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Denver, Colorado, United States | SELF

Denver, Colorado, United States | SELF
Band Rock Folk


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"FaceMan unites Denver musicians for the ‘first waltz’ of his debut release"

By Brian F. Johnson

For the last two years, the Denver trio FaceMan has been relying pretty hard on the freak-out factor.

The group has played a slew of Front Range gigs with their leader, FaceMan (he doesn’t use his real name), cloaked in anonymity behind a massive mask constructed from floor vents and ceiling fan motors that spin lights. The contraption is kind of like a modern day version of the creepy patient mask used in the old film Johnny Get Your Gun, which was made famous to another generation by the video for the song “One” from Metallica.

While FaceMan hasn’t revealed himself, the other members of the group, 7-string guitarist David Thomas Bailey and drummer Ryan Elwood, play in the open with multi-media screens above their heads showing videos that fit the music. The other-worldly presentation has caused audiences all over Denver to stop and ask, “What the hell is going on here?”

The simple answer to that question is “an evolution.”

Long before the concept of FaceMan was ever thought of, the Denver born and raised musician had tried to stifle a desire to play music live. While in school in New Orleans he formed an admittedly terrible band, which saw moderate success only because “we stuck around long enough.” Upon his return to Denver, FaceMan began taking jazz guitar lessons at the Olde Town Pickin’ Parlor in?Arvada, and after years of lessons he finally brought a few of his original songs to his instructor.

The man behind the mask had just come through a nasty divorce that was not his choosing and guitar was his only outlet for catharsis. “My lessons were like therapy. I think there were weeks when we didn’t even play. So when I finally brought these songs to him I was petrified about what he was going to say. I really needed him on my side right then,” FaceMan said in a recent face-to-face interview with The Marquee. “I finished playing them and he said, ‘You know, if you want help doing this out live I’d totally be down for that.’ It was one of the best compliments I’ve ever had in my life. It just blew my mind.”

They began working on the songs collaboratively and a sound arose that spanned multiple genres, time periods and vibes. The 11 songs that eventually became the forthcoming self-titled debut release aren’t a break-up album at all. From the Slim Cessna’s Auto Club-sounding first track “Darkest Day” to a 1980s era Lou Reed narration on “Fitting In,” FaceMan has crafted an incredible album that could easily stand on its own, without the mystery of FaceMan. The song “Colfax” for example, which talks about driving down the avenue and seeing “birds and trash and the beautiful lights,” could be one of the best songs about Denver in recent years.

FaceMan had already come up with the plan to perform anonymously, so once his instructor was on board and the songs were more dialed in, it was time to work on his mask.

“I’ve called all of the masks prototypes, because every one has been a work in progress, an evolution,” FaceMan said, adding that he and his dad have built the prototypes together. “My dad loves this. He’s one of my best friends and so we get to hang out and build all this stuff. It’s really great.”

The mask progressed through several different incarnations until it became this unwieldy beast that was hot, uncomfortable and (not conveniently) connected to an outlet with a three-pronged plug. But for the last 10 shows or so, FaceMan hasn’t even donned the massive apparel. These days, the mask has morphed — yet again — into a 200 pound stainless steel sculpture with copper rivets, that was commissioned from New York artist James Ronner, who built the piece over a seven-and-a-half month period.

The eye of the beast, which now sits behind FaceMan as opposed to around him, is filled with multi-media images. But while Faceman has taken off his super-hero mask, he still hasn’t revealed his identity and prefers to keep the comic-book image going. “Now that the character has been created, he doesn’t really need the mask,” ?FaceMan said, almost as if Clark Kent was defending Superman.

But while people may not know his name, they’re going to start knowing his music. With the February 4 release of the album, the group is getting together an astonishing lineup of Denver musicians to do a very different kind of CD release party, that is being billed as “FaceMan’s First Waltz.”

FaceMan explained that more than 35 musicians are already signed on to perform, and that instead of it being — like most CD release parties — all about one band, FaceMan is planning to make it more about the scene. “We’re going to do mini-sets with each band. We’ll play a couple of their songs and then they’ll play a couple of ours. FaceMan is kind of the house band. So we’ll play our whole album — in pieces — but this is more about the promotion of the Denver scene and the bands that we really respect,” FaceMan said. “In my mind, it’s almost like a meet-and-greet party for us. Logistically, it’s going to be a nightmare. So it’s either going to be a huge success or a horrible failure.”

