Born in the Flood floats on OK.

Above Water 

Born in the Flood floats on OK.

Joseph Pope III, bass player for Born in the Flood, one of Denver's hottest bands, is struggling with his group's recent success. In fact, lead singer and guitarist Nathaniel Rateliff, guitarist Matt Fox and drummer Mike Hall also face an identity crisis as the outfit ascends from runner-up to cause célèbre in Denver's thriving rock scene.

"We're no longer the underdog dream band that people want to get behind," Fox says.

On the strength of a phenomenal self-released EP — The Fear That We May Not Be — and a jaw-droppingly intense live show, the quartet has garnered an ardent following and drawn comparisons to U2, Coldplay and other emotionally naked arena rockers. For Rateliff, the flattering attention from fans and media has its drawbacks.

"I don't want to hear that I'm some amazing genius, because it'll just get in the way," he says. "People expect this creativity and magic to come out of you, and then you start to expect it from yourself."

The pressure extends to his songwriting.

"I get to this point where I can't write, and I think, What are we gonna do? There's a lot of moments that are just dredging through the mire, and all of a sudden, you pop up on some sandbar and say, 'Hey, we can have a barbecue here!'"

This cycle of creative death and rebirth began when Rateliff and Pope began writing songs together as teenagers growing up in blue-collar Hermann, Missouri. The two friends moved to Denver to do volunteer work with the homeless and soon hooked up with Fox and Hall.

In 2002, Pope, then 23, found out that he had testicular cancer. He also learned that he was going to be a father. The bass player spent that summer recovering from surgery and losing his hair to chemotherapy.

That brush with mortality helped push the once rootsy garage band toward a more melodic, sincere sound and turned Rateliff's lyrical focus inward. Fox and Hall — already intensely spiritual and philosophical — were eager to fulfill their bandmates' burgeoning musical vision.

The resulting transformation is captured on Fear, soon to be reissued by Denver's Morning After Records, home to the Hot IQs and college radio favorites (and tourmates) the Photo Atlas. Beautiful melodies and cathartic rock outbursts make the EP an emotional roller coaster of raw, earnest energy.

But the Flood is best experienced live, when all four musicians pour out sweat and real tears in service to their all-consuming muse. Amid all the critical attention and contract signing, Born in the Flood maintains its integrity and focuses on what really matters.

"I want our actions to always be representative of our vision," Pope says.

"There's this quote," Hall adds, "'Don't ask so much what the world needs. Do what makes you come alive.'"

"It's the difference between lights and fireworks at a show," Rateliff says. "Lights make it a rock show, but fireworks make it a circus."

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