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When progressive folk act Elephant Revival announced it was taking an indefinite hiatus last year, fans were shocked. The Nederland-born band was to play one last show at Red Rocks, and then the band members would go their separate ways. The group—known for employing lush harmonies, a washboard, and sometimes, interpretive dancers to round out its live shows—was a pioneer and mainstay of the Colorado music scene. For guitarist Daniel Rodriguez, the news was upsetting for personal reasons: It marked the end of his 14-year relationship with his bandmate, multi-instrumentalist Bonnie Paine.
“I was laid out heartbroken after the breakup,” says Rodriguez. “Music gave me something to pour myself into.”
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The result of all that soul-stirring art is a five song EP, Your Heart, The Stars, The Milky Way, which will be released on February 15. Although Rodriguez is originally from New London, Connecticut, he’s lived in Colorado for more than a decade, and when pressed, calls Boulder home. For most of of this year though, he’s been living in his converted Ford Transit, playing shows with the likes of Josh Ritter and Mandolin Orange. For Rodriguez, the hiatus that followed the breakup has meant adopting the lifestyle of a solo musician.
“It’s been hard having to do everything myself, from the booking to the management side of things,” says Rodriguez. “The most gratifying thing though has been the freedom that comes with performing solo.”
Over the course of four days, Rodriguez recorded the EP’s tracks and then some at Mountain Star Studio in Black Hawk, which in addition to being isolated and beautiful, has a state-of-the-art recording studio. Produced by multi-instrumentalist Darren Garvey, also of Elephant Revival, Rodriguez opted to release five tracks now and save an additional 10 for a full-length album to drop later this year. The songs are built on the poetry and warm croon Rodriguez has a reputation for, but they also contain a vulnerability that lends credence to the notion that pain can fuel art.
How would he describe the sound? “Cuddle rock,” says Rodriguez. “Hooky melodies with story lines of substance, and grooves that sink deep in.”
On the first track, “Steal the Night Away,” Rodriguez sings, “Letting down my heart strings, and I’m feeling your tug,” as artist Lewi Longmire mimics the effect on his electric guitar. “The song is about trying to figure out how to be single in the wake of a breakup,” says Rodriguez.
“Growing Pains,” also on the EP, is the ultimate expression of Rodriguez’s grief and coming to terms. Other songs tell the story of a recluse who left society to live in the woods (“Johnny”) and wanting to jump in the river on a 104-degree day in Southern Colorado (“Dolores”). The final tune, “Back Roads,” features members of the folky bluegrass band Fruition and doubles as an homage to the time Rodriguez has spent with the five-piece on tour this past year (or for anyone who’s taken to gravel to get away from it all) .
On February 13, members of Fruition—including Mimi Naja and Jay Cobb Anderson, who will play an opening set of Gillian Welch covers—will join Rodriguez for an EP release party at the Fox Theatre in Boulder. Also in attendance will be the bulk of Elephant Revival, along with a handful of other surprise guests.
Despite having headlined Red Rocks multiple times, Rodriguez is happy to return to more humble, hometown digs: “It feels great to be playing the Fox again.”
As for his future with Elephant Revival, Rodriguez is guarded. “To be clear, Elephant Revival is on a hiatus,” he says. “Whether or not I’ll be in be part of the band when it reunites, is still up in the air.”
If you go: Daniel Rodriguez is throwing an EP release party at the Fox Theatre on February 13 at 8 p.m. Get tickets here. Your Heart, The Stars, The Milky Way will be officially released on February 15.