Bark at the moon

Debut album from instrumental psychonauts Prairiewolf is a cosmic howl across the foothills

Left to right: Stefan Beck (guitar), Jeremy Erwin (keys) and Tyler Wilcox (bass) of Prairiewolf

It was a full moon when the Boulder County trio known as Prairiewolf rolled tape on the first recording session for their self-titled debut last October. There in the Nederland basement studio of keyboardist and synth player Jeremy Erwin, they began shaping their sprawling and spiritual jams into a cohesive collection of songs that would become the outfit’s maiden shot across the stars. 

The result is 10 otherworldly offerings that shimmer across clusters of ambient Americana, cosmic country and psychedelic jazz-fusion. From the lonesome lap steel of “Lunar Deluxe” to the celestial bossa nova of closing track “Technicolor Dream Hearse,” the self-titled LP out May 5 on Nashville’s Centripetal Force Records is a vibe-forward feast of texture and rhythm taking listeners on a laid-back journey to the far reaches of the universe.    

“A lot of us have played in slightly more straightforward bands in the past, and the idea was to have this be more open-ended kind of stuff,” bassist and Longmont resident Tyler Wilcox says. “I don’t think we’re a jam band necessarily, in the sense that people in Colorado might think of a jam band — but we’re a jam band.”

To that point, guitarist Stefan Beck offers an important clarification: “We’re a band that jams.” With this subtle but essential distinction in mind, Prairiewolf tweaks the formula driving much of the region’s improv-heavy guitar music — swapping barn-burner solos and tricked-out trap kits for splashy pools of ambience and the chirping thump of vintage drum machines — to carve space for something more patient, subtle and uniquely thrilling. It’s no wonder the first song the band played together was a cover of Alice Coltrane’s spiritual jazz masterpiece “Journey in Satchidananda,” and not a standard by traditional legacy jammers like The Grateful Dead.   

“We definitely have a shared vocabulary. We have a lot of the same interests, music-wise — there’s a ton of overlap. It all features improvisation pretty heavily,” Erwin says. “I think that gives us a level ground. We understand how to inject that into the music. And I think when you’re starting and you’re just kind of jamming a lot — which, we jam a lot — speaking that common language is super important.”

The self-titled debut from Prairiewolf is out May 5 on LP and compact disc via Centripetal Force Records.

Ambient Americana beats to relax/study to 

For many bands, the road to a debut as fully realized as Prairiewolf can be a tumultuous and painstaking path. But when the Boulder County trio recounts the smoothness of their early days and speedy snapping-together of their first LP, the story is studded with serendipity and an easygoing providence matching the new record’s effortlessly chill aesthetic.

“It’s kind of shocking,” Beck says. “We have this long email thread with Mike [Mannix] from Centripetal Force [Records], and every time he’s like, ‘Oh, I got the test pressing,’ or ‘Hey, I’m sending the records,’ he keeps saying: ‘Things don’t normally happen this easily or this quickly.’ So there is some kind of kismet going on.”

To hear the band tell it, a big part of their quick arrival at the current moment has a lot to do with the individual talents of the players involved. They may share a common musical language, but each member brings their own cadence to the conversation. Beck’s scintillating and atmospheric guitarwork (calling back to his solo project Golden Brown) gels with Wilcox’s elucidatory basslines and the warmth of Erwin’s Fender Rhodes in looping krautrock-style compositions that push the boundaries of what listeners might expect from a homegrown outfit in the Centennial State.

“I don’t know what Colorado music is, really. I mean, I guess I have a good idea of the cliché of it being a jam-grass kind of scene. We don’t fit into that so much,” Wilcox says. “Jeremy recently was talking about, ‘Why isn’t there more of this sort of cosmic space music out here?’ Because the vibe with the mountains and nature and all this stuff seems like that would fit well. It exists to some extent, but it’s never been something I’ve really been able to lock into.”

But as the metaphorical curtain rises on Prairiewolf ahead of their upcoming album release show in Lafayette this Saturday, under a full moon like the one illuminating the album’s first recording session last fall, the trio is hopeful their jam-adjacent brand of celestial psychedelia will find a rightful home with audiences here on the Front Range — and leave a trail of stardust for others to follow. 

“What we do isn’t common here, but people dig it when they hear it,” Erwin says. “So if we’re helping plant the seed for more of this type of music out here, let’s do it.” 

ON THE BILL: Prairiewolf album release show. 6 p.m. Saturday, May 6, Cellar West Artisan Ales, 778-B W. Baseline Road, Lafayette. Free