Boulder Acoustic Society
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Boulder Acoustic Society

Boulder, Colorado, United States | SELF

Boulder, Colorado, United States | SELF
Band Americana Rock


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"Punchline Is Perfectly Timed"

Few musicians can cite a specific turning point in their artistic lives. Boulder Acoustic Society bassist Aaron Keim is one of them. During a visit to rural New Mexico, the young instrumentalist — then a college student in his native Wisconsin — sat in on an honest-to-gosh, down-home hootenanny in a 150-year-old cabin surrounded by a motley crew of players tearing through songs like the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen." It was a day that would forever alter his view of, and approach toward, music.

"I think I was 20 or 21 then, and I had been studying the French horn in college," remembers Keim. "But there was something kind of missing from the experience for me. It just wasn't satisfying. That hootenanny was incredible. They were just young kids with huge energy playing banjoes and mandolins and stuff — this giant, collective, music-making thing. It had this incredible power, a connection to history and culture. It just kind of popped. It was really a cathartic music experience."

Catharsis isn't something Boulder Acoustic Society has any problem drumming up — even if it's sometimes on a humble scale. Take, for instance, a recent BAS concert held during lunchtime on a broiling Friday afternoon: On a small stage in Skyline Park, the group played for passersby and downtown office workers eating their lunches and leaving streaks of sweat on folding chairs. The music was enough to keep a few dozen spectators exposed to the 90-plus-degree heat and unrelenting sunshine.

In fact, an extra shot of sunshine came from the stage itself. "All right, folks, it's time for the dreaded sing-along," chided accordionist and frontman Scott McCormick with a smile before breaking into a string of songs that spotlighted the group's flair for rootsy grit, genre-smashing and sheer, beaming showmanship. Wearing taped-up glasses and a chin full of scruff, McCormick led the band as it dipped and whooped its way through a cover of Dylan's "Maggie's Farm," transposed into a playfully sinister minor key. Violinist Kailin Yong, clad in a scarf and a porkpie hat, sawed along elegantly. Drummer Scott Aller looked decidedly un-acoustic behind the kit in his Mohawk and neckerchief. And Keim plunked and swung his upright bass as if in syncopation with the shimmering heat.

No one in the audience that day actually sung along. Most of them clearly didn't know the songs. Many had mouths full of food. And it was just too damn hot to sing, anyway. But the force of the quartet's synergistic goodwill — its arresting mix of earthiness, novelty, and energy — kept smiles on faces and butts in seats.

"After that hootenanny in New Mexico, I realized the power of string-band music played with the energy of pop music," explains Keim. "I went back to school and met Scott, who was also studying the French horn at the time. He and I got an accordion and an upright bass on the same day." After forming Paradise String Band, a group Keim describes as "American Roots Music 101," he and McCormick started hitting Wisconsin's regional folk circuit. "After all these years of working my ass off on the horn and getting nowhere, I learned eight notes on a bass and got so much more out of it. It was so fun, and people loved it."

Paradise String Band broke up in 2003 when Keim relocated to Boulder to attend grad school at the University of Colorado. But a chance meeting with Yong renewed the bassist's interest in playing in a band. Says Keim, "I met Kailin when I saw him playing violin on the street in Boulder. We've had a couple different lineups of Boulder Acoustic Society since then." The biggest overhaul came in 2007, when Aller was drafted and McCormick moved to Boulder and rejoined his old Paradise bandmate. The resulting CD, 2008's The Caged Bird, was both an evolution and a devolution of the sound the outfit had laid down on its previous two discs.

"We were able to bring in all these crazy influences," says Keim. "Scott McCormick grew up playing gospel. We've got classical things and jazzy things and indie rock and whatever. We had guitar on that album and a lot of guests, like Ron Miles, who came in and played trumpet. We hadn't yet solidified this lineup yet, so it's more of a transitional CD. The first two records we did had almost no vocals, and it was this crazy, classically inspired, bluegrass kind of thing. It was really bizarre. We used to have a marimba player in the band who was really into Frank Zappa. But with The Caged Bird, we moved away from that quirky, odd edge a bit. When Scott McCormick joined, we started pushing toward more vocals. It was simpler music played better instead of crazy music played pretty good."

