This one's so secret, I don't even know where it's at," admits Gregg Dolan. Starting with 2006's Hold Your Hour and Have Another, he's put secret clues about the lyrics of Kissing Party's final release on each of its four actual albums, including the latest, Wasters Wall.
"I buried it in there, and I got it back and thought, 'Where the fuck is it?'" the guitarist/vocalist remembers. "But that's just a diversion from the real hidden clue on the album — which you're going to have to get a magnifying glass and do some DNA testing. I don't know where it's at. There is that line that's upside down, because I'm clever and no one will ever figure it out. I don't want to give it away. It would be like Pink Floyd saying, 'Yes, we synchronized Dark Side of the Moon to The Wizard of Oz.'"
But then, Kissing Party bassist Lee Evans has a theory that Sonic Youth's 1997 album A Thousand Leaves is synchronized with the animated Disney version of Alice in Wonderland. "Adam Baumeister asked Thurston Moore, when he ran into him one time, and Thurston acted like he didn't know what he was talking about," Evans admits. "I'm sure it's true, though. First of all, the album and the movie are the same exact length. At the beginning, Kim Gordon says, 'Oh, Alice, come back, he's only a kitten.' And there's a song called 'Heather Angel,' and Heather Angel is the name of the woman who does Alice's sister's voice in the movie. That's enough right there that it's not just me being a stupid teenager."
Dolan's comedic inscrutability and Evans's possibly LSD-inspired connections between music and movies seem completely at odds with the band's songwriting. Since 2005, when Dolan started Kissing Party for a debut show at the grand reopening of the Mutiny Now bookstore, the band has written some of the town's most tuneful twee pop songs. Still, there has always been something very earnest and pure about Dolan's songs that suggests his often sardonic sense of humor is in part a strategy for keeping others on their toes and in part a way to keep himself honest, by making the band a target of that humor.
The first incarnation of the band included Dolan, Corey Ryan (then and now of the experimental country band Sandusky) and Deirdre Sage. "I just wanted to have a backup girl singer — like Lemonheads and Juliana Hatfield," says Dolan, explaining why he recruited the then-inexperienced Sage. "I sensed something about her. She was obviously not a musician. There was something special about her I can't put into words. She'd never sung before. I thought she had that same kind of Juliana Hatfield-esque voice."
Before solidifying that lineup, Dolan had recorded a self-titled Kissing Party album that featured him and a drum machine. By the time the act recorded the followup, Hold Your Hour and Have Another (the title is from a collection of short stories by Irish writer Brendan Behan), Kissing Party also featured Shane Reid, who'd been with the experimental band They Will Use Your Bones for Tools. Hour established the band's evolving aesthetic, and "The Girl Who Warmed Your Way" would have been a college-radio hit had Kissing Party surfaced at the tail end of the C86 wave and played gigs with Field Mice and that ilk.
By the time the act released Rediscover Lovers in 2007, Dolan and Sage had brought on former Sandusky guitarist Joe Hansen, who had actually played with Kissing Party at the start but left to focus on his teaching career at Adams City High School. "A lot of my former students are coming to the CD-release show," Hansen says. "There are three guys who often come to our shows." Then Lee Evans signed on; he'd played in an early incarnation of the Navy Girls, an influential, experimental guitar band. After he was kicked out of that, he joined the infamous Assdroids, and for three years he and his bandmate, Aaron Snyder, were based in Germany, where the band's record label was located. But then Evans returned to Denver and Kissing Party in time to record its fourth album, 2009's The Hate Album.
"I'd been playing bass since I joined the band, and we played a couple of shows, and I kind of got ready for those with the old songs," recalls Evans. "Then it was, 'We're going into the studio in two nights, and here are the songs.' They're really simple bass lines, but it was a lot to take in. We'd be working on songs, and I didn't know which songs we were working on — it was that quick. I had these handwritten notes that were spread out all around me."
In 2010, lineup complete, Kissing Party was invited to play at the Athens Popfest — the best indication short of a hit record that an indie-pop band has arrived.
Kissing Party's latest offering, Wasters Wall, is named after a watering hole in Ohio, the state from which both Dolan and Hansen hail. The band's most coherent and concise work to date, it's also the first album on which each member made important contributions to the songwriting — though only Dolan put in the secret clues.
"You try to, in some way, do better than what you've already done," he says. "I really wanted this to be the best album that we could possibly make. I don't know if it's because I've heard it about a billion times.... After you hear it a hundred times, you become deaf to it."
"In five years," Evans adds, "I'll be able to tell you if it's a good album."