Gasoline Lollipops has been taking the local music scene by storm for the past six years. Their rough-and-tumble live shows and infectious punk energy have earned showcase spots at SXSW, won "Best Country Artist 2016" from Westword, and were named "Best Band-Boulder, CO" in the Colorado Daily's own 2014 and 2015 polls. In anticipation of their show this Friday at The Caribou Room in Nederland, I found a chance to sit down with songwriter/vocalist Clay Rose and discuss what's happened in the past, what's happening now, and what's coming next for the Colorado local music scene.
EJ: How long have you been in Colorado?
CR: I've been here on and off throughout my whole life. I was living in Tennessee kinda through the end of high school until I was 22, I moved back here, and I've been here since.
EJ: When you moved back, were you playing right away?
CR: Yeah, I was playing music in Nashville, and I came here when a management company wanted to get involved with me. I came out for that, but at the time I was playing solo acoustic punk folk — it was political in content and fairly aggressive.
EJ: How was the reception?
CR: It was great! The '90s was still kind of alive in Boulder at that time. In Boulder the '90s were huge for punk and folk both, and there were a lot of venues for that kind of music. There was Tulagi's and Penny Lane, and back in the day there were more venues. They slowly dwindled through the '80s and '90s and then got massacred in the early 2000s. Now we're left with the Fox and the Boulder Theatre and that's kind of it.
EJ: Where were those venues?
CR: Tulagi's was right on the Hill, two doors down from the Fox, just about the same size, maybe a little smaller. It could hold about 500 people; the Fox holds (600) or 700. Penny Lane was really where I cut my teeth playing music. It was a coffee shop at 18th and Pearl. Ani DiFranco played there and Nirvana played there. It was a place for smaller-time folk and punk acts that came through town. They were really good to the local musicians and poetry scene. Naropa used to have readings there a lot.
2002-2006 was kind of my summer of love, musically speaking, in Colorado. There were so many great acts and venues and everybody was on board helping each other out. There was a lot going on; since then things have changed a lot. Sometime between 2006 and 2012, local people started getting recognized on a national level. Born In The Flood, which was Nathaniel Rateliff's first band, to Gregory Alan Isakov and then eventually The Lumineers. A whole lot of attention started being paid to our music scene, and that always changes things.
If you look at Greenwich Village back in the '60s before Bob Dylan broke, it was all the same players but a very different vibe.
EJ: Are there any unheard-of past bands that were totally killer?
CR: There were a ton of them. A ton of them all the time. Mosey West, that band kicked ass. Oh, there was Al Trout, that was super killer. He had this band for a while, they were so fucking good, it was this really dark gothic Americana. Mosey West was just straight hardcore rock, and right now there's RL Cole who's just killer. He's one of my favorites. I went on tour with him last year, just me and him on a solo tour through Arkansas and New Orleans. It was epic.
EJ: How are the Gasoline Lollipops received in Boulder, Denver and Nederland?
CR: It's definitely received really well in the mountain towns, and in Fort Collins I feel like it's received well; people seem to understand it. I'm not sure about Denver and Boulder, and I don't know exactly why that is. I guess I don't have my finger on the pulse of American pop needs; I'm very out of touch and I just play what I feel. It seems like some places I go, people understand exactly how I feel, and they feel the same. Other places, I'm speaking a different language. Not that I feel like I'm speaking a different language in Denver or Boulder, but there is something that I'm not getting about the culture.
EJ: This year, you returned again to the Underground Music Showcase in Denver. How was it?
CR: We played UMS and had a great time. We played at the Hi-Dive and had a great show. That gig was right after RL Cole and the Angels and it was awesome. We're playing at the HI-Dive again in November, but I think with Denver we're just kinda strangers there. We haven't played there enough and need to branch out there and play there more often. Slim Cessna's Auto Club can get a great reception there, and I think Denver can understand what we're doing as well.
With Boulder, I feel like we might just be a little too much. I don't know. We're too loud? Or a little too dark? I don't know.
EJ: How do you feel about a higher-profile festival coming to Denver?
CR: What do you mean?
EJ: I mean since UMS started, it's been on a pretty big growth curve — a lot more people coming and a lot more bands applying. Is that a good thing?
CR: Yeah, on a certain level it's awesome because it gives more local bands a chance for exposure, but at a point it turns into what South by Southwest is, and it's got nothing to do with the locals. There's this fine balance, you know. With corporate growth, there's a certain point where it's healthy for the locals, and a certain point where it puts people out of gigs. If the locals can't get in anymore, it's not really a local festival, it's a national festival that takes place locally.
EJ: In a similar vein, you've worked closely with Gregory Alan Isakov and have seen Nathaniel Rateliff kind of blow up. How do you feel about that? Is that going to help or hurt local musicians?
CR: I think it definitely helps local musicians in the sense that now national booking agents and management companies are looking at this region as a pool to draw from. That's great for the rest of us, and it's up to us, the artists, how we choose to relate to that and relate to each other. What Nathaniel Rateliff and Greg were born out of was a very communal effort. In their community, all the local venues, all the musicians, and the local booking agents were really helpful with each other. The result was that a few acts blew up. So, we need to continue that spirit of camaraderie, even with the national spotlight shining in our eyes. A lot of people kind of get blinded, and it turns into dog-eat-dog. Not so helpful. It becomes like little LA or little Nashville. I've lived in both of those places and I don't care to go back.
EJ: Let's talk a bit about Gasoline Lollipops themselves. You guys have a show on the 23rd at The Caribou Room. What can we expect from this show?
CR: I'm really excited about that show. We've spent a long time prepping for this show and promoting it. I see it very symbolically. We're working on our final record (of a trilogy comprising "Dawn," "Death" and "Resurrection"). We're stepping into a whole new arena for us, a whole new level that can be uncomfortable but exciting. The Caribou Room holds 500 people and has a state-of-the-art sound system, it's really kind of a luxury venue. We're stepping out of our dive-bar comfort zone and seeing how this next size up fits. We're hoping to play more venues of this size, but this is sort of our trial run. We'd be deeply grateful to everyone who's gonna come out.
EJ: What is the future for Boulder and Denver music? Where does Gasoline Lollipops fit in?
CR: I think the musicians and the artists need to take back a lot of the power. I feel like since there's been this sort of explosion of attention, the power was grabbed by the wrong folks. It was the venue owners and the ticket salesmen that grabbed power and took credit and said "now everyone start begging me for this Colorado treasure." But it wasn't the venues or the ticket salesmen that made the fucking music; it was the artists, the songwriters. We're the ones who made the music, we're the reason there's a buzz about us, and we need to take back some of the power and recognize that the people come for the music, not the atmosphere or PBR. The people will go where the music is, and if we're getting bum raps from the venue owners — or from the management companies, or whatever — bottom line is that you can throw a house party, people are going to come, and you don't need to pay anybody a percentage of the cover! There are a lot of different ways to do it. We've gone underground before, and we can do it again if that's what it takes to get gigs. There's warehouses, houses, public parks. Yeah, you might get fined and you might get shut down, but that's the heart and soul of punk rock. Even though we might be playing country or Americana, this band was still founded on punk rock, and it's still got a punk rock heart. If I've gotta fuck the Man to please my audience, that's what I'll do.
Jarocki is Radio 1190's music director. Read more reviews: coloradodaily.com/columnists