With Boulder Acoustic Society's new full-length, Punchline, the now well-oiled machinery of the group has kicked into high gear. Building on the raw, joyous fun of The Caged Bird, Punchline's fifteen songs are packed with alternately smoky, bouncy and twangy tunes that call to mind everyone from Tom Waits to Split - Westword Magazine

"Punchline Review"

About two years ago, my friends and I went to see Boulder Acoustic Society at the Fox Theater in Boulder, Colorado; I was blown away. The following day, in the small Colorado town Salida, we saw a sign in a coffee shop window that read, "Boulder Acoustic Society appearing live tonight." Without hesitation, we all agreed to see them for the second night in a row. Once again, these boys amazed us, playing three perfect sets.

Their new release, Punchline, is experimental at its core, intertwining Americana, blues, folk, gospel and even a waltz. Each number, though drastically different from the one before it, sets the listener up for the subsequent track. With impressive instrumental solos, moving lyrics and animated vocals, Punchline is undeniably fresh and refreshing.

If a summer love song is what your heart desires, "A Life For Two" is your song. If you're walking down "the aisle" anytime soon, maybe "Take My Hand" will be your favorite. Whatever the case, I promise you won't be disappointed, as Boulder Acoustic Society seems to make fans out of everyone from American roots aficionados to blues devotees, even folk scene prowlers looking for the next Bob Dylan. Do yourself a favor and pay attention to this talented group from the land of Red Rocks, micro-brews and the Rockies. You'll dig it.—Eric S. Levy

- Elmore Magazine

"Boulder Acoustic Society: We Said These Things...(large feature article)"

Please cut and paste this link to read the article. To turn pages, please click on the right corner of the page. Thank you. - ADC Media Guide (Reb Landers)

"Vocal Locals (The Caged Bird review)"

I like Boulder Acoustic Society because I don’t have to waste my goddamn time telling you where they’re from or what kind of music they play — they cover all that in their name. This is a hard-working band that’s having a lot of success in a very competitive acoustic market. The Caged Bird is actually kind of a groundbreaking album. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone meld bluegrass, jazz, country, rock and pop with such success before. In fact, if someone told me they were in a band that combined those five genres, I would probably punch them in the face. However, I will not punch anyone from BAS in the face and here’s why: 1) I’m actually kind of a pussy, and 2) this is a really fucking good album. Experimental, but not pretentious. Fun and serious in all the right places. Weird, but not in a “look at how weird I am” way. Think of Dropkick Murphys — now take out the drunken Irishmen and add stoned hillbilly hippies. “In the Year of Our Lord” sounds like a George Strait tune, except there’s a horn solo in the middle. “No Matter What I Do” is Elvis Presley on methamphetamines. “Drinkin’ Trash” actually gives step-by-step instructions to underage drinkers on how to imbibe without getting caught. My favorite song is the gleefully creepy “Walk,” but I don’t even know why. And that’s the greatest compliment you can give a band.

- Boulder Weekly (Dale Bridges)

"The Caged Bird review"

Boulder Acoustic Society members tend to be characterized as makers of hippie music. By those standards, then, Caged Bird qualifies as first-rate hippie music — a batch of songs that are often deeper, darker and more intriguing than haters of the style typically expect.
The playing of multi-instrumentalists Kailin Young, Brad Jones, Scott Aller, Aaron Keim and Scott McCormick doesn't meander in search of inspiration. It's tight and pungent on the plaintive "Walk" and an unexpectedly sinister version of the Dylan chestnut "Maggie's Farm." And while material such as "Sparrow Weeps" doesn't exactly revolutionize the subgenre, other tunes push at its boundaries, including "In the Year of Our Lord," featuring a muted brass section, and "No Matter What I Do," which finds common ground between bluegrass and rockabilly, with a little yodeling thrown in for good measure.
That's putting the "hip" in hippie.
-Michael Roberts - Westword (Michael Roberts)

"Old-timey twosome: Zebra Junction and Boulder Acoustic Society team up for a dual CD-release party"

From DeVotchka to Ukulele Loki's Gadabout Orchestra, Colorado musicians have a love of -- and a knack for -- revisiting old timey music through a modern lens.

Fans of vintage American music have twice the reason to dance on Wednesday when local favorites Zebra Junction and the Boulder Acoustic Society team up for a dual CD-release party celebrating each group's new album.

For Zebra Junction's Micah Lundy, whose band is celebrating the release of Pomme de Terre, it's been a long time coming.

