The first time Thomas LaFond came through Boulder, he was only supposed to stay a night or two. But after spending time busking on Pearl Street, he followed some bluegrass musicians up Sugarloaf Road to a mountain house where they all jammed Pink Floyd songs until 6 a.m. So, he kept busking, making enough money to fund his travels around the country.
“After that, I was like, ‘OK, well, there’s always a place I can just go and sing a song and sustain my existence,’” he says. He moved to Boulder a few years later.
Nick Carter, violinist, came to Boulder as a student at CU more than a decade ago and never left. Jason Bertone came to Boulder to visit his sister for a couple of weeks five years ago and he’s still here, along with his upright bass.
“Boulder has this great combination of having this vibrant arts community, but also this shared emphasis on like life and living and breathing and being a complete person,” Bertone says. “It really feels like live music is like one of the dominant cultural forces in Boulder. And the way that it’s, like, not just sharing bandwidth with a thousand other things, it’s like something that people are truly passionate about.”
Drummer Michelle Pietrafitta moved to Boulder more recently, after tiring of making the drive from Fort Collins for band practice with LaFond, Carter and Bertone, who all together make up the local indie-rock-pop group Banshee Tree. Their origin story is a bit providential.
LaFond met his Banshee Tree bandmembers at various times in his life — Pietrafitta in college in upstate New York, Bertone in Brooklyn, Carter in Boulder. Then they all ran into each other at the Arise Festival in 2017, right after Pietrafitta’s previous band had just broken up and the other three guys were trying to figure out whether or not they wanted to add a drummer to their group for the first time.
“We just ran into each other on the very day where we were both having these thoughts about what are we going to do with our band, what are we going to do with our lives?” Pietrafitta says. “And they were like, ‘We need a drummer.’ And I was like, ‘I need a band.’ And so the rest is history.”
While LaFond started Banshee Tree as an acoustic-based swing band, the group has evolved into a fully electric outfit drawing on a variety of influences — adding modern dance, rock, pop and indie-soul tones. Plus, LaFond, Pietrafitta and Carter all have a history of playing in psychedelic jam bands.
“So we all had to go through this journey of figuring out how do we take this band that was like a swing band and fit all of our crazy influences together,” Pietrafitta says.
It was trial by fire, as Banshee Tree has spent most of its tenure experimenting on stage during a weekly residency in Boulder at License No. 1 in the basement of Hotel Boulderado. But then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and the lack of live shows and different iterations of quarantine really forced the band to figure out their sound — as did the opportunity to record their first album.
“Being forced to record, we were like, ‘Wait, what do we actually want to say? How do we want to present this?’ And we had to kind of like, take it a step deeper,” Pietrafitta says. “So through all that we’ve found our sound from a swing band to incorporating all of our experiences to whatever it is Banshee Tree does today.”
Their self-titled record, out Aug. 20, highlights the talents of each band member, incorporating their varied influences into a cohesive sound all their own. Experimental and exploratory, the album’s lead single “Spare Me” blends sweeping harmonies, deep bass undertones and electric violin riffs into an airy, electro-jam number rooted in Pietrafitta’s steady rhythm. While the group is used to focusing on their live shows, the group knows that recording the album creates something fans can access anytime.
“We’re going to have an opportunity now to really like leave something behind for the people who connect with us and connect with our music,” Bertone says. “They’re not going to have to wait another three to six months until we come back. We’re gonna be able to essentially have this little artifact that people can listen to and that people can engage with. It makes our music so much more accessible.”
“We were like lizards but now we’re snails,” LaFond adds. “We leave a trail when we slide through town.”