Q&A with Crawford Phileo (Vitamins), Lucas Johannes (Action Packed Thrill Ride) and Jon Evans (Achille Lauro) of the Hot Congress collective
Hot Congress came together when a few friends came up with the idea of putting out a compilation by every band that was a member. These friends figured they were better off working together rather than struggling alone, and thus a mini-community with ties outside its membership was formed around a core handful of bands. Hot Congress eventually more than doubled its numbers and includes in its membership poets and visual artists, as well. The collective's roster reads something like a Who's Who of notable underground bands in the Denver area (see hotcongressdenver.com for a listing), and the upcoming CD release show for Hot Congress Vol. 1 at The Oriental Theater features some of the group's most well-known acts. We had a chance to sit down for a candid discussion about the group with Crawford Philleo of Vitamins, Lucas Johannes of Action Packed Thrill Ride and Jon Evans of Achille Lauro.
Westword: How did you come up with the idea of Hot Congress?
Crawford Philleo: Four or five of us, who got together later on, simultaneously had the idea that they wanted to be on a compilation that was put out by the bands on that comp. So it was me, Jon Evans, Matt Close and a couple of other people. Suzi Bromfield, I think. A couple of people mentioned it to each other and everyone realized they had a similar idea in mind, and a week later, we met at City O' City and hashed out exactly what we were trying to do.
I remember being at Wax Trax one day and they have a really sweet new-used arrivals section, and I came across this awesome twelve-inch compilation of bands from somewhere -- I had no idea who they were or what city they were from. I thought, "I really want my band to be on something like this." But not have to wait for someone to invite me to do it.
WW: Did the name come about right away?
Jon Evans: That was Matt Close's idea. I still like Dinosaur Insurance. That was Mike Marchant's suggestion.
CP: We really didn't want it to not have "Mile High" in it anywhere at all. That was the one thing it couldn't be. There are a lot of things it shouldn't be but "Hot Congress" seems to work.
JE: It worked because in one of the first two or three meetings, we had the Hot Congress idea, and we had Department of Advertising, and all these weird ministries and everything. Everyone was pretty gung ho.
WW: Who were the first bands involved?
CP: It was the Vitamins, the Pseudo Dates, Achille Lauro, The Jim Jims and Action Packed Thrill Ride was at the first meeting. We talked about other bands we wanted to invite to help work on the first compilation. There were a couple that didn't make it on to this first compilation but we're going to keep having shows and raising funds to put out another comp.
WW: Many compilations with similar goals focus on a specific genre of music but yours seems more diverse even though it's heavy on indie rock. But Action Friend isn't indie rock.
CP: We definitely wanted to pull from many sides of the scene.
Lucas Johannes: That was a happy accident. None of us really sound similar to each other. We've talked since then going forward in keeping with the eclecticism.
CP: The reason we picked a lot of the bands we did, they were bands we felt that didn't actively promote themselves as much as a lot of other bands and they weren't getting a lot of press around Denver. All of a sudden you get a lot of awesome musicians together and put a name on it and people pay attention. It's kind of weird how that happened. We want to include a lot more stuff. We'd like to have an electronic artist on the next comp.
When you get this many people together to do something like this, it can be complicated. John did a really good job of figuring out the artwork, Matt Daniels was kind of in charge of getting all the tracks assembled and mastered, I spearheaded the website, which was a horrible idea. Eric Peterson [of Old Radio] redesigned the site for us but we all try to contribute content for the site.
WW: Putting out this compilation you had done shows to help put it out?
CP: That was one of the main things we wanted to do.
LJ: That way, when it comes time to put the comp out it can be free. And then we'll put it on the website for free download. The money we raised went right into that compilation and now we're broke so we need do more shows to put money into the next comp.
JE: We did that entire album with, what, $1,800?
CP: The bands contributed by playing these shows and it was a cool thing for everyone to get motivated at least that much. It's not that hard to play a show and promoting yourself.
WW: What do you hope the compilation represents or communicates to someone with no direct connection to the underground music scene in Denver?
CP: I hope people see that the word Denver is on it and think twice about what this city is about. Denver is tough. We get a lot of cool shows here but I've talked to bands from elsewhere and it can be kind of a pain in the ass to get here, especially if you're focused on playing the east coast and the west coast.
We have sent it out to a lot of places already. Katherine Petersen of Radio 1190's Local Shakedown sent it out with her promo packs for her own local music compilation. We want to get it out there beyond Denver so people can maybe think about Denver in a different way than they did before. I think people think of Denver in reference to of 3Oh!3 and The Fray.
LJ: There's no real infrastructure in Denver to get music out in the world.
CP: Maybe a lot of bands that get big are relying on good luck or they knew someone in particular who could give them all kinds of opportunities or they moved from somewhere else and already had something going on. What's cool about Hot Congress is that it's really a group of friends that care about what they're doing and they're actively promoting it for themselves.
WW: What role does Hot Congress play beyond putting out a compilation and booking shows?
LJ: We officially support each other and push each other to write better songs and put ourselves out there. Give ourselves goals.
CP: That's one of the reasons we picked a couple of bands. For instance I love Fissure Mystic, first of all, but that band drives me crazy because they rarely release anything and they have more songs than most bands in Denver. Granted they've had line-up changes over the years but I thought it was cool to invite them so they kind of had to release something.
WW: They're probably the oldest band too because they've been around for ten or eleven years at this point.
CP: I think Hot Congress turned out to be a motivator for a lot of people. Get something recorded and put it out on a CD. Now Fissure is working on a full-length album and they're putting out a seven-inch with Tjutjuna.
I wish more people from Denver would put themselves out there and be proud of what they're doing. A lot of people want to shoot each other down.
JE: They'd rather talk shit. Maybe it makes them feel better about their band.
LJ: What we're doing is a positive way for friends to express their joy about each other's music. There's a lot of unnecessary cynicism.
CP: We're trying to say that's not the whole story about Denver. There is that [cynicism] but then there are also a lot of cool people doing great stuff like the Long Spoon Collective. I saw a blog comment that called Hot Congress a "crummy, mediocre pop collective" or something. It didn't make any sense to me at all. It just sounded to me like a cheap shot founded on nothing.