Things just aren't always what they seem.
Take, for instance, Andy Tanner, lead singer and guitarist of Laymen Terms. He's a tall guy, spindly, with a fringe of greasy hair hanging over his forehead. Draped in a T-shirt and jeans, he hunches his shoulders and mumbles a little, humble and abashed. There are a lot of things he looks like: the kid who took your sister to the prom, a small-town gas station attendant, the neighborhood skate rat all grown up. But you wouldn't particularly mistake him for a member of one of the most successful bands to ever come out of Colorado Springs. Or, say, an armed robber.
"We had just finished playing a show in Laramie at this weird video-game place," Tanner recounts. "We had loaded our equipment, and I was sitting outside smoking a cigarette. All of a sudden this cop came up and jumped on me and said, 'You're under arrest for robbing a convenience store.' I was like, 'What the fuck? I was just playing music.'"
"Just playing music" is an understatement. Over the past six years, Laymen Terms -- currently made up of Tanner, drummer Jameson Becker, guitarist Seth Thompson and bassist Justin Blair -- has toured all over America, put out three discs on two of the biggest punk labels in Colorado and built a sizable following along the Front Range, including a recent headlining show in its home town that drew more than 700 fans. A four-track EP titled 3 Weeks In is due out this week on Suburban Home Records, and it's a jump to hyperspace for the band, a plunge into new depths of songwriting, emotion and ambition. Still, the pop-punk image Tanner and company have been framed with is, at this point, a case of mistaken identity -- one they wish would finally get cleared up.
The band came together when Tanner, Becker and former members Chris Sutherland and Devon Bryant began playing shows around the Springs area in 1998. The group's two CDs with that lineup -- 2001's An Introduction and 2002's Since Last December -- were released on prominent Boulder indie imprint Soda Jerk Records. The songs were, in a nutshell, pop punk. But even early on, the band was germinating fresh sounds and ideas. "Cutting Onions in Am," the second track on Introduction, strained classic-rock chord patterns through a mesh of hardcore riffing, sounding somehow like Hot Water Music boiling in Oasis. "Falling Down in a Basement" could have been the national anthem for a small country full of very depressed people. And on "17," the centerpiece of December, Tanner pleads with lumps of bitterness stuck in his throat, "I've been dreaming of this since I was 17/Somebody please let's unite this scene/You just bitch, bitch, bitch about everything."
"For a while I wrote about how the Colorado Springs scene sucked so bad, just talking a lot of shit about people being assholes and arrogant," says Tanner, laughing. "And then about relationships, of course. A little bit of everything, I guess."
"I think Colorado Springs is even more drastic than other places," adds Thompson. "Man, when we were in the scene when we were fifteen or sixteen, if you weren't the crustiest punk-rock band throwing beer bottles at the audience, you'd get booed off the stage."
"We were constantly worried about if we would fit with all these other bands we were playing with. I still am, to this day," Tanner confesses. "We always think the kids are going to be way too hip for us or way too punk rock for us. A year ago we had a show with Bright Eyes, and the next night we played with MxPx. We were like, 'How the hell are we supposed to play two nights in a row with two bands that are such insane opposites? At practice, we started thinking, 'Maybe we should play this one song that's more pop-punk for the pop-punk crowd.' Then we just said 'Fuck it.' If these kids like us, they like us. If they don't, they don't. But usually it works out that the kids take it in and understand it."
3 Weeks In, however, might be a test of just how understanding Laymen Terms' fans can be. With most cuts clocking in at over six minutes each, the EP quixotically tries to tweak the tried-and-true pop-punk formula using the experimental ethos of Radiohead. As uppity as it sounds, it nearly succeeds. The title track is a sprawling construction of shifting textures and pensive melody that sounds less like something Jawbreaker would have tossed out and more like a compound of Cursive's heart-gashing algebra and Cave In's newfound prog-pop sheen. Also included is an acoustic version of "Tired Minds," from December, that resembles, for better or worse, Journey gone emo. The execution is spread a little too thin in spots across the disc, but only barely. As a first step in a new direction, 3 Weeks In is an uncontested triumph.
