May 072008
 
Authors: Maggie Canty

Gathered together in a small studio filled with various string instruments hanging from walls covered in splattered paint, it’s hard to see what these young adults have in common.

From their appearances to their personalities, each one stands out as an individual, nonconforming and unapologetic.

But there is one thing that holds them together.

You just have to listen closely.

The mutual love of music is what brought 19-year-old Jon Alonzo together with his band, the Winderous Igloos, and since introduced him to his latest project, Paean.

And it was this love that eventually led to the creation of the Act So Big Forest record label that would help several young musicians find a voice here in Fort Collins, losing themselves in a jungle of creativity without any trail of crumbs to follow home.

But when you’re in the Forest, it’s the only home you need.

Planting a seed

Alonzo, who works by day at both La Luz and Ben Jerry’s, has been involved in music as long as he can remember.

Starting with the piano at just five years old, the young musician’s talent for playing and recording only grew as he did, eventually becoming a passion. He pursued it even further with a good friend and fellow musician, 24-year-old Rion Hover, forming the Winderous Igloos in 2005.

A local hit, the Igloos performed all over Fort Collins, intriguing crowds with both their musical talent and entertaining stage antics. The band, which had grown to include 10 members, released their first EP in February of 2007.

Now deeply immersed in the Fort Collins music scene, the Igloos found themselves constantly surrounded by local talent; talent they couldn’t keep to themselves.

“Everyone was recording on their own in bedrooms, their parent’s basements and back porches,” Alonzo said. “We just wanted to help people out.”

And so the Act So Big Forest record label’s seed was planted.

Strong roots

With the ultimate goal of helping local talent record and promote themselves, Alonzo, Hover and a few friends got to work.

But it turned out to be more like play.

Starting with their own member’s side projects and using skills they’d already learned from the Igloos — working with press, designing logos, creating Web sites and booking shows — their record label idea materialized into a musical home with a canopy big enough to shelter several local musicians.

“There’s so much potential in a lot of the local music in Fort Collins,” Alonzo said. “Local bands are real. . There’s a lot of genius work right here.”

And musical genius is exactly what Alonzo found. Or, rather, what found him.

Branching out

Dave Maddocks had a lot going for him.

The 20-year-old junior at the University of Northern Colorado had been playing the piano since age five, and picked up the guitar at 14. He started recording himself a year later, and put together his own recording studio in his parents’ barn in northern Fort Collins.

Maddocks had written and recorded 10 pseudo-country songs, playing each instrument and singing the vocal parts himself, mastering them with the help of his brother-in-law, Todd Lyon.

But he needed a band.

After putting up a request on MySpace, Maddocks got several responses, but one in particular stood out.

Marty Albertz, a senior at Rocky Mountain High School and member of the Winderous Igloos, answered Maddock’s message, offering several of the Forest’s recordings on MySpace for him to sample.

“Something about (Albertz) just clicked,” Maddocks said. “I was interested right away.”

Maddocks set up a meeting with Albertz and Alonzo, and was immediately drawn to their music, talent and personalities.

The three men, along with Maddocks’ sister, Anna; brother, Tim (a reporter for the Collegian); and good friend, Andrew Hendrickson, formed what would soon become Paean — pronounced “pee-in” — the ancient Greek term for a song of praise or exultation.

Which is exactly what they would make.

The family tree

Paean began recording soon after they met, and the combination of their talents and strengths resulted in a sound all their own.

“Paean has turned into a writing collective, which is extremely refreshing,” Alonzo said. “Stylistically, we really aim for some sense of building dynamic using many instruments, harmonies across the instruments and vocals, and an underlying drone of ambience.”

Aided by Anna’s violin and Dave’s unique voice, each member offers something different, giving the band an eclectic, indie, folk-rock feel.

“At some point when we were playing and learning to work with each other, it all came together,” said Anna. “When you finally get it, it’s amazing.”

Since those first practices, the band has taken off. They play weekly shows and are currently working on recording an EP split with another local act, Sour Boy, Bitter Girl, to be released May 21st at Hodi’s Half Note.

Between all the time spent playing and recording, the band has found itself making a lot more than music.

“It started as recording together, and pretty soon we were sleeping over and eating Thanksgiving dinner together,” said Alonzo. “We’re more like a family than a band.”

Which is exactly what Alonzo wanted the label to be. His ultimate goal is to have it be less like a business and more like a family of musicians, all brought together by a common love of music – in whatever form the individual sees fit.

“I think the essence of the Forest is the community it is,” Alonzo said. “A community of long-term friends and family that live to make music and art and films and be helpful; that see a value in pitching in for a reasonable cause.”

All the creatures of

the forest

Act So Big Forest’s open mind toward music has unearthed a following of over 10 acts, ranging from folk to noise bands. With the help of the Maddock’s barn studio and mastering skills of Lyon, the Forest has been able to expand its recording horizons to more musicians and styles than one label can fit.

“There’s so much local talent in the Fort,” said Lyon, a CSU graduate who’s been recording for his friends and family since 2004. “It’s a way for them to get recorded and expose more people to their music. I wouldn’t be surprised if several of them take it to the next level.”

Besides Paean, the label is currently working on recording Emily Fehler, a senior at Poudre High School and local music prodigy who hopes to release an EP early this summer.

“I just want to do music,” she said. “I want to make a living with it. I don’t care about being famous.”

Known for her folk rock sound, Fehler sings and plays piano and guitar. Her talent has earned her a place at Berkeley College of Music in Boston, where she will start classes in the fall.

But she won’t forget where her roots lie.

“Act So Big Forest really gives this town the feeling that it’s got a music scene,” Fehler said. “Having a label here that supports local musicians is really helpful. I like playing with the others. It includes everyone.”

Waiting to bloom

Although Alonzo and the members of Paean don’t know how far they’ll go or what the future may have in store for the band or the label, they’re not giving up on music anytime soon.

“At the least the Forest will always be promoting music and encouraging and supporting artists in all means possible,” Alonzo said. “I’d love to get to the point where bands are coming to us about distribution and sending them on tour through New England and Canada, but I know that will take time; and I think that’s part of the excitement. Something to look forward to.”

Entertainment editor Maggie Canty can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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