Monday, February 8, 2021

Berkley and his Musical Love Affair with Pueblo... and KDZA Radio

You all know I don't feature "new" Colorado music, as this site is for the preservation of state-made music history of the past, but I'd like to make an exception - a story that underlines the reality that far too often, local music moves away, in order to be heard by a larger audience. So is the case of the born and raised in Pueblo, Berkley.


Andrew Jones loves Pueblo, and that might be an understatement.

The title of his album Pueblo, is musically rich in his Southern Colorado roots. His song "Pueblo Nights," and its accompanying video, contains lyrical scenes from the Steel City. 

His song "Oldies" is based loosely on his love of KDZA radio.

But you won't find Andrew performing in his hometown. Nor will you find his music playing on the radio station he has remembered so fondly.

Andrew Jones, who goes by the moniker Berkley (yes, he took the name from Pueblo's Berkley Avenue, the street where Jones’ childhood home is) lives, works, and performs in the Dallas Texas metroplex. He's gotten great press there, and has received well-deserved recognition for his songs. "Oldies" was recently named one of the Top 100 songs of 2020 by the Dallas music blog, Central Track.

He recently released his third Pueblo-centric single, "Fiesta Day."

What high school did you go to and when did you graduate? 

"I went to Central and graduated in 2004."

What previous bands were you in? 

"I was in a few punk bands that didn't go beyond high school talent shows, but those led me to a more popular and busy metal band, Of Winds and Faint Echoes. That led to joining a Colorado Springs-based band that I toured with called Harrison Bergeron, who were sort of punk, sort of hardcore.

Myself and other members from Of Winds and Faint Echoes formed a doom metal band called DAWN and another long-form ambient/post-rock band called Sky is Ocean. Neither seemed to keep our attention, or anyone else's as much as Of Winds and Faint Echoes. But Sky is Ocean was the best band experience I had because we got to record with an engineer I really admired in Kentucky, Kevin Ratterman of the bands Wax Fang and Elliott. He went on to work with My Morning Jacket and does sessions in Los Angeles now. I founded a band with a member of Harrison Bergeron and the drummer from a band, based in L.A. I would part-time it between Pueblo and L.A. We'd write at home, then demo and rehearse in a studio in California. That went on for about a year before we finally played a show, a sold out theater gig in Fort Collins with 3Oh!3. I quit music for a few years after that band, which never had a final name! We played the show as Colorado, possibly the worst name imaginable. I like to think of the band as one of the earlier name choices, Color West."

How did KDZA influence you? 

"My earliest memories of music are from listening experiences I had with KDZA. This started in the late 80s until I left Pueblo, but my sense of song and what radio was came from that station. I can't overstate what an impression it made on me. I listened to KVUU and Magic FM a lot in the early to mid 90s, my formative years, and KILO when I entered adolescence, but KDZA seemed like it was everywhere in Pueblo. Maybe I'm just sensitive to hearing oldies when they're on, but it seems like that format is the ambiance of Pueblo. Nick Donovan, Tim Kiley, and The Master of the Memories himself, Lee Douglas."

 Why did listening to the station resonate with you so much? 

"There's a little bit to the fact that KDZA was just inescapable in my life. I could not escape 60s music! I'm very lucky that it was that because that became the modern American songbook. You could do far worse for an introduction to music. My parents listened to other stations, KCCY, KVUU, Magic FM, but KDZA was sort of the default. My mom was very giving in letting me choose the radio station when we would run errands, and KDZA was never off the table. You'd think a kid would be too distracted by the pop of the time, but all of those songs had this foundational sense of melody, and rhythm especially, that made me think of oldies when I heard Paula Abdul or anyone else on Magic. I mean, Janet and Michael Jackson were straight from that school. New Jack Swing was really hot and I was obsessed with that, but it was just really more early Motown vibes. I could hear the inspiration for new music coming from oldies. This is a late-era oldies track, but the Four Seasons song, 'December, 1963' had a resurgence on modern pop radio in the early 90s. Again, just could not escape these artists."

Your song “Oldies” is influenced by your love of local radio - please talk about writing that song, specifically. 

"When I started writing songs for my first full length under the name Berkley, I wanted them to be about how Pueblo affected me or shaped who I came to be now that I'm not living there. I made a list of song titles that were unique to the Pueblo experience and started associating personal memories to them so I could keep my story but have these titles that would invite others, Puebloans specifically, to put their own experiences onto the songs. 

