Denver Colorado has produced so many amazing bands over the years and Totem Pocket are no exception as the groups brand of shoegaze laced psych rock shines brightly on their self titled debut album. I sat down with band members Aaron Dooley and Aesop Adams to talk about their earliest musical memories, how the band got together and the making of their full length album. Check out all things Totem Pocket here.

What was the first music that really made an impact on you all as children and what artist did you each enjoy the most?

AA: One of my earliest musical memories was around 3 years old, this time that I had been riding in a car with my Dad. He was listening to “Windfall” by Son Volt and noticed I was crying in the backseat, so he pulled the car over. I was moved to tears by the lyric “May the wind take your troubles away.” In infancy my parents played a lot of Pearl Jam and Fugazi, and I enjoyed a few musical films like “Little Shop of Horrors” and “The Brave Little Toaster” around that age. My dad would play things and make me CDs for family vacations, I would hear bands like Urge Overkill, Fred Eaglesmith, OutKast, The Jayhawks, Jim Stafford, the White Stripes. I remember another time riding around with him in 2001, hearing The Strokes first EP off a mix CD that his buddy made. I was also fond of ‘Midnight Vultures’ ‘ by Beck and a huge Weird Al fan. Videogames were a big influence, coming up during Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and the age of the videogame soundtrack helped expose me to punk music and guided my transition into a teenager.

AD: Well, my earliest memory of hearing music is my dad playing a cassette of Alan Jackson’s ‘A Lot About Livin’ (And A Little ‘Bout Love),’ and I definitely went through a an angsty metal phase in my early adolescence, but I remember hearing Pink Floyd’s ‘Animals’ in my friends Oldsmobile in High School and getting my mind blown. ‘Live at Pompeii’ was a total game changer for me. Definitely the jumping point for my love of psychedelic/exploratory music.


When did you all first start playing instruments and writing your own songs?

AD: I first started playing acoustic guitar when I was 12/13. About a year or two later I got into Led Zeppelin, and hearing John Paul Jones’ mastery of the bass gave me a whole new perspective. I liked feeling the notes in my chest! As a songwriter, I probably started coming up with my own bass lines around 17/18, but hadn’t begun to seriously implement them for original music till I was 26/27. Before then, I typically liked to build on the songs of friends and collaborators.

AA: I started playing Percussion in the school band around the fifth grade. My teacher was this guy named Mr. Reese, he kinda looked like Teddy Roosevelt , totally could have been in some kind of movie as him. He was a great teacher and a patient man who encouraged my interest in switching to a full kit, as the single snare drum was never enough and the bells had a sound that was too high pitched and hard to get into. I liked the idea of being able to play multiple parts in the orchestra band at the same time instead of being assigned a cymbal or a bass drum part. My dad had acquired a drumkit from a pawn shop around this time and I would experiment on it to familiarize with the feelings of everything.

At some point around the age of 12 I took an interest in the guitar, was very mesmerized by Nirvana and revisiting White Stripes & feeling that I wanted to do what they did.  I took my first lessons from an old country guy named Fritz Brading who had some wicked Dwight Yoakam looks and vibes but he was a really badass fingerpicker who once told me ” I never really went to concerts, unless I was playing at them.” He taught me for about a year until he felt it was time for me to go off on my own and to come back when I wanted to get into the Intermediate stuff.  So I went off and worked on my ability to play and sing, something my Dad once said would be a good skill to learn at the beginning of my journey. Also developed a big interest in analog effect pedals, cuz I was a big fan of live show pictures and you would always see some funny little boxes on the ground giving the guitars these godly tones. I would sit at the computer for hours watching live footage of every band I took interest in, back in the days when Youtube was less syndicated,  & people were starting to figure out how to rip their VHS recordings to the net. It was so cool.  There were quite a few kids my age who played music or had a band, I remember these kids had a group called Criminal that played during a lunch period at school, did some covers and some originals, and I was equally impressed by their talents and envious of their exposure. This pushed me to pursue my own band which included my close friend Trace Peifer on bass. I wanted to write my own original songs because I grew up around my Dad writing & recording songs at home, and now I was in school with kids my age who could do it, so why don’t I try??  We were getting into punk music – Misfits, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, taking in the simple song structures and D.I.Y. ethos & got really inspired by the idea that Punk is not a dress code, but a mindset. Being an individual is the most punk rock thing you can do.

By the beginning of high school I had befriended a Junior named John Chambers who introduced me to Stoner metal & powerviolence,( he was a really good rock soloist, I remember him breezing through “Eruption” on an ESP viper.) C.O.C., Electric Wizard, Eyehategod, Magrudergrind, etc.  By the time I was ready to take the Intermediate lessons, I learned that unfortunately Fritz had passed away, but I continued with a new teacher named Alix Smith, who showed me how to play up and down the neck and introduced me to Slint and Chavez which opened my eyes to more progressive and experimental ideas.  Around the age of 16 I first played with Aaron, we had a pretty good music scene in our hometown as teenagers, lots of kids doing it and coming to the shows. It was a really fun time to be learning about music with others.  Aaron and I had tried to do the high school battle of the bands the previous year with our respective groups, but my band didn’t make the auditions and his band got shafted in the final round.  So we decided to come together with this kid Josh Parton who played drums, learned a couple originals that I wrote (long forgotten) and a cover of “Waiting Room” by Fugazi. We called ourselves Antlions, and we got disqualified for playing an original song that wasn’t submitted for approval by the teachers or something. I think we technically got 3rd place so fuck it, good enough. I remember hitting the distortion and rolling around on the stage during a noisy guitar solo, and the feeling of complete control over the audience, getting to show all these kids what I liked to practice on the weekends in my basement.