:: FaceMan’s First Waltz ::

:: Bluebird Theater :: February 4 ::

Recommended if you Like:

• The Flaming Lips

• Lou Reed

• Slim Cessna’s Auto Club - Marquee Magazine

"FaceMan at the Bluebird"

By Brian F. Johnson

Photos by Timothy Dwenger

If any other act had so little attention focused on their music during their CD release party, they would have thrown a massive fit. But that was all in the initial plans for FaceMan’s First Waltz.

Just like The Band did with their Last Waltz, FaceMan set themselves up to be the house band for the First Waltz, playing their own songs inter-mingled with the guest artist’s songs — and the list of guest musicians was massive.

Before the music started, a quick view of the stage hinted at what was to come. It was littered — packed actually — with more amps, guitars, keyboards, sound pedals and percussion instruments than the full inventory of a couple Guitar Centers put together.

And when the musicians finally started to find their instruments, it became clear, the genius behind the concept. FaceMan is still pretty unknown. This being their debut release, the band is in its infancy. But by asking other musicians around the Denver scene to be part of the unveiling of the album, FaceMan managed to make the event larger than they ever could have on their own.

So what was billed a CD release party for FaceMan’s debut self-titled album, actually ended up being much more like a showcase of Denver talent. On hand were members of Bop Skizzum, The Knew, The Outfit, Chadzilla of Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Boulder Acoustic Society, The Vitamins, Medicine Man, Bonnie and the Beard, Chris McGarry and the Insomniacs, Panal, Martin Gilmore, The Construct, K Buzz and the Brassheads.

That’s some serious musicianship, but never during the evening did things get stodgy. There was a light-hearted “we’re just having fun here” kind of a mood all night. Indicative of that was the set by K Buzz and the Brassheads, the marching band in charge of keeping music going while musicians fussed with their gear in between sets on stage. When the Brassheads started their set, everyone theater, lit up. The novelty of having a marching band playing tracks like “Kodachrome” and “Superstitious,” was immediately appreciated, but when the Brassheads, started playing the “Super Mario Brothers” theme music, the crowd let out a roar of both laughter and enthusiasm, that was infectious.

Attention soon turned to the main stage though, as FaceMan, seated on a riser in the center of the stage, began to call out artists. For this gig, FaceMan had shelved his old mask — a contraption made from floor vents and ceiling fan motors that used to hide his face. Instead of that mask, the guitarist sat in the open, and a new sculpture, a six-foot distorted face with a giant eye filled with video images, served as the new “prototype” for FaceMan’s backdrop.

In an interview leading up to the show, FaceMan said that all of the musicians working together could definitely pose some challenges. “Logistically it’s going to be a nightmare,” he had said. And, he was right. The production crew deserves massive kudos, for its obvious above-and-beyond work. But, simply because of all of the changing musicians and gear, there were occasional fits of feedback and some dropped signals here and there.

Those little imperfections didn’t take away from the evening, though. It was a fantastic night of music, way more diverse than any single show, and more diverse than some festivals, for that matter. Yes, there were times when it was hard to find a flow, since material changed with musicians. Yes, it was tough to distinguish FaceMan songs from other people’s music. Yes, it was impossible to go the bathroom and come back and know who the hell was on stage. But that’s also what made it the success that it was.

FaceMan worked for years to craft his sound and record his CD. He could have done a straight-forward set of his tracks and left it at that, but the fact that he surrounded himself with so many other talented people and allowed them to showcase their material while helping to showcase his, was a phenomenal experience — for the audience and, from the looks of it, the musicians as well. - Marquee Magazine

"FaceMan: 'We're like the GWAR of folk'"

