Chris Dellinger has seen the future, and he's pretty sure it involves big things for his band, Blister 66: record contracts, sold-out shows, huge tour buses stuffed with video games and attractive female fans. In the late '90s, when Blister was the region's reigning rap-metal hybrid, in lockstep with Limp-centric acts then dominating radio and MTV, that future seemed so close that the band and its fans were just waiting for the majors to wise up and come waving deals and huge recording advances. It wouldn't be long, everyone said, before the boys were wearing baseball caps and slapping high fives in the Warped Tour hospitality suite.
But everyone's still waiting.
"Yeah, it's pretty funny, actually. We're supposed to have been this break-out hard-rock band from Denver for about four or five years now," Dellinger says, laughing. "The thing is, though, when everyone got all excited and started saying that, we had no idea what we were doing yet. It's only been in the past year and a half that we've had some serious management and some clue as to how to go about it. Now we will really be ready when it happens."
And it will happen -- Dellinger's certain of that. This time, he says, the band has a strategy that will stick. In 2001, Blister recorded Middle Amerikan Tragedy, an album Dellinger considered solid enough to get the band signed. Eventually, he imagined, it would be released with a big, fat insignia stamped on the back. (Something in Sony, Epic, Virgin, perhaps?) When an American deal proved elusive, though, the band cut a deal with MTM Records, a German indie that will distribute the album in Europe and Japan this spring. And somewhere along the way, Blister hooked up with an agent in Hollywood who once successfully shopped records for Rage Against the Machine and the Deftones. He's pushing Blister now -- albeit a slightly kinder, gentler version.
"We're writing stuff that's definitely more radio-friendly. We lost the rap vocals, and it's a lot more of me singing," Dellinger says. "It's still good, hard rock, but it's more melodic, more catchy. There's been an evolution in the band. We've become better songwriters, and I'm a better singer now. Plus, I'm just a little less angry than I used to be."
Dellinger is not the only rock-and-roll frontman to undergo a personality change over the past year, of course. Blister's stylistic shift lines up with larger trends in the music industry, where the focus has moved from the macho rap-metal muzak of Freddy Durst and his pie-loving gang to the more melodic, emoti-core of Staind and that ilk. This shape-shifting fuels the ire of Blister critics, who say the band will do almost anything to land a record deal, musical integrity and consistency be damned. But Dellinger has never been too worried about the opinions of eggheaded music snobs: "There are a lot of people who love us. Our fans love us. But sometimes we'll come across someone or read something where somebody's like, 'This band just flat-out sucks.' I really don't care about that at all, because I like what I'm doing."
And, besides, if someone were to charge that Blister is motivated by a desire to cash in, he wouldn't be too far off.
"We'd like to make a living -- that's pretty much what it comes down to," Dellinger admits. "You're not really supposed to admit that you'd like to make a living, but we do. People talk about the concept of selling out. We haven't sold out, but we've definitely learned to make some compromises to make money. It's pretty simple. We met with a lot of people from the record labels who would show us the numbers. They'd tell us what we needed to do and change to get the big deal. And that's part of our growth, I think."
Although he wouldn't blame anyone for thinking of Blister as the band that cried wolf, perpetually on the brink of making it big, Dellinger is still confident that fans will stick around through this growth spurt. But just in case some supporters have grown tired of waiting, Blister has currently embarked on a campaign to revitalize its live show and reclaim its audience. For the past couple of years, the band has been one of the few in Denver capable of selling out larger venues like the Ogden Theatre; last weekend, it headlined at Sportsfield Roxxx in Aurora, a much smaller venue favored by greener bands in the heavy-metal realm.
"I'm sure that we have lost some people along the way," Dellinger says. "Crowds come and go. People change, grow up, move on to other things. But I'm pretty sure that we have lost some people who just kind of got sick of us always saying we were about to do something. And some people kind of get burned out and fall away, but then they get excited when something good happens, and we see them again. I think our core fans -- and there are a lot of them -- are still completely on our side."
And so, he hopes, is luck.
Ozzy Osbourne's success on MTV has done much to bolster family values, but it's done a massive disservice to scores of young -- and not so young -- men who grew up smoking pot, listening to Black Sabbath and communing with the dark side. How can anyone continue to regard the elder Osbourne as an agent of the devil once he's seen him shuffle about in a bathrobe and coo at lap dogs?
Now that the Sabbath legacy has suffered irreparable damage, it might as well be completely mangled. That seems to be the aim of the Black Smiths, a Denver band that claims members of the Agency and Derailed and plays songs by the Smiths as channeled through Sabbath -- an unholy union if there ever was one. Catch the combo at the Larimer Lounge on Saturday, February 22.
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