How did Totem Pocket begin and how did you all shape the experimental sounds you create?

AD: Aesop and I have been playing music together since we were in high school. Around 2014, we got really into record collecting, and found ourselves fans of deep-end psych and free jazz. When we came to Denver, we realized most audiences out here weren’t that receptive to free-improv that lacked choogle. There is, however, a strong punk-hardcore scene in Denver, which carries attitudes we’ve always admired. We teamed up with friend Chris Sparks, lover of emo-hardcore and embracer of sonic exploration, creating a sound that was akin to shoegaze music. Totem Pocket became a vehicle for songwriting combined with ethereal textures.

AA: Totem Pocket started in a friend’s basement in North Denver during the winter of 2020. Around January we started jamming with Chris Sparks, after his band 11:45 folded. Aaron and I had lived out here for a few years, played a handful of shows but we were getting really into experimental and outsider sounds, long-form jams and mental grooves.  By this time I am heavily influenced by Lez Rallizes Denudes, Heitkotter, Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream and soundtracks like Fantastic Planet, Lucifer Rising, Psychomania. We were playing gigs but it seemed like our tastes were a little too “outside” for the Denver scene. So initially Aaron and I wanted to make a band that was a little more accessible to the general public without losing our freaky psychedelic edge.  The whole idea ended up being an ongoing exercise in consciously creating our own sound.  Chris comes from an Emo background, we share a love for Sunny Day Real Estate. He is also an incredible jazz guitarist, his tasteful contributions and layering can be heard throughout the album. Phil Walker and Dan Somerville contributed the drums and percussion, they are both excellent drummers that can interpret my most muddled and confusing directions.


The band’s self-titled debut album is a beautiful and at times “mind bending” experience. What was the writing and recording process like? Any particular gear you used that really helped shape specific parts of the record?

AD: The recording process was labyrinthian; I didn’t know If we would ever get out. We started recording at the end of February 2021. Our friend was getting evicted from this house and as a final hoorah, recorded us there. Far from complete, we continued the process at the home of Aesop and our former drummer Phil. We engineered the bulk of it ourselves, running mics into a Mackie mixer, into a Focusrite connected to Aesop’s thrifted laptop. There were many long days of experimentation and troubleshooting. We did get some engineering assistance recording vocals from our friend Zoe Moff, who got us into the swanky studios on Auraria campus. The final song to be completed was the intro to “Arthur Sensing Danger,” completed at our friend Greg’s place in May 2022.

In regards to gear, I don’t think there was one piece that acted as a magic bullet. It was definitely nice recording vocals in an actual studio, which gave us access to some OG West German Neumann mics. I got to implement my fretless bass on “NotEvenReal,” which pleased me. Me and Aesop did make good use of our Moog and Arturia synths, particularly on “Winter Again.” As time went on, the song began to feel a little too minimal. Wanting to avoid boring listeners, we frosted it up with the synths, and the final product is *delicious*.

AA: We had a few songs at the beginning. Chris brought “Shifter” and “Winter Again” to the table, one night during the initial embryonic jams Chris played the 3 chords that became “Hitting the Bricks” and him, Aaron & I worked it into a song together.  I was working on “Arthur” during this time, it ended up being a good fit.  We improvised the track “Guiding Head” and wrote “Dropping Eaves” as a group.  I felt like the album was kind of slow-paced at this point, “Arthur” and “Eaves” were the only upbeat numbers. I wrote “Keep it in your mind” and “Notevenreal” in a push to refine my own songwriting abilities and add more controlled chaos to the album. Each song sort of came about like an avalanche, the momentum of one idea pushed me forward into the next.  I am happy with the final production.  We did most of the tracking at a home studio in our basement.  I did a lot of the engineering for these sessions, running the boards and doing mixdowns on everything. After we moved out of that house,  Aaron had a connection to the studio at Auraria campus in downtown Denver. We befriended Zoe Moff who is an excellent engineer and probably the best bassist in Colorado. She did MAGIC in that studio, and we had access to incredible gear. I was very fond of being recorded through vintage Neumann U87 Ai microphones.  Couldn’t tell you what we were running through, but the board was sick and there were lots of preamps. It was really fun working on vocals with our friend Jake Myers of WaxCat.  He pushed me out of my comfort zone to really go for it, and you can hear him doing all the beautiful parts in “Arthur Sensing Danger”.


If the band could do a score for any film director who would it be and what would the film be about?

AA: I personally would do a score for any film in the world if they would hire me, and Totem Pocket is no exception. But if I could pick my top 5 directors, I would say in no order: David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Ralph Bakshi, Robert Rodriguez & David Cronenberg.  Not picky though, hire us & we’ll do your movie right.

AD: I’ll just come out and say it: I don’t watch enough movies! There’s probably a better answer, but I love the visuals of Panos Cosmatos films. The soundtracks are top-notch. Would love to make something of that sonic caliber.



What’s next for you all? Any new recordings/shows etc etc?

AD: We have a few shows coming up at the end of October and throughout November. We’re really looking forward to our show on November 22nd at the Hi-Dive in Denver. We’re playing with the Brazilian kosmische-jazz band, Oruã, Jealous Yellow from Seattle, and our friends Horse Bitch. Gonna be a real good one!

Recording-wise, Totem pocket is in the process of making demos for about 5 songs. Hoping to get down to business over the winter and get ‘em officially recorded. Considering whether or not to stagger the releases or do another album/EP. We aim to keep putting in the work required to get the attention of a label/agent to help us in our live/recorded music-related pursuits.