The pandemic took a major toll on the music industry, prompting some creatives to switch gears and leave the grind and hustle of playing in a band behind.
With the price of gas skyrocketing, little appeal can be found in schlepping gear across state lines and pouring your soul out on stage only to leave with less money in your pocket than when you left home.
Clay Rose, frontman and guitarist of alt-country local rockers Gasoline Lollipops, is still forging on with his artistry, although some days he — admittedly — isn’t quite sure why.
Rose is a veteran of the Boulder scene, whose band went from humble beginnings playing for free to selling out venues, performing at Red Rocks, gigging in Belgium, the Netherlands, and curating destination concerts in Belize.
“The band is just getting so refined,” Rose said. “It started out as sloppy and rough as a band could possibly start out, like a punkabilly duo, just electric guitar and drums — just off the rails.”
Right before the 2020 lockdown, Gasoline Lollipops were set to hit the road in support of the band’s release “All the Misery Money Can Buy,” an 11-track album recorded at Louisiana’s iconic Dockside Studio — where B.B. King, Rod Stewart and Arcade Fire, among others, have laid down tracks.
The coronavirus pandemic put tours on hold and forced musicians to look elsewhere for funds and performance highs.
Rose and crew have emerged from the lulls of COVID-blues fatigue with a new album. “Nightmares” includes seven GasPops favorites and three new tracks.
The title song is a well-crafted, compelling and personal account of Rose keeping his demons at bay at a time when stages remained empty, violence and racial tensions filled the streets, a global health crisis rocked the world and boredom permeated.
“’Nightmares’ is an ongoing experience that I have had ever since I got sober,” Rose said. “Especially during stressful anxiety-ridden times when I’m not 100 percent staying on top of my spiritual game, I start resembling my old self in a lot of ways, even without the booze and drugs. And It’s unnerving, especially when I have so much more to lose now than I did then.”
Rose — a husband and father of a 3-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son — has always been forthcoming about his ongoing struggle with substances, a battle he recognizes is one of permanence.
“I’ve relapsed enough times to know that it always catches me by surprise,” Rose said. “Very rarely is it a premeditated, planned-out thing. It’s like I don’t realize I’ve drank until I’m drunk.”
While the act of staying clean is always a constant for Rose, so is the power and deliverance he finds in music.
“Midnight Dance” — another fresh tune on “Nightmares” — is a somber waltz where Rose expresses his concern with the unrelenting chaos that plagued the world in 2020.
“During the pandemic, it was really, really hard — especially when people started bombing mosques and shooting Black people in the streets,” Rose said. “It was getting really divided and they were lumping everybody all into one. Whoever doesn’t think like you, you’re the enemy. It was getting really violent and scary. How to protect my children in a civil war when I’m a passivist is a tough question to grapple with.”
The tunes that Rose composed during the apocalyptic vibe of 2020 didn’t necessarily evolve on purpose.
“I wrote ‘Midnight Dance’ and a few other songs, but it didn’t feel intentional at all,” Rose said. “It was accidental writing. A song would come out at 2:30 in the morning, on a Wednesday, when I’m lying there with insomnia and my guitar is on my chest.”
Among the reworked seven old-school tracks is one Rose wrote after the death of his sister, a ballad that has beautifully reverted to its original scaled-down form.
“’Mary Rose’ is the most important remake to me because it’s more like how I wrote the song,” Rose said. “This is back when GasPops were still fledgling and we were a rowdy rock band in barrooms, so there wasn’t much room for sad bastard ballads.”
He’s pleased to see this heart-felt track get back to its roots, away from the shuffle he paired with it to keep audiences engaged.
“It’s a deeply personal song about mourning the loss of a family member, so it definitely fits the vibe better,” Rose said. “You can hear the lyrics and get a better idea of what it’s about.”
While the new album was released in August 2022 on Octave Records — a recording space dedicated to producing high-quality records, in Direct Stream Digital format, for the audiophile — Rose and crew recruited a Grammy-nominated engineer to brush “Nightmares” with a bit more grit and grain.
“We wanted a more ethereal — kind of haunting — nightmarish vibe to the record, so we brought it to Andrew Berlin,” Rose said. “These days, he engineers and mixes all of Gregory AIan Isakov’s records. If you know those records, you know the depth of field I’m talking about — the textures. So he gave it that treatment.”
The newly mixed collection of tracks will be available to purchase at this month’s upcoming shows.
For Rose, getting to perform again with bandmates is an extremely welcomed ritual. During the pandemic, he would jump on Facebook Live every Sunday eve to share songs cyberly — but the experience initially left him craving the community he was isolated from.
“It was so weird and alienating at first,” Rose said. “It almost made me feel more lonely cause I could see my friends’ words, and I could see their profile picture, but they weren’t with me. It’s like when you’re in a long-distance relationship and you talk to your lover, and then you’re twice as f*cked up as you were before you talked to them because it just puts a finer point on how far away they are.”
On Oct. 27, at 7 p.m., Rose will share the Roots Music Project stage with folk troubadour Danny Shafer, a staunch promoter of local creatives who still heads up Boulder’s longest-running open mic night.
