Boldtype's DIY aesthetic comes with an emotional history
Playing punk is cathartic for the men of Boldtype.
I remember the first time seeing Boldtype," recalls drummer Manny Lopez. "That was when I was in Gina Go Faster. I was dating a girl at the time who remarked, 'Wow, all their songs — everybody knows the words, and everybody seems to be singing along.' I said, 'You're right.'
"As much as I liked Gina Go Faster," he goes on, "it was more of that gutter punk, like Scared of Chaka. It was good, and you could feel the raw emotion, but it didn't have the words or lyrics, where people are singing along, and it didn't have that anthemic quality to it. I remember seeing these guys and thinking, 'Wow, every single song is catchy.'"
That catchiness, which the members of Boldtype have honed over the course of five albums, has propelled the band forward for the past decade. Boldtype came out of a very active and rich punk scene in Denver in the late '90s, a scene that included Gina Go Faster. Lopez was a member of Gina for five years before joining Boldtype; he parted ways with the former just before the band's final tour, prior to the untimely death of its frontman and guitarist, Mike Freeman, who died of cancer in September 2009.
Lopez and his bandmates in Boldtype were all friends with Freeman, and they're still involved with Mikesupport.com, the cancer-awareness organization that bears the late frontman's name. "It was a sad time," says Lopez of dealing with his friend's death. "Mike was really close with all of us. I think if it weren't for Mike Freeman, there would probably be no Boldtype. I think a lot of other bands in the scene would say that."
The punk era in which Boldtype emerged also produced such local acts as Pinhead Circus, Electric Summer and the Gamits. Coming full circle, Boldtype's latest album, Iku-Turso, was recorded by Gamits frontman Chris Fogal, at his Black in Bluhm studio. As they've done with previous albums, the members of Boldtype are handling all aspects of the release themselves.
"We do everything DIY," says singer Mike Waterhouse. "We kind of pride ourselves on doing everything ourselves — which gets us into a mess a lot of the time, because you get overwhelmed. We're not rich. We all work for our money. We still pay rent. We pay for our records. We pay for our merch. We don't make money, except maybe on the road. We make enough to get to the next place. Other than that, it's all about attitude and doing it yourself."
It's also about tenacity and determination, as the guys saw firsthand from being around Guttermouth, a venerable punk band they accompanied on the road twice in the past two years, for two separate month-and-a-half-long jaunts. They took a lot away from those tours — "a million things," notes founding guitarist Jeff Dew. "More important, it was [refreshing] seeing this old-school punk band that's been around for twenty-plus years, and they're just as pissed as we are because they don't have clean socks."
"They really taught us how to be out there and how to book a tour and make money and get guarantees and still have a passion for it after all these years," Lopez points out. "They haven't necessarily put out a new record recently, but they still have the same fire and passion for it. We've been a band for ten years. They've been together more than twice as long."
As much as they learned from Guttermouth, the guys have also drawn inspiration from other Denver bands they came up with. For his part, Lopez says, he admired acts like the LaDonnas and the Volts: "I was a huge fan of the LaDonnas, because they played hard but it was still melodic. The Volts had such a crazy live show, and even though Mike has never seen the Volts, I think this band reminds me of the Volts, because on stage it was just crazy, and it was genuine; it's never scripted. That's what punk should be. It's just all about the raw emotion, and that's kind of why I liked a lot of those earlier bands. That really transferred over to Boldtype."
Indeed — and it's that sense of authenticity that keeps the members of Boldtype going. "Everybody has those inner demons or that thing that keeps them moving forward, whether it's dealing with your job or dealing with life," says Lopez. "Us being able to play and get that out, and still getting along with each other and still being as good of friends as we've been, it genuinely comes out in the music. It's not just making songs or just playing shows or being up there trying to play rock star. It really is cathartic getting up there and playing. And to really think you're doing more in life than just working or just dealing with your life — it's what keeps me doing it."
"Every single thing in my life right now keeps me at it," adds Dew.
"I'd say for any musician that's been doing it this long, it's a huge commitment to continue to write, to continue to get better," says guitarist Chris Tafoya. "There are times, especially being in a band and on the road with these guys, it almost kills you to keep doing it. But on the other hand, if you weren't doing it, it would literally kill you."
"I broke up with a girl that I was going to marry mainly for the fact that she said, 'Quit playing music and you can be with me, or not,'" says Dew, noting the sacrifices involved in being in the band. "Obviously, there were many more things involved, but that's what it really came down to for me."
Iku-Turso represents a new chapter for the long-running band. In a way, it's also a symbol of the central struggle that the members of the band face and overcome every day. "It's the eternal sea monster of life," explains Waterhouse of the album's title. "It's a creature with several arms from the deep. Each arm is a different emotion, and it's just wrecking shit. That's what humankind has to deal with every day — a sea monster wreaking havoc on our lives. You deal with that every day. That's what comes across in the music."
That's a strong sentiment, the kind fit for a pullquote — and it's completely fitting for an act called Boldtype. "I wasn't around when the band made its name," says Tafoya, "but I always thought that when you see something in bold type, it's louder than the rest of the printed words, and I thought that Boldtype was very much about 'If you're gonna say it, mean it.'"
"It's the name of a song," reveals Dew, letting the air out of Tafoya's earnest theory. "I think it was the first song we wrote together as a whole band — the first song on the first record, which was about seventeen minutes long."
Boldtype has obviously come a long way since then, and part of its progression has come about as a result of Tafoya's having joined the band. "Chris's writing is a lot more angular," Lopez observes. "He can do different types of breakdowns and singing, and he attacks things in a different way" than his predecessor, evidently. "Josh Costello's writing was more like a '90s, straight-ahead thing," says Lopez. "We got to where we were kind of writing the same songs. With Chris, the songs don't sound like '90s punk songs."
"Everybody used to always say, 'All of your songs are about death or dying or something dark,'" says Lopez of the band's earlier material. "These songs are still a little bit along the same lines, but each emotion is more fleshed out, and it's not all dark."
"Some girl said, 'These guys have a lot of angst,'" Waterhouse concludes with a grin. "I don't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing."
Whatever the case, it's a safe bet that she was singing along.
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