"I think the kids will adjust to it," says Tanner of his outfit's reinvention. "They get used to hearing the same shit over and over again, and they get stuck. But our new stuff still has the catchiness to it. I think it might even help them get into different types of music. That's my biggest goal with music, to expose people to something different. And even though Colorado Springs is, like, the Christian capital of the world, things are really opening up there; it's getting really diverse."
"It's really easy to hate your home town," notes Blair. "I don't know if it's a maturity thing or what's happened, but I finally have a lot of pride in the scene in Colorado Springs."
"I think our fans are growing up with us," Thompson says. "Their interests are changing with ours."
And yet, almost as a concession -- or perhaps a eulogy -- to Laymen Terms' old sound, the last song on 3 Weeks is an amped-up echo of the outfit's early uproar. Dubbed "Perfect World," it's one of the toughest things the band had ever committed to disc, an almost metallic juggernaut replete with full-on rock leads and a chorus that could level skylines. In contrast, the record is rounded out by a somber reading of the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" that, while overreaching a tad, is lush with shades of piano and violin.
"I guess the pop songs are from when we're drunk as fuck and we want to have fun and break stuff," Tanner muses, "and the dark songs are from when we haven't jacked off for a week."
Picking the Beatles to cover, however, was not just an act of inspirational masturbation. Tanner and Jameson are rabid Beatles buffs and recently converted Thompson and Blair to the Fab Four faith. But regardless of their reverence toward the kings of pop, Tanner and crew manage to put their own spin on the epic George Harrison-penned oldie -- especially considering that it takes their keyboard-heavy rendition a full two minutes of melancholy plunking before the guitar even comes in.
"It's more like 'While My Piano Gently Weeps,'" jokes Tanner. "I think that's what we want when we cover songs; we want to it to sound nothing like the original. It's an amazing song already, but if you're going to do a cover, you'd better at least try to make it fucking better."
"Or at least do it justice," says Blair. "I was scared to do that song."
When pressed to name his favorite Beatle, Tanner looks like a pontiff who was just asked which he loves more -- the Father, the Son or the Holy Ghost. "I like them all," he answers after half a minute of deep reflection. "Well, except maybe for Ringo. He's just a lucky fucking bastard."
Ringo's not the only one. As Blair is quick to acknowledge, he feels pretty lucky himself -- especially seeing as how he regularly appears on stage opening for huge acts like Unwritten Law and Sum 41. "I always wanted to be in a band, but it never seemed very feasible when I was younger," says the bassist, a longtime fan of Laymen Terms who dropped his life in Scottsdale, Arizona, and returned to Colorado the second he found out the group had a vacancy two years ago. "I always thought it was kind of a long shot to be in a band that gets to play in front of a thousand people. I never, ever thought that would happen. We're at the lower level of what we want to be doing right now, but it still feels like it's a huge accomplishment."
Thompson, though, expresses an even deeper gratitude toward the group. "I didn't have any friends when I was younger," he says," so I just played guitar all the time. I was in my first band when I was fifteen. We were terrible, but for me, it was such an outlet. I'm not an angry teen anymore, but I used to be. I was pissed, and I wanted to get into trouble. Music definitely drained off a lot of that. I did a lot of other stuff, like skateboarding, but music was the thing that really did it. Playing music is more of an escape than any kind of drug could ever be. Seriously, if I hadn't played music, I would have been in jail."
Speaking of jails and escapes, exactly how did Tanner beat that robbery rap in Laramie and avoid getting punked out in some maximum-security Wyoming Oz? According to him, his Kafkaesque run-in with the deputies of blind justice wound up being -- just like the pop-punk pigeonhole his band is constantly trying to dodge -- a matter of mere misperception.
"So the cop put me in handcuffs and drove me down to the convenience store that got robbed," Tanner says with a smirk. "The guy who worked there had to convince him I wasn't the robber. I didn't know what the hell was going on the whole time; when you're on tour, you're already delirious as fuck. I was like, 'I'm going to jail? Oh, well -- it's a place to sleep.'"
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