Unconventional, Exciting and Loud: Denver’s CITRA Discuss Their New EP, “Mr. Copacetic”
Photos & story by Shannon Shumaker
Navigating the music industry as a growing band in 2018 isn’t the same as it was in 2005, 2010 or (if we’re being honest) even 2016. In a world where attention spans are getting shorter and first impressions matter more than ever, artists are must do whatever it takes to stand out from the crowd, but thankfully, Denver four-piece CITRA have already done that. Maybe it’s their explosive sound that’ll first hook you, or it could be their high energy and vibrant live performance that’ll grab your attention. Whatever it is, they’re doing something right.
The first time I saw CITRA live, I felt blindsided. Although I had listened to the band before, I didn’t get to catch one of their shows until mid 2017, and I wasn’t prepared for their chaotic performance, the colorful light show, or the exhaustion that followed. Their set only lasted about half an hour, but by the time they left the stage, it felt as if they had just played a long headlining gig to a sold-out crowd. Apparently, I’m not the only one who felt this way either. Flash forward a few months, and I’m sitting in the band’s practice space, chatting about their upcoming sophomore EP and listening to them tell a story about getting approached by someone after a show who referred to them as “the worst name he’d ever heard but the best live band he had ever seen.” The band seems to take the backhanded compliment in stride, and it is with this same self-deprecating sense of humor and positive energy that they talk about the future of CITRA. (No, the name isn’t changing. Sorry random dude.) The whole interview - which is done inside the band’s cramped practice space and over a few PBRs - is seriously unserious. As they talk about their hopes and goals for their new EP, it’s intercut with funny anecdotes about the recording sessions and digs at one another. Weighty moments are quickly dissolved with humor, but it’s obvious that the band does take their music seriously, whether they want you to know it or not.
“I think that our intentions were to be better than average, and to see where it went from there.”
- Dan Naddy
It all started a little over two years ago, after vocalist Brandon Arndt and guitarist Augie Menos, both new to Colorado, decided to form a band. Drummer Dan Naddy came along shortly after, in a way that simply makes sense the more we talk.
“We just met up and got drunk,” he explains with a laugh, “We met at Our Mutual Friend and sat there for like three hours. I came from a job interview. I was in dress clothes, like interview clothes, and I showed up for a drummer interview -”
“And I was like, ‘This guy gets it!’” Arndt jokes.
Within their first jam session, Arndt and Naddy had already started writing “Ocean,” “Apologize” and “Feelin’ Alive,” which can be heard on their Ocean EP, released only a few months later. A testament to just how seriously they take the band, CITRA began recording the EP after only playing with their full lineup, which was rounded out by bassist Sean Slattery, twice. Three months after forming, the Ocean EP was out for the world to hear, and CITRA had successfully broken into the Denver music scene.
“We put those [songs] together and recorded that just so we could start getting shows,” Menos explains, “Our goals were to make good music that we all liked playing.”
“We were just kind of figuring it out,” Naddy adds, “I think that our intentions were to be better than average, and to see where it went from there.”
From there, CITRA have been playing basically non-stop in Colorado, and even joke that it’s a cycle - play shows to make money to record new music so they can play more shows. It’s no surprise that CITRA have garnered some attention for their live presence either. If you’ve never seen them live, then just imagine vibrant, constantly changing lights, lasers and a badass neon sign coupled with quite possibly one of the most energetic, endearing and solid live bands you’ve seen. Even on a tiny stage like The Moon Room in Denver, CITRA manage to make the show feel larger than life, and this is something they set their sights on rather quickly. When I ask how much thought goes into their live show, Naddy is quick to confirm that it is something they’ve been working on “before we ever wrote a song.”
“I mean it’s such a hard world now,” Menos chimes in, “There are so many good bands out there, but you can’t just be good. You have to be good and lucky and grab people’s attention.”
Like their music, a lot of thought and planning goes into CITRA’s light show, too. Rather than controlling the lights with a computer or setting them to a click, Slattery is in charge of the band’s live visuals, making every performance unique - and making it easy to go with the flow if things don’t go according to plan. “I like how everything is a little bit different,” Menos explains, “And if something fucks up, you can just roll with it. I like that a lot.”
Slattery agrees, “I think it’s all just about putting on a good show. That’s what we mainly focused on.”
With their lineup, sound and live show dialed in, the next natural step for CITRA was simply writing more and growing as a group. Admittedly, the first EP, although strong, was just the catalyst to get things moving: a way to get shows and something accessible for would-be fans to get their hands on. Following the Ocean EP, the start of each new year has unintentionally become the perfect time for CITRA to release new music. In January of 2017, they released two new singles, “Air” and “My My Mind” and now, just a little over two years after their debut, the band is gearing up to drop their sophomore EP, Mr. Copacetic on February 6th. The five new songs find the band more confident and comfortable than ever, which allows them to expand on their guitar driven, high energy sound even more. The best part? It all came natural.
