When: 9 p.m. Sunday
Where: hi-dive, 7 S. Broadway, Denver, 720-570-4500
More info: hi-dive.com
B almorhea is both a small town in West Texas and a six-piece instrumental group based in Austin.
Most people probably know the band better than the town, given that the latter is only home to about 500 people and the former has five records and five U.S. and European tours.
“You know, I think it’s a weird thing to describe to people unless you’ve been to this place, which makes it a bizarre choice as a band name. I don’t think we gave it a lot of thought as a band name,” said Rob Lowe, one of the band’s founders. “There’s a big natural spring in that town that’s beautiful. It’s kind of an oasis in the middle of the desert.”
But if anyone listening is lacking that frame of reference, it might work better for Balmorhea. With each record, Lowe said, they’re hoping to do something unexpected. So even though the band has grown from its beginning as Lowe and Michael Muller, Lowe believes the influence of the name is still there.
“I actually do still think that it is relevant, but probably only to me and the people in the band. But it’s definitely still reflective of what we’re trying to do — just create beautiful music and moving people in ways that they’re maybe not expecting,” he said. “Part of the excitement, to me, is trying to do something new and different. Part of our ethos is to keep trying new things.”
Balmorhea’s fifth LP, Strangers, was released on Oct. 2, and the music backs up Lowe’s statement. As the band grew over the years, the music went from feeling like lovely sketches to highly detailed paintings. Lowe plays guitar and piano and Muller is a multi-instrumentalist, but they brought together a band that included drums, banjo, upright bass and more guitar. Naturally, the sound filled out.
Over the years, the music changed in ways that was tough for critics to label. Influences of folk, jazz, rock and classical music were all there, carefully intertwined and without vocals. If it all reminds you of something you can’t quite put your finger on, there’s a reason. When Lowe considers his influences — for example, on Strangers, one was Fleetwood Mac — he thinks about it abstractly.
“It’s the feeling or idea that’s being expressed rather than overt mimicry,” he said. “There’s something that happens in a piece of music that you respond to, that you’re like, ‘Wow, I want to do that.'”
Inspiration, interests and feelings change constantly, so it’s no wonder that when a band considers all of those things coming from six different people, the music can evolve drastically with each record.
“Making a record is a kind of strange thing to do. For us, it’s a group of songs that are trying to express an idea, so at the start of the process, you start thinking about what you want to say and what sounds you want to work with. I think it’s always invigorating to start that process. Every time we start and album, it’s a blank slate,” Lowe said. “With this one, we just decided that we wanted to work more with rhythm, percussion, kind of more upbeat, hopeful sounds, and also try to work with some instruments that we hadn’t worked with in the past couple records…some synths and electronic sounds are in there, still mixed in there organically.”
Now that Stranger is out, Balmorhea is on the road with a stop at the hi-dive on Sunday.
“It feels good,” Lowe said. “We worked on it for a really long time. It was a long time in the making. It’s nice that it’s out there and people are listening to it and we’re finally getting to play it live.”