Winter Park / Live Music: Unknown Americans line between band, audience
December 19, 2008
They call themselves The Unknown Americans. But the four-piece Americana band is becoming a cultural commodity on Colorado’s Front Range.
The name helps the band “get across the point of the audience and band being in this together – helping social barriers and lines disappear helps the music stay real,” said Danny Shafer, singer/songwriter and guitarist. “Social lines seem to disappear when the music starts,” he said, and with that the band sets up music that “can really help (you) blow some steam and pressure for a night.”
The Boulder-based country rock group has changed its line-up a bit in the past six months. Shafer said the new members have been good for the evolution and vision of the music. They’ve been playing and traveling for three years, taking more chances, and the audience has embraced the experiments and new member styles.
The Unknown Americans now include John Mouser on drums and veteran band members Jon VanSpriell (bass guitar) and Ben Gallagher (piano and organ).
“With each change we have been able to refine the sound and bring it further,” Shafer said.
Band style is what Shafer calls “an amped-up country rock sound” with honky tonk and dancing as mainstays and “a high-country Friday night sound.” The frontman said the simple things can be really inspiring and that he likes to write about “the beauty of regular life.”
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The song list is about 75 percent original with songs about simple subjects – honesty, work, love, fear, excitement, and life’s ups and downs.
“I believe these are the subjects that tie us together no matter who we are or what we do,” he said.
He doesn’t come from a musical family but a hardworking one “based on the belief as long as you’re working hard you’re doing something right, no matter what it is.” As musicians, the band believes “working-class values still make good sense. Those values make sense business-wise and personally.”
Shafer and the band say, “Life is like a mountain railroad” – a life which has so far brought them “all over the West.” They showcase their talents in 250 shows a year, including many well-known venues, like the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival and the Boulder and Fox theaters.
A highlight has been playing with Robert Earl Keen and Asleep at the Wheel. The state of affairs in this country, Shafer said, has “made driving around and talking to people more interesting than ever.”
Their sound is described as somewhere between Willie Nelson and Leftover Salmon. Other influences include Woody Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt, Ryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen, Drive By Truckers and Hank Williams.
What puts the band in its own category, Shafer said, is their focus on songwriting “while still giving an audience the room to get rowdy and listen.” A lot of nights the band is on the floor with the audience, like they’ll be at the Pub, and Shafer said that’s the way they like it.
“We want to know what’s going on with the crowd, hear what they have to say,” he said. “We want to get to them and them to know each other as the night goes on.”