FaceMan's second show was on September 12, 2009. The attention of most indie-rock fans in the Mile High City was directed elsewhere that day — at Red Rocks and Monolith, to be specific. But for some, it wasn't the Pitchfork-approved indies up in Morrison that were the most remarkable. That distinction belonged to a guy playing a guitar in the darkened basement of the Meadowlark, singing about self-loathing. And — oh, yeah — he was wearing a mask with spinning lights while creepy black-and-white videos of monsters and old cartoons streamed out to his drunken friends.
Faces of depth: Steve, the uni-monikered mastermind of FaceMan.
photo roadies
Faces of depth: Steve, the uni-monikered mastermind of FaceMan.
FaceMan's First WaltzWith performances by members of Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Bop Skizzum, the Knew and more, 8:30 p.m. Friday, February 4, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue, $10, 303-830-8497.
Related Content

* FaceMan: "We're like the GWAR of folk"
February 3, 2011
* Faceman's First Waltz at the Bluebird, 2/4/11
February 6, 2011

More About

* Ryan Elwood
* David Thomas Bailey
* Red Rocks Amphitheatre
* Swallow Hill
* Robbie Robertson

Steve is FaceMan, but FaceMan is also a trio. The menagerie of crazy shit that is FaceMan might be better termed "visual art exploration," but even that seems too highfalutin: FaceMan's members simply call it "a project." Steve conceived it, writes the lyrics and has even begun to answer to the name "FaceMan." Steve is assiduous when it comes to his personal details, including his day job and last name. Anonymity is key.

"I want to feel like I'm up to no good," he claims. "Like I'm wearing a Zorro mask, running around in the night, jumping into hot chicks' windows."

So how does Zorro place his project? "We're like the GWAR of folk," he offers. "There's this seriousness to the party." The group's self-titled debut came out last fall and features stripped-down, jagged folk and rock with country flourishes. The songs can bounce, but the lyrics are almost always bleak. FaceMan, which was recorded almost entirely at Uneven Studios, improbably toes the line between the decaying grief of late Johnny Cash and the sincere absurdity of Pee-wee Herman. And, fittingly, its creator does, too.

Steve talks feverishly and unabashedly — transcribing a casual conversation with the self-described "talkaholic" would keep all of the City and County's stenographers busy for hours — about his music. It's not exactly what you'd expect from a guy who doesn't want anyone to know his last name. While he was at college in New Orleans, Steve played in a band that landed at the venerable Tipitina's. He was bent on not playing hackneyed music upon his return to Colorado, though, after seeing "white yuppies," as he puts it, try their hand at NOLA funk.

Wanting to learn jazz guitar, he landed at Arvada's Olde Town Pickin' Parlor in 2002 under the care of David Thomas Bailey, a student of Charlie Hunter's who also teaches at Swallow Hill and plays in Man vs. Village and Micro Marauder. A few years in, Steve came up with the FaceMan concept.

"I said to him, 'I've got this crazy idea,'" Steve recounts. "'I'm going to have a mask, a screen on my head with videos, and be the weirdest motherfucker you've ever seen.'" After a couple of run-throughs of Steve's originals, Bailey — much to Steve's surprise — asked if he could be a part of FaceMan.

In the time leading up to the group's formation, Steve went through a divorce and poured himself into the only thing he knew: writing tunes. "I sat there for a year with tons of pain," he recalls. "Then all of a sudden, I had this idea: I could hide. And then it's Halloween. You're the guy with the mask who's hitting on all the girls because you've got more confidence than you've ever had in your life."

Before he came up with FaceMan, he played a few solo gigs but was scared of becoming ordinary. "The only people who cared then," he remembers, "are the people who care about me, and they already care about me, so I didn't fucking care." Steve was nervous to show Bailey his songs, but after the two started hashing them out, they decided to prepare for a live show. Thinking they would go without drums, Steve, on a whim, posted an ad on Craigslist titled "Can you stir the beans?" As he tells it, "One motherfucker responded: Mr. Ryan Elwood."

Elwood is shy, something that Steve initially viewed as a deal-breaker when the drummer showed up at Andenken Gallery, where Steve and his father had been building elaborate prototypes of far-out masks and rotating screens. But after an amble through ten songs, Elwood was in.

The two other men of FaceMan see their roles as complementary. Elwood says, "What Dave and I do is take it into a different direction. I think we break the mold." Bailey adds, "I'm into hagakure — the way of the samurai. When I commit to a project, all of my work is at the disposal of my retainer. Great things happen when you humble yourself to an artist's vision." It also helps if you can play a custom-built instrument that has three bass and four guitar strings, leading Steve to label Bailey "the prisoner of something phenomenally difficult."

