The first album I got was Punk in Drublic," recalls Dead Ringer guitarist and vocalist Joel Rossi of his introduction to punk rock. "It changed my life. I think it changed everyone's life as far as punk rock goes. Honestly, before that, I was listening to Stone Temple Pilots and watching MTV's Headbanger's Ball and Nirvana. Then, all of a sudden, this clean, fast, hard, talented-sounding punk rock came out of nowhere."
Rossi, who grew up in the '90s in Lakewood, is like a lot of kids his age who were drawn to the rebellious, energetic music championed by record labels such as Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords. While many today might dismiss the music of that era as mere pop punk, the spirited wave of melodic noise — which wasn't completely part of the mainstream yet — spoke to him.
"I couldn't put down the music at all," says Rossi. "I bought Good Riddance's For God and Country on tape at Pirate Records. I would just flip sides. I remember being a kid and just getting up at night and listening to that same album over and over again. For God and Country — that was like the best fucking album in the world for me at the time, maybe."
Rossi and current Dead Ringer drummer Paulie Newblom got involved in the local punk scene around the same time. When the two met years later, they realized that they had been to many of the same shows and shared a love of the music, which solidified the bond they share as musicians to this day. Newblom had even seen the band Rossi played in before Dead Ringer. From the late '90s into the first few years of the next decade, Rossi played guitar in Step Short, an outfit previously known as Petrol Apathy. "I wanted to play edgier and harder music, and I thought that band was going in a more mainstream direction," recalls Rossi about his reasons for leaving. "I didn't have a lot of creative input in the band."
Rossi wanted to try playing with some people he didn't already know to see how things might go, and this time he wanted to front the band. Through a mutual friend, he met Joe Loop, and the pair started playing together as just two guitarists jamming. Loop had recently moved to Denver from Atlanta, and he, too, had been inspired by the spirit of '90s punk. "Pennywise was the first for me," says Loop of his initiation into the scene. "Before that, it was Metallica, Megadeth and whatever. 'Bro Hymn' was the first punk song I ever listened to. I liked hard and heavy guitars and stuff, but punk rock could be catchy and still be hard and heavy."
The two forged an unlikely but fruitful musical and creative friendship that has served as the band's foundation from the start. "I think we're both two different-styled guitar players," Rossi notes. "For as much time as we had without drums and bass, we learned how to make those two styles mesh. He comes up with the riffs, and I structure it. I piss him off for about an hour until we can agree on something. Joe plays solid chords, and he can do it a million ways, really technically. I'm all over the fretboard, and I'll play one string when I need to."
A year after forming, Dead Ringer put out its debut album, 2005's politically charged Let Freedom Ring. "[The title track] was one of the first songs we wrote, and we didn't have lyrics for forever," Rossi reveals. "It was written around the time George W. Bush was getting re-elected; Let Freedom Ring was a sarcastic title. It plays off the idea that people turn a blind eye. It says, 'Let us bleed in black and white and see in red.' It was against war and violence and what was going on when Bush was re-elected. 'Turn up the volume on the terror threat machine' is another one of the lyrics. It was ridiculous to me to say, 'Oh, we're at a terror alert of orange now,' just so you could put the fear of God into people. I still write a little bit of political stuff, but not as much as I did then."
The act had a solid year, striking a chord with people at a time when it wasn't politically correct to criticize the Bush administration and doing so could get you dubbed un-American. After that first wave of enthusiasm, though, the group met with some setbacks. The lineup changed twice, which meant Rossi and Loop had to bring new members up to speed. And yet the band managed to continue to play out regularly, with brief hiatuses in between, because of the encouragement of its peers.
"Our community of musicians is awesome because we really drive each other," Rossi declares. "Even when we weren't doing anything for two years, we had people like Luke Schmaltz yelling at us to get the band back together. We went on a year hiatus to get new members and work on our music. It's just nice to have people that drive you, and it's nice to be part of a scene of musicians who drive each other. We're all just a bunch of regular guys. We're not trying to take over the airwaves. We need this music to get through our week."
With the addition of Newblom on drums in 2011 and the return of bassist Anthony Sunderland on bass, Dead Ringer has taken on a new life, finally delving into some material that has been waiting seven years to be released on a new album, Forward to Nothing. "A lot of the songs are about girls — I'm not gonna lie," jokes Rossi. "But the title is about coming to an end and having nothing in front of you but whatever is ahead of you. No looking back, just moving forward."
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Although you can definitely hear that sense of focus and determination on the new record, it also doesn't lack for the spirit that attracted the bandmembers to punk rock in the first place. "When you're at a show, it's not a good band unless you can sing along with your fist in the air to one song," opines Rossi. "At our shows, most people get on the stage at the end of the night, and we're all in the band, you know? 'Coming Home' is a definite sing-along song. It's about if you were sick of this place and left, you can always come back."
In spite of the lineup changes and taking time off along the way, the guys in Dead Ringer have not succumbed to the temptation to rename the band or rebrand the project.
"We just have this mentality that there's a lot of great bands in this town that break up and go to another great band, then break up again and go to yet another great band," Rossi explains. "I think that if you have your name and you really want to get respect in town, and you really want to have a following, you should keep that name.
"You can be in five great bands, or in one great band and make it work for years," he concludes. "I'm not putting down the bands that have done that. But for me, I didn't see any point in stopping."