Breaking Up Is Easy to Do

Local experts offer reasons why so many of Denver's biggest bands are vanishing.

In short, Colorado hasn't produced an across-the-board pop-music titan in ages--which means that record labels aren't exactly combing the area hills expecting to find the Next Big Thing. But talent scouts haven't given up on the state entirely. Promoter Kauffman says, "A&R people still call me. There's a drought of good bands in general out there right now, so they're looking." However, simply being seen by a label doesn't mean that a veteran act will be embraced. Changing fashions may cause a group that initially was thought to be on the cutting edge to suddenly seem like yesterday's news, leaving musicians the choice of either shifting styles or hanging up their Stratocasters. "All bands have a shelf life," says Kauffman. "And sometimes when the expiration date hits, it's time to do something else."

Mike V., leader of Chaos Theory, feels much the same way. "We were together for just about five years--close to the same time as Lord of Word," he says. "And after that much time, styles start changing--and you start wondering if this is the band you need."

Musically, Chaos Theory was very much a product of the early Nineties; its juxtaposition of rap and metal fit in perfectly with the punk-funk movement led back then by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Guitarist Dave Martinez, bassist Miles Marlin and drummer Psycho cranked out this musical hybrid with aplomb, and Mike V. was a charismatic frontman whose shaved head and tattooed body gave him a look all his own. Fans showed their approval by voting the band to victory in the Hard Rock category at the 1996 Westword Music Awards Showcase. But invites to open for national artists such as Suicidal Tendencies, Biohazard and Fishbone, appearances at KTCL's Big Adventure and the Colorado date of the Warped festival, and a regional tour with the Urge didn't convince large labels to take a chance on Chaos, and neither did its self-titled Alley Records album, which hit stores in 1996. Frustrations followed, and even a gig opening for Mstley Crue in front of 5,000 people at McNichols Arena late last November didn't wipe those away. Musical differences that had been overlooked or brushed aside in the past soon became impossible to ignore.

"We weren't clicking on the writing," Mike V. admits. "I wanted to do more hip-hop, and everybody else wanted to go in a different direction. With hip-hop, it's really all about beats, and nobody really wanted to take away from the musicianship to concentrate on that." Touring nightmares also helped widen the schism in the band, as did what Mike V. describes as disagreements about marketing. "There was always stuff about jobs and family, or just people being wishy-washy," he says. "To me, you really have to stick your neck out and take chances, but when I was ready to do that, not everyone agreed. There were a couple of times when things came along, but they were dropped, and that gave me kind of a grudge feeling. Like, 'I do all this work, I print up all these fliers and make all these T-shirts, and now you're saying no?'"

In the end, things simply disintegrated: Marlin joined Rocket Ajax, a band that also includes onetime Chaos Theory keyboardist Todd Schlafer, and the remaining members couldn't agree on replacing him. Even the notion of a final show was discarded. "I didn't think our relationship was good enough to do it," Mike V. says. "The last few shows we'd done hadn't sounded very good. So rather than do one last awful show, I thought it would be better to just go away."

Nonetheless, V. isn't planning to grow out his hair and have his tattoos removed. He's hoping to move ahead with a solo hip-hop project and is shopping for a DJ, a female singer-dancer, a bassist, a drummer and anyone who would be interested in providing financial assistance for the project. (Call him at 233-7145 for details.) In the interim, he refuses to hold Denver responsible for Chaos Theory's demise.

"People will always say, 'The Denver music scene sucks' and this and that," he admits. "But I really think it's the person behind it that makes the difference. You can blame whoever you want, but blaming things doesn't get you anywhere. I mean, does the scene suck or do you?"

To Don Strasburg, the man behind Boulder's Fox Theatre, the glass is half-full, not half-empty. In Denver, the list of surefire crowd-pleasers among local bands has shrunk severely. At present, only Opie Gone Bad and Brethren Fast, both of which have developed loyal followings after several years of hard work, and the Psychodelic Zombiez, a seasoned act that nearly closed up shop last year before coming back with an altered lineup, are sure to bring hundreds of bodies into Denver clubs--and few new acts seem ready to challenge them. But the musical environment in Boulder is considerably healthier. Strasburg is heartened by the rise of up-and-comers like Fat Mama, an adventurous jazz-fusion cooperative; Chief Broom, a jam-happy ensemble; Nina Storey, a mountain-town belter who's at last beginning to receive the attention she deserves; Cabaret Diosa, a swinging outfit that Strasburg just happens to manage; and the String Cheese Incident, a post-Grateful Dead act in the Leftover Salmon mold that has been signed by Monterey Peninsula Artists, a mammoth booking firm that also works with Aerosmith and Phish. He's so cheerful, in fact, that he looks at the collapse of longtime headliners in terms of possibilities, not setbacks. "When I see everything falling apart," he says, "I think about the things that are going to come out of it. Like maybe the guys who were in Foreskin 500 will start two good bands from what used to be just one."

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