By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
"Thanks, man. Thanks!" he says to Ryan Policky, one of Drop the Fear's three multi-instrumentalists. Drummer/keyboardist Gabriel Ratliffe stands by, his breath a fog in the cold morning air. Policky just offered three Camels to Army-jacket guy, who takes them and cups them in his palm like they're rolled-up C-notes.
"You know, I had an inheritance once," Army Jacket insists. "Nine million dollars. But I had a son who died of this rare disease when he was twenty, and the medical bills came to 28 million dollars, so the nine million wasn't enough."
Army Jacket then informs Policky and Ratliffe that he's recently been in contact with both Jim Morrison and Elvis Presley, who, clean and sober since faking his death in 1977, has forsaken music to become a Denver firefighter.
"We play music," chips in Ratliffe. "We're waiting for our bandmate to show up right now."
"What's the name of your band?" Army Jacket asks.
"Drop the Fear."
"What kind of music do you play?"
"Uh, this kind of electronic rock. There's electronic stuff, and then we play real instruments."
After a few more minutes of surreal conversation, the group's missing third, Sarah Marcogliese, shows up. They bid Army Jacket good luck, walk into the Satire and grab a booth, completely unfazed by their early-morning brush with insanity. They're used to it. In fact, they seek it out. In September last year, Drop the Fear hopped in a car and drove around the West, stopping odd people at parks and gas stations -- the odder, indeed, the better. Then, with camcorders rolling, they asked their subjects two questions: "What do you fear the most?" and "What does the phrase ŒDrop the fear' mean to you?"
"We met the craziest people, the most interesting people you could possibly meet," Policky says later over a gyros breakfast sandwich imported from Pete's Kitchen next door. "The first guy we asked was like, 'Drop the what? Drop the fuse?' He was so unique. It just spurred the whole journey."
The guy Policky speaks of -- a gray-haired man in a cowboy hat who exhibits a fidgety grin in response to the band's interrogation -- is the star of the opening scene of Drop the Fear's upcoming, self-titled documentary. When the man finally understands the question, he defines fear zealously as "a lack of trust in God."
"We had to drop our own fears," Ratliffe notes, "about going up to people we didn't know and asking them these questions while pointing a camera in their face." Like his compatriots, Ratliffe has been a involved in film for years. Policky even organized "The Red Reel," a highly regarded but now defunct monthly multimedia showcase hosted by Rock Island. For them, the video element of their aesthetic has always been as important as the audio.
"This project was really an interesting experiment on both ends," says Ratliffe. "You could tell the crazy dynamic that came out between us and the people we were talking to. There was this weird energy going on between us. It was undeniable."
Through the whole documentary, a parade of folks both mundane and bizarre offer their takes on what makes them afraid: loneliness, change, failure, money, being ignored in life, being forgotten in death -- and, naturally, fear itself. One spirited middle-aged woman explains at length the workings of what she calls "the paranoia machine," the methods governments employ to keep their populations confused, wound up and easily manipulated.
The creepiest response to Drop the Fear's query, however, comes from a four-year-old boy, who states in a cute, innocent voice, "My dreams have turned into a crocodile." His response and others turn up as eerie samples sprinkled throughout the group's new, eponymous debut full-length, a work conceived as a corollary to the documentary. Its dozen songs are scalpels that slice straight into the listener's gut, laying deftly bare the inner ticking of instinct, impulse and anxiety that motivate human life.
It sounds heavy, and it's meant to. When the trio convened in late 2003, it staggered under the weight of angst and expectation. Marcogliese had played briefly in a pop-rock combo called Look Eye, while Policky and Ratliffe were part of the long-running local act Pure Drama. But it was Policky, one of the founders and core constituents of his previous group, who felt the most pressure to own up to his past. Pure Drama was one of the most ambitious bands in Denver, although its style -- similar to that of a warmed-over, post-goth Eurythmics -- had a hard time finding a wide audience outside the industrial and electronic scenes. Listen closely to the elegant, Brit-pop-inspired songcraft of Pure Drama's later output, though, and you can hear the sound of Policky straining to pull his music forward -- and ramming headlong into a brick wall.