Otherworldly Performance and Another World Band Interview Heavy Gus

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Jonson Kuhn | New SCENE

I went to Wolverine Farm (April 6) for the highly anticipated world premiere, the first-ever live performance of the new Heavy Gus; they come from far west in a country called California, but they undoubtedly have deep roots right here in Colorado. Stelth Ulvang, vocalist and guitarist, is a CO native and has spent much of his life in and out of some of Colorado’s best-known bands, including 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 are 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 were playing their set… it doesn’t get much more freakishly adorable than that. (I should note that as Stelth made a point of saying, the baby was not sleeping alone in the van, but I never saw anyone personally, so I can neither confirm nor deny this claim.)

Heavy Gus is a bit indie-rock and a bit indie-folk and together it’s a perfect combination of both genres, creating what can only be described as indie-fock! I really feel like seeing their very first live performance, I witnessed the start of something really special and it’s only a matter of time before the whole world knows about it. also a witness. Their debut album Notions is set to be released very soon, but in the meantime they have released two singles, “Do We Have to Talk” and “Dinner for Breakfast”, both of which are exceptional in their own right, but which also serve as excellent snippets from the album as a whole. Dorota’s beautiful voice is simply mesmerizing, but it reaches a whole new level when nestled lightly in the skillfully crafted musical atmosphere between Steth’s guitar and Ryan’s drums. It’s space! It’s dreamy! It’s the 90s! (but just like all the good parts of the 90s, when your jeans had holes because you wore them too long, not because you paid for them to come like that.)

Heavy Gus performs to a packed house at Wolverine Farm. Photo by Jonson Kuhn.
Heavy Gus’ first live performance at Wolverine Farm. Photo by Jonson Kuhn.

But rather than take a lot of time talking about their music myself, I should jump right into the interview part of this article and let Heavy Gus speak for himself. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview the band a few days before their gig and in true typical North Forty/New Scene fashion, we wanted to have the interview in a special place as always.

This particular interview, for some reason, seemed particularly important, so we spared no expense and were able to secure seats aboard Richard Branson’s supersonic Virgin Galactic space rocket. I’m sure you’re wondering exactly how we managed to afford something like this, but truth be told, it’s not very safe and the issues are still a ways off, so we got the tickets at an incredibly reduced price, and we’re frankly lucky to be alive, however, I’m not sure I’m legally allowed to discuss this.

Sure, there were safer and probably smarter places to do this interview, but something just seemed too fitting to speak with an out-of-this-world group while literally being out-of-this-world. So, here now, from the confines of outer space, it’s that same interview; buckle up and enjoy!

NEW SCENE: So, “Do We Have to Talk” is really awesome, huh? I loved this song! It’s like a throwback to some of the Moldy Peaches/Silversun Pickups/Yeah Yeah Yeahs/Mazzy Star vibes. I especially loved the video clip! May I ask who made this and where did the idea come from?

HEAVY GUS (Dorota): Hey thanks! The director is a good friend of ours, Ben Fee. He’s done 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 bit secretive. A fluid glimpse of a shot in an otherwise private blue morning.

NEW SCENE: “Dinner for breakfast” is also fantastic; it’s still a great music video, is it the same person who made “Do We Have to Talk”? It’s so badass all the scenes of Dorota being pulled by horses on a skateboard! Was it in response to steadily rising gas prices?

HEAVY GUS (Dorota): Ha! Yes, that was another collaboration with Ben Fee. There are actually two other videos we did with him for songs that haven’t been released yet. Soon! This one was filmed before gas prices spiked, but either way, getting pulled by mules is probably my favorite mode of transportation.

NEW SCENE: Mules! Shit, I thought they were horses. Well… still pretty cool. Speaking of “Dinner for Breakfast”, it sounds like you have some extremely impressive names behind this particular song. I saw it was designed by Parker Cason (Margo Price, All Them Witches, Coin) and mastered by Pete Lyman. How much contact do you have with these people during the process?

HEAVY GUS (Stelth): Pete Lyman and Parker Cason KILLED. They did so well, I think. Pete is someone we sent the record to and he took a pass or two to master the whole album to perfection but never met the guy. What a brain. Parker Cason, however, was involved every step of the way – from engineering, to mixing, to helping out with production, playing pedal steel on the record (you’ll see…) and then yes, he helped us connect with Pete Lyman.

