By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
Garrett Shavlik can't help himself.
Drummer Shavlik is talking about Spell, a trio believed by practically everyone who's heard them to be the latest, greatest hope to come out of the Denver music scene. But instead of promoting his group, which just signed a multi-album deal with Island Records following a vigorous bidding war, he's psychoanalyzing himself. Hype be damned: This man has something he needs to say--something that the approximately 83 beers he's poured down his gullet this evening compel him to say.
"This is family, man," Shavlik declares, gesturing at bassist Chanin Floyd and her husband, guitarist Tim Beckman, who are seated near him in the living room of their northwest Denver home, "and it will not be fucked with. We know what we do, and what we do we love. There's no fucking plan here. It's just being with each other and having a beautiful time. If people get off on it, that's fabulous, but these are my friends. So this is long-term. This is my life."
At last, Shavlik takes a breath and looks accusingly at his latest brewski. "That sounds so fucking hippie," he says to it, a crooked smile creasing his face. Floyd and Beckman laugh, and so does Shavlik--but the next time the conversation returns to questions about the relationships in the band, so does his intensity.
Not that the members of Spell are at risk of turning into James Taylor; the band's music is loud, raucous and dangerous, a sound that combines punk-rock basics and hard-rock fundamentals with vocals by Shavlik and Floyd that convey equal measures of emotion and aggression. These ingredients aren't unique; Shavlik's previous band, the Fluid, utilized many of them, and so have X and Sonic Youth, two groups to which this one has been compared. But Spell makes the elements seem new again because of the passion of the people involved. Thanks to the Island deal, they've got as good a chance as any homegrown Denver band that's come before them to put their mark on the national music landscape for years to come. But the pressure this status implies is nothing like the pressure they put on themselves.
Floyd nods at Shavlik and volunteers, "He used to puke a lot before shows."
"I did," Shavlik concedes. "Thanks a lot for mentioning that."
"He said he never used to puke in the Fluid, but he pukes in Spell," Beckman notes. "I don't know why that is."
"I just have too much adrenaline," Shavlik says. "I can't hold it down. In this band, everything comes out."
You can see plenty of miles of road, good and bad, on Shavlik's face. He's only in his early thirties, but he's been a part of the Colorado music scene since at least age eleven, when he was the only kid at a Boulder arcade to know that the freak with the multicolored hair who just walked in was named Tommy Bolin, who became the most famous guitarist to emerge from Colorado during the Seventies.
By 1978 Shavlik was in a high school cover band called Editorial, playing new-wave songs by Elvis Costello and his contemporaries. He enjoyed himself, but it wasn't enough; two years later he moved to Los Angeles. "It was one of the most vibrant music scenes I've ever seen. Seattle pales by comparison," he claims. "The first night we got there, we saw D.O.A. and Black Flag at the Whiskey A Go Go, and there was a riot on Sunset Boulevard--they'd oversold the show, and when people tried to press their way in, the baby blues pulled out the nightsticks. And here I was, some fresh-faced geek from Boulder going, `Wow, man, punk rock.'"
In short order, Shavlik returned to Colorado eager to spread the punk doctrine. He formed a hardcore band called White Trash that included two other future members of the Fluid, bassist Matt Bischoff and guitarist James Clower. Personnel changes doomed that group, but Shavlik, Bischoff and Clower stuck together. They subsequently joined forces with vocalist John Robinson and guitarist Rick Kulwicki, formerly of the Frantics, a Denver punk band best known for the EP My Dad's a Fucking Alcoholic, named by Spin magazine as one of the 35 most collectible punk records ever made. This fivesome, dubbed the Fluid, emerged in 1985, and through a series of happy accidents soon found themselves signed to the West German label Glitterhouse in Europe and Seattle's Sub Pop imprint in the U.S. "Everybody thinks we were second-generation Sub Pop, but we weren't," Shavlik notes. "We had the third release on Sub Pop. There was a compilation record, and then there was Soundgarden, and then there was us."
Soundgarden wasn't the only one of the Fluid's Sub Pop peers to go on to fame and fortune: Other alumni of the label include Green River (which served as the basis for Pearl Jam), Mudhoney and Nirvana, an act that sometimes opened shows for the Fluid. Shavlik knew Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain during this period, and feels his recent suicide with particular force. "It's very sad to see somebody clock out like that," he says. "He was the best hook-master we've had in our generation so far. But to relish him as an icon is kind of pathetic, especially when you think of the music he was making. He had such mass appeal, but he wasn't cut out for fame. He was too frail--a very sad, lonely person."