'Oldies' was the first title on the list. I also had a running list of memories and reckonings I wanted to address with these songs. Entering my 30s and being away from Pueblo brought a lot of things from my childhood, teens, and 20s into focus. When I started the process I felt like I could speak all that into the world and relieve the weight of them. That resulted in all the songs having this impressionist thing to them instead of a straight story. I jump around in time in the songs and associate memories and places with a theme, and 'Oldies' is very much like that. It laid out the blueprint for other songs on the album. There are images and experiences in that song that are essentially like my experience with 107.9 KDZA. This thing shapes you to an extent and establishes a sense of reality that time eventually erases or changes. The idea of the oldies format is very memory-based for me too. Sock Hop Saturdays on KDZA, that was a memory of something long passed when it was on the air. It's like a memory of an old friend or a relationship that's ended. The line in the song where I mention the word 'oldies,' makes that a physical thing, like you can actually return to where you experienced or felt something and it's never going to be the same as when it happened in the first place. As much as you'd like to either relive or forget it, you're stuck with the memory. I realized I was writing about trauma. I love oldies music but I can't go back to Pueblo and put on 107.9 to listen to it. I can't listen to Lee Douglas anymore.  Things have changed. You have to learn to live with things you love leaving your life and still find joy and meaning in everything new."

Why did you leave Pueblo? 

"The short answer is I got married and my wife was living in Texas. But we met in Pueblo. That wasn't the first time I left Pueblo, though. Like most millennial Puebloans in their 20s, I moved to Denver. I studied jazz and audio production for a while. Then I moved to Springs and started writing music - very bad music - again. While I was living there, my now-wife and I got in touch with one another and very quickly I was in Texas where she had relocated to get her PhD. We're still here since she was able to find work in her field and I was able to make a creative life work."

You have a love for the city, as very evident in your music - why do you love Pueblo so much? 

"Having a good childhood helps make a place special, I think, but there's more than nostalgia for me. As I get older I realize it's all the stuff that is still being revealed to me about the city. Your blog is something I've only come across recenlty and it's like, here's even more Pueblo to learn about, and it's all amazing! Pueblo is not perfect, like any city, and there are specifics we could get into that are unique to Pueblo and easily remedied if the commitment were there to rectify those issues. Some people will leave it at that - Pueblo's not perfect. But if you love it, you see all that you wouldn't change for the world, and know it can work out the imperfections. That's the 'something' I love about the town and its people. The real DIY and working-class Puebloans, the ones who love it like I do, make it an electrifying place to be if you're on the right frequency. Those people made Pueblo what it is, gave it its image and reputation. There's a resilience and self-reliance - confidence, really - that I admire about these people and that I hope I've absorbed."

 So many talented groups leave, because they can’t make it here - or they just fade into obscurity. In your opinion, what will it take for the Pueblo music scene to be taken seriously? 

"This is such a hard question, but it's the elephant in the room. I think anywhere you go there will be crappy bands and great bands in the same city, often sharing the same bills, so it's not about a ratio of talent that makes a scene the one to watch. The cream always rises and that's who gets talked about. There have always been Pueblo bands that get talked about but it's not ever been on that scene level that I've been aware of. I think getting there is about having a strong sonic identity. There can be shame about being "the Pueblo band," that dilutes whatever that identity actually is. Bands can try to write in a sound that's more accepted in other places, or they'll quickly adapt to whatever will play better out of town. 

When you're in this situation of performing songs that are probably personal expressions, it's very vulnerable and literally the entire audience is judging you. There's so much negativity directed at Pueblo from the north that when you're a Pueblo band playing Colorado Springs for the first time, it can feel heavy debuting your work. Most of that audience has already written you off because they know you're from Pueblo. And you've got to play there and in Denver because that's where the venues are and the national acts come. I think to be taken seriously in and out of Pueblo, there needs to be a Pueblo sound. And I should point out that maybe there actually is a Pueblo sound but it's not one that artists want to get with. Maybe Pueblo makes astounding Tejano and we're all not hip to it because that won't get you in Pitchfork. So when I offer my opinion here, I'm talking about this western sense of rock or indie music. But it's true for rap and hip-hop, which Pueblo has had its fair share of too. There needs to be a moment where all these artists push the form forward in a direction that hasn't been touched before. It needs to happen all together in the same direction. That requires a confidence and lack of interest in what others think, which being from Pueblo can inhibit. 

Being away from Pueblo for a while, but keeping an eye on music from there, makes me believe the sound has been there for a very long time and no one is touching it because they want to, for the lack of a better phrase, be cool. I absolutely did this when I was there. You do what's hip right now, but that's the sound of some other place. I think Pueblo specifically needs to look at its history and interpret it with modern music tools."

Tell me about your song Pueblo Nights - how did it come about? 

