It was a particularly shreddy lick in the Power Rangers theme song that made Paul DeHaven want to play guitar.
“I was like, ‘Mom, I think I want to play guitar,’” the singer-songwriter behind Denver-born folk-rock band Heavy Diamond Ring remembers saying as a 12-year-old growing up in Arvada. “And then I forgot that I’d said that, [but] she remembered.”
DeHaven’s mom surprised her son with a used Yamaha classical guitar she picked up from a garage sale for $20. Sidelined from playing baseball after fracturing his thumb, DeHaven became “laser-focused” on mastering the guitar.
“My mom’s friend taught me how to play a G chord and how to move around and make a little melody, basically like slide guitar but with one finger, and then I stopped playing sports,” he says.
He quickly grabbed an electric guitar and started a punk band, and even went on to study music in school, getting a degree in jazz performance at CU Denver.
“I was never really very good at playing jazz, but I learned so much,” ” DeHaven says. “I was obsessed; I’m still obsessed. I just can’t learn enough about music.”
His fixation has been a wellspring of creativity. DeHaven, whose family moved from Texas to Colorado when he was nine months old, was a key member of Denver’s much-lauded alt-folk group Paper Bird, which broke up in 2018 after a decade together. But the end of that band didn’t slow him down. With a little more twang, DeHaven and former Paper Bird vocalist Sarah Anderson went on to form Heavy Diamond Ring, whose lone longplay, 2019’s self-titled debut, throws an L.A. sheen on what Paper Bird began.
With the band’s sophomore album set to release this fall, DeHaven and his band mates — Anderson on vocals plus Blake Stepan on bass, Mike Lang at the keys and Orion Tate Ignelzi on drums — will be whetting fan’s appetites through the year with shows, like the upcoming Bluebird Theater show on May 5.
While Heavy Diamond Ring is DeHaven’s musical main squeeze, DeHaven has produced a plethora of other projects to sate his endless hunger to create, including three solo indie-folk albums that are as gritty as they are beautiful. In 2021, DeHaven released a gorgeous experimental record called Caribou: Landscapes Volume 1 that was sparked by an artist-in-residency program he did in Nederland. Late in 2022, DeHaven shared his “pandemic record,” an alt-pop album called Pink Kimono, blending dancey tunes with folks songs into a collection DeHaven has described as “kind of schizophrenic.”
Treading into even more radical musical territory, this spring DeHaven released a pair of albums, a collaborative instrumental surf-pop record under the moniker Sheep Lord called Seiche Sessions, and Death Beach, a lush, experimental, mostly instrumental solo record — and all this after breaking his arm while in Sayulita, Mexico, forcing him to make music chiefly with keyboards, synthesizers and computers.
He calls Death Beach “a silver lining stitched of necessity, loss, and a little dose of despair.”
Keep an eye out for DeHaven’s upcoming harder-rocking album Burden of Paradise, his first solo record to feature a full band rather than the “bedroom recordings” of previous records.
And when DeHaven isn’t writing, recording or performing, he’s racking up the miles on his car driving back to the Centennial State after his wife got a job that took the couple to Santa Fe.
“Once a month, every two weeks, I’m just up here for shows,” he says. “It’s a lot of driving. It’s a big change, but it’s worth it.”
It’s hard to keep up with DeHaven but, as David Bowie once said about himself, although you don’t know where he’s going next, you know it won’t be boring.
“I love a career like Brian Eno’s, that has no rules,” DeHaven says. “That’s something I aspire to, because I don’t care what people come to expect from my music. I just want to make good stuff. I want a sustainable life in music. I would love to be able to continue to see the fruits of my labor turn into the small amount of notoriety it takes to continue doing more performing and writing and recording, and as much on my own terms as possible.”
ON THE BILL: Travis McNamara with Heavy Diamond Ring and Summers Baker. 7 p.m. Friday, May 5, Bluebird Theater, 3317 E. Colfax Ave., Denver. Tickets here.