“Danny Shafer is one of my oldest friends and mentors here,” Rose said. “He booked my first gigs in Colorado. He gave me a chance when nobody else would.”
But long before Rose and Shafer were peers in the local music scene, they crossed paths at a now shuttered — but legendary — Boulder coffee house.
“I’ve known Danny since I was 12 years old, hanging out at Penny Lane as a little punk rocker,” Rose said. “He was a barista there. Then he became the manager of Penny Lane, and he used to kick us off the patio for smoking cigarettes ’cause we were underage”
Rose has long been a fan of Shafer’s musical offerings and the way he holds space for others in the scene.
“Danny is one of the hardest-working, most prolific songwriters I’ve ever known,” Rose said. “He just cranks out songs. He’s a song factory.”
Rose credits Shafer with guiding him through an industry he knew very little about.
“He showed me how to be professional, how to book gigs, how to keep gigs and how to just stay on it,” Rose said. “I’ve been on and off with sobriety, and he’s always just been so solid. He treats me with respect whether I’m on or off the wagon, as long as I show up and do my job.”
Attendees of Shafer and Rose’s gig can expect an intimate night of tunes, chats and potent authenticity.
“Danny and I are going to tell stories,” Rose said. “We’re just gonna sit on stage together and have conversation, talk about the craft, our writing processes, our work ethics — where they align and where they differ and talk about what it is to be a ghost in your own home ghost town. I think we both feel like that.”
Like many, Rose has become disillusioned with the shape Boulder has taken in recent years. Soaring house prices and the disappearance of long-standing neighborhood haunts are among the factors that have rendered the city somewhat unrecognizable to those who came before the arrival of Google.
“Really, Boulder shouldn’t have a music scene at all anymore. It doesn’t deserve it.”
“We’ve watched this place change so much, and we’re still here doing it somehow,” Rose said. “But we’re really relics of the past. Really, Boulder shouldn’t have a music scene at all anymore. It doesn’t deserve it. It doesn’t want it. But we’re still here.”
Clay spent his youth living between rural Tennessee with his mom and Boulder with his dad.
Long before he served as frontman for the Gasoline Lollipops, Rose’s days revolved around a full tank and black asphalt.
During the summers, he’d hop in the passenger side of his pop’s semi-truck to help him transport furniture throughout America.
“There’s no entertainment, no Gameboys or phones or anything, it’s just sitting in the front seat of a big rig 14 hours a day with my dad all summer, interspersed with three or four days of hardcore labor, usually out in the 100-degree heat, in the San Fernando Valley or in New York City, unloading a semi-truck double-parked in Manhattan, going up an elevator that’s the size of a f*cking broom closet,” Rose said.
The grueling days of physical labor no doubt instilled an unwavering work ethic in Rose, who, when not playing venues, can be found working construction jobs seven days a week.
“My dad was always up for an adventure,” Rose said. “He never wanted the mainstream. He never wanted the beaten path. We never stayed in hotels.”
When there was limited room in the truck and a heavy rain hit, Rose’s dad would park under an overpass, and Rose would take slumber on the vehicle’s roof.
“The whine of the semis all night long — if you stop paying really close attention and just half focus, it almost sounds like the rhythm of a wave because it comes from a long distance, then it peaks and then it goes off again,” Rose said. “I learned to find it comforting.”
It was also on these trips that his father exposed him to music. Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, Janis Joplin, Buddy Holly and Jackie Wilson provided the soundtrack to the cross-country journeys.
“Operation Ivy was probably the first punk band that really got me,” Rose said. “I was always more attracted to that ska influence — more melodic punk.”
These days, he can be found wearing out the records of Parker Millsap and Sierra Ferrell, although a mix of hip-hop and electronica are also in rotation.
Rose is the leader of Widow’s Bane, a zombie-death-polka group that played to a sold-out crowd during last October’s Shining Ball at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. This year, Rose has made the decision to not awaken the eerie and ill-mannered undead rock star.
“There’s too much on my plate,” Rose said. “The fragile mental state I’m in, probably not good to dress up like a misogynistic alcoholic bastard. Don’t need to tempt fate.”
In previous years, Rose collaborated with Denver-based Wonderbound Ballet and choreographer Garrett Ammon to bring original ballets with a rock edge — “Wicked Bayou” and “The Sandman” — to area stages.
“The Sandman” will reprise on March 1, but Rose and Ammon are also planning to build a brand new production in 2023.
“It’s loosely based on the story of ‘Samson and Delilah,’ but it takes place in the ‘70s in east Texas,” Rose said. “The music is going to be inspired by White Zombie and Barry Manilow.”
At age 42, Rose could easily slow his roll and not continue to book gigs and create art — but he’s propelled by something that won’t let him surrender to a career of heavy lifting, hard hats and monotony.
“Insanity is what drives me.”
“Insanity is what drives me,” Rose said. “It’s the catharsis of screaming into a microphone and stomping my foot and especially looking out and seeing other people have the same experience as me, like they’re shaking off the demons. I feel like my experience of music is being accurately translated to the audience. I recognize that that’s a rare thing, because I’ve seen a lot of concerts where that’s not the case.”