"We're thinking of changing our name to 'Juhl: J-U-H-L,'" says Mike Behrenhausen, drummer for Boulder's Juhl. "Because anymore, that's how we have to introduce ourselves: 'Hi, we're in a band called Juhl: J-U-H-L.'"
"Yeah," adds guitarist/vocalist/frontman Ben Wolaniuk. "When we're booking shows, people ask us, 'What's the name of your band?' And when we tell them, they're like, 'Oh, you're that girl, aren't you?' Or periodically someone will come up to us and say, 'Hey, we just heard your band on KTCL. Your voice is really feminine.'"
That anyone could mistake these post-hardcore luminaries--Behrenhausen, Wolaniuk, guitarist/vocalist Pete Lyman and bassist Theron Melochior--for smarmy, twenty-year-old alterna-folkster Jewel Kilcher is beyond this writer's comprehension. After all, Juhl's high-torque pitch has more in common with the throttling sounds of groups like Unwound and Angelhair than it does with the songstress responsible for "I'm Sensitive" and "Daddy."
But being grouped phonetically with the latest princess of pop is the least of the worries afflicting the Juhl bandmates these days. Rather, the players seem much more perturbed with the sorry state of modern rock--particularly punk rock, which according to Walaniuk has sunk to new depths of cheesiness in recent years.
"The term 'punk' has been completely toxified for me," he explains. "It's like the swastika. Two thousand years ago it represented this incredible symbol of unity and oneness. It represented the center of the universe. Now everyone just associates it with the Nazis. That's an extreme example of how I see punk rock now."
"I don't mean to sound like Mr. Old School," adds Lyman, in a considerably less metaphysical tone. "But I've been going to shows for a long time, and I get really bent when I see all these so-called punks who have no clue about what's going on. They've learned everything through MTV. They've got their big, baggy shorts with NOFX print up the side. Personally, I don't want to be lumped in with those people.
"Green Day and the Offspring are just the glam rock of the Nineties," he continues. "Except if you ask me, Mstley CrYe rocks way harder than Dookie. I mean, 'Too Fast for Love' fucking rocks."
"There's more coolness and image and complexity to Number of the Beast than anything on Smash," Wolaniuk stresses. "Punk nowadays is just a bunch of pot smokers in big pants who listen to metal disguised as punk."
Wolaniuk and Lyman know whereof they speak; both have participated extensively in Boulder's underground-music scene. The most impressive item on their resumes involves their participation in the now-defunct Junkdrawer, a furious outfit known for it's brain-rattling sounds and staunch DIY standards. Prior to disbanding, the troupe even released a single on Freewill, a Boulder-based straight-edge imprint. According to Wolaniuk, upholding strong ideals took its toll on the group. "Things started falling apart," he explains. "There was just too much musical and emotional pressure on everyone--whether or not we should make money or work with a bigger label. Everybody had different views, and that caused a lot of strife.
"I think the thing that blew us over the edge, though, was when we got a call from Mechanic/Futurist, which is this subsidiary of Warner Bros. That was just way too weird. We didn't know what to think about that."
When Junkdrawer's bassist decided to relocate to San Francisco, the rest of the combo called it quits. Before long, though, Wolaniuk and Lyman regrouped, this time with former Westword contributor Behrenhausen behind the drum kit. Melochior joined the lineup several months later, in spite of his initial wariness about Juhl's turbulent attack. "The first time I heard them, it kind of freaked me out," he admits. "But it was also kind of neat. I wanted to find out more about it."
"Before he was in the band, he described us as 'voodoo-core,'" Wolaniuk remembers, laughing. "Because we scared him like voodoo scares him."
Melochior soon overcame his phobia, and the band started laying down tracks at Denver's Time Capsule studios. Two of the songs will be featured on its upcoming split-single on GSL Records; that label is overseen by Sonny Kay, a former Boulderite who fronts the VSS, profiled in these pages last year. Lyman describes the tracks as "intense. On record, we come off like we're total assholes. People will probably think we're so emotionally unstable. But we're not like that at all. We're all fucking goofy as hell. But when I write songs, they're always depressing. I can't help it. I can only write about things that are depressing, because I'm not inspired by happiness."
Wolaniuk suffers from the same malady. "Happy things make me want to go out and do happy things. You know, like buying stickers or smelling flowers or whatever. But if I work for sixteen hours straight and come home smelling like fucking grease, I'll sit down and write a song and fucking rant, and then I'll feel better."
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Juhl performances are similarly cathartic. Lyman and Wolaniuk pound across the stage with a poised fierceness unmatched by any band this side of the Mississippi--or any side, for that matter.
Listeners in other states recently had the opportunit to judge this claim for themselves; Juhl just concluded a tour that took the players from the Midwest to California, where they played several choice gigs with the VSS. If everything goes as planned, they'll also try to conquer the East Coast later this year. In the meantime, they're hoping to find new ways to convince club owners that they aren't associated with the lass behind "Who Will Save Your Soul." Lyman, for one, has been practicing his pitch.
"Hi!" he announces, in his best solicitor's voice. "This is Juhl: J-U-H-L. Can we play at your club?