Like with Ocean, the band admits that they didn’t have any major goals when they set out to write and record Mr. Copacetic. “We weren’t really thinking about a direction of it, it just kind of happened,” Arndt explains when I ask where he wanted to take the band with the EP, “Being together longer makes us know what works.”
“The first one, we really were still figuring it out. We didn’t know what we wanted to write,” Menos continues, “I think we all feel like this EP really covers the band we are now as opposed to our first EP. Hopefully the songs reflect that. I feel like they do.”
Also reflected in the new EP is the setting in which it was recorded. Drums were tracked early on at Evergroove Studio, but the band later rented a mountain house to record most of the Mr. Copacetic. Spending three days away from the city affected the process in some ways that you can’t hear, and many that you can. One distinct characteristic can be heard in the beginning of the EP’s second track, “Felt So Right”: hummingbirds.
“They had this little hummingbird feeder, and there would be just thirty of them that would come at a time,” Menos explains, “You could just walk up there and stand under it. It was pretty nuts.”
“We couldn’t record anything without the sound of hummingbirds in it,” Naddy says with a laugh, “So we just embraced it.” What other band can say that?
In a less literal sense, the location of the recording sessions also had an affect on the band’s mentality, which in turn, impacted the EP. “Even for like three days, it’s nice to immerse yourself in that,” Naddy expresses, “It was beautiful. There’s no cell phone towers, I was just sitting on a dock, I had a beer, the sun was going down, and there’s a pond... and Augie’s recording his solo for like an hour. They knocked out the solo and were like, ‘Let’s just get some noise!’ And it would be peaceful if it weren’t for a stupidly loud guitar. That’s all those weird guitar sounds at the end of ‘That’s What She Said.’”
Staying true to the unintentional, yet overall theme of our conversation, it comes as no surprise that the underlying theme of Mr. Copacetic just fell into place, too. Although the EP wasn’t written with any goals or subjects in mind, a common theme of apathy seems to encompass the five songs.
Arndt explains, “The whole EP wasn’t written to be about a single thing, but the more we were reading the lyrics over, it seemed like the world is kind of going to shit right now. That seemed to be a kind of constant thing I was writing about, but not thinking about it.”
“It’s not just that, but it’s like how the world is going to shit and everyone is upset about it, but doesn’t do anything about it,” Menos chimes in, “Everyone’s like, ‘Yeah, the world is going to shit! It’s whatever.’ It’s kind of like everyone is expecting it to happen and they’re okay with it.”
“So that’s why we called it Mr. Copacetic,” Arndt concludes.
“We arrived at that name really easily. With no debate whatsoever,” Naddy jokes, earning laughter from the rest of his bandmates. Just like that, the serious tone of the conversation is broken. Well, by that, and by Naddy accidentally hitting a switch on the band’s light board, illuminating the small room with bright lights and lasers. And somehow, this random moment still seems to fit the exact theme of what we’re discussing - things just fall into place.
Don’t tell the band that, though, because they’ll be quick to brush it off, as Naddy does when I mention that they seem to have it all figured out: “That’s called failure. And then you learn. Because before any of us were in this band, we were in a bunch of other bands that went nowhere and did nothing.”
"...there’s a million talented bands who try really hard and only a few of those even do anything. It takes so much more than working hard and being good. But if you do those two things, you have a better shot."
Although it is said in a lighthearted tone, his words ring true with his bandmates. “I feel like there’s a difference between failure and not trying hard enough,” Arndt says, bouncing off of Naddy’s comment, “I’ve been in a bunch of different bands, but we never tried really hard.”
“That’s the thing,” Menos agrees, “There’s a million talented bands, and there’s a million bands that try really hard, then there’s a million talented bands who try really hard and only a few of those even do anything. It takes so much more than working hard and being good. But if you do those two things, you have a better shot.”
So what are CITRA working on next? Unsurprisingly, the band is throwing a hell of an album release party the weekend before it drops, and after that, they’re just going to keep focusing on what matters: the music. Everything about the band, from their formation to their goals, is unconventional, and that’s exactly what makes them exciting and unpredictable. Can fans expect more new music like clockwork next January? Who knows. What we do know is that whatever they do, CITRA will pour their heart and soul into it.
“We collectively agree that if we did a full-length album, we want it to be perfect,” Arndt says of the band’s future. That’s about as far out as they’ve thought, though. Like Mr. Copacetic, and even the band’s debut EP, the next step will eventually come natural. If it feels good, then they’re bound to chase it.
“I don’t think we’re trying to change the world,” Naddy concludes, “Just come out and have a good time and forget about your life for an hour. I think if your goals are beyond that, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.”