Kirk A.C. Marshall

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Band is Brisbane's Denvar Nugget

Feature Journalistic Article [concerning Brisbane indie pop / rock culture, specifically Denvar] (c)
Published: 18/11/03



'CAUSE I'M NOT SUPERMAN: Dave Gilbert, lead vocalist and guitarist for Brisbane band Denvar, looks to the future...


                In the '90's, with Blur and Oasis reviving the future of the British rock scene after the decline following the '70's, there was "Britpop". Across the world in our humble Brisbane, there was "Brispop". There are now numerous city favourites that have been produced within the last few years: recklessly inventive Brissie rockers Powderfinger even recognize the streets of their recently released album Vulture Street. And, obligatorily, at the other end of the scale are indie outfits like Denvar. Making music in Brisvegas is certainly a thorny business, and no-one is aware more so of that than Dave Gilbert, frontman for the alternative pop band.

            As has been recalled by the entire chorus of the band's members over the subsequent years, Denvar formed back in 1996, almost mythically; Dave Gilbert meeting with Jay Seymour and Paul Bennett at the top of the stairs in what is now considered the old Albert St. record exchange in Brisbane City. And although, ironically, the band established itself at a "pinnacle", Denvar suffered a slow, if distinctive, decline back into obscurity soon after. Having released their self-titled debut LP in 2000, Denvar immediately attracted glowing reviews and the occasional high-profile act to accompany on tour. Unfortunately, all that glitters is not gold, and within a year Denvar was finding it difficult to commit to any form of follow-up record, especially with the loss of their guitarist and backing vocalist. It was no time before Bennett made his commitment to life outside the band, and moved to Melbourne.

            Gilbert recalls the stresses of maintaining a band. "Haha, I don't know if we actually ended up with any spare time," he muses, bedecked in trademark black shades and grinning amiably. "Because we were always trying -- at least in the last year, the year before this year -- Denvar was trying and working on two new singles that never saw the light of day. We were recording them at Bryce [Moorhead]'s studio, and for some reason or another we just couldn't capture what we wanted... And it was nothing to do with the studio or anything... It was there... It was just the fact that we...were writing in a different way, we were a totally different writing team. Because, it was like we were trying to be the same band, but with a different mix of people."

            This uncertainty has definitely been conveyed in Denvar's fluctuating line-up since '96. The band's debut album boasted the talents of Gilbert, Seymour, Bennett, Moorhead and recording engineer Greg Wales, while appreciatively thanking Dave Cowie (a.k.a. 'Ukodave') for his drumming assistance.

            With so many seemingly attached "members", it is depressing to note that not only Bennett, but sometime-keyboard player / lyricist Bryce Moorhead and mastering guru Greg Wales have all moved on since the release of the LP. In fact, lead vocalist / guitarist Gilbert even claims that Denvar's "radio-plugger" (the person responsible to promote a band's album to willing radio stations and have tracks aired) also discovered The Vines, and has since left the Brisbane outfit for an international embrace.

            However, despite all this prior struggle, things are now fortunately looking up for Denvar with the pending release of their new EP entitled Work.Sleep.Die, the first record the band has produced since their acclaimed, irrepressible pop explosion Denvar three years ago. Recently, after a tenuous false start, radio station JJJ has been promoting the wryly ironically-entitled Square One, the first track to be pulled from the forthcoming EP. Curiously, with Square One Denvar seems to be gradually moving forwards, perhaps even away from the music expected of the 'popsters'.

            "Yeah -- a lot of people have said that to me actually..." Gilbert admits. "I can't see it because, I guess, I figure that I just wrote another song... Maybe it's heavier-sounding than the tracks that got airplay after our last [debut] album. But, in the same sense, there were still heavy tracks on the last album; they just didn't get the rotation that this one is getting." Whatever the truth of Denvar Mk. II, it's a definite cause to celebrate the second coming of one of Brisbane's most talented groups.

            Still, one has to sympathize that the EP has occupied a long time in the pipeline, and thus many questions arise. To begin with, why Work.Sleep.Die, a title in bitter contrast to their colorful debut album? "Yeah..." Gilbert smirks, drumming his hands on the steel surface of the cafe tabletop. "There's a couple of reasons. I guess, the most obvious reason -- which is going to blow away the mystique of that title -- is the fact that our second single [on the EP] is called Work 'Till You Die, haha. It's actually... See, the thing that I really enjoy about music, or the stuff that, seemingly, I'm really getting off on when I write songs is, a lot of the time, I love to write with a juxtaposition. Work 'Till You Die has got such a, well, morbid title, but the song is really pretty and happy. It's quite lush." Gilbert agrees that this resonates in a large portion of Denvar's music. "...It's the exact same thing with Oliver [from the 2000 self-titled debut LP]. There's no way you can get away with the lyrics, 'She's fucking Oliver' without doing it with falsetto and having a beautiful melody in there. I guess I'm still using that trick."

