Hurts So Good

After nine years of pop-punk heartache, the Gamits have the Antidote.

Pain is the great motivator, anguish the most compelling muse. In other words, a world of hurt can go a long way. Just ask Chris Fogal, singer/guitarist of Denver's the Gamits. His group's brand-new disc is called Antidote, and it's meant to be exactly that: an anodyne for crushing agony, a Band-Aid slapped on the abrasions of the soul.

"There's sort of an overall concept for this album," Fogal confesses. "It's supposed to be about using whatever creative outlet you have, be it music or art or football or whatever, as your antidote, the thing that gets you through your otherwise empty, meaningless, shitty life. It comes from a time a couple years ago when I had this really, really bad herniated disc in my spine. It caused sciatica through the whole left side of my body. It got to the point where I was on crutches or bedridden all the time. Unless you go through it, it's really hard to understand. It just eats at you after a while."

Accordingly, Antidote's heart-devouring refrains are jabbed into the listener's veins via sharp hooks and glinting melodies. The disc's centerpiece, "Golden Sometimes," is inescapably catchy, a dose of maudlin sentiment soaked in ambrosia and sprinkled with ahs and ooh-la-las. "Open Window" wraps a gauze of acoustic guitars around hand claps, vocal harmonies and organic tempo changes transplanted straight from the Beatles' Rubber Soul. The album closes with "Bridges," an unplugged, cello-swept requiem for virility and pride in which Fogal laments, "Like an old man on his way to the grave, I never stay out late/I'm in too much pain/Darling I can't walk that fast/When you see me coming, please don't laugh on the broken back."

Musician, heal thyself: Chris Fogal (from left), Scott 
Swarers and Jason Walker are the Gamits.
Musician, heal thyself: Chris Fogal (from left), Scott Swarers and Jason Walker are the Gamits.

Details

2004 Westword Music Showcase, with Hemi Cuda, the Swayback and more, Saturday, June 26, 10 p.m., Serengeti, 1037 Broadway, $5, 303-534-0222

But Antidote isn't all frilly chords and cloudy skies. As baroque and downcast as the Gamits' music can get, the band is still proudly, inextricably rooted in punk rock. Sure, the minor-key chorus of "Never Before Noon" could be straight out of a Shins or Elvis Costello song, but it's scraped up with distortion and bloodied by a pummeling backbeat. Even more injurious, though, is "Born and Raised Afraid," a metallically melodic take on pure pop that resembles Weezer breathing heavy all over Pyromania-era Def Leppard. Amid menacing arpeggios and strutting riffs, Fogal remembers his dark days of being laid up and depressed: "Wake up around the crack of dawn/Take pills at night but not for fun."

"I ate a lot of pills during those days," confirms the singer with a laugh. "Living in that much pain every day fucking sucks. I was trying to write songs, but it was hard to stay motivated. I spent three grand at a chiropractor and that just made it worse, so I was about to take out a huge loan on my house to get this super high-tech surgery out in California. At that point, there was no hope at all except for surgery. I didn't know what the outcome was going to be or if I was going to be able to continue touring or anything. There could have been some permanent disability."

Luckily for Gamits fans the world over, Fogal recovered, and the band eventually resumed its hectic schedule of recording for the eminent local label Suburban Home and touring across the U.S., Europe and Japan. Not that the lineup itself hasn't required a little surgery: The original Gamits roster, circa 1995, consisted of Fogal, Matt Martinez on bass and Matt Vanleuven on drums. After Martinez's departure, Vanleuven moved to the four-string, and the kit was manned by Forrest Bartosh, of Pinhead Circus and Ladonnas fame. Fogal's current team -- bassist and backup vocalist Scott Swarers, formerly of the Last Chance Diaries, and drummer Jason Walker, a veteran of local punk and hardcore acts like Angels Never Answer, Pariah Caste and Contender -- came together about a year ago, after illness and inertia had nearly put the Gamits down for good.

"The old lineup was disintegrating," recalls Fogal. "We wanted to keep going and touring and everything, but things just never really fell into place. It was never the perfect band with all the right people at the same time. I think we were just stagnant then. We were like this machine that didn't have a goal at all. And then I got into my really bad back problems, and that was a huge deal.

"At that point, I wasn't sure that the Gamits were even going to be a band anymore," he goes on. "I had some wacky ideas there for a while. I was thinking about doing this solo project called the Chaperone. I was getting older, but I kept playing to the same age of kids; I felt like I was chaperoning parties when I played shows. Our friends and the label really encouraged me to keep the Gamits going, but it was a huge bummer at the time. It was growing pains, you know?"

Fortunately, the Gamits' aching adolescence is over. Fogal, now thirty, has let his picked-at scabs heal over, leaving song-shaped scars that mark both the traumas and triumphs of his twenties. And although Antidote is technically the group's seventh CD, 2000's Endorsed by You is its only other true full-length. The jump in maturity between the two is almost jarring. While Endorsed had previously scribbled outside the lines of orthodox, post-Blink pop punk, Antidote is a rich and fully fleshed work that far outdistances the lip-pierced mewling of your typical Warped Tour attraction.

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