‘The truth is out there’

Boulder musician Thom LaFond returns with otherworldly new record

Boulder singer-songwriter Thom LaFond performs with Fruta Brutal on March 8 at the Velvet Elk Lounge. Courtesy: Thom LaFond

The story unfolding across Thom LaFond’s sophomore album, Lawless, wouldn’t feel out of place in a bizarro episode of The X-Files.

“Basically, there’s an alien that comes to Earth and falls in love with a human. They’re not really received too well by humanity, so they go out into the woods and isolate,” he explains. “Neither of them is really happy, and the alien kidnaps the human and takes them out to space. Then things get really dark. The human outlives all of their friends and family on Earth. The alien gets jealous and decides to destroy the planet.”

LaFond chuckles at his own heavy sci-fi love story, written after a passing suggestion from his girlfriend sent him on a path that seems more suitable for special agents Mulder and Scully.

“But that’s the theme that goes through it,” the longtime Boulder-based musician adds. “I asked my girlfriend, ‘What do you think my theme should be?’ She said an alien love story, so I went back up to my house for three or four days and wrote a whole bunch of lyrics.”

A follow-up to last year’s debut The Moon Leans In, which doesn’t concern itself with lovelorn alien apocalypses, Lawless was at first supposed to be a more soothing soundscape heavy on synthesizers and spaced-out rock arrangements. But having an otherworldly antagonist gives the nine new tracks more life — someone to root for, or against.

“I was listening to a lot of The Flaming Lips when I went in to write the album. I noticed they contextualize all their whacky synth sounds [with a theme],” he says of the Oklahoma City psych-rock wizards known for high-concept theatrics. “It’s creating a sonic world. That’s what I was shooting for. If I’m going to use all these synthesizers and electronic sounds, I want there to be a context to them, so I picked this alien love story theme.”

But if LaFond didn’t divulge the exact premise behind his lyrics, listeners would be forgiven for not immediately recognizing Lawless as a sci-fi rock opera. With tracks like “I Thought You Died” highlighting LaFond’s delicate piano-playing, the record is a folksy offering full of cheery indie rock and funk. Yes, there are synthesizers and other off-beat instruments, including wind chimes, but it’s far from a concept record retread — more Dawes and The Revivalists than Queensrÿche and Dream Theater.

Thom LaFond’s ‘Lawless,’ the follow-up to last year’s debut ‘The Moon Leans In,’ blasts listeners into a new orbit with a heavy sci-fi love story. Courtesy: PS Audio

‘It’s going to be a dance party’

Front Range concertgoers can experience LaFond’s out-of-this-world new record for themselves at the Velvet Elk Lounge on Friday, March 8, where LaFond will take the stage with opener Fruta Brutal. He’ll be joined by a live band including Enion Pelta-Tiller (violin), Chris Duffy (bass and synth), Ian Arras (synth), Michelle Milo Pietrafitta (drums) and Katie Mintle (backing vocals). 

After releasing Lawless on Feb. 1, LaFond hit the road on a West Coast tour with his longtime band Banshee Tree, known locally for playing Saturday nights at the Boulderado Hotel over the years. But he’s excited to be back and playing Lawless in its entirety for the first time.

“You can come expecting to listen and feel the emotional context of the songs,” he says. “But also it’s going to be a dance party.” 

LaFond certainly knows how to make an audience move. Beyond his work as lead singer and guitarist of Banshee Tree, which also includes Milo Pietrafitta, LaFond cut his teeth in the former East Coast jam band Dirty Paris alongside Duffy, who co-produced Lawless. But jam-mecca Colorado drew LaFond back in even after that band dissolved. He moved to Boulder from his native Albany and busked along Pearl Street, while seeing as much of the world much as he could.

“That got me the cash I needed to keep traveling,” he says. “I did a lot of street performing [in New Orleans and L.A.] and I realized Boulder was my favorite spot to perform out of all those places that were beacons for me.” 

That was 12 years ago. LaFond lived in his car initially, then spent some time in an off-grid cabin and eight years out on Sugarloaf Mountain in Nederland. Now he’s content with electricity, running water and a home studio.

“My next record I’m going to make at home and kind of go nuts with the layers, like hundreds of layers, just because I like the sonic width I can get,” he says. “You’re following every idea without limitation.” 

ON THE BILL: Thom LaFond with Fruta Brutal. 8 p.m. Friday, March 8. Velvet Elk Lounge, 2037 13th St., Boulder. Tickets here.