Post Truth Serum (Modern Victims) was perhaps never meant to be. This record, the brainchild of Tom Hagerman (best known for his multi-instrumentalist role in Devotchka) is a collection of moody, infectious, glorious, and absurd pop songs created from the discarded scraps of melodic content from the deep recesses of his vintage 2011 laptop. Musical influences from 80’s goth/newave synthesizers collide with chamber pop orchestral strings, horns, and percussion which are all brought to life by the vocals of Elin Palmer and the drums of Shawn King (Devotchka). With all plans for a traditional album release scrapped by the pandemic, the record was prematurely released on Bandcamp on March 19th and as Wonderbound, the Denver based modern dance company has said in it’s description of the record: “The lyrics and music, written and recorded over the past several years, eerily foreshadowed the emotional and psychological space that the world had suddenly been thrown into”. This record, in its own way, is a joyful romp through the loss of a carefree youth, the panic of a midlife crisis, the realization of impending catastrophes created by humanity, and the absolute power of human connection and love through our darkest moments. If Rock and Roll is the story of The Myth of Sisyphus, Post Truth Serum’s “Modern Victims” is the laughter that follows.
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Tom Hagerman is using what he’s got.
Stuck at home without gigs for his main band, Denver’s Grammy-nominated DeVotchKa, the multi-instrumentalist and arranger for the Colorado Symphony looked at what was right in front of him.
“This is years of shredded-off carcasses intended for DeVotchKa,” Hagerman said of his under-the-radar side project, a band called Post Truth Serum. “And I hated seeing them die on my computer hard drive. But a lot of stuff happened to me. I had babies to raise. I got really ill.”
In addition to being the breadwinner for a family that now includes five daughters — four at home, one in college — Hagerman went through chemo- and immunotherapy after being diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, a cancer of the blood, in 2018. He still played shows throughout the months-long treatment, but the incurable nature of the disease (it’s currently in remission, Hagerman said) added another element of uncertainty to his life.
Considering his increasingly busy role with the Colorado Symphony — he translates rock songs into sheet music so the symphony can perform with national indie acts such as The Flaming Lips, or Colorado’s Gregory Alan Isakov and The Lumineers — it’s conspired to keep Post Truth Serum at bay since its first stirrings in 2014.
It’s not for lack of interest. Hagerman had recruited Denver-based, Swedish-born songwriter and vocalist Elin Palmer to record vocals for the project back in 2016, adding to percussion recorded in 2014 with DeVotchKa drummer Shawn King at a building that doesn’t exist anymore (the former location of Mighty Fine Productions, now a Shake Shack on Larimer Street).
In the meantime, Hagerman continued lending his violin and other talents to recordings from Colorado artists such as Nathaniel Rateliff, as well as indie-music stalwarts M. Ward, Eric Bachmann, Calexico, and Sage Francis. He wrote original music for theater and dance, with performances by Wonderbound and the Colorado Symphony of “The 7 Deadly Sins”; “De Troya,” by Dallas-based Cara Mia Theatre; and Shakespeare’s “The 12th Night” for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.
But it wasn’t until the pandemic hit and Hagerman was staring down an indefinite stretch without work that he decided to “panic release” Post Truth Serum’s debut album, “Modern Victims,” in March. That’s also when a video for the song “Worms” began to materialize.
“We had a video for another song on ‘Modern Victims’ all planned out before that,” said director Marcin Biegunajtys, who runs the Aurora-based film company ManMade Media Studio and has worked with the Colorado Symphony in the past. They had hoped to borrow costumes from the DCPA and film it at the Mercury Cafe, with a vampire theme befitting Hagerman’s love of 1980s goth.
“And then, like clockwork, doomsday hit,” Biegunajtys said.
That nixed the on-site filming, given Hagerman’s legitimate concerns about his immune system. But Biegunajtys, who had previously directed the video for DeVotchKa’s “Done With Those Days,” had another idea.
As a Park Hill resident, his girlfriend’s doughnut cravings frequently brought him to East Colfax Avenue’s beloved City Donuts.
“After five days of that, I only thought about doughnuts,” he said. “That was my daily breakfast — chowing down on two or three of those. And when we started talking music-video concepts, I thought, ‘Why not flying donuts? They’re delicious. Who doesn’t want to see those during this weird time?’ ”
Hagerman let the director pick his own favorite song from Post Truth Serum’s debut, which ended up being “Worms.” The gauzy, lush backing tracks — including strings played and arranged by Hagerman — provide a landscape over which Palmer’s delicate vocals soar. Accordion, piano and reverb-laden synths worthy of The Cure’s “Disintegration” add to the dusky, late-summer wistfulness.
Tom Hagerman is a Denver based composer, arranger, and musician best known for his multi-instrumentalist role in the Grammy-nominated rock band, Devotchka. He has performed on many recordings including those by M Ward, She and Him, Nathaniel Rateliff, Bettye Lavette, Eric Bachman, Calexico, and Sage Francis. As an arranger and orchestrator, he has worked closely with a variety of groups including, The Colorado Symphony, The Flaming Lips, The Lumineers, Amos Lee, Gregory Alan Isakov, Trampled By Turtles, Ingrid Michaelson, Lettuce, and Opiuo. He has written original music for theater and dance, including performances by Wonderbound and the Colorado Symphony of "The7 Deadly Sins", "De Troya" by Dallas based Cara Mia Theatre, and performances of Shakespeare's, "The 12th Night" for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. His latest project is "Modern Victims", a collection of pop songs recorded under the banner "Post Truth Serum", with Elin Palmer and Shawn King (Devotchka). Tom is a graduate of the music school at the University of Colorado in violin performance and is a product of music education in public schools.
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