O’Connor Brothers Band releases debut album

“Better Way Out” is the debut album from the O’Connor Brothers Band. Released in July, some of it was recorded during the pandemic.
Image from O’Connor Brothers Band

KEYSTONE — Matt and Sean O’Connor would have had their biggest concert to date this summer. The Summit County twins who grew up in Silverthorne and reside in Keystone were slated to perform at the Dillon Amphitheater on June 12. The coronavirus pandemic dashed those dreams months ago.

“That had the possibility of being by far our biggest show, which was a bummer,” said Matt, lead singer and guitarist of the four-piece O’Connor Brothers Band.

The group straddles the Continental Divide, playing locally at restaurants like Cala Pub & Restaurant and Silverheels Bar and Grill along with Denver’s Globe Hall and Lost Lake venues. Touring came to a halt this spring, yet the pandemic afforded them the opportunity to finish and release their debut album, “Better Way Out.” 

“I felt like I had a purpose,” Matt said. “Without having the album, it would have been pretty tough because playing live is such a drug. So it was cool to funnel that energy all into the album.”

The nine-track record released in July captures the band’s jazzy blues-tinged rock sound. Matt plays a lap steel guitar in addition to his standard setup while Sean plays the saxophone, Collin Sitgreaves is on the drums and Pierce Murphy handles the bass.

Matt is heavily influenced by Ben Harper’s bluesy guitar and the addition of the saxophone taps into the brothers’ love of the Dave Matthews Bands. The band’s uniqueness is a pro and a con: They found booking gigs difficult at the beginning since they don’t fit neatly in one genre.

“These booking guys want to put you in bands that sound like you,” Sean said. “We sound like a lot of things, but at the same time, you could argue we don’t sound like most bands.”

In the studio and on the stage, however, it’s jazz’s improvisational and synergetic nature that shines. Though each brother will write songs completely by themselves, Matt and Sean frequently put their heads together and “row in the same direction.” They’ll pass it onto Sitgreaves and Murphy for their tweaks and changes once the ideas have settled.

“They just run with it,” Matt said. “I love working with that kind of musician. They’re like guns. I just point them and pull the trigger and see what flies out the end. It’s cool to have that where one guy doesn’t need to push and totally control everything. Once it gets to that level, it’s very collaborative.”

The songs on the album will forever sound like the final version, but on stage, the groove’s fixed structure opens up. Fans likely will not hear the same song from concert to concert.

“Whatever hits we have to hit, we’re hitting,” Matt said. “But in between, there’s a lot of things flying around that are new every time. Every show we’re holding onto our hats.”

“Every song you’re floating down a river, and you have to make some moves that have to happen at this time, every time,” Sean added. “But between those times, you can do whatever you want.”

Sitgreaves and Murphy fortunately had their parts finished in Denver before everything shut down, but Matt and Sean experimented with recording in their A-frame home in between hunting for spring snow. Sean said the living room is where they recorded some their best tracks because they were so comfortable.

“It’s less about acoustics and more headspace,” Matt said.

Matt and Sean work at the Keystone Tennis Center and used that as a recording studio, as well. Vocals were sung in the pro shop when Sean would play his saxophone in the “legendary” indoor court. The booming, huge sound of the court was treated like a natural reverb button and stands out on the track “Fool to Blame.”

“It was like playing in an empty warehouse,” Sean said.

Some of the tracks, titled memos like “Memo #432” and “Memo #421,” were recorded right onto Matt’s phone and placed into the album. He said he liked the low-quality sound of it — though they may eventually turn from simple interstitials into full-length songs. 

“I wanted the imperfections and subtle stuff that didn’t sound like it was totally plastic,” Matt said “… Half the beauty is the imperfection if you’re doing it right.”

A lot of the album, including those notes, was written when Matt injured his voice shortly after graduating from Colorado State University in 2014.

It was at CSU that they first met Sitgreaves playing drums for the university’s big band, but it wasn’t until two years ago that they rekindled their relationship. Sitgreaves introduced the brothers to Murphy and the goal of having a band was complete.

But before studying jazz in college, it was Matt and Sean’s dad who instilled a love of music back on Ptarmigan Mountain. He would play them Neil Young, Taj Mahal and others. Then in sixth grade, Sean picked the clarinet and Matt picked the trumpet for the required music classes. They credit the Summit School District and teachers like Mark Clark for pushing them on this path.

“We just got so lucky with having music directors that were really enthusiastic and kept things interesting,” Matt said. “It made it easy to get bought in.”

In college, Sean’s love of jazz had him switch to the saxophone whereas a gift from an uncle one summer turned Matt onto the guitar. They’re happy as long as they’re making music, but Matt was particularly fond of producing the album and getting it just right.

“You feel more like a visual artist or a painter than you do a live musician,” Matt said. “You paint with sound. … You can change subtle things, the molecules of the sound. You can tweak it to how perfect and how imperfect you want it.”

Aside from the album, these months during the pandemic were filled with other firsts. It was the first time they put together a livestream when they participated in the town of Dillon’s To-Go Jams. That lead to a similar experience at Mighty Fine Productions for a show for the Denver jazz club Dazzle.

As for in-person shows, the brothers did end up playing at the Dillon Amphiteater this month — just for a smaller happy hour crowd. They’ve also played outside of Breckenridge’s Riverwalk Center and a limited-capacity show at the Larimer Lounge in Denver.

They hope the shows extend the fanbase on both sides of Interstate 70 and help get them into larger venues such as the Blue Bird Theater and the Ogden Theatre. But for now, they’re doing what they can to promote the album while waiting for the days when they can tour again.

A physical version is still to be released, but “Better Way Out” is available now digitally on SoundCloud, iTunes, Spotify and other platforms.

Sean O’Connor, from left, Collin Sitgreaves, Matt O’Connor and Pierce Murphy perform in the O’Connor Brothers Band. The rock group plays all over the state, mainly switching between Summit County and Denver.
O’Connor Brothers Band/Courtesy photo

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