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As you know, Boulder is a community that tends to attract unique personalities--like Heaven's Gate guru Marshall Applewhite, for one. But Applewhite's wide-eyed, flighty blather about UFOs and recycling your containers represents only one of the city's many facets. Eric Stenslo of Boulder-based Napalm Records America epitomizes another, far different trip off the beaten path. Because of Stenslo's one-man campaign, he's established the town in the minds of people all over the world as a burg on the cutting edge of modern death metal.

Stenslo was born in Sweden and spent his formative years in Switzerland, but because his parents met in Boulder, he often spent time in the municipality to Denver's north. He settled in Boulder six years ago and subsequently enrolled at the University of Colorado with an eye toward a bachelor's degree in computer science. (He dropped out earlier this month approximately a year short of this goal.) When not studying, he played drums for an area death-metal act called Skeleton of God, and while the band didn't last--it broke up a year and a half after forming--he credits it with contributing to the founding of Napalm Records America.

"The band put out a CD in 1994," Stenslo says, "and I called up the original Napalm, which is in Austria, to promote it. They ended up putting the CD out, and in working with them, I liked the way they dealt with it. So I proposed to them that I open an American branch of Napalm, and they thought it was a good idea."

The arrangement that Stenslo and Napalm Austria eventually worked out hardly follows industry standards. As Stenslo explains it, "We are two separate entities. I own Napalm Records America, and I'm not being financed by them. We just made an agreement that we would help each other out and distribute each other's stuff. So we consider ourselves sister companies rather than one being a mother label."

In the beginning, Stenslo imagined that he would simply re-press and rerelease the Napalm Austria product. But after taking this tack with a pair of platters created by Austrian bands (Incessant Desire for Palatable Flesh, by Visceral Evisceration, and VerwYstung/Invoke the Dark Age, by Abigor), he changed his mind. "There were a lot of troubles involved in that," he recalls. "It would take me a while to get all their materials, like the original artwork for the booklets and so on. It took six months to finally get it together, and by the time we were ready to go, a lot of people had already bought the albums as imports or through mail-order. So we started focusing on signing our own bands and releasing our own CDs."

Since then, Stenslo has issued three more CDs: Ominpotence, by Salt Lake City-based Wicked Innocence, Terror From Beyond Space, by Los Angeles's own Killing Spree, and Soul Freak, from Dever's Tribhanga. The last--produced by Time Capsule wizard Kirby Orrick for Global Underground Records, a Napalm Records America subsidiary--is the surprise of the bunch, thanks in part to Tribhanga's lineup, which is among the most diverse in this category. The resumes of drummer Kenny Ortiz and bassist Ken Grider include stints with Phantasmorgasm and D-Town Brown, while vocalist Jahnavi is, of all things, female. Her contributions and the fresh playing of her bandmates help tracks such as "Living Lies," "Stretch Marx" and "Loco Ocho" transcend the limitations of the genre.

Sales on these discs have not hit the strato-sphere; Stenslo's top seller, the Wicked Innocence long-player, has moved about 2,000 units. But Stenslo is optimistic that these numbers will rise now that he's no longer splitting his energies between Napalm and school. Within the next month or so, he's issuing Vicious Act of Machismo, a new effort by Modesto, California's Meat Shit, and he's also distributing products from Napalm Austria and merchandise created by various other indies.

Lining up decent distribution in the U.S. has been a struggle, but Stenslo is pleased with Napalm Austria's efforts to spread his releases throughout Europe, and he's just inked a deal with a company in Thailand: "They're going to license everything that we put out," he notes. He's also peddling his wares via mail order (he advertises in many death-metal mags, including Colorado Springs's Mosh Pit) and the Internet. E-mail Napalm Records America at NRA@ napalm.com; snail-mail the firm at P.O. Box 7905, Boulder 80306-7905. Napalm discs can also be found at Wax Trax and Recycle Records.

Although the idea of death metal in Boulder strikes some people as absurd, it doesn't faze Stenslo. Right now he's running Napalm Records America out of his home, but the venture has grown large enough to justify opening a separate office, which he hopes to do in the not-too-distant future. "It's hard to make a living off this," he concedes. "But I'm going to try."  

These are the discs of your lives.
While listening to the self-titled recording by Mrs. Larvae, a band fronted by former Peak DJ Sam Stock, I was immediately reminded of that monument to cinematic achievement, Airheads. After all, the only way the Peak would regularly program this sordid stuff would be if Stock took a hint from the morons in the aforementioned film and held the station's management hostage. Punk aficionados will likely be more receptive: Well-recorded affronts to humanity such as "Rojo Had an Agenda," "Grade A" and "Jaded Waitress" display the chops of bandmembers Stock, Joe Clark, Jason Smith, Tom Kennedy and Erik Oberhausen, whose various resumes include references to Soak, Kingpin, Bum Kon and Child Abuse. The package is filled with undiluted anger or a reasonable facsimile thereof, but it's also a good, rotten time that you'll never hear as part of a Peak music block featuring the Cranberries and the BoDeans. Thank God (Mrs. Larvae, 1422 Delgany, Denver 80202). Mood Express has been delivering its Latin stylings to Denverites for eighteen years now, but El Gigante Desperto is the act's first CD--and it's a likable one. Vocalist Ervin Lucero and percussionist Gary Sosias (also a member of Conjunto Colores) keep the Express on track, but it's the brass work that really stings: Mark Raphael's trumpet solo on "Mi Cumbia Caliente" is especially fine. The crossover attempts are the least successful here: "It's Magic," while extremely sincere, is pretty goopy, and "Dig a Little Deeper" is not nearly as distinct as the dramatic "Bailarina de Espana" and "Puno de Tierra," which has a lovely last-dance-of-the-evening feel. These tracks will almost certainly put you in the Mood (available in area record stores).

