Local to rockstar: Fort Collins bands try to make it big

Brent Cowels, lead singer for You Me & Apollo performs at the 2013 NewWestFest.
Brent Cowels, lead singer for You Me & Apollo performs at the 2013 NewWestFest. Photo by Allison LeCain.

As they fell into the chairs at the bar, there was a moment where it looked like they would never stop talking. Brothers and fellow band members John and Josh Burroughs could not keep the smiles from their faces after finishing their second-ever performance at the Moxi Theater, which is located in Greeley. Craig Basarich, one of two trumpets for the unique band, fell in next to them and discussed the performance at length, including the moment when lead singer John Burroughs bent over backwards with a hip thrust in the all-consuming joy of the song.

“In all honesty, we’re a bunch of dudes who want to do soul music,” Basarich explained after poking fun at John Burroughs for his extravagant performance on stage.

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The Burroughs brothers and Basarich make up part of the band, Burrows, an eclectic soul-rock band based out of Fort Collins. And with this as their second time performing on stage, they were the epitome of excitement.

Many musically inclined students and people who dream of being rock stars as kids rarely make it past the basement they practice in. Many only make it to the local level. But, some move on to the big time, hearing their own music played over and over on the radio. The Burrows not only encompassed the joy of a second successful show, but the enthusiasm for music that may be lost when business comes into play as other, more experienced bands are known to caution.

Guitar player and music lover, Brett Schreiber, a musician for local bands Stella Luce and Pep Squad, said he knows how hard it is to lose sight of what it means to be local and what it means to play music. Schreiber started out as what he described as “creatively bipolar.” He started the band Stella Luce as a rock project, jokingly referring to it as “cerebral creativity.” Later on, he formed Pep Squad as a way to use three-chord pop songs and a slight throw back to disco beats in order to just have fun.

“If I wasn’t doing something creative, I don’t know what I’d do; rob banks, maybe,” Schreiber joked sarcastically.

Schreiber went on to explain the total dedication it takes to commit to a band; to commit to the music.

“You have to work really, really, really hard if it’s what you want to do with your life. You have to be willing to do what it takes,” Schreiber stressed when asked about what new bands should be watching out for.

Lead singer Brent Cowels for You Me & Apollo, an indie rock Fort Collins-based band, also said the work is hard, but at the same time, the memories are priceless. Cowels encourages other beginning bands to play at open-mic sessions and to determine what the end goal for the band is so that the whole band has their expectations in mind.

“It’s good to know that everybody is willing to lose the same stuff,” guitarist Jonathan Alonzo said as Cowels and drummer Tyler Kellogg laughed. “Whether that’s money or jobs or underwear,” Kellogg shrugged. Cowels grinned, “I lost all my clothes on that tour; I came home with one outfit!”

The members of You Me & Apollo went on to tell stories of being on the road and sleeping in their van they affectionately referred to as Susan B. Vanthony, a rusting “Cyborg” that has carried them from coast to coast since they started. Even the members of local indie rock-pop band, Fierce Bad Rabbit, told of how they started to feel like a real band when they bought their first van, taking them to 36 states all over the country.

When asked what was unique about Fort Collins, Schreiber talked about the real tight-knit camaraderie of the bands. “Everyone knows each other and supports each other,” Schreiber said. He explained that the music scene was supportive versus competitive, which made it stand out. He has toured over 30 states and even had the opportunity to perform in England.

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Fierce Bad Rabbit met and formed up when all of the members belonged to bands, demonstrating in reality the closeness that emerges from Fort Collins. Even Schreiber and violinist Alana Rolfe from Fierce Bad Rabbit commingled, both as members of Stella Luce.

“It’s a small music scene; you get to know everyone eventually. Or at least you think you do,” Rolfe said with a smile.

Lead singer of Fierce Bad Rabbit, Chris Anderson, also said how nice it was that Fort Collins has a small, hometown feel, saying he loves the college scene and the proximity of Fort Collins to other big cities. When asked about the college students, he jokingly said, “They keep changing, so if we don’t like them, a new batch comes in eventually.”

When band members of You Me & Apollo were asked about Fort Collins, they liked the fact that the people in our beloved FoCo are excited about local music with festivals like NewWestFest, a local music festival in Downtown Fort Collins each year in August. They did express that bands often sell themselves short when it comes to venues around town, but also said that there are honest venues as well. “It could go both ways,” Cowels said. They said they themselves struggled with being new and found it was easier to play smart, as they put it. They stressed that it was important to know finances to make sure the band didn’t end up in more debt than when they started.

Despite all the challenges of being a new and local band and learning what it means to be in a band period, all the bands made sure to bring up the same thing. Whether you’re local or international, new or old, make sure that it’s all for the music. Each of the bands stressed that there wasn’t a lot of money involved and that everyone had to be committed. Because when you’re entering the unknown to be that rockstar on the radio, nothing is more important than holding on tight with both hands to what got you started: music.