"Our original goal was (to record) for about three months," he says. "Then a lot of opportunities came up that we couldn't pass up, so we ended up putting it on the shelf for a while."

Lundy -- who plays traditional instruments like the guitar and mandola alongside more unique items like a toy piano and an old Playskool tape player -- says one of the band's biggest opportunities was getting to play a sold-out Red Rocks last year in advance of a showing of "The Big Lebowski." The band took advantage of the coupling by incorporating a bowling theme into its set, complete with human bowling pins.

Though only a two-piece -- Lundy and Shawn "Flitz Alan" Palmer, who plays percussion, guitar, ukulele and bass -- Zebra Junction is all about putting on a big show, involving back-up players and live entertainment. For this Wednesday's CD release, the band is going to have burlesque and aerial dancers; three live painters, who will give away pieces of their artwork as souvenirs; and a general carnival atmosphere.

The live show will showcase material from Pomme de Terre, which, like previous Zebra Junction releases, melds the traditional with the contemporary.

"We're big fans of mixing the old with the new," Lundy says. "We love acoustic instruments, but we also love electronics and mixing the two."

The Boulder Acoustic Society weaves together the old with new in a different way. Featuring classic acoustic instruments such as the guitar, ukulele, violin and accordion, BAS infuses old-timey tunes with a modern pop sensibility on its new EP, Caged Bird.

"We've always been known for using jazz, blues and folk music in an interesting way," says Aaron Keim, who plays upright bass, ukulele and sings, "but we were able to incorporate some pop elements that we weren't able to do before. I think that makes it very accessible."

The six-song EP was recorded as the band toured, with the songs oftentimes written while traveling then recorded in whatever town they were playing, including Boulder, Denver, New York and North Carolina. This gave the album a sense of immediacy, and for the band Caged Bird is its most intimate album to date.

"We feel that after all these years of doing it this is the most personal and highly developed record we've ever recorded," Keim says.

The bands complement each other well, and together this two-headed old-school attack could easily become one of the area's hottest tickets.

"Neither of us have huge egos, and neither of us are out there to be the headlining band," Lundy says. "We're out there to put on a great show."

- Daily Camera (Vince Darcangelo)

"The Caged Bird review"

The Boulder Acoustic Society get to do anything they want, largely because they say so. And by anything I mean yodeling during a rockabilly song, launching into a pretty killer David Byrne impression, or doing, in their own words, a "minor key acoustic punk version of "Maggie's Farm.'" They can get away with this rampant eclecticism because they can pull it off, and while they walk the fine line between grating and experimental, they walk it quite well.

Preferring lyrics and choruses over their onetime dedication to instrumentals, the band continues its quest to write pop songs that might come off a bit abrasive, such as the vocals on the aforementioned Dylan cover, but that the listener can warm to after a few spins. And even as they arguably get more pop, they still wear their acoustic credo with pride, doing an impressive job of expanding the definition of acoustic to "anything not plugged into an amp." The EP features pianos, accordions and of course stand-up bass and plenty of mandolin. The quality production captures their musicianship in the live tracks as well as the studio cuts. The entire effort is a testament to the fact that people pre-Franklin likely enjoyed themselves as much as any Orange Amp-obsessed guitar junkie.

Never too serious, but far from comedy, the Caged Bird EP serves the band well by allowing them to expand their sound while still letting them keep the intellectual/weirdo mystique that made them likeable in the first place.
- Scene (Nate Harper)

"Music Makers Get the Sound Just Right"

Lester William Polsfuss was (and is) a brilliant guitar player, sure. But Polsfuss' true legacy — filed under the name Les Paul in the encyclopedia — will always focus on his role in the development of the electric guitar.

Young kids in band class are always surprised to find out that Gibson's Les Paul model is named after the man who created it — and the man who, in the process, helped invent the solid-body electric guitar.

It's always been understood that Paul's intense familiarity with the inner workings of the electric guitar contributed to his unique style of play, his songwriting and his handling of the instrument. And that makes perfect sense. If a musician knows what goes into making a guitar — or any other instrument, for that matter — he has a leg up on the guy who doesn't know the difference between an Epiphone and a Gibson.

Solitary pursuit

Jordan McConnell grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, playing an electric guitar his father, an electronics engineer, made by hand for him. After graduating from high school in 1999 and feeling a little aimless, McConnell signed up for a two-month luthier course in a remote Canadian farming town.

