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In the living room of the Cherry Creek home he shares with his girlfriend, Matt Rouch—frontman of alt-country Americana band Matt Rouch and the Noise Upstairs—pops open two cans of Breckenridge Brewery Breck Lager. He passes one to his bandmate and slides onto his couch. Sips. The effort does little to shield his enthusiasm. He’s borderline jittery. As he starts talking, Rouch almost never stops moving. His leg bounces on his knee, and he gesticulates, his hands doing cartwheels, his thumb massaging the middle of his palm. He’s prepared for every question, inserting an eager “Sure!” before each response. He’s been waiting for this.
The energy is fitting. On August 25, his band will release their new album, Half-Expected Heartbreak, a high-tempo hybrid of folk, Americana, and country that eschews Rouch’s former days as a solo singer-songwriter. This weekend, the group will begin a smattering of concert appearances crisscrossing the city, including Levitt Pavilion on August 5, the Lakewood Summer Concert series at the Lakewood Heritage Center on August 8, and the Gothic on August 9. Their five-person gang has been working on recording this EP since January. Too long, in Rouch’s opinion.
A Virginia native, Rouch moved to Denver in 2015 for a job with the Bureau of Land Management, and he quickly sought out the music scene. He attended open mics, met musicians, played solo, formed a trio. He put out his solo album in 2016. But it took time to assemble his current ragtag crew. He met violinist Alex Fostar at an open mic; Rouch latched onto him as soon as he discovered the man could play fiddle. He unearthed background vocalist Monique Balzouman and bassist Stu Garney on Craigslist. The drummer, Sean Kiefer—who opened for Megadeth at age 16—was a Facebook find. At the time, Rouch had an upcoming concert, and his drummer had just quit. It was a Wednesday when he connected with Kiefer; the concert was Friday. He asked Kiefer to learn 45 minutes of material in 48 hours. Kiefer agreed, practicing right up until the moment they stepped onstage. From that point forward, a bond was sealed. “I like his work ethic,” Rouch says now. He’s only half-teasing.
The group works well together, as evident by the effortless harmonies and foot-stomping rhythms on Half-Expected Heartbreak. The EP will remind many folk fans of the Avett Brothers, who Rouch cites as an influence, but there’s enough rock and country infused in the mix to trace Rouch’s childhood love affair with Bruce Springsteen. Kiefer even thinks their band has drops of James Taylor in it. Balzouman opts for Glen Hansard. Regardless, Matt Rouch and the Noise Upstairs has made good company in their comparisons, and the album works. It’s an exciting, engaging bash from start to finish.
Still, it’s been a fight to get noticed in Denver. When Rouch first started playing his slower, crooning solo songs, he often found the bar crowd would chatter over his strumming. “So I thought, well, if I can’t do that, then screw it, I’m gonna make sure you can’t ignore us,” he says. Thus the loud, dance-y thunderclap of Half-Expected Heartbreak. Already, he’s won a 2018 IMEA award for Folk Song of the Year for “Adelaide,” and the group earned 303 Magazine’s 2018 Best Country Band of the Year. His response to booking agents thinking his crew is small-time? “Eventually the goal is to make enough noise to not be ignored anymore.”
It shouldn’t be difficult for him. The name for Matt Rouch and the Noise Upstairs is a nod to the group’s genesis, back when Rouch and a few players jammed at his girlfriend’s apartment. When they’d walk outside for a smoke break, the apartment tenants asked them, “What’s that noise upstairs?” The name stuck, though it’s been butchered over the years by announcers. One time his group was introduced as “Matt Rouch and the Noisemakers.” Rouch jokes that, once people start getting his name right, that’s how he’ll know he’s made it.
Well, that, or he’ll get a beer named after his music, which is exactly what’s happening this Saturday during the band’s single release party at Odyssey Beerwerks Brewery and Taproom. The brewery is crafting the Already Yours IPA, which will accompany the release of “Already Yours,” the first song on Half-Expected Heartbreak and a well-constructed hook with whimsical harmonies. The pressure is mounting as his band earns each success, Rouch says. But perhaps this weekend he can put aside the Breck Lager for a beer with his own name attached. Maybe he’ll slow down enough to enjoy it. But not for long. August is a big month for the band, and they’ve got a lot of noise left to make.