Flobots blow up huge but credit their hometown of Denver with the success

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:: Mile High Music Festival ::

:: July 19 :: (4 p.m.) ::

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By Jeffrey V. Smith

Denver’s obsession with its homegrown hip-hop act Flobots is catching on outside the city’s limits, and in a big way. Recent appearances on late night television, a major-label release, national radio play, massive digital sales, and a tour of sold-out shows are indications the band’s conscious, uplifting, message-driven songs are outgrowing their roots and generating a buzz on a national scale. It is ultimately those Denver roots, however, that the band’s members credit for Flobots existence and on-going success.

“Denver has one of the most thriving music scenes in the entire country, and very few people know about it, bassist Jesse Walker told The Marquee. “The scene is ripe with amazing musicians who are not afraid to experiment. It’s not at all unusual to see a band with non-traditional instrumentation not only pushing boundaries, but also writing great songs.”
And, that’s just what the Flobots do — push boundaries, employ unusual instrumentation and write first-rate songs.

Despite Denver’s somewhat isolated scene, success came relatively quick for the six-piece band after its self-produced and recorded Fight With Tools was released and celebrated with a sold-out Gothic Theater show in October 2007. The act’s bio says the CD represents a year’s worth of writing and recording, calling it “a fire-breathing rallying cry for all freethinking individuals fed-up with the violence and apathy that have, thus far, defined the new millennium.”

Not long after that heralded CD-release performance, radio station 93.3 KTCL held its “Hometown for the Holidays” contest, which allowed fans to vote for their favorite songs from 35 local bands. Flobots won both the radio and live performance awards and were given the opportunity for its single, “Handlebars,” to get on the air.

Thanks to an unprecedented outpouring of support from fans, the song ended up in full rotation by the end of January, just a month after debuting. The popularity of “Handlebars” ultimately attracted the attention of record companies, and Flobots subsequently were signed to Universal Republic for a two-CD deal. Since then, the band has been on a quick rise to the top.

Appearances on television and at large festivals, sold-out shows and widespread recognition followed.

“After…KTCL in Denver put ‘Handlebars’ into regular rotation…the response was immediate and overwhelming. The song quickly became the most requested song on the station, and sales of the independent release of Fight With Tools increased dramatically,” Walker said. “Universal Republic stepped up and agreed to re-release the record untouched. From there ‘Handlebars’ spread on radio across the nation, and we were off.”

According to Walker, Flobots have had numerous professional successes, recently with the untouched re-release of Fight With Tools by Universal Republic — something practically unheard of in the industry. The major label release of the album debuted at No. 15 on the Billboard Top 200 charts, an accomplishment the band’s members “never dreamed possible” for a locally made CD. The record also debuted at No. 1 locally on Twist and Shout’s bestseller list.
Since seeing the album do so well, the band has also been enjoying sold-out shows wherever they go.

“Seeing all the people who know our lyrics and who clearly identify with our message has been overwhelming,” Walker said.

All the new fans showing up at the concerts are not leaving disappointed, since it was more than just the music and CD that helped launch the band. Its live show is primarily how Flobots gained notoriety in Denver, and now, throughout the country.

“Our live show is a central part of our identity as a band,” Walker said. “From the very beginning, we worked hard to make our live show an interesting and entertaining experience for our audience. Today, we take great pride in our live show and we try to put all our available energy into making the shows as good as possible every night. So far, our national shows have been tremendous experiences for both us and our fan base.”

The band is now capitalizing on their success and doing even more to get their message out into the world. After being inspired by young people during performances at schools and local peace organizations, members of Flobots created a non-profit that would “demonstrate the ability of bands to use their platform to promote civic engagement and social change.”

“In the coming year, we are very excited to leverage the successes of the band into successes for the non-profit,” Walker said.

While the roots of the band go back to 2000, when lead emcee James Laurie, a.k.a. ‘Jonny 5,’ teamed up with producer Farhad Ebrahimi, a.k.a. ‘Yahktoe,’ to record the album Onomatopoeia in 2001, it wasn’t until 2005 that the current act took flight, but only as a side project. That year, Jonny 5 formed a side project with a second lead emcee, Brer Rabbit. Together, they teamed up with classically trained violist Mackenzie Roberts, bassist Walker, guitarist Andy Guerrero, jazz trumpet player Joe Ferrone and drummer Kenny Ortiz. In October 2005, that eclectic lineup released Flobots Present…Platypus. The band’s latest release, Fight With Tools, followed. All along, Flobots was being propelled to the top of Denver’s scene and solidifying its local reputation with its refreshingly positive, thought-provoking message and nontraditional instrumentation.

“When Flobots first formed, we all shared a common desire to push musical boundaries. The environment in Denver, on the whole, made it very easy for us to develop a sound that was unique. No one ever questioned why were using a viola and trumpet in a hip-hop band,” Walker said. “Whenever we travel, we are reminded of just how good the Denver scene actually is.”

When the act finally returns to town, it will be on a much larger stage as part of the Mile High Music Festival Sunday lineup alongside acts like Dave Mathews Band, The Black Crowes, John Mayer, and The Roots.

Despite the sudden popularity and increase in venue size, local fans will undoubtedly show up to show their love for the band’s music and message.

“The support we received from the Denver community is a big reason we are where we are. We would not be having the success we are having today if not for the groundswell of radio requests, record sales, and concert attendance we experienced in Denver,” Walker said. “Without question, the support from the Denver community has been the most amazing and humbling part of this entire crazy journey.”

:: Flobots ::
:: Mile High Music Festival ::
:: July 19 :: (4 p.m.) ::

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