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7th Circle Music Collective Founder Aaron Saye Lives + Breathes the Denver DIY Scene

Photo: Brandon Sanchez

If there’s a bright center of the Denver music scene, you would be hard-pressed to make the argument that it’s anyone other than Aaron Saye.

As owner and head of Denver best DIY venue, 7th Circle Music Collective, Aaron has not only been putting on shows almost every night for nearly a decade, but he’s been capturing them on film, too.

With most people locked down at home, Aaron has opened his video vault and begun sharing just some of the thousands and thousands of sets he’s shot over the years. He was kind enough to talk about his extensive video library, history in the Denver scene, and his amusing new project, #2020YearoftheShirt.

Aaron, I wanted to talk to you because you opened your video vault earlier this year of Denver show footage. How many shows would you say you’ve shot and how many individual sets do you think you’ve captured?

Thanks for wanting to talk to me about this! It does indeed feel like a vault. So many tapes from the last 13 years that I’ve never even rewound after I shot them. I just shot them and then boxed them up for a rainy day. Well, that rainy day has arrived. 

I actually did the math on this the other day when I was having a similar conversation with another friend: I filmed my first few shows in 2004, but I didn’t really start filming shows en masse until 2006 or 2007. In recent years, I’ve been seeing around 300 shows each year. I didn’t start seeing that many shows per year for a good few years after I started filming, however, so let’s assume it’s an average of 250 shows per year that I’ve filmed, for 13 years.

That’s an estimate of 3,250 shows, and assuming an average of 4 bands per show, that’s 13,000 individual sets that I’ve probably seen since 2006 or 2007. Even assuming that I probably didn’t film every band at every show I’ve seen, I believe we can still safely assume that I’ve filmed 10,000 or more individual sets in my life “and counting," up until a a few months ago when COVID-19 shut everything down [laughs]. 

When I first went to your house, you had every show you’d ever been to written on cabinet doors. Is that list still running? That was a couple of years ago and you didn’t seem to have a ton of space left even then. What was the first set you took video of?

Ah, yes, that list is still running, absolutely. I’ve kept strict track of every live musical act I’ve ever seen, ever. I ran out of cabinet doors at the end of 2011, so I kept track on paper for a couple years, and then I got a smartphone, so I’ve been keeping track in notes in the phone since then, and backing those notes up on my computer and in my Google account, so if the phone or computer ever breaks or is lost, I’ll still have the documents.

I’d like to transfer the 2012-to-present lists onto more cabinet doors eventually, so the whole record will be physically written somewhere permanent when all’s said and done. I think I need a bigger house before, though that’s possible [laughs].

The first shows I ever filmed were the band Throw Rag, at the Bluebird in Denver, 04/04/04 and 08/31/04. Those two shows were the beginning of this whole thing. 

What made you pick the sets that you have put up on the web? Was it just your personal favorites?

Partially, yeah. A lot of the recent uploads are the bands who I’ve been seeing and listening to a lot lately, so we can put that under the “favorite” category right now, sure. They’ve mostly just been recent shows that are still fresh in my memory, and shows that had really huge turnouts, so they’re fun to watch because there’s a lot of audience activity too, which always makes for a better performance (and a better video!) overall.

I wanted to revisit a lot of these soon after COVID-19 shutdown our ability to keep having shows, as it’s been a way to keep feeling connected to the bands I love and the plans I had. 

Other than cancelling every show at 7th Circle (the DIY venue I book), the first huge cancellation that occured for me due to this pandemic was a tour I was going to go on with the band Tuck Knee at the end of March, so I uploaded a few of their recent shows because I was really bummed about the fact that we were stuck in our houses instead of out on the road where we should have been.

I love their music and I was looking forward to getting to see them play every night, and also, they’re great friends. Going from getting to see so many of my friends at shows all the time to seeing no one, with no warning, has been jarring to say the least, so a lot of the shows I uploaded first were local bands whose members are friends of mine. It’s been therapeutic in a way, to get to watch their recent shows again, to almost feel like I’m seeing them and hanging out with them again. 

