeth Rose as our lead singer. And we were doing kind of a neo soul thing, and she and I shared the lead singing duties. Then she got cast in a play called, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, and she quit the band to do that. So that band kind of disbanded after Elizabeth Rose left. Then I started Byron Shaw Projex. And we had Melinda Carey on vocals., Chad Aman on keys, David Flomberg on trombone. Then Heather Larrabee and also Kate Calhoun on vocals. Even Damon Wood from Harmonious Junk played guitar with us for a while; a lot of folks were in that band. And people came and went and we produced a lot of music. I stuck with it, and I worked with Amber Hutchings on vocals and now her daughter is singing lead in BSP. And then I decided I didn’t want to make it about me. I wanted to make it more of a band vibe. But I wanted to keep the BSP and the same logo and letters. And the best I could come up with is the name Better Sensory Perception — we were calling ourselves BSP anyway. And it really is a band vibe. We collaborate well together, everyone plays well together and we all are in to win it. And now we have a family vibe too, so it’s really nice.
FD: Tell me about this video.
BS: Well, I started doing street outreach and working with people experiencing homelessness about six years ago. Now I’m a case manager for the Salvation Army. We have a tiny home village of about 44 units and about 64 people live there. As soon as they come in, I work to get them their birth certificates, social security cards, IDs… you can’t get food stamps without one. I even do resumes, cover letters, help them get jobs, drive them to appointments, making sure they get to what they need to do. If someone’s trying to beat addiction, I’ll connect them with the methadone clinic or whatever. It’s really a challenge, but it’s also very rewarding work. And so from that, I wanted to do a video and do something that would reflect that part of my life and what’s happening in the community. I always loved the song “One in Ten” by UB40, and it kind of speaks to that. I felt that that song spoke about that whole situation better than anything that I could write — but I did rearrange it. Homelessness could happen to any of us. That’s why the One in Ten — it could happen to any one in 10 people.
FD: Tell me about the video itself, and the production and direction, and how that all came together.
BS: Audree Dillard (the director) and I had several meetings about the concept, the storyline. She had ideas. I had ideas. So we really combined our ideas on it. Elizabeth Rose, the actress who plays the unhoused person in the video, she had some ideas too. She’s a pro. There’s a scene where she’s running down an alley and she stops to catch her breath and she cries real tears. We shot that twice and she cried real tears both times. I’ve never been more impressed with an actress in my life. It was very touching…We shot that in three hours on a Saturday. Right where I’m standing and singing, there’s a camp right down a few feet away. We wanted to make it as real as possible and as gritty as possible. And I think that comes through very well.
FD: And as far as the recording, where’d you do that?
BS: We recorded at Chester Owens’ home studio. He’s the guitar player for BSP. He and I worked on it together. I did the drum beats pretty much. My congas and bongos are the other percussion. So then we had Chester shadow pick the bass out on guitar. We had Amanda Yuill play trombone. The horn section is Amanda Yuill on trombone, and me on melodica. And my daughter, Sidney Shaw and her friend are singing backups on it. My granddaughter, Lily is in the end, does the intro acapella, and she sings it note for note perfectly in perfect pitch. She’s a natural, I have to say. And I’m going to keep working with her as she gets older. She’ll be the one that I’m writing music for eventually. But that’s how we did it.
FD: Tell me more about the album.
BS: That album is called Progress and Reflection because of the progress of the newer songs, there’s five new songs, and then six songs that I’ve recorded over the past decade or so. And I still think that those songs deserve to be heard again. Kate Calhoun does a great job with the song “International Love.” Heather Larrabee does a great job with the reggae song, “Having a Party.” She wrote the words, I wrote the music to that one. Elizabeth Rose sings “Drive.” We both worked on the vocal melody and the words to that together; I wrote the music to that one. Melinda Carey is on “Simple Sad.” That’s her vocal arrangement on that one, and it’s beautiful. I wanted to reflect how collaborating works with people, give them an opportunity. Just like with Judge Roughneck, whenever we play Reggae on the Rocks, we usually have a local person come up and do something with us. Just to kind of share the love and give people that experience. But also it makes for a better show. Just like collaborating often makes for a better song after sunrise.
Keep an eye on Facebook.com/BetterSensoryPerception for the upcoming video releases and future show dates.