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Colorado Artist Spotlight: The Czars

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Colorado has been home to many legendary bands, including The Czars. The band formed in Denver in 1994, developing a sound that’s been classified as “slowcore, dream pop” and also under the catchall “alternative rock.” But the sound might best be described as a cross between 1970s Moody Blues and The Wallflowers. The Czars released five studio albums before breaking up in 2004.

History of the Band

The Czars were started by John Grant, vocalist, and Chris Pearson, bassist, who met at Rock Island, a downtown Denver club. It took around a year to gather the rest of the band members: guitarists Roger Green and Andy Monley, and drummer Jeff Linsenmaier.

The band started with its own label, Velveteen Records, and self-released the album Moodswing in 1995 and La Brea Tar Pits of Routine in 1997. Grant sent a disc of La Brea Tar Pits of Routine to Simon Raymonde, who had just formed the London record label Bella Union. Although Raymonde did not sign the band at the time, he did keep in touch with Grant, and The Czars continued to send Bella Union demos.

Eventually, The Czars signed on with Bella Union, the first American band to do so. While working on their album Before…But Longer, the band opened for Dirty Three, Ween and Low. They began their second album under Bella Union, The Ugly People vs the Beautiful People, in 2000. They also composed the soundtrack for I’d Rather Be…Gone, an independent film that only played at the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in San Francisco. The soundtrack, however, is a collector’s item.

The Czars opened for The Flaming Lips, 16 Horsepower, and David Gray during Europe tours. They also had three tours in the United States.

The band recorded two more albums, the self-produced X Would Rather Listen to Y Than Suffer Through a C of Z’s, and Goodbye, which was paid for by friends and fans. The critically acclaimed Goodbye was named by Mojo as 38th of the top 50 albums of the year. Despite the praise, this album was the last one The Czars recorded.

In 2004, all but one member of the band departed, leaving Grant, who continued to perform under the name The Czars for a while. After taking time off, he returned as a solo artist, debuting his album Queen of Denmark in 2010.

Impact The Czars Have Made on Colorado

The Czars began their career in Denver, and within five years won Westword’s top honors as Best Rock Band, in 1999. Westword also named the band’s 2002 album, The Ugly People vs the Beautiful People, “Album of the Year.” Along with bands like The Fray, 16 Horsepower and Nathaniel Rateliff’s Born in the Flood (2002), The Czars gave Colorado a deep catalogue of what is loosely called “alternative rock.”

Even after the band’s breakup, The Czars continued to have an impact on Colorado. In 2014, when Bella Union released The Czars: Best Of, Syntax Physic Opera held a tribute show for The Czars, to honor the band and celebrate the release. The venue was beloved by local musicians, and the show attracted both fans and artists such as Nathaniel Rateliff, Bill McConnell, Gary Isaacs, Chris Bagley and Mark Sink. During the show, former members of the band took the stage to showcase other projects and play songs.

The Czars’ contribution to Denver’s music scene continues, as can be seen in former member Monley’s projects Jux County and The Velveteen Monster.

Learn About Colorado’s Music History

If you would like to learn more about Colorado artists, visit the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, which shares musical history and hosts numerous events throughout the year. Check back for more news in 2020.
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