NEW SCENE: Stelth, I’ve been a fan of yours since The Dovekins, damn it, even before when you were just a tiny little boy playing the accordion at the 16th Street Mall in Denver. You obviously had huge success with The Lumineers; I wonder if you can tell us how your previous band experiences serve you now in this latest endeavor? You guys are a bit more in control with this one compared to your other bands, is that fair to say?

HEAVY GUS (Stelth): This driver seat looks like Dovekins; 2 drivers, one steering wheel! But this time, I’m married to the other driver. Sometimes Lumineers have an easy time being told what to do. I think time will tell, in a way I think I’ve lost my rambling road legs and relied on kush for the past half decade… Let’s see if I can remember how negotiate free food from restaurateurs in exchange for a guest list tickets they don’t want…

NEW SCENE: With your band’s name being specifically called “Heavy Gus”, how would you respond to those potential critics who will try to say your band is just a vehicle for fat-shaming?

HEAVY GUS (Dorota): Heavy Gus may have unknowingly been named after an elderly mule named Gus who weighs at least 800 pounds. Rather heavy in general but definitely not big for a mule, so to those critics I say, stop your human centric thinking!

NEW SCENE: Quick question for Ryan, I’m a big Blind Pilot fan! I used to listen to “Poor Boy” on repeat, I love this song so much. I understand that you and Israel Nebeker are the founding members, are you still associated with them or is Heavy Gus your main jam these days?

HEAVY GUS (Ryan): Glad you like Blind Pilot too! I still work closely with Israel and love what we’ve done as a band. There’s a lot of down time between touring and recording so I think it’s good to have another outlet. If I could, I would play music every day. Heavy Gus is quite different from Blind Pilot. I’m learning a lot playing with Stelth and Dorota and even though I’ve been playing music for a long time, it’s exciting to start something new.

NEW SCENE: Dorota, quick question for you now…assuming I didn’t google the wrong Dorota Szuta, it sounds like you have a lot of experience in marine biology, doesn’t it? Can I ask you how your passion for the sea and for music fit together? The two seem to be very different paths. Also, what do you think about the fact that 95% of the depths of the ocean have NEVER been explored? Conspiracy or are we just lazy?

HEAVY GUS (Dorota): You’re right, it’s me! Why live one life when you can live two simultaneously? Surely there’s enough time for everything, right? To the right?? Marine biology has been a way for me to study the world completely outside of myself. The fact that most oceans have never been explored is what made me go this route in the first place. The music, on the other hand, is much more internal and thoughtful. I like to have balance even if sometimes it feels a bit busy. It’s a Venn diagram with a pretty narrow ribbon in the middle, but within that ribbon is a musical puppet show I once wrote in graduate school about the impact of climate change on the world’s oceans and also the fact that I used words like “layered” and “phosphorescence” in the lyrics of the songs.

NEW SCENE: All three of you are clearly accomplished in life; you’ve been there, and you’ve done this and if i were you, i’d be trying to retire, so why create this band? What was the impetus?

HEAVY GUS (Ryan): We spent a lot of time together because Stelth and my fiancée, Lauren Jacobson, are a band together. Dorota and I started joking about having our own band so we could just book a side tour and see our partners more often. But then COVID happened and Stelth and Dorota both had all these songs they wanted to record. So we went to a friend’s studio in Nashville and everything fell into place. It was so good to play together that we just wanted to keep doing it. Even though we’ve all been lucky enough to play a lot of music in life, I don’t think music is something you want to retire from.

NEW SCENE: That’s a good point. I’m really excited for the first Notions album. What’s behind the title? And what prompted the decision to record at one of Nashville’s oldest studios? Why not go for the newest, most high-tech, state-of-the-art studio in the Metaverse type of studio, like all the cool kids do these days?

HEAVY GUS (Stelth): Haha, there’s a photo I sent Dorota of Ryan and I on a bike tour in Buena Vista, Colorado – in front of an embroidery store and the sign said “Notions.” Little did we know it was a sewing term, referring to the little scraps of odds and ends attached to a finished piece (buttons, pom poms, brooches). the album was a bit like that – a mismatched hodgepodge of different ideas from before.

Many thanks to Heavy Gus! Check them out online and in person ASAP, because they won’t be in the shadows for long.

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