The band has made leaps in a relatively short amount of time, and in unexpected ways. FaceMan has played a fashion show and even the St. Patrick's Day parade. (Elwood recalls a gig opening for a samurai sword troupe where he partied too hard and threw up onto one of the Eastern costumes.) Steve dons a mask for one show, then doesn't for the next. Horn sections come and go. Steve recently commissioned a giant sculpture of a distorted face from artist James Ronner. Videos are projected through the eyeball.
And those videos are a labor of love. Steve spends around ten to fifteen hours putting together public-domain film for each of his songs on Archive.org. The beautiful and frequently frightening images include everything from footage of the 1908 World's Fair to a woman eating a turkey leg underwater. Steve sees FaceMan's live shows — to which the videos are integral — as ever-evolving. He compares his act to Cirque du Soleil's strive for excellence. "Some guy making his hands look like Puff the Magic Dragon eating a village of people? That's quality."

Still, the crux of FaceMan is Steve's songwriting. "DarkestDay" (all song titles, as well as the band's name, are mashed together without spaces) may be his finest and most evocative, with qualities equally indebted to Billy Bragg and Charles Bukowski. It certainly is exemplary: an unassuming folk-rocker with punishing lyrics. "I'm a loose nut/A whack job/I'm a crazy loser," he sings. But against that type, it's a stirring bruiser. There's an intended dialectic. "I think everyone hates and loves themselves," he asserts. "There's a lot about the project that's a duality. I live two lives. It's a powerful experience to admit publicly that you hate yourself. Most people don't have that avenue. Hickenlooper can't say, 'I'm a piece of shit, you know why?' "
Faces of depth: Steve, the uni-monikered mastermind of FaceMan.
photo roadies
Faces of depth: Steve, the uni-monikered mastermind of FaceMan.
FaceMan's First WaltzWith performances by members of Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Bop Skizzum, the Knew and more, 8:30 p.m. Friday, February 4, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue, $10, 303-830-8497.
Related Content

* FaceMan: "We're like the GWAR of folk"
February 3, 2011
* Faceman's First Waltz at the Bluebird, 2/4/11
February 6, 2011

More About

* Ryan Elwood
* David Thomas Bailey
* Red Rocks Amphitheatre
* Swallow Hill
* Robbie Robertson

The culmination of trolling his inner psyche is a Dionysian exclamation point for Steve. This Friday at the Bluebird, nearly forty musicians — Slim Cessna's Auto Club, the Knew and many others will have members present — will play thirty-plus songs from their respective repertoires for close to four hours.

"It's gonna be like taking care of an elementary-school field trip to the Natural History Museum," he enthuses. "The sound guy's gonna fucking hate us." When comparing FaceMan's First Waltz, as the night is being called, to the Band's Last Waltz, Steve highlights the party aspect of Robbie Robertson and company's famous send-off.

During FaceMan's rehearsal with others at the Blackbook Gallery in advance of the Bluebird show, there's a palpable glee in the company of boxed T-shirts and empty Stranahan's bottles. The bacchanal is already in full swing: These sad songs are making everyone quite happy.
- WestWord - Colin St. John

"FaceMan's First Waltz at the Bluebird, 2/4/11"

It was only one of many chaotic scenes in a four-hour show that featured almost forty different musicians. Members of the Knew and the Outfit crowded onto the Bluebird stage Friday, sharing space with the show's headline trio, FaceMan. As the guest musicians hurried to tune instruments and check sound levels, FaceMan's eponymous frontman took the brief pause between tunes as a chance to sum up the spirit of the show.

"It's sort of like an iPod Shuffle up here," FaceMan, aka Steve, joked from his seated spot on a pedestal in the center of the stage.