Plus, there’s the fact that those were recent shows, meaning that the tapes were still at the top of the recent stacks, so they were easy to find. Other than those local bands, there are a handful of older / bigger shows that I really enjoyed that I’d actually been meaning to upload for a while, so a lot of those tapes were on my “to do” stacks near my computer, and also easy to find.

I’m aware that almost everything I uploaded during the earlier part of the COVID isolation was footage from shows in 2018 to 2020, but I do plan to dive back deeper in the coming weeks, and hopefully post some shows from 10+ years ago. 

A lot of what you’ve put out tends to skew to younger bands, and mostly hardcore. Is that just what you’ve been enjoying most recently?

Yeah, I’ve definitely been on a hardcore kick recently. The resurgence in “Youth Crew” style hardcore in Denver is through the roof right now, and a lot of those bands and the shows they’ve played recently have really rejuvenated my inspiration to keep doing all the things I do in regards to 7th Circle. 

It can get exhausting, running the aspects of the venue that I do, and in the times when the music and the scene politics can feel stagnant and repetitive (which has happened occasionally over the years, with the natural ebb and flow of the music scene), it’s easy to lose sight of why the venue is important, it’s easy to become consumed with the difficult and negative aspects of it all.

When new/younger bands hit the scene and have such excitement and positive energy for the music they’re creating and the community they’re becoming a part of, that energy helps revitalize me, because it’s almost like reliving my first days of entering the scene when I was their age. 

I’ve never lost hope or interest in continuing to do what I do, but having newer bands come in and be stoked on everything (and making great music too, of course) is always refreshing and reaffirming for me, especially when things get tough. Seeing their excitement and love for what this community is and what they can make it be by positively contributing to it is a huge help in reminding me that it is all still truly as exciting as they’re seeing it to be, instead of the routine that so much of this has become for me.

Seeing 7th Circle through fresh eyes every once in a while is really important.

Did you ever intend to one day make your archive available to people? I feel like it’s kind of a running joke among Denver punks that they’d love to see so many sets you’ve videoed but nobody usually gets to!

It’s definitely become a running joke, there are bands and fans who’ve been asking for footage of specific shows on and off for over a decade now. Once, a friend of mine, who was also the manager of a big venue where I filmed shows a lot, told me (probably half-kidding, but half-seriously), “I’m not letting you film any more shows at this venue until you get me a copy of that show my favorite band played here last month.

I literally clocked out, went into the pit and enjoyed their set as a fan, and then clocked back in and finished out the show as an employee, and if there’s one video of yours I ever get to see, I want this one.” We laughed about it, but I did give him a DVD of that band before too long, I didn’t want to risk the possibility that he was serious about not letting me film more shows there, haha. 

My friend Austin put it best. He once told me, regarding bands who’ve played 7th Circle (where I film just about every show I’m at), “I have straight-faced told new bands, who don’t know you, that the only way they’ll ever see their set is if you died or retired.”

I actually have always planned to eventually do something cool with it all, but I still haven’t figured out exactly what. There could be a documentary, or multiple documentaries showcasing different eras, or different scenes. Hell, there could even be entire documentaries about specific bands made with some of the footage I’ve shot, the national bands I’ve befriended and filmed 20+ times over the last decade, or the local bands whose entire existence, from first show to breakup, was documented and exists within my archive.

I’d love for more of it to be out there. The possibilities are endless, it’s just a matter of having the time to process and edit the footage, and create something. 

Certainly, not every set has been good enough to deserve being online in-full like the ones I’ve posted lately. There is a decent chunk of the vault that probably wouldn’t be too engaging or interesting to watch, but you never know how a set is going to be until it’s happening, right? That’s why I’ve shot almost every show, because worst-case scenario, I wasted a couple bucks on a tape I’ll never watch, but best-case scenario, I capture a moment of pure magic that will never happen exactly the same way again. That has happened so many times, it makes it all so worthwhile. 

