"There was a time in high school when we were into wearing overcoats and looking at our shoes when people took our pictures," says Kurt Ohlen, bassist for the punk-popsters in Denver's Hop'd. "But I'd like to think ultimately that punk rock has more to do with being true to yourself--and stripping away the veneer. I don't think you have to be three chords, loud and fast to be punk."
In some circles, these could be construed as fighting words, especially coming from a group of guys as clean-cut as the members of Hop'd. With the exception of a few telltale tattoos and Ohlen's substantial, Elvis: The Las Vegas Years sideburns, these thoughtful, articulate college graduates look no more punk than John Boy Walton. Or as guitarist Patrick Lenihan lovingly describes the band, "It's punk rock as performed by Potsie Weber."
The musicians in Hop'd weren't always such ardent anti-hipsters. Prior to the group's appearance on the scene a little more than a year ago, Ohlen, Lenihan, vocalist Brian Murphy, guitarist Bill Anthes and drummer Craig Gilbert did time in some of the area's weirder, more notable postpunk alternative combos, including Nerves Like Eels, the Warlock Pinchers and the Auto Body Experience. According to Ohlen, whose previous outfit, Mortal Engines, was approached and later jilted by MCA Records, trying to live up to the stringent punk-rock standards imposed by those bands soon grew tiring.
"I guess we're all kind of jaded and cynical about the `music biz' now," he says, laughing. "Now we just want to play loud music and drink lots of beer. Our attitude is, `Let's just have fun. Let's do what we want.' If someone throws a pile of money at us, that's great. But if not, at least we're being true to ourselves and being true to our music."
Ex-Pincher bassist Murphy agrees, adding, "Being in Hop'd allows us to be more honest with ourselves. We can be a better band because we have more fun. We don't just sit around saying, `Whoops, we've got four chords in that song. We're going to have to cut one of them out.'"
Even though most of the players have little time to keep up with the latest musical trends ("We all have bills to pay" is Ohlen's excuse), they still manage to muster enthusiasm for some of their favorite bands, including the recently reformed Buzzcocks and indie darlings Superchunk. The Superchunk influence, in particular, seems to shine through on the group's new split single "So What/ Pop Psychology Is a Weapon," shared with Philadephia garage-pop mavens Mohair. The Hop'd portion of the record, released on Ohlen's own Wormtone label, is a connotative--if somewhat brief--offering filled with buoyant punk-pop harmonies. The material is laced with broad, unassuming hooks delivered in a loose tone that recalls the Replacements and the Lemonheads in their obstreperous prime.
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These same qualities manifest themselves when Hop'd plays live. In performance the group is equal parts unabashed, hardcore energy and tongue- in-cheek rock-star chutzpah. Murphy, especially, brings out the band's wild side. Typically sporting a white, button-down oxford shirt and a conservative tie, the otherwise-introverted singer flails about the stage in a sonic fugue reminiscent of the slam-dancing, yuppie refugees in Robert Longo's paintings.
Murphy confesses that performing is what keeps him interested in punk rock--even at the ripe old age of 26. "There's no situation in life," he explains, "where you can do the kind of stuff you do on stage and people go, `Wow, that was really cool when you knocked that mike stand over.' If you do something like that on the job, you'll probably wind up getting hurt, and your boss is going to be watching you, and you're gonna be screwed."
Even at its most chaotic, Hop'd avoids the tortured posturing that has become so prevalent with today's dogmatic punk rockers. That's not to say, however, that there's not a bit of irony at work behind the group's schoolboy facade. After all, Murphy and company appear so normal that they stand as an affront to the rebellious punk-rock lifestyle--which, in a way, makes them the baddest rebels of all. This point isn't lost on Ohlen.
"I'd like nothing more than to drop everything and tour the country in a van," he says. "But I wouldn't want to sleep in that van in subzero weather. I'm all for the rock-and-roll lifestyle--but with certain requirements. I mean, I don't think any of us are willing to move into a scummy house together just so that we can be this cool rock-and-roll band."
Hop'd, with El Espectro. 10 p.m. Friday, February 25, Seven South, 7 South Broadway, $5, 744-0513.