By Hap Fry
The way Michal Menert sees it there isn’t a whole hell of a lot of difference between being a touring artist and a pirate.
Last month, less than 24 hours removed from playing Camp Bisco in Pennsylvania and a mere 72 hours away from playing festivals in Kentucky and Oregon on consecutive nights, Menert reflected on this analogy from the confines of his Denver residence on a late July afternoon.
“You know, it’s kind of like you’re a pirate,” Menert said during a recent interview with The Marquee. “You’re sailing the cities at night, docking next to buildings, trading goods and wares and services for booty. It really is kind of like the days of the pirate. You’re tour bus is your boat, and you know some shady stuff might be going on in there, but you kind of have to look the other way because you’re there to work.”
While adventure certainly appeals to Menert, the electronica whiz will navigate through much calmer and more familiar waters later this month. He will dock in his former hometown of Fort Collins for the annual Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest — a musical bonanza that overtakes the entirety of Old Town and features over 70 Colorado acts. Not only will Menert serve as the Colorado lineup headliner, playing in the coveted 8:40 p.m. Saturday night slot, Bohemian Nights’ officials confirmed the he will be the first ever electronica act to play the festival.
“That’s a huge honor for me,” Menert said. “I grew up in the Colorado music scene, and I cut my teeth here and paid my dues. To be able to now headline a festival like NewWestFest is pretty huge. I’m so thankful to have that opportunity. You know, I’ve always remained in Colorado. I didn’t like try to go to L.A. or New York or anything. I stuck it out here, and I’ve just really seen the music scene blossom.”
So too has Menert’s career. He will enter NewWestFest riding a tidal wave of momentum that includes his third full-length album Space Jazz – released in April – which has already eclipsed over 500,000 downloads. Oh yeah, Menert also co-headlined the famed Colorado venue Red Rocks in April – with a 17-piece band.
“It was close to selling out, and it was absolutely amazing,” Menert said. “I’ve played Red Rocks before in between sets doing my DJ stuff, but to be able to bring my band for a Red Rocks show was incredible. And I’ve always been shy at singing – I’ve sang in the studio and stuff – but I never thought I had a good voice, and I ended up singing a few of the songs. To go to Red Rocks and be able to sing songs that you wrote to people you love, it definitely was an incredible experience and was a huge bucket list check-off thing for me.”
To say Menert has come a long way since he began producing music with Pretty Lights’ Derek Vincent Smith, who also hails from Fort Collins, would be an understatement. “We’ve always had a music scene (in Fort Collins), but we didn’t really have a niche growing up,” Menert said. “It was more bluegrass and jam bands. There was never really an electronica scene in Fort Collins when I was growing up. So it’s really cool to have Pretty Lights come out of there. It’s just really great to be able to go home and play shows up there. It feels like a homecoming for me. I really have a sense of pride in being from that town. When I go back there to play shows, it kind of conjures up all the memories – the struggle when I was playing shows at Hodi’s (Half Note) back when it was The Starlight and opening up for acts or playing open mic nights at Avo’s (Avogadro’s Number). Now, I get to be the first electronica act ever at NewWestFest. That’s a huge privilege and an honor.”
Menert actually has played NewWestFest before with Smith back in 2007 or 2008 as their former band name Listen. But as Menert attested, electronica has grown leaps and bounds since those days. And just as he offered some insight as to what the life of a traveling musician compares to, Menert offered a theory into why the genre has become so widespread. “It’s kind of a testament that our world has become a global community,” he said. “People now have the ability to understand things that they may not have been familiar with. I mean, 90 percent of the artists are now streaming their sets and shows for free. Growing up in the ’90s, we didn’t have that. We didn’t have SoundCloud. You had to maybe wait for a friend to burn you a CD or something. People now listen to music from all genres because they now have access to it all. It doesn’t feel like this foreign land or something.”
That said, Menert knows NewWestFest, which prides itself on being an all-ages event, likely will be the first window of opportunity for many festival goers to get a glimpse into the world of electronica.
“It’s an opportunity for parents, who might not be familiar with electronica music, to check it out,” Menert said. “Now granted, I’m not the poster boy for electronica. I kind of straddle the line between live musician and electronica producer. But to be able to get people to dip their toes into the waters of electronica music is cool. I think they will be pleasantly surprised by how human it is.”
Menert won’t take the Linden Stage by himself. He will be accompanied by A. C. Lao (drums) and Marcelo Moxy (bass). “I’m coming out for this show with The Trio, which is kind of a scaled down version of what I’ve created for the fall – my band, Michal Menert and The Pretty Fantastics,” Menert said. “It’s a six-piece band, and I’m going to be doing a lot more songwriting and singing, along with the production. So, rather than having an album that’s sample based, this one’s going to be more along the lines of an album where you just pick up a guitar and sing something to get the point across. It’s more about the melody and the emotion of the song than about the signal point of what crazy sounds I made in the studio.”
Michal Menert Trio
Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest
(Festival runs Aug. 14 – 16)
Go If You Dig:
- Pretty Lights