Denver-based quartet Rope Trick Effect describes itself as “jazz-punk-funk-junk.” That only begins to touch on the diverse array of influences and sounds audiences encounter at one of their concerts. This show is near and dear to our hearts as the band features Swallow Hill instructors Molly Zackary on vocals and Dustin Adams on keys. The band is rounded out by Squirrely McSquirrelington on bass and Montuno Mike Spencer on drums.
In a free-flowing email conversation, Molly filled us in on how the band pulls its influences and musical experiences into their sound, where she finds new music, the challenges of being in a family of working musicians, and much more.
Rope Trick Effect is described as “jazz-punk-funk-junk.” Those seemingly disparate influences flow together quite nicely through your music, how do you draw them into the band’s sound?
The members of our band are all jazz educated and jazz literate. You’ll hear that in our music and it’s something we can’t get away from – the juicy harmonies, the freedom of musical expression, the lack of structure bound up with musical synthesis. Jazz has become an impressive institution; oftentimes it requires years of study with a highly trained and experienced mentor, i.e. lots of time and money.
Our band members also grew up in the punk and DIY scenes. Punk has become an established mode of music, but to execute it properly one must reject all the officiality of the university and the financial approval of the recording industry.
So, your punk training could be said to be done by just being a part of it. I like to see punk and jazz, in their truest forms, as musical kin. Of course, jazz and blues, the greatest artistic expressions to be grown in the United States (owing to the resilience and beauty of the African diaspora, and no credit to white supremacy, ok?!), are the seeds that gave us rock, funk and punk. For us, as a musical group, it’s completely natural to combine our individual influences of punk and jazz and bring those to the stage. I mean, who’s punker than Coltrane?
The band took to the road this summer to play some out of town dates, how did that go?
We played in New Mexico and Texas and they were great experiences. We hope to add some stops and make it a regular rotation. It’s definitely something that takes time to organize as a band, but it’s great to play outside of your hometown and to make connections in new places. Who knows, maybe we’ll hit one of the coasts at some point. I do love the ocean!
You and your husband Dustin are working musicians who are active in other bands – how tricky is it to be in a band together and keep all of those other projects going at the same time?
We both enjoy sharing the stage together and all the things that we liked about each other when we were first dating, are the things we get to see shine when we’re playing as Rope Trick Effect.
It’s been a long process of figuring out which aspects of our musical personalities go where. Dustin often plays as a jazz sideman with other musicians in town. I recommend you check him out with the Stephen Brooks Trio. They have a real classic sound with a lot of stellar soloing.
I sometimes get to perform as The Molly Growler Project, which is a place where I can do my own tunes that don’t really fit in with the Rope Trick Effect sound. Most recently I performed at Titwrench Fest here in Denver. But, Rope Trick Effect is a place where we can collaborate as an ensemble and try to push new boundaries in terms of sound and approach.
Honestly, though, I would say the most challenging part of being part of a band and being a family has been figuring out childcare. It’s rare, though not unheard of, for couples with children, to have an active band. I don’t think the music scene does a good enough job of supporting musicians who have kids. I know a lot of single parents who feel like they can’t do music. Likewise, many couples who are both musicians, feel like one of them has to sacrifice their performance career so that the kids can be taken care of. Musicians shouldn’t have to feel like it’s an either/or choice between parenting and creating art. I have a dream of venues providing childcare complete with high quality earphones for the littles!
You’ve released a few EPs (I love The Smiths cover!), do you have any new recording projects in the works?
Ha, ha, The Smiths cover was a good one. It was actually a part of a project I did a long time ago called Sybil Vane. She was my cabaret/performance art alter ego. That’s a separate story altogether! As Rope Trick Effect, we spent a long time finding the perfect cabal of musicians. We found Squirrely McSquirrelington (electric bass) and Mike Spencer (drums) on Craigslist. We spent a couple years taking jazz standards gigs and jamming at rehearsal and then put out an EP in 2017 that is all original tunes.
We’ve been working on a new slate of tunes and hope to get back into the studio before the end of the year. Our show at Swallow Hill is an opportunity for folks to help us test drive those newer tunes.
How do you find new music? Who are some artists that are in heavy rotation for you right now?
I’m a huge proponent of Bandcamp as a digital platform for music. Artists get paid much better from Bandcamp than they do from Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, et. al. I’m also a personal fan of consuming entire albums. I love getting a deeper feel for what an artist is going for. Bandcamp has an app that is free and user friendly. This is my primary means for discovering new artists these days. FYI, our last EP is on Bandcamp!
I also watch Tiny Desk concerts from NPR, follow music journalists on Twitter, subscribe to Maximum Rocknroll fanzine, and frequent Black and Read out in Arvada (it’s my favorite brick and mortar record store!) I’m an obsessive music fan. In heavy rotation of late: Kadhja Bonet, Yazmin Lacey, Zola Jesus, Ryan Porter, Empress Of, Jupiter & Okwess, and a perennial favorite, Carmen McRae.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Denver has a spectacular jazz scene with some absolutely brilliant artists. The ones who are pushing the definitions of what is “jazz”, and how it gets mixed up with more contemporary styles, such as R&B, funk, punk, etc, don’t get nearly enough coverage. It’s a pet project of mine to keep boosting the signal on this growing part of the Denver music scene.
Folks who are into what Rope Trick Effect should also check out: Halo Halo, Matt Skellenger Band, CP3O [not a typo], Double Sun, Ramakhandra and Joshua Trinidad, to name a few. I like to call it #JazzNotJazz #SorryNotSorry and we’re coming for your fakebooks.