He came out of that schooling with a guitar he had made from scratch, and it wasn't long before he had kicked his dad out of his backyard shop back in Winnipeg and refitted it as his own guitar- building workshop. Three years after his luthier obsession began, he started playing guitar with the Duhks, an indie-minded string band that has since captured the hearts of many the world over.

"I'm not really building full-time right now, because we're always touring," McConnell said from a video shoot at the Salton Sea in California's Palm Desert. "If we're flying, I can't take my tools with me. Sometimes when we're doing driving tours, I'll cut out inlays in my hotel room. But the work is either too intricate or too not intricate to pull off in a hotel room. I do most of
my work when I'm home, when I'll go into intense isolation mode."
Having played the guitar for more than 20 years allows McConnell the experience to properly build instruments for others. When he initially connects with somebody who wants a guitar built specifically for them, he asks them to bring over the guitar they've been playing.

"I know my playing really well, and I know what I want out of a guitar," McConnell said. "So when I'm building a guitar for somebody else, I watch them play the guitar and then I can focus on the sound and the feel and the playability they want out of the guitar that I'm building for them."

Bringing the noise

Oliver Ackermann is another musician who creates instruments while also making his own music. Although in Ackermann's case, some conservative or traditional listeners might not consider his compositions "music."

Ackermann is the singer-guitarist behind the Brooklyn shoegaze/noise band A Place to Bury Strangers, a group that has been called "the loudest band in the world." APTBS makes music in the vein of the Jesus and Mary Chain, and My Bloody Valentine, only with a heavier focus on volume and noise.

And that's where Ackermann's Death By Audio company comes in. Ackermann turned his electronics hobby and passion for music into a legitimate business making effects pedals that retail from $150 to $320. His signature pedal: Total Sonic Annihilation. And what does that sound like?

"It sounds kind of like aliens landing or explosions or drum-machine sounds," Ackermann said. "It takes your effects and transforms them into other sounds. It (expletive) up the whole system of what you're working with and turns everything upside down. It's almost too crazy for me to use in a live setting because it's too hard to control. I use it in the recording studio, mainly."

As with many kids into shoegaze music, Ackermann developed his love of unique noises by taking apart various pedals and amplifiers. He read a couple of books on electronics, and he broke a couple of pieces of machinery. And finally it came down to Ackermann needing $3,000 for a trip.

"I'd been working on this pedal for a while, and so I called it Total Sonic Annihilation and sent out some press releases, and sure enough I made enough money to make that trip happen," he said. "It was an effects pedal that nobody else had come out with. It was new that you could create sounds that you couldn't get anywhere else."

Like most indie musicians, Ackermann doesn't make much money via his music — even though APTBS opened several arena dates for Nine Inch Nails last month. He is, however, seeing a profit on his pedal-oriented business, and his pedals — from Total Sonic Annihilation to Octave Clang, Soundwave Breakdown to Interstellar Overdriver — are available at retail shops throughout the country.

Carrying on tradition

Other musicians are forced into making instruments to save a dying breed — and to continue the tradition. Aaron Keim plays the stand-up bass for the - Denver Post (Ricardo Baca)

"New Blood (Scott Aller feature)"

Scott Aller
age: 22
equipment: Meinl cajon, DW bass
pedal, Pearl cowbell and percussion
table, Zildjian K Session Dark
Crash, Sabian 10" AA splash,
Rhythm Tech Ribbon Crasher
and tambourine, LP Jam Block,
Akira Jimbo Signature Snare,
Regal Tip sticks, Pro-Mark “Cool
Rod” sticks, Vic Firth brushes,
Spaun cymbal stand.

Every once in a while, The Squid
is struck by what a drummer
doesn’t do — as in showboat.
Check out Scott Aller’s percussive
forays with alternative
string band Boulder Acoustic
Society, where the Fort Collins,
Colorado-bred musician plays
everything from washboard to
sea shells. Don’t let the variety
of noisemakers fool you — dude
is all about serving the song.
On the band’s latest, The Caged
Bird, he captivates whether he’s
conjuring textures with found
objects or just doing some mean
syncopated rhythms. Aller’s
ability to wring a beat out of
darn near anything probably has
a lot to do with his openmindedness,
exploring everything
from Dixieland jazz and punk to
Appalacian bluegrass and funk.
Even his more pedestrian altrock
band, The Stinos, sees Aller
treating the drums as a bona fide
musical instrument, not just a
means for keeping time. - DRUM! Magazine (Waldo The Squid)

"Boulder Acoustic Society Rolls Into Town"

The four members of the Boulder Acoustic Society, who are scheduled to play Friday at the Hoogland Center for the Arts, are used to being the odd men out.

