Michal Menert comes home to Colorado for Belly Up Aspen show with The Pretty Fantastics
IF YOU GO …
Who: Michal Menert & The Pretty Fantastics
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Monday, Jan. 21, 9 p.m.
How much: $15
Tickets: Belly Up box office; bellyupaspen.com
Michal Menert learned a thing or two on the road with Dead & Company.
The multi-instrumentalist and electronic music producer — who grew up and launched his career in Fort Collins but is now based in California — began doing sound design for the latest iteration of the Grateful Dead in 2016.
Menert, who headlines Belly Up Aspen tonight with his band The Pretty Fantastics, was mesmerized by how the legendary band still takes risks onstage, keeps fans rapt in down-tempo moments and how it thrills its massive audiences without any of the bass drops and hyper-BPM theatrics of EDM producers.
“It shows you the difference between producing dance music and writing a song,” he said last week from Fort Collins, where he and The Pretty Fantastics were working on new music and playing a three-night run at the Aggie Theatre. “You can have a lot of emotional leverage in writing songs without doing anything big in terms of intensity and volume.”
He’s carried his experience with the Dead into his own genre-defying work.
“It was eye-opening because I got to see the longevity of well-written songs, how a great song can carry on forever,” Menert, 36, explained. “It inspired me to become a better writer.”
In November, Menert released “From the Sea,” his second album with The Pretty Fantasics
The record is as fun as it is dense, with club-ready dance songs like “Electric” sitting beside intricate headphone tracks like epic, nearly-10-minute-long “From the Sea” and sweet R&B entries like “Diamonds in My Pocket.” These 17 tracks are packed with musical ideas — melding the organic with the digital and the electronic with human, guitar rock with EDM, jazz and hip-hop — and with social ideas, as well.
“We were trying to have some kind of a loose narrative about the emergence of some of the things that are happening to people now with technology and social media causing isolation and the continuing quest for identity at a time when people are less and less interactive,” Menert explained. “In a way it’s a narrative about the things that have been in our hearts and our psyches in the last couple years.”
Menert solidified his local fan-base by producing Pretty Lights’ 2006 debut “Taking Up Your Precious Time” and helping launch Denver’s electronic music scene onto the national radar.
Menert said that with The Pretty Fantastics he’s tried to showcase the individual talents of all seven members of his band, which brings out different sonic textures, styles and obsessions depending on who is taking the lead. As they wrote the “From the Sea” songs, he used his fine-tuned ear as a DJ to find sparks of inspiration from the diverse sonic landscape of his bandmates — seizing on a keyboard riff or vocal part or bass groove to build a song upon.
“As a producer and somebody who samples a lot, I look for things that catch my ear that I can manipulate,” he explained. “The hardest part is just trying to figure out how to best use everybody’s skills.”
On this Colorado homecoming tour, Menert is showcasing most of the “From the Sea” material and brand-new compositions, leaning less on his solo catalog than he did on previous tours. He’s still infusing his notorious live performances with its signature visual effects.
And, of course, he said, it’s good to be home.
“I spent most of my life in Colorado,” he said. “It’s home. It’s refreshing to come back and play shows, see familiar old friends and have that reassurance you get when you go home — the feeling that things are going to be OK.”
And as always, the prolific Menert has several genre-hopping projects in the works right now: an EP with The Pretty Fantastics, a solo album focused on electro-soul, a collaborative hip-hop album and what he called “a more Brian Eno-y ambient EP.”
“I’ve been trying to make whatever I feel like making every day,” he said.
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This summer the Aspen Music Festival is emphasizing this discovery track more than before, as the 2021 season marks the launch of its initiative to spotlight diverse composers who identify as AMELIA (African-American, Middle Eastern, Latin, Indigenous, and Asian).