Local Spotlight: Race to Neptune dominates Fort Collins’ indie-rock scene

Bands are often compartmentalized into narrow genres, leaving people to say “They’re a rock band!” or “They’re a metal band!” Most of the time, this sorting is accurate and genuinely reflects the core of the band’s sound. However, some bands stretch the limits of this core, drawing from other sounds to create something unique and invigorating that the listener may have never heard before. Race to Neptune is one of these bands.

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Race to Neptune is comprised of Brian Maier (guitar, vocals), Vanessa Freese (drums), Ken Cavanaugh (bass, vocals) and Zach Berger (guitar).
(Photo courtesy of Tessa Abigail)

Based in Fort Collins, Race to Neptune is an indie-rock band at their core, but what makes them unique is their ability to meld multiple different styles and influences into something wavering and adventurous, but it is also grounded in rock music.

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Their debut album “Oh Contraire” released in 2016 manages to maintain the dark, evocative sounds of alternative rock like The Cure, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Pixies, My Bloody Valentine, Pink Floyd and even notes of 60s garage and psychedelic rock like The Sonics, 13th Floor Elevators and Jimi Hendrix, but throughout all nine tracks, each song has something that diversifies itself from the one after it.

“There’s a good variety on ‘Oh Contraire,'”said lead singer/guitarist Brian Maier. “Two of (the songs) don’t sound the same.”

From the flickering, anthemic darkwave of “Wanderlily,” the aggressive punk-rock on “Cigars and Celebrations” to the squirrelly, country-driven “Bayou Brew,” the album’s variety and eclectic delivery is hard to ignore.

“I think the song “Iron Satire” changes things up,” Maier said. “People seem to talk about that one. It’s a longer, slower ballad, and it has that fuzzed out solo and crazy vocals in the middle of it. My mom told me it sounded like two gremlins talking to each other, and I should take it off.”

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(Photo courtesy of Evan Olea)

The band’s sonic diversity could be attributed to the varying styles and tastes of all four members.

“We all come from different musical backgrounds, but we all can agree on a sound,” Maier said. “It’s a nice Venn Diagram that we have where we all meet in the middle.”

Race to Neptune isn’t all about making noise, though. Maier’s poetic, sentimental lyrics give their songs a deep emotional core that makes itself clear underneath the band’s fuzzed-out walls of guitars and thundering, precise percussion from drummer Vanessa Freese. While lyrics often come secondary for bands that reach similar decibels, they’re an integral part of a Race to Neptune song, due in part to Maier’s powerful, wavering vocals.

“Lyrics are very important to me,” Maier said. “They can make or break a song. It doesn’t matter what you say, but how you say it.”

Race to Neptune is part of a small alternative rock scene in Fort Collins. Local music itself is alive and well, but rock music doesn’t have a bold presence in the town, making loud rock bands—although far and few—a serious asset in the scene.

“There’s a small and growing group of people in Fort Collins who know who we are and what we’re doing, but when I walk past the Aggie, it’s mostly just jam bands or bluegrass,” Maier said. “You don’t see a lot of rock bands coming through. It’s harder for us—kind of demoralizing in a way—but that’s just the scene up here. We played at the Swing Station last year, and this older guy came up and told us how nice it was to see someone step on a distortion pedal for once.”

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Despite not feeling completely at home musically in Fort Collins, the band has no plans of relocating anytime soon and instead want to be part the strong yet small group of rock bands in the area. Just last month, they were signed by a publicist who aims to take the band to higher places without them having to relocate to a city with a more active rock scene like Denver.

The band is in touch with this modern approach in other ways. Last month, they started working on two new songs at Spot Studios in Lakewood, Colorado, the same studio where they recorded their debut album “Oh Contraire,” but they’re not planning the songs in the scheme of sophomore full-length. Instead, they’re planning to release them on their own as singles over the next couple months.

“Based on the general public interest in records, listening to an album all the way through is falling by the wayside,” Maier said. “I think just recording songs here and there, releasing songs when we can and releasing small EPs is a direction worth going in.”

Maier also understands that the landscape of rock music as a whole is changing, often times favoring synthetic recording and production over the callous spontaneity and raw authenticity—whether it’s pretty or ugly— that made it so invigorating in the first place. The latter is something that Race to Neptune is fighting to keep around through their loud, raw and sincere sound.

“I can’t handle (a lot of modern rock),” Maier said. “I think a lot of people can’t because the voices are so processed and auto-tuned, and the guitars sound fake. Everything sounds cut-and-pasted and put together, versus getting a live track and actually knowing how to play your instrument.”

Race to Neptune may not completely fit into the local music scene, but they’re still here, making music and carving out a place for themselves despite stylistic adversity. As long as they’re around, the callous, roaring spirit of rock music is alive and well in Fort Collins.

For more information or to hear their music, visit Race to Neptune’s official website, Facebook, Bandcamp or Spotify.

Collegian reporter Brody Coronelli can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @brodycoronelli.