What do you get out of your perpetual logging of Denver’s (and many other places you go) music scene? I feel like a lot of people expect it to be used some day either for a documentary or just to be put online, but it’s never seemed like you had grand plans for it. Am I wrong?

There aren’t any specific grand plans, it honestly just comes from a desire to document all this musical magic and magical music, simply because it’s happening, right here and right now. I’ve captured bands’ first shows, which sometimes don’t seem terribly special at the time, but then a couple years go by and the band gets bigger and better, and looking back on that first show is such a trip. 

I’ve filmed bands who’ve played 7th Circle to small audiences on their first tours, and then seen them get bigger and play to thousands of people at huge venues in subsequent years. Being able to document both of those times in a band’s career feels really cool. I love having the ability to juxtapose footage of them playing to 15 people in a garage with footage of them playing for 1000 people in a theater a couple years later. 

Some bands, I’ve filmed 10 or 15 times, and yet there’s one show out of all of them that was just a cut above the rest, one night that everything aligned for that one performance to be just perfect in every way, and it’s on tape and documented in all its glory, instead of just being a memory that will fade with time. 

There’s a band I discovered in 2002 at Warped Tour, fell in love with their music, saw them 30 or 40 times in 10 years, and then finally got to film them when they headlined Red Rocks (a momentous occasion for me and for them). That’s the biggest show I’ve ever filmed. 

I once filmed a band who played an absolutely stellar set to a very small audience at a matinee show in Albuquerque, and less than two months later, one of the members died in a tragic accident. That show footage exists, a document of one of the last shows he played, and the only time I ever got to meet him and see him play. 

You just never know what level of importance documenting a performance could have, so I document them all (or at least, as many as I can). One of my teachers in high school, who taught a video production class that I took two years in a row, saw my passion for documenting everything even then, before I’d ever filmed any shows, and when she signed my yearbook at the end of her last year at my school, she wrote, “Aaron: Film everything. You never know when you’ll find art.” That has stuck with me every single day of my life since then. 
   
The amount of unreal experiences that have occured for me simply because in early 2004, I thought, “I like this band, and they’re my friends. I’m going to record their set with my camcorder and make myself a live album out of the show I was at. This’ll be neat!”... it’s incredible.

I never expected things would get to the point that they are now, but I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything. The sheer joy of experiencing all of these shows, and capturing these moments, these glimpses of times and experiences that never last forever… it’s an indescribable feeling, and I’m constantly humbled when I acknowledge its importance.   

You seem to have met just about every famous musician there is. How long have you been going to shows and how long have you been meeting musicians? 
 
I’ve definitely met a lot of bands, that’s for sure. Not every famous musician, certainly, but almost all the ones I’ve ever really cared to meet, which is really crazy to say at my age. I’d really love to meet anyone from Pink Floyd, that’s the only one that comes to mind who I really wish I could meet and haven’t been able to. Oh, and System of a Down. and Metallica. You know, the huge, inaccessible ones [laughs]. I can dream, however…

I’ve been going to shows since 1999, technically, although I only saw one band in that year, and one band in 2000. I think I went to three shows in 2001, maybe 15 shows in 2002, and 30 or so in 2003. 2004 was when I really started going regularly. In April of 2004, I went to a show every other night for a week straight for the first time, and I remember noting that as a milestone. It was after that that things really ramped up towards where they are now. 

Funny enough, that band Throw Rag I mentioned, who my friends and I filmed on 04/04/04, was the first touring band I met and made friends with, and that show on April 4th is one of those shows in that week of every-other-night shows. That band was a lot of “firsts” for me. They also just so happened to be my 1000th show, when they came through in 2009. Synchronicity.  

