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Jonson Kuhn | New SCENE
I went to the Wolverine Farm (April 6) for the highly anticipated world premiere, first-time ever live performance of the newly formed Heavy Gus; they’re from far out west in a land called California, but they without a doubt have deep roots right here in Colorado. Stelth Ulvang, vocalist and guitarist, is from CO and has spent much of his life in and out of some of Colorado’s best-known bands, most notably of The Lumineers. The other two members are Ryan Dobrowski on drums (formerly of Blind Pilot) and Dorota Szuta (currently of Dorota Szuta) on vocals and bass.
Stelth and Dorota are married and they’re recent parents, which made for a pretty endearing and somewhat humorous detail throughout the show as their newborn was sleeping in their van just outside the venue while they played their set…doesn’t get much more freaking adorable than that. (I should note that as Stelth made a point of saying, the baby wasn’t just sleeping in the van alone, but I never personally saw anyone, so I can neither confirm nor deny this claim.)
Heavy Gus, is a little bit indie-rock and a little bit indie-folk and together it all makes for a perfect combination of the two genres, creating what can only be described as indie-fock! I really feel like with seeing their first-ever live performance, I witnessed the beginning of something truly special and it’s only a matter of time before the whole world witnesses it, as well. Their debut album Notions is set to release very soon, but in the meantime, they’ve put out two singles, “Do We Have to Talk” and “Dinner for Breakfast”, which are both outstanding on their own but also serve as great samples of the album as a whole. Dorota’s beautiful vocals are nothing short of mesmerizing but they rise to an all-new level once nestled lightly into the musical atmosphere skillfully crafted between Steth’s guitar and Ryan’s drums. It’s spacey! It’s dreamy! It’s 90’s! (but like only all the good parts of the 90’s, when your jeans had holes in them because you wore them too long, not because you paid for them to come like that.)
But rather than take up a lot of your time talking about their music myself, I should just get to the interview portion of this article already and let Heavy Gus talk for themselves. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview the band a few days before their show and in true typical North Forty/New Scene fashion, we wanted to have the interview in a special location like always.
This particular interview for some reason felt especially important, so we spared no expense and were able to secure seats aboard Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic supersonic space Unity rocket. I’m sure you’re wondering just exactly how we managed to afford something like that, but truth be told, it’s not terribly safe and the kinks are still far from worked out, so we got the tickets at an incredibly discounted price, and we’re quite frankly lucky to be alive, though, I’m not sure I’m legally allowed to discuss much of that.
Sure, there were safer and probably smarter locations to do this interview, but something just seemed all too appropriate to talk with an out of this world band while literally being out of this world. So, here now, from the edges of outer space, is that very interview; strap in and enjoy!
NEW SCENE: So, “Do We Have to Talk” is pretty freaking great, huh? I LOVED this song! It’s like a throwback to some old Moldy Peaches/Silversun Pickups/Yeah Yeah Yeahs/Mazzy Star kind of vibe. I especially loved the music video! Can I ask who directed that and where the idea came from?
HEAVY GUS (Dorota): Hey thanks! The director is a good friend of ours, Ben Fee. He’s directed a lot of really great videos (CCR, War on Drugs, Band of Horses, etc.) and with COVID shutting down bigger shoots we took advantage of his free time and collaborated on a few ideas. We wanted the video to be intimate but a little bit secretive. A fluid-feeling one-take peek into an otherwise private blue morning.
NEW SCENE: “Dinner for Breakfast” is also fantastic; it’s yet another superb music video, is it the same person who directed “Do We Have to Talk”? It’s so badass all the scenes of Dorota being pulled by horses on a skateboard! Was this in response to the ever-rising gas prices?
HEAVY GUS (Dorota): Ha! Yes, this was another collaboration with Ben Fee. There are actually two more videos we made with him for songs that have yet to be released. Soon! This one was filmed pre-soaring gas prices but either way, getting pulled by mules is probably my favorite mode of transport.
NEW SCENE: Mules! Dammit, I thought they were horses. Well…still pretty cool. Speaking of “Dinner for Breakfast” it looks like you’ve got some extremely impressive names behind that song in particular. I saw it was engineered by Parker Cason (Margo Price, All Them Witches, Coin) and mastered by Pete Lyman. How much contact do you have with those folks during the process?
HEAVY GUS (Stelth): Pete Lyman and Parker Cason SLAYED. They did so well, I think. Pete is someone we sent the record off to and he took a pass or two to master the whole album to perfection but never met the guy. What a mastermind. Parker Cason, however, was involved every step of the way- from engineering and mixing, production help, playing some pedal steel on the record (You’ll see…) and then yes, he helped in connecting us with Pete Lyman.
