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By Tom Murphy
Denver's garage-music scene owes much of its vitality to guitarist/vocalist Michael Daboll. As a member of the defunct trio Element 79 and a onetime part of 360 Twist! Records, a locally based label that's issued a series of excellent recordings by worthy international acts such as Billy Childish and Thee Headcoats and impressive Denver groups like Boss 302, Daboll helped give the movement a sound that's being carried on today by the LaDonnas, the Ray-Ons, the Emirs and others. And now, with the Down-N-Outs, he's returned to his roots--and they're grimier than ever.
Daboll, bassist Chris Munzke and drummer Jim Chandler first got together last May, shortly after Element 79's breakup. However, Element 79 played a key role in the formation of the new combo. According to Munzke, "I would go see them all the time, and they were playing a show at the 15th Street Tavern. Well, the old after-bar party ended up at my place, and Michael starts going through my 45 collection, which has lots of mid-Sixties stuff. And we became friends."
The musical tastes of Daboll and Munzke are certainly compatible; with little prompting, they sing the praises of outfits like the Pretty Things, a long-ago English cult band. (Chandler, a veteran of punky collectives such as Dead Silence and Four, needles his cohorts about their influences. "I grew up with KISS," he says. "No Pretty Things or Chocolate Watchband for me.") But whereas Daboll had a wealth of experience making what he calls "Sixties R&B punk," Munzke was awfully rusty. "This is the first band I've played in for ten years," he says, "and I've never even played an instrument before. I just picked up the bass when this band started. They called and asked if I wanted to play bass, so I said, 'If you're patient.'"
"Actually, we called up and said, 'Do you know anybody else who can play bass?'" Daboll interjects. "And he said, 'I can play bass.'"
Munzke jokingly disagrees. "I think what he said was, 'Come over and have a beer--and hold this instrument.'" Fortunately, though, he proved to be a quick study. Today Munzke is accomplished enough on his instrument to shift into maximum overdrive whenever necessary--which, given the Down-N-Outs' love for speedy tempos, is most of the time. Just as important, he is unstintingly enthusiastic about the band's music, which he accurately describes as "snotty and naive at the same time."
Last October the threesome ventured into the studio for the first time, with terrific results. The Low Down Sounds of...the Down-N-Outs, a seven-inch issued on Denver's Hipsville imprint, was cut in a single afternoon: "We wanted to capture how we sound live instead of making it sound different," Chandler says. As a result, the raw-skin raunch of "Can't Go On" and the Yardbirdsy quality of its B-side, "How Many Times?" come close to approximating the excitement the band generates on stage; the tunes sound like transmissions from a pirate station committed to publicizing the music of bands that should have earned Top 40 hits but never actually did. The single's sleeve, which features iconic, period-specific lettering and a photograph of the players wearing dark shades and toting Vox guitars, is the ideal complement to the music; it tells you at a glance that the platter inside it is sleazy in all the right ways.
The disc quickly caught the attention of Gionnie and Carmen Picou, a husband-and-wife team that runs Max Picou, an indie from Switzerland. (The company's catalogue includes offerings by Pittsburgh's Mount McKinleys, a onetime member of the 360 Twist! family, and the Loons, whose leader, Mike Stax, puts out Ugly Things, a popular garage-friendly 'zine.) Daboll met the Picous while still in Element 79, and he stayed in touch with them after the band folded. Today he's glad he did: The two were so impressed by Low Down that they promptly offered to put out a Down-N-Outs vinyl ten-inch. Daboll thinks the group should be able to fit ten songs onto such an offering, which he hopes will be available this summer both here and abroad. (Max Picou is distributed in the U.S. by Get Hip, a major garage-rock power.) "It will be about the same length as an old Rolling Stones record," he promises.
Vinyl is to Daboll's liking; he believes that analog methods preserve gritty sounds far better than do their digital equivalent. "The whole lo-fi movement happened as a result of CDs coming out," he says. "Before CDs, you never heard somebody say, 'Oh, that sounds too clean.' Now you have bands trying to get a dirtier sound." At the same time, he would like to reach a large audience--and he realizes that he will have to make some concessions in order to do so. Thus, he admits, "We would like to have the music on CD, too, to make it more accessible to a lot of people who don't have record players."
Once the recordings are out, the Down-N-Outs plan to tour behind them. For Munzke, this may prove to be an especially daunting task. "I'm a CPA," he reveals. "I have an office job, so I have a totally Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde lifestyle; I go to work as an accountant by day and go out and play shows at night. Everybody at work thinks I'm totally insane," he adds, even though "a lot of work people come to our shows."