            Another setback was having to record the majority of Work.Sleep.Die without having a second permanent guitarist. Gilbert found himself collaborating almost entirely with bass guitarist Jay Seymour, practically duplicating the recording of Denvar when Gilbert, Seymour and Bennett were the main contributors. Gilbert was dubious about whether Denvar's musical recording process involved an equal share of work. "Well, if you just count myself and Jay, then yeah, haha. Because that's all there was working on the EP." That isn't to say that the reliable Dave Cowie wasn't involved in the recording process at all: his vocals were lifted from a track at the last minute. 

            To justify this decisive action Gilbert was open. "Because they sounded better than mine, haha. So they had to go. No, but at that point too, we actually split up as a band -- we weren't going to continue, but we didn't publicize that in any way. We just decided -- everyone decided -- that we'd call it a day at the end of last year. So we started -- myself and Jay -- writing songs not for the intentions of Denvar. You know, just for the sake of writing songs. But before we knew it, we had songs that sounded like Denvar, and so Denvar rolled on."

            Before Dave Gilbert could acknowledge it, he, Jay Seymour and David 'Ukodave' Cowie were re-establishing their old presence. Gilbert and Seymour found themselves experimenting musically for their remaining fanbase, continuing to develop concepts for new songs. "We did a helluva lotta acoustic sets this year," he chuckles, sipping from his frosted glass of orangeade. "...The real reason we were doing acoustic sets was to hide the fact that Denvar had split up... And, also, you know, to keep the money ticking over in the bank account... It was just a way of keeping an income."

            Also reducing the cost of the recording of Work.Sleep.Die was the fact that Gilbert and Seymour recorded the vocals and quite a bit of guitar work for the likes of Square One at Dave Gilbert's house. "...And that was stressful in the fact that that was the first time we'd ever done that, and we were teaching ourselves technology at the same time as recording a song that we expected to go on radio. So... a lot of the time it was though we were flying blind," he recalls wistfully. Things also became so increasingly doubtful that Gilbert, Seymour and Cowie had to financially back the EP entirely by themselves, without any assistance from their manager at Magoo Studios.

            Nevertheless, Denvar have returned to initiate an extensive 12 months of touring, all of it commencing when Work.Sleep.Die falls into record store shelves next month. The band is still attempting to sift through auditioning second guitarists, though they attest to getting somewhat attached to axeman Brian L'Huillier from The Daybridges who supported them at Dalby-hosted Hoogie Fest 2003. The feeling is, though, that Denvar played too much following the release of their debut, and had no time simply to consider consequent music-making. Having supported acts like The Strokes, You Am I, Jebediah and Motor Ace on tour, it seems that for Denvar recording new material was the only appropriate course of action.

            Luckily, Work.Sleep.Die is sounding good, and obtaining positive reviews. With this new record, Denvar will reintroduce themselves and Gilbert envisions that the sky is very probably the limit. "The surest I can be is just to know that as long as we still have some burning desire to make music that it'll still be going. It's something I've always contemplated, because being in a band is a hard thing to do -- especially at the same time as having a day job. But every time you figure you might give it up, you know that just in two weeks time you'll be out there trying to form another band."

            Now that the guys have an assured future, fans can begin to really question Denvar's origins. As always, singer and everydayman Dave Gilbert has the answers. "Um, we put down heaps of band names, potential band names on a page... and they were all really bad, and 'Denvar' stood out as just a little above the pack. So I think I came down to the State Library and I looked up some things on 'Denver' and... I think it was something as simple as... in one of the books I looked up... it actually said, 'Denver: Home of the Cheeseburger.' And I had just eaten a cheeseburger, and I thought, 'Wow, it's meant to be.' Unfortunately, that's as good as the story gets."

            We can never be sure.



Work.Sleep.Die [2004] will be released on September 6, through Um & Ah Records / MGM.

Denvar [2000] is currently available through Um & Ah Records / MGM.


You can find Denvar at: