By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
By Jena Ardell
By Mary Willson
By Bree Davies
By Tom Murphy
By Tom Murphy
By A.H. Goldstein
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."
The members of Gina Go Faster should know: Their latest seven-inch, Faster Motor Co., Ltd., is a powerful package that's even received praise from Maximum Rock N' Roll, that most curmudgeonly of 'zines. The platter is a step up production-wise from the band's previous efforts ("Nice Boy"/"Unglued," a split seven-inch with Sissy Fuzz, and 1997's Stereophonic Action Plan), but it doesn't sacrifice the group's trademark low-down sound. Tracks such as "Kung Fu" and "It's the Same" sport viciously buzz-sawing guitars, while the other cuts offer straight-forward garage fuzz replete with mid-Sixties choruses that are obliterated by punky snarl. As for the lyrics, they draw upon what Freeman calls the performers' favorite themes--"girls, Adam Sandler-type movie material, and the injustice of it all." Taken as a whole, Faster Motor Co. suggests a slew of hyperactive kids banging on the walls of a locked room. And that's meant in a good way.
Songwriting duties are shared by Freeman and Abell, who meticulously tape their jam sessions when they're assembling new material. In doing so, Freeman is able to draw upon the training he received while studying sound engineering at the College of Santa Fe; in fact, the vintage analog equipment he prefers is identical to the gear he used in his classes there. However, Freeman hopes that future Gina Go Faster recordings will be cut in a more up-to-date studio. "I think we've gone as far as we can go with an eight-track," he says.
Financing such a project is another matter. Faster Motor Co. was issued jointly by Abell's label, King Bee Records, and Shaky Records, the Seattle firm that's been associated with another of Denver's finest bands, the Hate Fuck Trio. But even though Freeman has no complaints about Shaky, he says "we need somebody who has money and isn't afraid to take chances--somebody who takes it as seriously as we do."
Parasol, the firm that distributed the band's first two offerings, won't be given the opportunity to put out any more Gina Go Faster discs: Although the recordings did well in Japan, Parasol hasn't paid the musicians a dime thus far. Such experiences have sold Freeman on the do-it-yourself approach. "You don't have to be on MTV," he says. "The MTV age is gone. They have stuff like The Real World, Road Rules and all that other bullshit to captivate their audience. Music isn't good enough for them anymore--which is why the underground is going to the Internet."
In the meantime, Gina Go Faster will keep trying to expand its audience in Denver. After all, Freeman says, "you only have so many friends to irritate."
Zeke, Hate Fuck Trio and Gina Go Faster. 9 p.m. Saturday, October 31, 15th Street Tavern, 623 15th Street, $6, 303-572-0822.