If Denver-based band Blankslate entered last year with a real blank slate, they left an indelible mark on the canvas with the October release of their debut LP Summer on a Salt Flat. Marrying elements of anthemic indie-rock with tight pop structures and a measured dose of wistful lyricism, the 12-song offering is a coming-of-age record containing as many stripped-down, heartfelt confessions as sonically expansive breakdowns.
From the twists and turns of restless opener “little love (i, ii, iii)” to the complicated longing of nostalgia trip “Aptos,” the album imitates the volatility coursing through the transitional period of life explored across its 55-minute runtime. The band is still navigating this stage themselves, after blossoming out of a dorm room at the University of Denver in 2018 when vocalist Em Troughton, bassist and guitarist Rylee Dunn and keyboardist and drummer Tess Condron transferred to the school. Summer on a Salt Flat encompasses all the emotions each member was feeling during the changes that followed as they left college and entered the real world.
“It spans the full spectrum of goofy to the most sincere and profound intentional message,” says Troughton. “It’s cool that we have space with this album to connect with our audience through all of the different emotions.”
Capturing this range with Summer on a Salt Flat was a process that took 14 months to complete. During that time, the band was playing shows all over Denver, perfecting their live sound in tandem with the yet-to-be-released recorded versions. Despite recommendations from friends in the music industry, they intentionally seek to differentiate their live sound from the studio recordings. Dunn credits Brooklyn-based indie band The Antlers, who get a shoutout on the aforementioned “Aptos,” with inspiring Blankslate’s approach on that score: Keep the ethos of a song intact, while taking advantage of the unique set of tools a live experience provides.
“We really pride ourselves on reinterpreting our songs live,” says Dunn. “We play things as medleys that aren’t structured like that on the album. We change different structures to make them hit harder live.”
After months of performing songs that would eventually be released on their album, and debuting their first single on Denver’s Indie 102.3, Blankslate celebrated the release of Summer on a Salt Flat with an Oct. 27 show at Goosetown Tavern — a blowout described by the band as a sort of graduation party. Parallel to the themes covered in the album, friends and family came from all over to support the group as they, and their debut LP, were released into the world.
“It felt like a culmination of an end, and then [like] a beginning,” says Troughton. “It’s so cool to see all of these people we’ve known for so long, and all these people who don’t know these people we’ve known a long time. They’re just all in this room. And it’s really sweaty.”
Now, months after the album’s release last fall, keyboardist and drummer Condron says the band is planning on getting back in the studio to start on new music, but they’re in no rush to do so. Instead, Blankslate is basking in the afterglow of their new record by doing what they do best: playing as many gigs as they can, while preparing for a yet-to-be-announced summer tour.
“We really just want to write and play songs live,” says Dunn. “To me, that is rock and roll. We’re really excited to rock out again.”
That excitement tips over into Blankslate’s shared love for the Denver music scene, a common throughline since the band’s conception. But the local layout hasn’t been without its challenges for the young trio, who often feel forced into the restrictive “girl band” label.
“We play with a lot of dudes who ended up on stage way more easily than we did,” says Troughton. “There’s like a refining process that we as musicians are expected to go through because we’re not cis men.”
Despite the challenges, like getting screwed out of payment for gigs and dealing with peers who question their musicianship, Blankslate has found and cultivated a vibrant community in the Denver scene. The band’s support network mostly consists of other musicians, bookers and technicians who share or are supportive of their queer, female and gender non-conforming identities.
“I’m really glad we have people [who] have shared similar experiences and are able to show us the ropes, and show us what’s down the line, and how to handle that,” says Dunn. “I don’t know where we’d be without those people.”
Right now, Blankslate’s future is still being written. Summer tour plans are in the works, and there isn’t any new music currently slated for release. However, one thing’s for certain: Dunn, Troughton and Condron will continue to give back to the community of live music lovers that has consistently supported them.
“A big part of being a band is enjoying the gigs for all that they are and not just when you’re on stage,” says Condron. “Talking to the bartenders, talking to the other bands, talking to the fans, promoting other people, and existing in the community instead of just hoping the community benefits you.”
ON THE BILL: Grenata Rose with Blankslate and Hoverfly. 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10, 100 Nickel, 100 Nickel St., Broomfield. | Blankslate with Paulo’s Flood and Ugly Summer. 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, Broadway Roxy, 554 S. Broadway, Denver.