Predictably unpredictable

Earthtone's improvisation makes for a memorable show


— Earthtone drum kit drummer Eric Schuemann was grasping for the best explanation of the local band's music.

"It's like walking up to a blank canvas," he said.

He then put his arms into the air as if he were painting a picture with two hands and rapidly explained that basically whatever comes to the minds of the musicians is what the music sounds like. "It has room to grow, for sure," he said.

Schuemann was sitting in a circle this week with six other musicians playing in a cold warehouse where they practice. It was a short break before going back to rehearsal.

"That's actually a pretty good way to describe it," hand percussionist Adam Collins said. "It's a matter of fun. I think we all believe in it enough."

It does seem the musicians have to take a certain amount of belief to make Earthtone music work. Many of the band members barely played together before going on stage Oct. 10 for one of the group's very first shows with this lineup.

But as Collins explained, that's sort of the nature of the music and the band. He has contacted many people to play with them. For the most part, those who have shown up for rehearsals are now in the fold. When lots of people show to play, Earthtone may change its name to the Bodacious Ta Tas. Under that name, the group has played a few memorable shows in Steamboat Springs, creating a bit of an identity problem.

The Bodacious Ta Tas band was somewhat of a joke at first, Schuemann said. It was supposed to be a Grateful Dead cover band called Kool Aid Acid Tests who played a one-night show a little more than a month ago. They didn't have time to learn the songs, so the members learned a few jams and got up on stage to honor their commitment for the show.

Since then, musicians come and go and come again, making the membership similar to the open improvisational sound of the band. But a few core members of Earthtone want to try to build on some of the local success. Collins is trying to find members who would be willing to commit to go on the road.

The group that has now gathered is a cross-section of local musicians, all with different tastes in music.

"That's how the music is; we all come from different places," Schuemann said.

Possibly two of the most important recruits were bass player Ean Smith and guitarist Dan Keebnick, who were formerly with the local group Perfectly Frank. Before them, Earthtone was mainly a percussion-based troupe. Most the members are still percussionists, with Collins and Schuemann pounding out earthy beats with Andrea Curran on hand drums and vocals, Phillip Griffin on djembe and Scott Glackman on didgeridoo, thumb piano and other percussion instruments.

With Smith and Keebnick, who basically go everywhere together, the Earthtone sound became refined and somewhat anchored.

"The most important part for me is that we do all improvisational music," Smith said.

After feeling a little constrained with songs where each note is planned, Smith said hooking up with a drum-based group that wants to explore the music with each song was a good change.

"I'm not expecting anything when we start, and it just works out. It's great," he said.

Improvising is at the core of the group, and each member has an explanation on why it's important.

"I think it gives an opportunity to connect with the energy of the crowd," Curran said.

As Schuemann explained, the band is just trying to create a comfortable environment to work in.

"The most important thing is that whenever we play, it's like sitting around in your living room," he said.

On another level, the band sees improvisational music as a way to tap into an alternative state where there is a greater opportunity to be expressive.

"The universe wants to express itself through you," Collins said.

Earthtone has shows booked at the Wolf Den Tavern tonight and Saturday night.

Most likely, different musicians who have played in the Bodacious Ta Tas will show up for both shows, so both nights should be unique, Schuemann said.


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