Friday, May 20, 2016

Grass: A Young Boulder Scene in Old-School Style

Grass // Bandcamp

Twenty-four-year-old singer/guitarist Michael Colussi, a University of Colorado student from Indiana, told Westword that Grass’s debut album, Dragwire, was recorded in just two days on a "beat-up" 2008 iMac, with minimal subsequent overdubs. Half of Dragwire was tracked at the band’s warehouse space next to the Bus Stop strip club in Boulder, and half at a warehouse in Denver also used by psychedelic Tom Waits For No Man.

Dragwire has an impressive mix of haunting up-tempo indie pop like “Grenada” and spacey psych-rock improvisations such as “Benihana,” which is not unlike the guitar jams on the Verve’s A Storm in Heaven — i.e., somewhere between “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” and early Sonic Youth.

Colussi cites classic underground psychedelia such as Floor Elevators and Spacemen 3 as influences on Grass, and one can certainly hear the influences of those bands on fuzzed-out Dragwire tracks like “Say Again,” lending a kind of hypnotic, trippy darkness into a three-minute pop song.

As for the cassette revolution championed by labels like Burger Records and First Base Tapes, Colussi doesn’t t think that tapes are becoming popular again solely because young people drive old cars, as one of the First Base Tapes founders joked in a recent Westword interview.

For now, Grass isn’t thinking about a bigger career so much as its members are simply enjoying playing shows, "going to practice, drinking beer, telling dick jokes and having a good time."

"We don’t go into practice like, 'This is how we’re gonna get signed by Epitaph,'" Colussi says. "I think the future of the band is contingent on whether we’re able to play shows and produce music and our ability to continue to write the music we want to write and whether anyone gives a shit."
Like virtually every musician in Boulder, Colussi complains that there is nowhere for a rock band to play that’s bigger than a house party or smaller than the 625-capacity Fox Theatre, especially now that the tiny but vital warehouse the Forge has closed.

"Yeah, there’s nowhere," Colussi laments. "The Forge is gone, but we’re all very much waiting for someone to take their place. That is a huge thing we’re all waiting for, but money doesn’t grow on trees, and renting a warehouse isn’t cheap in Boulder. We feel very strange in Boulder, because we’re practicing in a warehouse making loud, fucking abrasive music, and where do you go with that? There’s absolutely no bridge, no in between the house-party/warehouse scene and the Fox. That’s a huge flaw in Boulder, and has a lot to do with what Boulder is these days."

Still, Grass, which also includes Dan Malone (24) on bass and Mason Stillman (21) on drums, is very excited and appreciative when it comes to what First Base Tapes has been doing.

For almost a decade, it's been pretty standard for Boulder-born rock bands to relocate to Denver to find regional and national success. That's at least partly due to Boulder’s lack of a small, music-focused venue that could serve as a bridge between cafes and bar-and-grills and headlining the Fox Theatre. Recently, though, Denver bands have started to make the pilgrimage north for gigs more frequently, largely due to First Base Tapes. It’s a cassette-only Boulder label that started releasing albums by interesting, edgy Denver bands like Male Blonding, Scary Drugs and Montoneros last year and is now greatly contributing to the cultivation of a local rock scene in Boulder.

When they arrive for an interview, the young guys (all of them current or former University of Colorado students and DJs at the tremendous Radio 1190) who run First Base Tapes seem more like an army than an indie label. And only five of the nine music-loving First Base Tapes dudes showed up to speak with Westword earlier this month.

Despite not having a small rock club — such as Denver’s hi-dive or Larimer Lounge or Fort Collins’s Hodi’s Half Note — at which to nurture a local scene, First Base Tapes has put on house concerts and warehouse happenings that have been so successful that promising Denver bands are now getting in touch to be a part of what’s happening in Boulder.

“The reason we created this is because we had nothing to do in Boulder,” O’Connor says. “We started off as only going to shows in Denver and only knowing about bands from Denver. We were even mostly putting out tapes by Denver bands, but we’ve made a point of saying, ‘This is a Boulder label.’ We want to have Boulder stand on its own.”

“We got invested in the DIY scene — mainly the Denver scene, because the one in Boulder wasn’t as thriving — and our idea was initially to get a warehouse and start a venue,” Liam Comer, 24 and from Boulder, explains. “We had done some booking with house shows and at smaller venues with 1190 and wanted to look into getting our own space. Based on that idea, we thought about having a recording studio in the back [of the venue] and eventually thought, ‘Why don’t we start a label and put out music ourselves? We don’t need to put down a huge deposit on a location; we can do that from our homes.”’

So is there a Boulder music scene now?

“If you would’ve asked me just a few months ago, I would have said no,” O’Connor replies. “But the Forge has been good at helping a lot of Boulder bands come up. Now I know a good four to five that aren’t just the typical jam bands.”

“It’s sparse and it’s selective, but there’s a lot of stuff that’s going on underground, like Grass,” says Ruscitti. “They’re a crazy-good Boulder band.”

“It’s so hard for the Boulder music scene to grow because the Fox and the Boulder theaters just continue to book the same kind of music for the same kind of crowd,” Prior complains.

“Everyone is aware of that in this town, and it’s unfortunate that we don’t have a stepladder [venue],” Comer adds. “The demand is there, but we need that place for the culture to be centered around.”

Earlier this month in a Westword interview, powerful local promoter Don Strasburg questioned whether there is enough demand in Boulder for a small rock club to make it a financially viable endeavor, but Tammariello, in particular, says there is.

“We really want to invest in Boulder. We all feel that there’s a lot of potential here, so making something like a tape label and even doing stuff with the Forge, that’s a great thing. Promoting that kind of culture and getting that kind of stuff back here is definitely worthwhile. Gradually, as things like house shows and warehouse shows start popping up, it gives people an option; it gives people a reason to be invested.”

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