Groove Kitchen has undergone some changes in personnel over its lifetime, but it's stayed in touch with its original mission--to merge the acid-jazz vibe with R&B, soul, and hipness in general. On its new CD, That Much Closer to the Truth, the band swings hard and fast thanks to the efforts of new members such as keyboardist/clavinet player Geoff Cleveland and guest star Joe Bonner, who contributes piano to "Hyde Park" and "Tomorrow Is Already Here." Jill Decker's vocals remain an acquired taste that I've yet to acquire, but when she quiets down and the band locks in, the results are accessible without feeling dumbed-down (Groove Kitchen, 854 South Ogden, Denver 80209). The Garden Weasels are back with Lawn Job, a CD that pretty much goes where a lot of people have gone before; the punky ska that Rusty Shears and his implements churn out doesn't commit originality very frequently. The good news is that these guys have an entertaining sense of humor; even at those times when the singing is lousy, the beats are awkward and the hooks are dull, their aw-shucks attitude keeps the project fairly entertaining. Of special note: "Inclement Weather," featuring a guest spot by TV newsman Ernie Bjorkman, and the festive holiday ditty "Santa Likes to Garden" (available in area record stores).

Okay, so remaining Samples members Sean Kelly and Andy Sheldon need a new drummer (Feedback, March 27). Who do you think they'd turn to? Kenny James, of course. The ubiquitous James, who's pounded the skins for Lord of Word and the Disciples of Bass, Judge Roughneck, Chaos Theory and approximately 45,972 other local combos, was hired last week to fill the gap left by the departing Jeep MacNichol.

"Here's how it happened," James says. "Glenn Esparza, who's Sherri Jackson's bassist, was jamming with Sean, and Sean was like, 'We need a new drummer.' So Glenn called me at work and said, 'There's this gig that's open; it's with the Samples. Would you be interested?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, that would be great.' So I audition for them Wednesday night, and midway through the first song, Sean says, 'I don't know why we need to continue. You already passed the audition.' And I said, 'Give me a chance. I haven't messed up yet.'"

According to James, the Samples' keyboard slot previously filled by Al Laughlin remains open. Also unanswered is the question of when James will begin pounding alongside Kelly and Sheldon. The Samples will tour with their original players until mid-May, after which James expects that a new round of songwriting will begin. "Sean told me, 'We don't want it to seem like the end of an era followed by a lot of dead space,'" he reports. "He wants to keep going--to write some new music and move on." James admits that people have been caught off-guard by his decision to become a Sample, but he explains, "I've always had pop tendencies that I've never really let out before. So I guess now is the time."  

The indefatigable Dave Delacroix has come up with another concept he wants to share with you and yours: The Clone Club, which debuts at Franklin's on Friday, April 4, and is scheduled to return on a bi-weekly basis. "It's not going to be just another alternative showcase," he promises. "Every band will be totally different. There'll be ska and punk and folk and multicultural things, and it'll only cost a couple of bucks." The first bill includes Delacroix, New Country Boy, Annie Knight, Johnson, Satori, Electrolux's Mike Elkerton, and a special appearance by Teletunes's Heather Dalton.

The press-release-of-the-week prize goes to the Toasterheads, who have got a self-titled CD being released this week. They write, "What are four ophthalmologists and a Ph.D. bass player doing at the Bluebird Theater on Saturday, April 5? Hopefully not sucking."

From your mouth to Marshall Applewhite's ear. On Thursday, April 3, Red Yak stampedes at Cricket on the Hill; Turnsol takes cover at Herman's Hideaway; and Mean Uncle Mike throws a tantrum at the 15th Street Tavern. On Friday, April 4, Oregon's Richmond Fontaine visits the Lion's Lair; Front Range joins Pete & Joan Wernick for the first of two nights at Left Hand Grange in Niwot; Swine, the new name taken by the former members of Swoon, opens for Fatwater at CU-Boulder's Club 156; Five Iron Frenzy skanks at the Aztlan Theatre, with Value Pac and the Hippos; and the Adz (once the Adolescents) rock the Raven. On Saturday, April 5, the Damn Shambles knock back Tequila Mockingbird and 100 Grand at the Cricket; Jawbone offers music and poetry at the Bug Theatre, with Open Rangers and Jafrika; the Snatchers, the LaDonnas and Hell's Half Acre raise the roof at the Grimace Warehouse, 774 Santa Fe Drive (details can be had by calling 274-5432); Spite Boy is among the bands at yet another warehouse (the info number is 446-2865); and the first of two days of auditions is held for the 1997 CHUN Capitol Hill People's Fair at Sluggers, 2229 Blake Street (call 517-FAIR to learn more). On Sunday, April 6, Dexter Grove celebrates its new live CD at Boulder's Mountain Sun Brewery. On Monday, April 7, Kula Shaker searches for an oasis at the Bluebird. On Tuesday, April 8, Gladhand shakes the Mercury Cafe, and Kevin Dooley, whose new disc is called Everyday Dreams, goes solo at Stella's Coffee Haus. And on Wednesday, April 9, Liz Barnez and the Mudheads get dirty at the Mercury with Julie Hoest, and Rustic Overtones travel from Maine to Herman's. Hope it'll be worth the drive.

--Michael Roberts

Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@ westword.comMichael_Roberts@. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com


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