Joey Michel, guitarist

CU Denver connections fuel creative pursuits

Years after graduation, alumni gather to collaborate on music project

November 10, 2017
Joey Michel
Guitarist Joey Michel studied music performance at CU Denver and formed the band Three Times Distilled. (Photo credit: Trevr Merchant, CU Denver alumnus)

Three different CU Denver alumni from three different graduation years went on to three different careers in three different cities. All three came back to Denver to create together, and leverage their CU Denver connection.

“It was just an idea in my brain that wouldn’t have been possible without the many connections I made through CU Denver,” said musician Joey Michel, who initiated the creative project.

A 2012 grad with a bachelor’s degree in music performance, Michel formed a band called Three Times Distilled. He wanted to document the band’s work and share their music. He tapped into his “web of connections from CU Denver” to find the right resources and the right people.

Bringing an idea to life

His sophomore year at CU Denver, Michel met a prospective student who was visiting campus. His name was Trevr Merchant, and he would go on to study film production at CU Denver and graduate in 2013.

Throughout their classes in the College of Arts & Media (CAM), Michel and Merchant became friends and artistic collaborators. So in May, when Michel thought of starting a band with musicians who’d never met one another, he knew who to call in for support.

The other two band members had never met before, and all three musicians were spread out across the country – the vocalist in New Jersey, the drummer in Utah and Michel, the guitarist, in Key West. Michel called on Merchant to document the experiment through photo and video.

Merchant, who works as an independent photographer and videographer, said he was in.

“We met almost a decade ago,” Michel said. “It’s surreal that now we’re working together again.”

Tira Neal
Sound engineer Tira Neal studied recording arts at CU Denver and did a recording session with the band Three Times Distilled. (Photo credit: Trevr Merchant, CU Denver alumnus)

Building on relationships

It was his final semester at CU Denver when Michel took a music recording class with CAM Adjunct Professor Tira Neal. A 2010 CU Denver alum with an M.S. in recording arts, Neal has a career as a recording and mixing engineer and teaches for CAM.

When Michel and Neal met, there was artistic chemistry that made their work in the recording studio successful. And now, five years later, the chemistry’s still there.

“I have had such a great relationship with Tira,” Michel said. “She’s a perfect marriage of serious and professional.”

At the end of a week in Neal’s recording studio, Michel and his bandmates, who were near strangers at the beginning, were playing well, having fun and feeling “like family.” Merchant captured it all in images, a documentary and a music video. And with Neal’s help recording and mastering, Three Times Distilled released its first EP in August.

“It’s amazing what we’ve been able to achieve without being in the same state,” Michel said. “And it never felt like a chore, because Tira, Trevr and I have known each other since college.”


Seeing the city as a resource

Photographer and videographer Trevr Merchant studied film production at CU Denver and took this photo of the band Three Times Distilled in the recording studio.

Michel has lived in a few different cities since he graduated, but he calls Denver a “homebase.” Many of his old friends still live here. He can crash on their couches, reminisce about his days at CU Denver and create music he’s proud of.

“There’s always been something magnetic about Denver that I come back every year,” said Michel, who currently lives in Rhode Island. As a student, he drew inspiration for his art and music both from CU Denver’s passionate faculty members and students and from its dynamic, urban environment.

“At CAM, you feel like you’re swimming in a sea of people who are doing same thing you are, and it’s all possible,” he said. “And we all loved being in downtown [Denver]. It was a big, vibrant part of our lives.”

His first trip to Denver to work with Neal, Merchant and Three Times Distilled was so successful that the group met up in the Mile High City again in October.

“There’s a pure excitement and joy that comes from these creative projects,” he said. “This is what we’re all supposed to be doing. We’re still using our degrees and working together.”