His assessment wasn't far off. While the show ostensibly served as a CD release performance for FaceMan's debut, self-titled album, its scope and size made it something much more significant. FaceMan took the title of the show from the Band's famous farewell performance, "The Last Waltz," and Friday's performance boasted the same type of rare celebration, the same degree of unabashed joy in performance.
Indeed, the evening had the feel of a rare showcase, an ambitious collaboration that eloquently highlighted the depth and breadth Denver's homegrown musical talent. While FaceMan used the forum to debut tunes from its ten-song album, the setlist was dizzying in its diversity. Guest players shuffled back and forth on stage, offering expansive, energetic versions of tunes from their respective repertoires.

Interview: FaceMan: 'We're like the GWAR of folk'

K Buzz and the Brassheads opened the evening, playing brass-heavy, marching-band versions of pop standards like Paul Simon's "Kodachrome" and Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" near the theater's bar. The Construct, a Fort Collins-based duo, played a straightforward set in the pit before FaceMan started the program in earnest, offering stark songs composed of looped guitar lines, explosive drum accompaniment and driving vocals.
From there, FaceMan took the stage, joined by the seemingly endless procession of guest musicians. Older songs by the Knew, the Boulder Acoustic Society and the Vitamins took on a new urgency and dynamism. Medicine Man delivered blues-based harmonica flights side by side with driving, punk-informed vocals from Chadzilla, a guest from Slim Cessna's Auto Club. Martin Gilmore offered acoustic anthems that had roots in Woody Guthrie's dust-bowl ballads, as well as a cover of the American standard "Down In the Willow Garden."
FaceMan acted as the glue for all of the different artists and varying styles. Backed by drummer Ryan Elwood and bassist David Thomas Bailey, the musical mad scientist at the center of the ensemble known simply as FaceMan (or Steve), became the evening's emcee, introducing guests and praising the local scene. Between playing energetic backup for versions of tunes from the evening's cavalcade of local guest stars, FaceMan offered up their signature, stirring brand of folk. Songs like "CookieMonster" and "DarkestDay" fused heartfelt seriousness and Dada abandon, a combination of earnestness and silliness that summed up the feel of the entire evening.

The band's signature piece of stagecraft was another anchor for the evening. James Ronner's massive sculpture of a twisted face sat at the right of the stage for the entire show, serving as a visual anchor for a program of separate styles and different genres. A small screen in one of the eyes of the sculpture bore a constant stream of stock film footage, imagery that also appeared on a larger, wider screen at the back of the room.
For all the chaos and changes that occurred on stage during the four-hour showcase, such touches helped add a degree of constancy.

The overall sense of theme was deeper than the stagecraft or the carefully tailored film footage. Through all the different styles, through the sudden shifts in genre and musical approach, the show had a continuous feel. All of the music on display had shared ties in the Denver scene; every artist on stage was part of a common community.
The effect made for an impressive four hours. - WestWord - A.H Goldstein

"FaceMan: The Band without a Face"

FaceMan: The Band without a Face
by Megan Nix

Picture this: a guitarist sitting under a gigantic pair of opaque white spectacles (we're talking eight-feet tall by eight-feet wide) while from behind, two projectors send hand-selected video clips flicking across each lens—a plane being shot out of the sky, a woman delicately applying mascara, a team of synchronized swimmers in caps and modest 1950s swimsuits plunging into a blue pool.

A slight, tingly tapping starts on the snare drum; two guitars alternate between plucking and pounding out what you could call heavy, happy folk; and the haunting half-howl, half-laugh of the lead singer's voice touches back on a sweet sadness reminiscent of Bob Dylan or Wilco or maybe even Modest Mouse.

The difference is: this is a lead singer whose face you might never see.

FaceMan is the name of this Denver-based project: a threesome composed of a lead singer/guitarist whose identity is based on his anonymity and whom we'll just call “Stan” for now, a professional jazz guitarist in thick-framed glasses named David Thomas Bailey, and another professional jazz musician, Ryan Elwood, who has a short cropped haircut, and tapdances his drumsticks across a broken-down drumset.

While his bandmates are in the open, Stan wears a grate across his face and an astronaut-ish suit for the whole performance. The projectors, a youtube-ish version of the mind meditating throughout the songs, stream clips that have been aligned, beat by beat, with the verses.

