Roses Are Rad

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

At the end of 2000, when I was a junior in high school, we started having discussions about commitment, and I slowly realized I wasn't in it for life. I didn't have the drive that Jake, Daniel and Nate share. I wanted out of Boulder and didn't think we could do that as a band, so I took off. I focused on school and went to college in suburban Chicago.

Now here I am, and they're in town, on tour, for the third time. I can't regret leaving the band. I'm convinced the other members needed me gone to get this far.

"Hey, what band are you guys?" shouts a man walking by on the street, bike-messenger bag bulging yellow on his back.

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.

Just out of the van, Jake's tired after an eight-hour drive from Kansas. "Rose Hill Drive," he tries.

Biker Bag gives a double thumbs-up and keeps walking.

"We're playing at Wise Fools," Jake adds -- thumbs go up again -- and then says, more quietly, "We're signed to...Butthole Records."

Rose Hill isn't signed to Butthole Records. In fact, the guys are not signed at all, despite lots of interest from high-level reps at several major labels. Schwartz says the band has rejected offers from two labels already. "We're just being patient at this point," he explains.

After a second successful appearance at Austin's South by Southwest, the band did a series of shows in California and a three-week run back in the Denver area. Then it was on to an Atlanta studio with Brendan O'Brien, the heavyweight producer and creative consultant who's worked with Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bruce Springsteen and a long list of others (just run his name on allmusic.com). O'Brien signed on to do Rose Hill Drive's first album after he heard a few songs and the band played a private showcase. These musicians might be his youngest project ever. When the album is finished in the next few months, it will be shopped around to labels, in hopes that a high-end finished product will help them land the right deal.

Meanwhile, negotiations are ongoing and secret. Standing outside the van, Daniel starts to tell me some label-search news, and Jake cuts him off: "You can't write any of this," he says. I assure him I'll get the official word from Schwartz, who later says it's all right to reveal that the band has received yet another offer since South by Southwest. At this point, my former bandmates are waiting for an offer that fits the band and its future. Jake's hoping for one that will help Rose Hill Drive lead a wave of authentically fantastic rock bands that are true to the emerging generation.

"The youth is our show," he says. "We haven't signed with two major labels because of that. We could have made some money out of that. I'm fuckin' poor right now."

I remember out loud that someone told me about a teenage Boulder band that supposedly idolizes Rose Hill Drive. Jake says a lot of bands are starting up in Boulder, and many of them are rockers. If these are the seeds of a new scene, they're sprouting at Rose Hill Drive shows.

"There's a lot of kids that are in bands that were right up front," Jake says, describing the last show they played at the Fox. "I think it's good. When we break out, there's gonna be a scene."

There's already a fan community cropping up. The band let a recording of the Fox show float around among friends, and word is that it's multiplied. "It's so cool how nobody else has it but our friends, and they're copying it like hell," Jake says. Yeah, he adds, I can have a copy, but he doesn't have one. I'll have to call some kids in Boulder. What else can you do when the hot new band doesn't have an album to buy or steal?

Outside Rose Hill's shows at the Fox, everyone's smoking. But Chicago's not Boulder, New York or Ireland -- you can still smoke in the bars here. So instead, everyone outside here is on the phone. Brian walks to the corner and back several dozen times as he talks to someone. Brian is constantly on the phone; he's carrying around his Blackberry. The band has a community cell phone, too, and Nate has borrowed one from a girlfriend. Every few days, I've been typing at them from my little college apartment. They're always in some hotel with an Internet connection, and instant messaging keeps up the banter.

All this connectivity makes life on the road far less isolated than it was years ago. These three are in a van for hours each day, but most of the time they're just a phone call away from home, from home girlfriends, from record companies.

Inside the pub are more cell phones. I field a call from a friend who wanted to see the band -- she's sick and won't be coming. Jake and Daniel have missed phone calls from girls in Boulder. Text messages go largely unanswered as everyone spends their time downloading rockin' ringers (AC/DC, the Darkness, Marvin Gaye) and taking ridiculous pictures. Jake's brought some plastic, wind-up chattering teeth from the van. "We gotta get a picture of me with these in," he says, grabbing Nate.

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