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It happens once every couple of years. You wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep. Your memory's stuck in shuffle mode, so you roll out of bed and start digging around in the closet for some musty knickknack or photo album. Then suddenly, amid a torrent of Christmas cards and canceled stamps, you come across your box of old love letters. The handwriting on them looks kind of alien at first, like the fossilized tracks of some long-extinct life form, but soon it all starts flooding back: the whirl of cursive, the fingers that pushed the pen, the arms and shoulders and faces behind them. You wince; it stings. But it's more than just the recidivist guilt of heartbreak or the phantom-limb twinge of someone who's no longer there, more than just Hello Kitty stationery and heart-dotted i's. It's the fact that someone -- whose voice and kiss you can now barely recall -- once committed such words to you on paper, in naked black and white. They told you they loved you, and they meant it.
The Love Letter Band meant it, too. Beginning in 1998, this group of Grand Junction natives wrote and played songs that weren't diary entries so much as they were desperate confessions -- of hope, of shame, of joy, of pain, and yes, of love. Revolving around the loose nucleus of singer/guitarist Chris Adolf, multi-instrumentalist Marisa Wood and drummer Trevor Adams, the ramshackle collective ranged in size from a full seven members to just Adolf playing solo. Keyboards, cellos, tape loops, banjos and marimbas were layered over battered acoustic guitars with a delicate haphazardness. At the core stood Adolf's voice, thin and piercing as a sliver. Now, after years of cobwebbing the country playing warehouses and living rooms and hooking into a network of like-minded pop fans, Adolf and Wood have moved to Denver and rechristened the band Bad Weather California. But even as they try to reroute their past into a new lineup with new ideas and approaches to their music, history hovers ever overhead.
"Growing up in Grand Junction was fun," says Adolf, mumbling around a mouthful of grapes. Although it's more customary to bring a six-pack to an interview, it's Sunday, and Denver's liquor laws have never been friendly to musicians. Compared to 3.2 beer, a ripe bunch of green grapes seems downright bacchanalian. "Sorry," he continues in mid-chew. "I'm going to eat all your grapes. I'll buy you more."
As for the virtues of Grand Junction, Wood concurs with Adolf. "Yeah, you can do whatever you want there," she says from across a pile of neglected Russian homework. "That is, if whatever you want happens to include meth and four-wheeling."
Grand Junction's notoriety as a methamphetamine hotbed certainly hasn't rubbed off on the members of Bad Weather California. Adolf and Wood are as laid-back as a Western Slope summer, and their homey apartment simmers in warm earth tones and late-August perspiration. Books, LPs and old recording equipment are stacked immaculately, like LEGOs, all around. "As a little kid," remembers Adolf, "it was all about building forts and riding bikes and raising hell."
Like most kids, the two were sucked into the world of radio rock at an early age, taping songs and listening to their parents' Beatles and Bob Dylan records. Wood's initiation into modern music occurred when her older brother got into hip-hop in the late '80s. "I think my first CD purchase was Public Enemy," she says. "That was my introduction to dangerous music, anything that I felt would embarrass my mom.
"I really liked Flavor Flav. He was so silly," she adds with a laugh. "I recently received one of those things in the mail that you fill out when you're in sixth grade -- what your favorite color is, who your hero is -- you know, like a time capsule kind of thing that they send back to you after you've grown up. Flavor Flav was my answer for everything."
Adolf, on the other hand, was conscripted straight into the unholy legions of heavy metal. "My older cousins were into metal," he explains. "I thought it was so cool. I didn't really know the difference between punk and metal then, but later on I started to like the punk bands more. They were the bands that you could actually go see.
"But when I got to high school, I started hanging out with this group of girls that were like stereotypes of characters out of '80s movies," he continues. "They had dark hair and Cure T-shirts and veils over their eyes and stuff like that. They took me under their wing. That's how I got turned on to the Cure and Pavement and the Pixies."
At this point, Wood makes a face. "Those girls used to torment me," she says sourly.
Wood and Adolf met in middle school and began attending the sporadic punk shows that would spring up in Grand Junction. Besides occasional concerts at Mesa State College, bands would sometimes play ad hoc, generator-powered parties in the middle of the desert. And although he was surrounded by local bands and musicians, it took Adolf a while to discover his own musical calling.