“I wanted to be anonymous because I was exhausted with proving myself to myself. I always try to do things to get a response, and I thought, maybe I could do that and separate myself from it,” Stan says as he leads me through the studio space nestled inside a high-ceilinged artists' alcove, just across the street from the Larimer Lounge and Meadowlark where the band most frequently plays.

“Don't get me wrong,” he elaborates. “I still think about what people's response is, but I have no idea how many people are at our shows. All I can see are my feet and the strings. The pressure's lessened; I write better, and I perform better being hidden. It has the excitement of Halloween.”

Stan started taking private jazz lessons from Bailey about five years ago. “I really sucked at jazz, but I really respected Bailey's control and knowledge of music. I told him, 'Look, I have this really weird idea.' I didn't know what he was going to think. A band called FaceMan with no face? But I showed him a few of my songs, and he was into it.”

Stan found Elwood through a post on Craigslist. Knowing he needed a drummer, but also knowing he didn't want to make a bunch of ultimatums (must practice late at night, must be good, must be able to play along with videos), Stan simply advertised: “I need someone who can stir the beans.”

He got one response. That was Elwood. The three have been producing their raw, leaning-towards-low-fi sound, set to old, jumpy videos, ever since.

Today, as the architect for FaceMan, Stan brings the songs to his sidekicks, whom he describes as “music sponges,” and they add on as they see fit. While most bands put together about 10 songs for a tour, FaceMan has about 40 songs to date—and a few youtube's to boot—in just a year's time together.

Not to mention, the cartwheeling evolution of the stage set: Stan has already constructed eight apparatuses for the performances. Stan's uncle and his father (who got Stan thinking, many years ago, about a hero named FaceMan while they made weird faces at each other in the mirror) have helped him construct the sequin and tinsel-covered machines that look like the silver juggernauts that shoot lights at each other on Star Wars.

“I've failed a lot since I started this project,” Stan admits. “But part of it is that it's constantly changing. I don't ever plan on perfecting the set-up. I like making these weird things, and I plan to keep making them.” As he says this, he's sitting atop of a huge face: two projector screens are the eyes on either side of him, and underneath his seat juts a blue-lit metallic nose and a mouth filled with a rotating orange bulb.

When FaceMan bursts into their most well-known song, “DarkestDay,” their fingers dance light-footedly around the morose, then there's the crescendo of Stan's signature scream, and a backing down into the resolved folk with which the song began. Bailey adds the intended dissonance in the background while across the screens a silhouette of a wolf howls at the moon, followed by a man rollerskating along the edge of a twenty-story high skyrise. “I'm a weak heart, a soft soul,” Stan's voice, a sound straddling smooth and sharp, almost Lou Reed-ish, laments. “I'm a home in a flood.”

Stan spends about 16 hours a week on archive.com pulling clips and scenes that will provide an evocative (but not overly interpretable) image to enhance the emotive qualities of his lyrics. The videos don't have much of a plot; Stan's vision was that they'd be unspecific enough for each listener to relate to the music.

He also chose to set his sounds to scenes to give it an edge. “I've always been a little bit insecure about the sound that I generally gravitate towards as being a little too warm, where internally I'm dealing with a lot of things that bother me.,” he explains. “I don't want to come across that way as a performer, so it's been helpful using images. It's like watching a horrible scene set to classical music; there's something beautiful about the combination.”

So far, FaceMan has staged six shows, and the murmurs can't quite place them: they sound like ... Arlo Guthrie, or Morphine, or maybe it's the Talking Heads ... Stan's even heard his band characterized as “Death Folk,” which makes him laugh. With such a distinct display and nostalgic, but never sugar-sweet sound, you'd have to wonder if he isn't scared another band will construct screens and wear their “face” through streaming pictures.

“There's only one FaceMan,” Stan says as he's strapping on the custom-built backpack-fitted-with-a-ceiling-fan contraption that sends a small blue light in circles over his crown. The tinfoil-wrapped straps also hold up the three-sided screen that covers his face while he sings. “I sweat profusely in this thing. God bless whoever wants to try this; it's hard as hell.”

www.megannix.com - Denver Post Writer Megan Nix


FaceMan FaceMan September 2010
FeedingTime February 2012



FaceMan is a project that originated in October 2008. FaceMan is a rock trio that combines unique live performances with original music and video arrangements.