Meeting and befriending bands came hand-in-hand with filming bands, because I always filmed shows with permission, meaning I needed to meet the bands in order to ask. It inadvertently became a cycle: Ask to film show, meet band. They think it’s cool that I want to film their show, and they want to see it. “Bring me a DVD of tonight next time we’re in town, and I’ll put you on the list and you can film next time too!” Then I started getting into shows for free, and kept filming, and the cycle continued. That’s how it all started. 

The amount of bands I’ve met simply because I love their music and wanted to document it… it’s almost unfathomable. And it was never this intentional thing either, filming shows was never a ploy to meet bands I like. I’ve just always wanted to document the live music experiences I get to have, and meeting and befriending the bands came along with it by accident. 

Photo: Lisa Siciliano

Do you plan to put out any more videos during the quarantine?

Yes, absolutely! I have a stack of tapes waiting to be copied, my plan is to post one show per day, at least until we get to start having shows again. It helps me retain some sort of normalcy routine through this uncertainty, and I’ve had people tell me that they look forward to each day’s new video, that it’s helping them get through this isolation and the withdrawals of live music we’re all experiencing as well.

The fact that I’m able to help anyone have a better day simply by posting a video of a show I filmed really makes it all worth doing, even if there are days where I don’t feel like processing another show tape. I’ve found a very healthy balance, and it’s all good. We’ll call all of this a silver lining to the Covidisolation, I guess. 

You have a metric ton of band t-shirts, and you’ve recently embarked on an experiment you’re calling “Year of the Shirt,” where you wear a different band t-shirt from your collection in alphabetical order by band, and you don’t repeat a shirt until you’ve worn them all. Can you tell me about how that’s going and why you have so many AFI shirts?

[Laughs] Yes, #2020theyearoftheshirt is what we’re calling it. As I mentioned, I’ve been going to shows regularly for almost 20 years, and I’ve been acquiring band shirts for 19 of those years. I have no idea how many I have, and I’ve haven’t really cared to count recently, but last October (2019), my friend Alex said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear the same shirt twice. How many band shirts do you think you have?” I replied, “Oh man, I have no idea. Too many.

Actually, in 2004, I had alphabetized them all, and I decided to wear them from A to Z without wearing one twice, just to see how long it took, and it took 3 months.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Aaron Saye (@aaronrsaye) on

So that means I had 90 band shirts. In 2004. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.” Alex said, “Whoa. You should do that again, that would be insanely fun to see happen.” A lightbulb clicked on in my head. I decided I would organize the entire collection alphabetically again, and wear one each day, starting with the first shirt on 1/1/2020, and we’ll see how long it takes this time.

This is gonna be a long project, longer than probably anyone expected. #2023stilltheyearoftheshirt, here we come. 

I have so many AFI shirts because they’re one of the bands I’ve loved the most, for the longest, and been seeing for the longest amount of time. They’ve also released hundreds of shirt designs over their career, with an entirely new line of merch for each tour and each album cycle.

I won’t say I’ve acquired every design they’ve ever made, but…. I think I’m decently close. When I love a band, I love that band, and I want a complete collection of all musical releases (on vinyl wherever possible, but that’s probably an interview for another time, haha) and all the shirt releases that resonate with my love for that band. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Aaron Saye (@aaronrsaye) on

It’s been incredibly fun to revisit so many shirts that I haven’t worn in years, but the best part is getting the opportunity to tell the stories behind each shirt. What show it came from, any stories surrounding that show, maybe I bought it from a band member directly if they were still small enough that they sold their own merch at shows…. 

It’s been so much fun remembering and sharing these stories, and there are hundreds more to come. If anyone’s interested to follow this band shirt journey, you can follow my Instagram @aaronRsaye. Every day is a new shirt photo and whatever story goes along with it. (If Instagram’s not your game, I’m also posting the shirt photos and stories each day on Facebook as well, come find me there if you want.) 

Thanks for the interest, hope you enjoy the shirt posts as much as the live show videos, and I hope you’re all staying healthy out there! Be well, and be good to each other. 

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Check out Aaron's YouTube channel here

7th Circle Music Collective on social media: Facebook | Instagram

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