NEW SCENE: Stelth, I’ve been a fan of yours since The Dovekins, hell, even before that when you were just a wee lad playing the accordion on the 16th Street Mall in Denver. You obviously found tremendous success with The Lumineers; I’m wondering if you can talk about how your previous band experiences now serve you in this latest endeavor? You’re a little more in the driver seat with this one compared to your other groups, is that fair to say?
HEAVY GUS (Stelth): This driver seat feels similar to Dovekins; 2 drivers, one steering wheel! But this time I’m married to the other driver. Sometimes the Lumineers has an ease to being told what to do. I think time will tell with this, in a way I think I lost my scrappy road legs and have relied on kush for the past half a decade… Let’s see if I can remember how to bargain for free food from restauranteurs in exchange for guest list tickets that they don’t want…
NEW SCENE: With your band name specifically being called “Heavy Gus” how might you respond to those potential critics out there that’ll try to say your band is just a vehicle for fat shaming?
HEAVY GUS (Dorota): Heavy Gus was maybe subconsciously unintentionally named after an elderly mule named Gus who weighs at least 800 pounds. Rather heavy in general but certainly not fat for a mule so to those critics I say, quit your human-centric thinking!
NEW SCENE: Quick question for Ryan, I’m a big fan of Blind Pilot! I used to listen to “Poor Boy” on repeat, love that song SO MUCH. I understand you and Israel Nebeker are the founding members, are you still associated with them at all or is Heavy Gus your main jam these days?
HEAVY GUS (Ryan): Glad to hear you like Blind Pilot too! I still work closely with Israel and love what we have done as a band. There’s a lot of down time in between tours and recording so I find it’s good to have another outlet. If I could, I would play music every day. Heavy Gus feels quite different from Blind Pilot. I’m learning a lot from playing with Stelth and Dorota and even though I have been playing music a long time, it’s exciting to be starting something new.
NEW SCENE: Dorota, quick question for you now…assuming I haven’t made a fool of myself by Googling the wrong Dorota Szuta, it seems as though you have an extensive background in marine biology, yes? Can I ask how your passion for the sea and for music fit together? They both seem like very different paths. Also, how do you feel about the fact that like 95% of the ocean’s depths have NEVER been explored? Conspiracy or are we just lazy?
HEAVY GUS (Dorota): You’re right, that’s me! Why live one life when you can live two simultaneously? Surely there’s enough time for everything, right? Right?? Marine biology was a path for me to study the world completely outside of myself. The fact that most of the oceans have never been explored was what propelled me to go down that path in the first place. Music on the other hand is a lot more internal and reflective. I like having the balance though at times it’s felt a little um, busy. It’s a Venn diagram with a pretty narrow sliver in the middle, but in that sliver is a musical puppet show I once wrote in grad school about the impact of climate change on the world’s oceans and also the fact that I’ve used words like “stratified” and “phosphorescence” in song lyrics.
NEW SCENE: All three of you are clearly quite accomplished in life; you’ve been there, and you’ve done that and if I were you, I’d be trying to retire, so why start this band? What was the impetus?
HEAVY GUS (Ryan): We were spending a lot of time together because Stelth and my fiancé, Lauren Jacobson, are in a band together. Dorota and I started somewhat jokingly talking about having our own band so we could just book a parallel tour and see our partners more often. But then COVID happened and Stelth and Dorota both had all of these songs they wanted to record. So, we went to a friend’s studio in Nashville and it all just came together. It felt so good to play together that we just wanted to keep doing it. Even though we have all been fortunate to play a lot of music in life I don’t think music is something you ever want to retire from.
NEW SCENE: That’s a fair point. I’m really excited for the debut album Notions. What’s behind the title? And what was behind the decision to record in one of Nashville’s oldest studios? Why not go with the newest, most high-tech, state-of-the-art, in the Metaverse kind of studio like all the cool kids are doing nowadays?
HEAVY GUS (Stelth): Haha there is a picture I sent to Dorota of Ryan and I on a bike tour in Buena Vista, Colorado- in front of an embroidery shop and the sign advertised “Notions”. We didn’t realize it was a sewing term, referring to the odds and ends little pieces attached to a finished piece (buttons, bobbles, brooches). the album kind of felt like that- a mismatched hodgepodge of different ideas from the before-times.
My many thanks to Heavy Gus! Check them out online and in person as soon as is humanly possible because they won’t be in the shadows for long.