Nobody ever said being a local band was easy. If they have, they're full of shit.
Though Peoria-bred roots-rock quartet The Cold Desert is fairly new to the game, its outlook on being a local band is realistic, knowing firsthand that the Phoenix music scene is hard to tap into and even harder to break out of. "We're trying to break out of the small local bubble," says frontman/guitarist Matt Klassen. "I guess we've kinda been overlooked."
But the challenge certainly hasn't stopped Klassen, and band members Cody Nelson, Jared Kaiser, and Jason Stromberg from trying. With their first professionally produced and expertly mastered debut album, titled Woman & God, on the brink of its Sunday, February 17, release, the dudes of The Cold Desert are both proud and excited while discussing their achievements of the new record.
"We wanted to do a full-length album, and we wanted to do it with pro gear and really take it from amateur mid-level band to professional lead band, so we needed money to do that," Klassen says, sitting alongside his bandmates on a picnic bench outside Lux Central. "Kickstarter ended up being a really good way to do it. We kinda got in on the front edge of the Kickstarter wave, because now I know around six or seven bands on [the site] asking the same people for the same kinda money. So, I'm glad we got in a little bit earlier than some of the other local bands."
The campaign went online last March and exceeded its goal in reaching $4,000 to help the band pay for studio time. More importantly, it gave Klassen the encouragement he yearned for ever since he started The Cold Desert as a solo project in 2008. "It wasn't just earning the money to make the thing, but knowing there were 70 people that were really behind us and wanting to see us succeed because they believed in our music," Klassen says.
The band teamed up with local producer Corey Spotts and recorded the album over the summer. On what went into the recording process, their answer is quick: "A lot of sweat."
"Mainly, because the studio we recorded in didn't have air conditioning," says Cody Nelson, the band's guitarist/multi-instrumentalist, who is a nephew of Gin Blossoms guitarist Scott Johnson. "It was nicer outside than it was inside. But I mean, even without the air-conditioning, it was a really fun experience working with [Spotts]. The dude has an ear for music. Subtle things like, let's try this, or let's think about that. He did an awesome job at producing it with us."
Drummer and baby of the group (age 21) Jared Kaiser chimes in: "It was the little things [Spotts contributed] that made the album, in my opinion, and he can play a hell of a tambourine."
Since the September 2011 release of The Cold Desert's EP, Four Doors, it's clear the band's sound on the new record shows impressive levels of refinement. The band agrees.
"If you listen to the EP, there's a lot of time-signature changes, key changes, and a little bit more angularity. But [now] when we use that sort of mathematical technical stuff, we're doing it because it's for the service of the song and not like, hey, look what we can do," Klassen says. "It's gotta be a great song and that's the bottom line. If an individual of the band is doing something musically that does a disservice for the song then its not gonna work."
What you will find on Woman & God are songs that differ in style, ranging from balls-out rock to sweet, folk-tinged Southern melodies, and that do ultimately work, moving somewhat effortlessly through different genres.
"Its not so easy to pigeonhole our sound into a musical category. A band like Mumford and Sons have different songs, but you know exactly what to expect," Klassen says. "We can play in [an Americana] genre and Black Keys-ish kind of genres. We can also play in an old-school '70s rock kind of genre or a stripped-down intimate folk kinda style, and we enjoy doing so."
In fact, the arrangement of songs is something the band hopes its listeners will pay close attention to. "There's a lot of variety on the album and one of the cool things about the that is it lends itself to listening to the whole thing top to bottom," Klassen says. "The transitions between each of the songs we really thought out and worked through making them flow.
There's very, very little dead space on the album, and that's all intentional, so that it is like an old-school record. I mean, there will probably be songs that you'll pick out and [say], like, that's a great song. But hopefully people will be able to listen to the whole album and experience it the same way you'd experience reading a whole book."
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There's no question the dudes of The Cold Desert are eager to prevail, together. "When I started playing shows under the name The Cold Desert years ago, trying to do it by myself -- getting the momentum and being creative -- was beyond stressful," Klassen says. "It's not what I wanted. I loved playing with a band, and having these guys with me, it pushes me to be a better musician. It really has become a collaborative experience, entirely. Watching it all come together has been my favorite part."
The Cold Desert is scheduled to perform Sunday, February 17, at Crescent Ballroom.