 "I had this idea for a while after a trip to Pueblo to write a song with this title, so I had my antennas up. I thought it was kind of funny, like a romantic vision you'd typically associate with more well-known, plainly glamorous places. 'Malibu Nights' or that Dirty Dancing sequel, 'Havana Nights.' Those sound very sexy and intriguing. So what would Pueblo Nights be? I thought, whatever they are, they need to be conflict free. For a long time I feared going back to Pueblo after I had left because I expected to run into someone who had a problem with me. Pueblo is not lacking in its drama, and I say that with some sense of pride. If that energy could be fully channeled into art, you'd REALLY have an arts town. So the lyrics deal with what you'd have to do to have the kind of night worth romanticizing. I say, 'I don't wanna fight or place the blame.' I ask, 'Would it be the same?' if we could forget and forgive or if we never did whatever hurt us in the first place. I think to be in your 20s is to be a straight up wrecking ball. Getting out of your 20s requires recognizing that and just accepting that it happened. In 'Pueblo Nights' I'm posing this possibility of an environment where we can just say, all of that was very unnecessary and we're all fine now."

 The video is VERY Pueblo. Where did the archival footage come from? 

"That's all from my experiences playing in Pueblo bands. I shot almost all of it, except for some of the city stuff where I drove and a friend got the shots, and I shot the 'me' stuff in Dallas with a filmmaker friend of mine. But everything else, the stuff obviously shot with old digital cameras, is me in my teens and early 20s capturing everything. I was obsessed with it and I can't say why. I've always liked recording my life. When I was in kindergarten I'd record myself on this little boombox I had. It was a child's toy and had a bear embossed on it, but it had a record function that I stumbled upon and started recording radio broadcasts where I was the DJ. I recently found those tapes to make the b-sides for the 'Oldies' single and it's really nuts. My parents must have thought I was a little touched. But from there it became this thing that I recorded practices, other shows, just hanging out with friends. I have probably 50 DVD-Rs with footage and pictures from venues and studios from Pueblo to the rest of the country. With the Berkley stuff, it finally found a purpose."

 Do you still get back to Pueblo - if so, is there a certain melancholy that you have for the city, knowing that you had to go elsewhere for your music to be heard? 

"Oh yeah, my wife and I get back a few times a year. Last year was obviously different. We went back once to check in with everyone, knowing we weren't going to make it back for the holidays. I feel the kind of melancholy that revisiting your past brings, but it doesn't have to do with music necessarily. Another aspect of life spirited me away. Where I live now is a lot like Pueblo in size and economics and I'm making music a much bigger part of my life than before because there are more venues in town, more recording studios, and a community of patrons who support the arts to fill the gaps where performing and selling music leaves. That was when things were normal, though, and I don't know what things will look like when the pandemic is under control. 

When I visit Pueblo, I might feel some kind of longing if everyone in my music orbit had achieved something I didn't, but we all somehow found happiness. We were going to graduate from school eventually and either go to college or get jobs. Then it became a life where we had jobs we didn't like or that didn't give us enough to live off of. We were young and obsessed with this thing that helped us express ourselves and gave us attention. Who wouldn't want this all the time? But a lot of people went on to have kids and are stoked on being parents. That's great to see because that anxiety seems to be gone. Their priorities are set. They still play music too. That's actually inspiring to me, someone who isn't a parent yet and is inundated with every kidless or single person commodifying their online presence."

Please tell me what you have in store for your fans, next? 

"On January 21st I released the video for my next single, 'Fiesta Day,' and I'm working on a project for a physical release with the Pueblo arts community for when the track drops online in February. We're still ironing out the details of it so I literally can't say anything about it because I don't want to hype something that may take on a different form.  But it will be something where Pueblo artists can showcase their work and where you can learn to play 'Fiesta Day'."

Do you plan to keep including Pueblo in future songs? 

"The full-length is all about what it was like to grow up in Pueblo. The feelings, the places, the growing pains of life in a place where you knew you were eventually going to run into the person who dumped you last week. I'll be talking about Pueblo for a while as I release and promote the album. After that release, I'm going to try to be less intentional about centering Pueblo. I hope to have said all I needed to. But how can you put so much of your life experience behind you? I've been gone almost 10 years and still want to eat Pizza King and Burrito's Betty. I still dream of returning to Ace Cards and Comics on Lake Avenue, which has been gone since I was in elementary school. Obviously I still have a deep interest in KDZA! I won't be naming these places in songs or trying to express what the Bell Game was like in lyrics, but I'm sure Pueblo will be an influence in how I approach my art for the rest of my life."

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