Framed

When it comes to musical stagnation, Laymen Terms pleads innocent.

Things just aren't always what they seem.

Take, for instance, Andy Tanner, lead singer and guitarist of Laymen Terms. He's a tall guy, spindly, with a fringe of greasy hair hanging over his forehead. Draped in a T-shirt and jeans, he hunches his shoulders and mumbles a little, humble and abashed. There are a lot of things he looks like: the kid who took your sister to the prom, a small-town gas station attendant, the neighborhood skate rat all grown up. But you wouldn't particularly mistake him for a member of one of the most successful bands to ever come out of Colorado Springs. Or, say, an armed robber.

"We had just finished playing a show in Laramie at this weird video-game place," Tanner recounts. "We had loaded our equipment, and I was sitting outside smoking a cigarette. All of a sudden this cop came up and jumped on me and said, 'You're under arrest for robbing a convenience store.' I was like, 'What the fuck? I was just playing music.'"

Speaking plainly: Justin Blair (from left), Andy Tanner, 
Seth Thompson and Jameson Becker are Laymen 
Terms.
Noah Winningham
Speaking plainly: Justin Blair (from left), Andy Tanner, Seth Thompson and Jameson Becker are Laymen Terms.

"Just playing music" is an understatement. Over the past six years, Laymen Terms -- currently made up of Tanner, drummer Jameson Becker, guitarist Seth Thompson and bassist Justin Blair -- has toured all over America, put out three discs on two of the biggest punk labels in Colorado and built a sizable following along the Front Range, including a recent headlining show in its home town that drew more than 700 fans. A four-track EP titled 3 Weeks Inis due out this week on Suburban Home Records, and it's a jump to hyperspace for the band, a plunge into new depths of songwriting, emotion and ambition. Still, the pop-punk image Tanner and company have been framed with is, at this point, a case of mistaken identity -- one they wish would finally get cleared up.

The band came together when Tanner, Becker and former members Chris Sutherland and Devon Bryant began playing shows around the Springs area in 1998. The group's two CDs with that lineup -- 2001's An Introductionand 2002's Since Last December -- were released on prominent Boulder indie imprint Soda Jerk Records. The songs were, in a nutshell, pop punk. But even early on, the band was germinating fresh sounds and ideas. "Cutting Onions in Am," the second track on Introduction, strained classic-rock chord patterns through a mesh of hardcore riffing, sounding somehow like Hot Water Music boiling in Oasis. "Falling Down in a Basement" could have been the national anthem for a small country full of very depressed people. And on "17," the centerpiece of December, Tanner pleads with lumps of bitterness stuck in his throat, "I've been dreaming of this since I was 17/Somebody please let's unite this scene/You just bitch, bitch, bitch about everything."

"For a while I wrote about how the Colorado Springs scene sucked so bad, just talking a lot of shit about people being assholes and arrogant," says Tanner, laughing. "And then about relationships, of course. A little bit of everything, I guess."

"I think Colorado Springs is even more drastic than other places," adds Thompson. "Man, when we were in the scene when we were fifteen or sixteen, if you weren't the crustiest punk-rock band throwing beer bottles at the audience, you'd get booed off the stage."

"We were constantly worried about if we would fit with all these other bands we were playing with. I still am, to this day," Tanner confesses. "We always think the kids are going to be way too hip for us or way too punk rock for us. A year ago we had a show with Bright Eyes, and the next night we played with MxPx. We were like, 'How the hell are we supposed to play two nights in a row with two bands that are such insane opposites? At practice, we started thinking, 'Maybe we should play this one song that's more pop-punk for the pop-punk crowd.' Then we just said 'Fuck it.' If these kids like us, they like us. If they don't, they don't. But usually it works out that the kids take it in and understand it."

3 Weeks In, however, might be a test of just how understanding Laymen Terms' fans can be. With most cuts clocking in at over six minutes each, the EP quixotically tries to tweak the tried-and-true pop-punk formula using the experimental ethos of Radiohead. As uppity as it sounds, it nearly succeeds. The title track is a sprawling construction of shifting textures and pensive melody that sounds less like something Jawbreaker would have tossed out and more like a compound of Cursive's heart-gashing algebra and Cave In's newfound prog-pop sheen. Also included is an acoustic version of "Tired Minds," from December, that resembles, for better or worse, Journey gone emo. The execution is spread a little too thin in spots across the disc, but only barely. As a first step in a new direction, 3 Weeks Inis an uncontested triumph.

"I think the kids will adjust to it," says Tanner of his outfit's reinvention. "They get used to hearing the same shit over and over again, and they get stuck. But our new stuff still has the catchiness to it. I think it might even help them get into different types of music. That's my biggest goal with music, to expose people to something different. And even though Colorado Springs is, like, the Christian capital of the world, things are really opening up there; it's getting really diverse."

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