By Brad Lopez
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At a recent battle-of-the-bands contest sponsored at Lafayette's Centaurus High School by the community's police department, the five local teenagers known collectively as the Gashcats were subjected to unseasonably cold temperatures, stinging winds and no fewer than four power outages. But what drummer Sean Merrell, singer Adam Beckley, lead guitarist Devon Bryant, rhythm guitarist Ryan Connor and bassist Brendan Crich recall best about the showcase was a statement by a tobacco-chewing reveler whose sympathies were clearly with another group. At one point during their time on stage, he told the boys that he would like nothing better than to piss on them.
According to the Gashcats, this mini-review typifies the rough sledding they've suffered through during their brief existence. The players complain about a rash of last-minute cancellations, innumerable visits from Boulder-area environmental cops investigating noise complaints and what Beckley calls "legacies of bad shows." But thanks to perseverance and thick skins, they've survived long enough to build a modest but loyal fan base that recognizes their debut CD, The Stars Rush Out, for the unexpectedly strong piece of work that it is. "Now," says Merrell, "all we need is a real gig."
The Gashcats got their start two years ago, at a time when Merrell was a Centaurus student. But the drummer, who is presently being home-schooled at his parents' Lafayette residence, doesn't have many nice things to say about his experiences at the institution. In talking about the school, whose main hallway seems to have been designed primarily to showcase photographs of the state-champion athletes Centaurus has produced dating back to the days when shag haircuts were all the rage, Merrell claims that "all the bigots in the area go there. I was constantly being called a fag just because I had, like, long hair. No one would talk to me because I was kind of a quiet guy, and people would tease me because I liked to read."
Fortunately, the percussionist found kindred spirits in his fellow Gashcats, whose list of influences include acts like Hum and My Bloody Valentine and the sci-fi of Dr. Who and author Philip K. Dick. According to Bryant, he and his comrades are striving to merge these various inspirations into a coherent whole. "We want to be one of those, like, space-rock bands," he says.
"We want, like, a big, liquid, pulsating mass of nothing that rocks," Connor interjects.
Bryant seconds this emotion: "Vast nothingness is important to us. We want to create the feeling that you're standing on a beach, you know? It's early morning dawn, and the sun's coming up. And it's, like, light, and it's, like, dusky and foggy. It's solitary, and you feel completely alone and cold."
This metaphor may seem pretentious, but it's also a fairly accurate verbalization of the Gashcats' sound--and as the pair of non-linear snippets that open Stars demonstrates, the performers are far more successful at delivering on their musical promises than many of their local noise-pop peers. Still, the disc's strongest selection is "Move Away," a bracing number whose construction and delivery suggest the Cure with a post-grunge attitude. "Don't pretend that you love me/Don't refuse to pull the trigger/I will not move away," Beckley intones in a strident and surprisingly twangy near-tenor over dueling guitars that walk the line between melody and mayhem with surprising grace. Merrell, for his part, propels the piece with a sometimes sloppy but no less authoritative enthusiasm, particularly during a near-funky instrumental breakdown.
Not that you should expect the Gashcats to start dishing up James Brown covers. Although the group experimented with a jam-based orientation on the way to finding its sound, Connor insists that "we hate funk"--and his negative comments about those acts on the Boulder music scene that specialize in it underlines his point. "We just don't have that whole, like, party-down feeling," he affirms. "We're, like, a real band. We don't want to go, 'Get on up!' We don't want to bulldoze you."
Rather, Bryant says, "we want to create texture. We want people to walk away with their mouths hanging open saying, 'How could a show be that good?' Or just, like, be baffled by it."
As the band has developed, the former reaction has become more common among listeners--and the warm response the Gashcats received following an acoustic turn at Boulder's Penny Lane proved that they didn't need electricity to get their messages across. However, the five are so afraid of being pigeonholed as an unplugged combo that they turned down a choice acoustic show at the Mercury Cafe. This decision took some moxie, given how much difficulty the Gashcats have had in finding other places to play. Their ages have proved an impediment at some venues, and even the intervention of Merrell's mom didn't change the mind of the manager at a prominent Boulder venue; he refused to listen to the outfit's demo tape because he assumed it contained "shit only their friends would like."
Some bands faced with such obstacles would wave the white flag, but not this one. The Gashcats remain stubbornly dedicated to making music whether the rest of the world's populace cares or not. "It's like this," Beckley states. "The way I feel is, I'd like to see the music take a step that's not being taken by many bands these days." He adds, "You always hear about Gavin and Bush or about Gwen and the rest of No Doubt and all this bullshit. That's the whole MTV mentality. But it's not about the people--it's about the music they make. Or at least it should be."
With this in mind, Bryant concludes, "All we want is a little respect." Or at least not to be urinated on in public.