Boulder may be too small, too quiet to hold the Gas Pops any longer…
“The Gasoline Lollipops as it stands today – I feel like we’re at the beginning. I mean, we’re starting to pick up steam, and it’s my first experience of that with the Gas Pops,” Clay Rose, frontman of the quickly rising Boulder band told DenverThread.
Rose is a pleasant-looking young man, tall and lanky, and he appears unbeknownst just behind me in line in the front of a Boulder coffee shop as I order, pay, and head back to find a place to talk. He shows up shortly after I find a table, and somehow we know who each other is right away – maybe journalistic clairvoyance, or some communal tie to Naropa (my day job, and Rose’s one-time university).
“I had another band earlier that picked up pretty fast [The Widow’s Bane], but this has been, like, a really epic journey,” he continued. “So many fantastic stories of Gasoline Lollipops, beginning and ending, and the first one starts in, like… 2000… 2004.”
Catch the Gasoline Lollipops at the Lost Lake Lounge on Friday, October 20, and at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park on Saturday, October 21
Gasoline Lollipops is picking up plenty of steam, and has been steadily climbing in notoriety and popularity for the past year or so – and now they’re ready to take on the Denver audience. Their new record – Soul Mine – is slated to drop on December 16, and they’re having a release party at the Fox Theater in Boulder to celebrate. This record might be the catalyst they need to break down the walls into Denver.
They’re well aware of Denver’s country alt-gothic punk indie imprint – known for some time as “The Denver Sound” and populated by bands like 16 Horsepower, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Munly Munly, The Denver Gentlemen, and more. But the Gas Pops feel they have a sound and fury that can overcome any pigeon-holing, and it’s true.
Gasoline Lollipops is more than Merle Haggard country, and so much more than a Slim Cessna knockoff. Their sound beats with a true, red-blooded American heart, melding country punk, folk, and searing rockabilly behind Rose’s often wild, guttural Tom Waits howl. They tell tails of troubled lives, of the ends of lives, of the hearts broken and stamped out of existence just about every day in this life. And they do it with a danceable – and, yes, moshable – folk-punk presence that leaves audiences exhausted and ecstatic every time.
Danceable – and moshable – country-punk folk with grit and heart
But Rose’s musical history didn’t start that way, necessarily. After spending a childhood dividing time with a truck-driving father and a Nashville mother, Rose found himself with a guitar in his hand at a truck stop one day, where a local asked him if he was playing the local open mic. He’d just learned a few chords, and had written out three songs – likely about the adolescent loves he’d pine over as he left one town and fell in love at another – so why not? One thing led to another, and his passion turned into an obsession by the early 2000s.
“I was just a crazy kid, and I had a big, liberty-spiked mohawk, combat boots, and I was living in this rental house in Lafayette,” he explained. “I’d been playing gigs around solo, under the name Clay Rose – like political acoustic folk/punk – kind of like like the young Billy Bragg, but way more edgy, super fast.”
“It was like Rage Against the Machine if it was only an acoustic guitar and a singer – super fast, me almost rapping, and, like, screaming a lot,” he explained. “I wore very bright clothes – checkered pants, and all.”
Young punk fury fell a little flat on Boulder at first
For a while, Rose tried to build a reputation on his own, playing open mics and scheduled gigs as much as he could, outside day jobs. He kept trying to get people to wake up a little, to look a little further than the Flatirons.
“I had just moved back [to Boulder] from Nashville in about 2002, and – I don’t know – I was trying to stir shit up,” he continued. “But, y’know, Boulder is not really the place – like, people don’t want to be stirred up here.”
Rose began to butt up against the unique activist nature of Boulder’s population – one certainly not known for embracing the more unsavory sides of things. But it didn’t phase him, or stop him from building a band around perhaps one of the strangely tastiest band names ever.
“It’s weird, because, from the outside, it looks like it’s populated by a bunch of hippies, and hippies are known for stirring shit up. But not these hippies.”
After battles with substances, Gasoline Lollipops proved to be the salve he needed
After a battle with alcohol and drugs that became almost too much for him, Rose became sober for a time but continued to make music. When his girlfriend – now wife – took a sabbatical out of the country to answer some of her own questions, rather than diving back into a drunken stupor, he formed The Widow’s Bane. Formed around songs that were to be composed and sung by men who’d been killed by the heartbreak from their earthly relationships, The Widow’s Bane became a sea-shanty, dead-looking staple at places like the annual Zombie Crawl in Denver, among other places. They became pretty popular, but just weren’t and aren’t – the band that Rose had his heart wrapped up in.
Now, in Gasoline Lollipops, he feels he’s found the one.
“There have been moments in time with the Gasoline Lollipops – quite a few,” he espoused, “where I was like ‘This is a supergroup!’ There was a time period there where I felt like that – it was a very different band from what it is now. Y’know, we had this guy J.C. Thompson on bass, and he would play an upright, and he was one of the meanest upright players I’ve ever played with until he got deported to Canada.”
“At that point, we were just a four-piece” Rose added. “We had Jeb Bows on the fiddle, and he’s still with us – he’s the last original member other than myself. Things have just changed, and for better.”
As far as how the band reached its current, satisfying state, Rose explained that he’d been following a particular type of strategy – one that got him much of the band he was looking for, without burying him in the responsibility of making any bad decisions.
“I never auditioned anybody for the band, and it was just like, if we needed a player, I just put it in my mind that ‘we need this player,'” he explained, “and then I would casually bring it up in conversation, and someone would say ‘Oh – I know so & so,’ or ‘I play this,’ and that’s how we’d get new players.”
A bad experience with a record exec changed all that and left a record and loads of work on a shelf, unreleased.
“I guess I’ve always had a faith in… destiny? Which I’m starting to rethink a little late in the game,” said Rose.
Taking control of his fate
“I never wanted the responsibility of making my own fate, because what if I choose wrong? So I never chose anything, as far as a musical career goes,” he explained. “I fell into the camp of people who believe so much in destiny that ‘All I gotta do is keep playing, and sooner or later that record executive is gonna walk through the door, and the rest of my life is going to be peaches. Ha!”
“And then the record executive DID walk through the door, and he turned out to be a fuckin’ scumbag! It was bad…,” he added, “yeah…. It was a long time ago. The record I did with the label – we never released it. That’s what I got for letting destiny introduce me to my future, right? But it still took me a long time to learn any kind of a lesson from that, and I’m just now learning it.”
After caring for the wounds of a less-than-helpful executive, Rose persisted, and eventually came to the lineup and energy that is the Gasoline Pops today.
“That’s why I’m saying that we’re kind of at the beginning, because it’s the first time that I’m really kind of ‘taking charge,’ or taking responsibility for my own future, and making decisions – whether or not they’re the right ones, y’know?” he explained. “Just practicing making decisions, and moving forward at all costs, ’cause stagnation is the enemy. I’d rather be moving backward than not at all.”
Their first European tour
One of those decisions came out of the band’s upcoming first tour in Europe.
“We’re doing an upcoming tour in Belgium & The Netherlands November 15 – December 5,” he explained, “and Donny, our guitar player, can’t come, ’cause he’s gotta get hip replacement surgery. So – rather than picking the next person that came along with a guitar, like I normally would, I held open auditions. I auditioned 20 guitar players.”
“I had to say ‘No’ to 19 of them – which I’ve learned is something I’m not at all good at,” he added. “This is mainly why I always wanted destiny to figure it out for me.”
“But this feels good, and now I know that – out of 20 dudes – I’ve got the cream of the crop.”