By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
This cement mountain, a temporary monument to the demolition of Cinderella City in Englewood, was the inspiration for the local punk band's moniker. At the time the quartet was searching for a name, guitarist/vocalist Dan "Shaggy" McDermott's job involved driving a truck. While out on the road, he says, he saw signs left and right: "Broadway Ramparts apartment building, Ramparts Distribution Center, Ramparts Pet and Feed in Castle Rock...ramparts everywhere." The ultimate, of course, was the giant, hulking obstruction peeking over drummer Chad Peterson's fence.
"We were standing on my porch one day looking at it -- that, combined with all the rampart stuff all over town," says Peterson. "Most people don't associate it with 'The Star-Spangled Banner.'"
There's something all too appropriate about a band like O'er the Ramparts taking a name that sounds patriotic and environmentally correct but is actually derived from an impermanent, manmade eyesore. The band embraces organic, from-the-gut rock while acknowledging its artificial, disposable and recyclable aspects. Not that this phenomenon is unique: Punk rock is all about unrefined emotion and energy, with the associated safety-pin jewelry and distorted electric guitar serving as reminders that what was once innate and natural is now hopelessly impregnated with technology.
Like any good post-punk band should, O'er the Ramparts walks the fine line between lizard-brained and intellectual, a tightrope where natural, artificial, calculated and primal somehow overlap. The Ramparts aren't too smart or too dumb; rather, they're just right.
O'er the Ramparts materialized from the remnants of several local punk bands in April 1999. Bookend guitarist/vocalists McDermott and Aaron Betcher have played together in bands off and on since 1995, beginning with a high-energy outfit called Sticky Five Pin. "We were the first band ever to play at the 15th Street Tavern," says McDermott. "I've played there pretty much every month since they opened."
The 29-year-old Betcher started playing the guitar when he was a fifteen-year-old in Michigan. "My mom worked at a music store," he recalls. "I went in to visit her one day, and she was standing there with the guy who gave guitar lessons -- his name was Frog. He looked at my hands and said, 'Your son has meat hooks for hands. You've got to play the guitar.'"
Soon thereafter, Betcher was banging out Black Flag covers with his pals in a Lansing garage, but his tastes are not limited to loud and fast. "I can honestly say that there's not any music I don't like," he says. "There's good stuff everywhere you look."
After moving to Colorado in 1994, Betcher connected with McDermott in Sticky Five Pin. McDermott was spurred toward rock as a Wisconsin high-schooler, where he was friends with Kindercore Records' Dan Geller. Since relocating to Denver (also in 1994), he has played in several diverse bands, including a stint as the bassist in Denver's now-defunct BlastOff Heads. While O'er the Ramparts is a priority, he says, "I want to just keep playing with everybody I know and explore a hundred million different styles. Music is my journey."
However, McDermott's role as an O'er the Ramparts guitarist is something of a new style in itself. "I've always been the bass player," he says. "I'm weaning off the bass."
He's doing so in order to accommodate the impressive skills of Chad Wells, a onetime rabid fan of the BlastOff Heads who catalyzed the formation of O'er the Ramparts. After an enticing job offer lured him east to Indianapolis, Wells returned to Denver "100 percent to play music." (He sums up the rock scene in the Hoosier State with one word: "zero.")
In 1999, Wells called Peterson (whose father, Gordon, played bass for Denver's Magic Mice, a '60s-era psychedelic band), told him he was thinking about coming back, and asked whether he'd be interested in drumming in a band. Peterson jumped on the offer, Wells returned, and the pair soon recruited Betcher and McDermott.
Peterson and Wells are quick to label themselves relative novices and they're appreciative of the experience that the other two players have on guitar. "It's nice to be around some super-mature musicians to show us the way a little bit," Peterson says.
Bandmembers cite the Who and Guided by Voices as musical common ground, though each of the three songwriters -- Betcher, McDermott and Wells -- has his own stylistic inclinations. From progressive to anthem rock to fierce punk, O'er the Ramparts manages to put a different spin on nearly every song the bandmembers conceive. "We've never drawn any limitations on our sound, and we probably never will," McDermott observes. "I just want to go for full-on diversity."
Each of the players' musical leanings differ, says Peterson, "but it always seems to jell together eventually."
The most convenient tag for the music of O'er the Ramparts is noise rock, but a label goes only so far with musicians willing to stretch their range. Most of the band's repertoire comes across as tuneful chaos, with tight rhythms underpinning fuzz-and-squeal layers that get more complex with every listen. It's not unusual for Wells to take the lead on bass while the guitarists fill in the blanks with effects-laden experimentalism, walls of power chords or even delicate harmonics. There's a lot more in the way of melody and harmony than one usually finds in a typical punk-rock outfit, but O'er the Ramparts sounds equally at ease flaunting a catchy hook or discordant menace.