Roses Are Rad

Rose Hill Drive has come a long way...without me.

Three years ago, I was part of what's now one of the hottest, most talked about bands in the country.

"So we're just walking down the street in Lawrence, Kansas," recalls Daniel Sproul, "and some chick comes up to us and says, 'Are you Rose Hill Drive?'" Shocked to be recognized, Daniel responded with this: "Uhh."

I'm in a Chicago pizzeria with the members of Rose Hill Drive, my old band. As soon as the pizza's gone, Daniel leaves to tune up his guitar before the show down the street at the Wise Fools Pub. His brother Jake, the vocalist who mastered the bass after I left, and drummer Nate Barnes stay behind to do the set list and start scribbling song titles. The band's manager, Brian Schwartz, slides toward the table. He's been talking to a Chicago woman who made a bootleg tape of the band's Valentine's Day show here two months ago.

A Rose is a rose: Jake Sproul (from left), Nate Barnes 
and Daniel Sproul are Rose Hill Drive.
Anthony Camera
A Rose is a rose: Jake Sproul (from left), Nate Barnes and Daniel Sproul are Rose Hill Drive.

Details

2004 Westword Music Showcase, with Love.45, Yo, Flaco! and more, Saturday, June 26, 6:45 p.m., Outdoor Stage, 900 Block of Acoma, $5

"Here's something to consider," Schwartz interrupts. "That last show has been circulating like mad. You can't repeat that show."

It''s amazing that Rose Hill Drive has been around long enough to repeat anything, much less have anyone catch the redundancy. Jake and Nate are both just 21. Daniel is 19, but he's been wowing crowds since he was 13. The chick on the street in Kansas recognized them from photos on JamBase.com, a popular website for fans of the type of group my home town usually produces: noodly jam bands. The JamBase reviewer, who caught Rose Hill Drive in San Francisco, raved but made it clear that this wasn't a "dime-a-dozen jam band."

Rose Hill Drive has never been dime-a-dozen.

I met Jake and Daniel at Fairview High School in Boulder, when they were accompanying a friend's musical performance. Jake, a tenor in one of the school choirs, was playing keyboards and singing at the time, and he had to fill in the bass range with an overactive left hand. I mentioned that I'd been playing bass for a few years and asked if they needed a bass player.

Soon after, I was in the basement of the brothers' house on Rose Hill Drive in Boulder's University Hill neighborhood. That's where the band got its name, after brief stints as Flash Flood and worse. I listened to Daniel, still in middle school, play Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Scuttle Buttin" with utter fluency. I was in over my head.

But Jake and Daniel brought me up to speed, and Nate came in to give us backbone. When Daniel finished middle school and moved on to Fairview, we ate lunch together and left school together. We did all the things that moderately affluent teenage boys should do -- there were pranks, videotaped antics, trampolines, video games and speeding tickets. But we also spent hours every day in the basement, earplugs at hand, writing and practicing and scheming. We played music until the Sprouls decided it was too late to make so much noise.

Every Fourth of July, we would haul the Marshall stack to the front porch, crank the knob to seven or eight, and Daniel would fire up his Stratocaster for a Hendrix-at-Woodstock version of "The Star-Spangled Banner." One year Nate and I stood against a parked car in the street, dead center in front of the amp. We lost some hearing as Daniel flooded Rose Hill Drive -- the street's only a block long -- with big-arena roar.

Another time, Jake wanted to ask a girl to a school dance -- prom, perhaps, or something less epic. Jake already had a mind for the minor spectacle and asked us to learn a song, a Black Crowes tune, so that we could treat his would-be date to a front-porch rock serenade. We sat in front of the big speakers and learned our parts in a few minutes; we'd all heard the song a hundred times. We decided we had to adapt our road show for instantaneous setup; there would be no time for staging and soundchecks. Nate devised an abbreviated drum kit, and I tuned one of Daniel's acoustic guitars down and down, just far enough to sound the low end of the bass line. Jake sang his part a couple of times, and then we headed for the van.

It was a process we had refined before, only a few days after Nate had replaced our previous drummer for a middle-school variety show. Now it was load it up, load it out in under a minute, "everybody ready?" and "knock, knock." And there, on Boulder's even-richer edge of town, we played our concert for a high-school girl and her incredulous family. As I remember it, she declined Jake's invitation.

Like other Boulder teenagers, we had our part-time employment. We all worked weekends busing or waiting tables at the same restaurant, together except when one of us would get fired (then usually rehired). We spent all our pay on CDs and music gear. Eventually the owner of our favorite guitar shop set up an informal payment plan for our purchases: We'd come in with a hundred coffee-stained dollar bills each week, and in the meantime, a beautiful new instrument was already getting its loving introduction to basement blaring and couch-side clinking. The couch practicing escalated until Mrs. Sproul instituted a no-guitars-left-on-the-couch rule. So we started leaning them against the armrest instead. We bought a P.A. system and played shows -- parties, dances, the occasional night at the Fox Theatre or Tulagi. We refined makeshift recording techniques to figure out how we sounded. We critiqued ourselves ruthlessly.

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