By Brad Lopez
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Joel Abell, guitarist for Gina Go Faster, feels that the Denver music scene has fallen to new lows. "It's pitiful," he says. "There's no camaraderie anymore, and we can't even find anybody to play with. It's ridiculous. All the bands are gone now, and there aren't any new ones coming up. And there aren't a lot of people going to see the bands, either."
"All the people our age have been listening to this kind of music for so long that they've kind of given up on it," adds drummer Mark Armijo. "They don't want to come out and see local acts."
Given such negative attitudes, why don't Abell, Armijo and Gina Go Faster frontman/ bassist Mike Freeman simply retire from the music business? They certainly have other options: Armijo and Abell, for example, work for the hifalutin law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber & Strickland. But the men enjoy making punk rock together, and they know they're good at it. And this knowledge has kept them going through the rough times--of which there have been many.
Freeman and Abell, both proud graduates of Highlands Ranch High, formed the band in 1995 with drummer Roy Wagner, who seemed uniquely qualified for the job of timekeeper. "He played in a marching band in high school and he had a basement," Freeman says. "So we had to have him in by default." When the relationship between Wagner and the others soured, Ravi Chinasammy, who'd previously pounded the skins for Filty McNasty and Acoustifuxx, joined up. By the summer of 1997, though, Chinasammy opted out of the combo. "He said that at the age of thirty, he was too old for punk rock," Freeman reports.
That fall, Armijo was brought aboard, but he was fired after only two months because of his inability to make it to practice on time. "The theory is that I bought a PlayStation and I loved that more than I loved playing in the band," Armijo notes.
Nearly as many percussionists as Larry King's had wives tried to fill the Gina Go Faster drum chair following Armijo's dismissal--and like the various Mrs. Kings, most of them departed as quickly as they appeared. Freeman describes one guy as a cross between the Sean Penn character from Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Tommy Lee from Mstley CrYe; he remembers him asking, "You guys don't have a problem with me smoking weed, do you?" The fellow wasn't a bad drummer, but when he was asked to speed up his playing, Freeman says, "he was like, 'Fuck, I'm out of shape, dude. I didn't think that you guys played that fast.' And I was like, 'Well, it is called Gina Go Faster.'"
These troubles caused Freeman and Abell to give the repentant Armijo another go, and the drummer made the most out of his second chance. By this past summer, the players were confident enough in their lineup to set out on a tour that was scheduled to take them from Albuquerque to the West Coast. But misfortune struck in the form of a van that seemed to die in slow motion. "We were driving outside of Colorado Springs, and Joel hits this tent pole that was in the middle of the road," Freeman recalls, laughing. "It wraps around various parts of our engine, and Joel asks, 'Is it cool? Do you think it's all right?' And Mike, being the mechanical type, says, 'Oh, yeah, yeah.'"
But before long, Abell says that he heard several disquieting sounds and noticed "smoke coming up through the doghouse." Abell and company pulled over at the first available gas station, where their battery promptly died. A driver with a souped-up Buick Regal offered to give them a jump, but he neglected to mention that his battery was mounted backward. As a result, Freeman hooked up the jumper cable to the wrong battery posts. When the man began yelling, "Hey, you're gonna blow it up!" Freeman switched the cable, but the damage had apparently been done. The van ran out of steam near Wagonmound, New Mexico, where, for all the bandmembers know, it's still sitting today.
The rest of the tour didn't exactly go smoothly, but it did feature some high points. In Portland, Oregon, Armijo convinced an area promoter to put Gina Go Faster on a bill headlined by Denver's LaDonnas, and the date went well. So, too, did an impromptu performance in San Francisco with another Colorado outfit, Wretch Like Me. "We were taking a day off when we looked in the SF Weekly and saw that Wretch Like Me was playing," Armijo says. "We were like, fuck, let's go see them,' and when we got there, Roy from Wretch was sitting at their merch table. I talked to him, and I was like, 'Hey, we're on tour, too,' and he's like, 'Well, fuck, you're here, and your gear's here--why don't you guys play this show?' And it turned out to be one of the best shows on the tour."
"No shit," Freeman jumps in. "Wretch Like Me and the LaDonnas rocked harder than just about all the bands we played with."