In the hustle and bustle of our hectic lives, it’s often difficult to tell the difference between what’s truly urgent and what simply feels that way. Oppressive deadlines — both external and self-imposed — are sometimes necessary evils that keep us from settling into complacency. But they can also cause us to cut corners, make mistakes and otherwise fail to produce the best possible results for ourselves. And that’s one trap that Colorado hip-hop collective Air Dubai doesn’t want to fall into.
Just days before Air Dubai was set to release “Wonder Age” — its first EP since transforming from a duo into a seven-piece ensemble — the group switched gears. Rather than rush the record out into the public, the band decided to take a little more time, let the record grow from a six-song EP to a 10-track album, and to collaborate with one of Denver’s up-and-coming producers, the inimitable Andy Guerrero, a.k.a. Andy Rok of Flobots and Bop Skizzum.
“We’re going to hold out until end of July or August,” says Air Dubai’s golden-throated singer and MC, Jon Shockness, better known as Rhias. “We want it to be representative of our new sound.”
That new sound couldn’t be further from where the group began just a couple of years ago. In 2008, the duo of Shockness and rapper Julian Thomas — both still in their teens at the time — hit the ground running with energetic live shows and an ambitious album, “The Early October.” However, after the release of the “Party On!” maxi-single a year ago, the pair surprised fans and critics by heading in a different direction. Teaming up with drummer Nick Spreigl, bassist Taylor Tait, guitarist Lawrence Grivich, keyboardist Michael Ray and Wesley Watkins on trumpet, Shockness and Thomas began crafting a more organic, jazzy, funk- and soul- driven sound.
Surging from two members to seven did more than just alter Air Dubai’s sound. With live musicians, the two vocalists found they could do much more in concert, and their performances became even more energetic and engaging than before.
“It’s great to be able to create on the spot,” says Shockness, who also works as a preschool teacher and attends Metropolitan State College of Denver as an undeclared undergrad. “No two shows are the same, which is great for me, great for the band and great for the audience,” he enthuses. “I feel like I can never go back to beats,” he says, referring to the programmed and recorded music with which he and Thomas once performed.
Inspired by their new sound and creative energy, the seven members of Air Dubai headed into Colorado Sound Recording Studios to record with J.P. Manza, the gold record-winning engineer and producer whose ears have informed several records by local favorites, including the Epilogues, Vonnegut, Sofo and more.
With Manza, Air Dubai recorded six songs they were very proud of and almost ready to release. But then they met Guerrero.
“They opened up for us at the Ogden for our CD release show,” recalls the Flobots guitarist and vocalist. “Then they opened for us again at this college show in Wyoming, and they killed it.” Backstage at that April 2010 show at the University of Wyoming, music veteran Guerrero and the young gentlemen of Air Dubai struck up a friendship, and Guerrero — who had just produced a breakout album for party rockers Kinetix — offered to give the band feedback on its tracks, and maybe even produce one or two.
After that fateful conversation, Air Dubai and Guerrero continued to stay in touch while the latter toured heavily with Flobots and reinvigorated his funk band, Bop Skizzum. The busy guitarist stayed engaged because he was so excited about Air Dubai’s potential.
“It was really natural,” says the 29-year-old musician and producer. “I’ve been waiting a long time for the funky shit to come back into the scene.”
Guerrero hopes to impart that same patience to the young members of Air Dubai.
“You only get one chance to make a first impression,” Guerrero reminds. “It’s got to be really good. Don’t worry about your best friends. They’ll wait.”
If the newbies of Air Dubai can follow the veteran’s advice, Guerrero is convinced that the resulting full-length album will truly put the soulful septet on the map. “They have all this raw energy and they’re incredibly talented,” he observes. “I wouldn’t have signed on for this project if what I’d heard already wasn’t really good, but I want it to be unstoppable and great.”
And though this means slowing down Air Dubai’s jet-fueled velocity, fans and the curious won’t have to wait until the end of the summer to wrap their ears around some fresh tunes. You won’t be able to take home a new CD from tonight’s show at the Bluebird Theater, but you won’t go home empty handed either.
“Everyone who comes will get a download code for two free tracks and a link to a video,” Shockness says. This should be enough to tide you over until Guerrero finishes playing midwife to the full-length version of “Wonder Age,” and should remind us all slow down a little bit.
Air Dubai plays the Bluebird Theater tonight with Archetype, Young Cities and the Epilogues. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $10.
Eryc Eyl is a veteran music journalist, critic and Colorado native who has been neck-deep in local music for many years. Check out Steal This Track every Tuesday for local music you can HEAR, and the Mile High Makeout every Friday. Against his mother’s advice, Eryc has also been known to tweet.