"When we play festivals, we're definitely the weird band," bassist Aaron Keim said in a recent telephone interview.

"We don't sound like Flatt & Scruggs. Our stuff has got so much gospel and funk and hip-hop and rock music in it -- even though it's folkie -- that we're always going to be the weird band."

The Boulder Acoustic Society is co-headlining the latest installment of WUIS' and Sam Adams' Bedrock 66 Live! concert series. Also taking the stage Friday night at the Hoogland is Otis Gibbs, described by one of the concert's organizers as "Steve Earle meets Woody Guthrie."

It seems fair to say that if you'd known Keim or his bandmates 10 years ago, you wouldn't expect that three orchestral musicians and a rock 'n' roll drummer would someday be riding the folk-and-bluegrass circuit.

Keim moved to Boulder, Colo., five years ago to pursue a master's degree in music history.

Violinist Kailin Yong, who hails from Singapore, had moved to Boulder because his string quartet had a job lined up there. But that group broke up, so Yong began performing as a street musician -- that's where he and Keim met.

Accordion player Scott McCormick knew Keim from their undergraduate days, when both played French horn in the symphony orchestra at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Keim got a bass the same day McCormick got an accordion, about 10 years ago.

Drummer Scott Aller came on board after the other members of the band encountered him playing in a Dixieland jazz band. But it wasn't easy.

"He really wanted to play with us," Keim recalled. "We said, 'Yeah, you can play with us, but you've got to leave your full drum set at home. Surprise me; show up with whatever you want -- it just can't be a drum set.'

"So he showed up at our house the first day. He's sitting on a wooden box, he's got a washboard, a snare drum, a bunch of scrap metal, bells and shells and cymbals and spoons -- he's just got a big pile of stuff.

"For him, he had never heard Doc Watson before, he'd never listened to Western swing, he'd never done any of this stuff. His fresh ideas for all these things have been very helpful to us." Keim said all the band members have a diverse background.

"Just really in the past five years have we all kind of focused in on taking that diversity and kind of funneling it through this American roots filter," Keim said.

"All along the way, all of us have played in jazz bands and Brazilian music groups and punk rock outfits and symphony orchestras and just anything -- blues, gospel, indie rock -- we've kind of done it all. That's the reason our music sounds like it does. To us, it's all fair game, and then we shuffle it through this one lens just to give it a focus," Keim said.

The band is traveling the country in a van and has a tour schedule that can be brutal. They're in Kansas the day before Friday's gig in Springfield and are scheduled to appear in North Carolina the day after. Putting together a tour means looking for great opportunities and stringing together as many gigs as possible between here and there, Keim said.

"Sometimes that means it's really easy, six hours a day, three hours a day of driving. Sometimes it means you finish a show, you get back in the van and you drive all night until you get to the next show."

- The State-Journal Register (Brian Mackey)


2010 Champion of Disaster
2009 Punchline
2008 The Caged Bird
2007 Now
2006 8th Color
2004 So Many Stars In the Sky

B.A.S. is played on over 300 public, college, community, Americana and Roots radio stations all over the world.



BAS’ music is haunted by the past and focused on the future.

It’s indie-folk that draws from Appalachian roots, gritty gospel and the contemporary urban soundscapes. BAS merges tradition with innovation, producing a unique sound and an unforgettable live entertainment experience.

Five years, five albums and relentless touring have honed Boulder Acoustic Society into one of tightest and most entertaining bands of any genre. The pulsing percussion and thumping bass of Scott Aller and Neil McCormick support the dual lead vocals of multi-instrumentalists Scott McCormick and Aaron Keim.

“Punchline,” the band’s current release on Austin’s Nine Mile Records has been hailed at home and abroad for forging “a new wave of American roots music.” The disc also aptly displays the depth of the songwriting of the four members of Boulder Acoustic Society – a band who wears vintage clothes, savor small batch bourbon, rocks the ukulele.

Are they contemporary music with a dark, folky vibe or folk music with poppy hooks and string band textures? Who cares, its BAS and you don’t want to miss them.