Lion Sized's new album is all about coughing up your teeth
Ever been pelted in the face with anything before? Doesn't matter what it is — snow, water, spitballs — it smarts a little, doesn't it? So why would someone to allow himself to be blasted in the face with a paint cannon over and over and over and over again?
"I think it's significant that it's a pursuit of art," explains Lion Sized bassist Shane Trost. "It's an aesthetic thing, not toward product or volume, but toward quality and toward what makes us happy."
Ahem — what Trost is trying to say here is that "we didn't want to do a normal band photo," explains bandmate and drummer Rob "#3" Burleson. "We're very fortunate to have some very creative friends."
In this case, Burleson's referring to photographer Tod Kapke, who rigged up a series of PVC pipes filled with various colors of paint, sat the three musicians in a visqueen-covered room and unleashed a barrage of colorful chaos on the musicians' faces as a camera took pictures of a once serene and quiet setting gone completely awry.
The pictures — inspired by an idea frontman Josh Bergstrand had after seeing a series of photos of a strip mine — adequately convey the sucker-punching brand of punk rock the members of Lion Sized create. Though the three members are far from aggressive personalities, their music is explosive and dynamic. The theme of the outfit's new EP, Cough Up Your Teeth, pivots on the idea that no matter who you are, your life could easily transform from quiet and serene to — with the click of a camera — explosive and hectic, to the point where you might literally be forced to sell your teeth just to survive.
The members of Lion Sized are just normal people leading normal lives, and Cough Up Your Teeth is a cautionary tale of just how scary it can be when normal folks have their lives turned upside down. Bergstrand's about as normal as they come. The singer-guitarist grew up in Iowa and moved to Indiana and Kentucky before settling in Ohio, where he attended Ohio State University. It was there that he met Sonya Decman, a fellow musician. Although the pair played in separate outfits in college, they both, independently of one another, ended up in Colorado, where, after a chance meeting at the Bluebird, they formed the Symptoms.
The Symptoms wrote bitingly humorous songs about friendship, social commentary and, in one instance, another band's drummer. (The song "Yr Cool" was reportedly written about Tara, the drummer for the now-defunct Rabid Ragdolls.) The two suddenly found themselves gaining fans but losing drummers, going through two in a short period of time.
Burleson, who had just moved to Denver from Pittsburgh after a breakup with a girlfriend, attended a Symptoms show at the Climax Lounge one fateful evening. "I remember watching them and thinking, "Wow, these guys are playing an East Coast style of music," Burleson recalls. "It was very reminiscent of what I was used to from my time back east."
Burleson ended up connecting with Bergstrand and Decman around the time that the Symptoms and their second drummer parted ways. That's when he took over timekeeping duties and earned his nickname.
"It was our first practice with Rob," Bergstrand remembers, "and Sonya jokingly referred to him as #3. It was an offhanded remark, but it stuck."
The Symptoms eventually called it quits, and Decman later joined the Tarmints. Bergstrand and Burleson, meanwhile, still wanted to play together, but they wanted something more ballsy than their previous project. So in 2007, the duo recruited former Endpoint guitarist and d.biddle frontman Duncan Barlow to play bass, and Lion Sized was off and running.
Shortly thereafter, the new band released a self-titled EP that was steeped in Hot Snakes-inspired vocals, with driving tempos and an ominous feel that was conspicuously missing from the Symptoms. "I wanted to be in a band like the Sex Pistols that was straight from the gut," Bergstrand points out. "There's something really attractive about that, and with Lion Sized, that was something I really wanted to get at, just pouring it out."
Although the sound the group had arrived at was exactly what Bergstrand had always dreamed of, after the first EP the pace began to slow down rather drastically for the band. Lion Sized ended up taking a year-long break, during which time Bergstrand went to grad school and got married.
But just as things were starting to settle down for him and he was getting ready to play with Lion Sized again, Barlow decided to move to Florida. Luckily, Bergstrand and Burleson didn't have to wait long to find a replacement. On the night of Duncan's going-away party, Burleson was approached by Trost about the vacant position.
Trost, an accomplished bassist who first played stand-up bass in third grade and had stints with Woven Hand and Slim Cessna's Auto Club under his belt, was intrigued by the opening left by his longtime friend Barlow — even if Burleson didn't exactly know why.
"I thought he was half joking when he said he wanted to join our band," Burleson admits.
"It's cause he was kinda drunk," Bergstrand interjects.
"I'm usually kinda drunk," Trost sheepishly notes.
Despite his pedigree and experience, which the pair found rather intimidating, Trost was a fan of the band before he joined and says he derives a greater sense of accomplishment from playing with Lion Sized than any of his previous acts.
"I'm way happier playing this type of music with these two goofballs," he insists. "I feel at home with these two."
Although home was originally Buffalo, New York, for Trost, he spent many years playing in various bands around Chicago. He says Lion Sized takes him back to that time, specifically.
"This is the stuff I used to listen to back when I was living in Chicago, the Touch and Go Records era," he declares. "Josh and Rob are the only guys doing it in Denver, and they're doing it really well. The level of musicianship was something I had to work toward."
Trost's contribution is immediately apparent on Cough Up Your Teeth, as he takes the low rumble associated with most bass players and replaces it with a belligerent smack. It's the sound of a punch to the cheek, not like in the movies — which is mechanical and tame — but like in real life, where it's flat, punishing and capable of jarring teeth loose.
But it's not aggression that gives Teeth its name. To hear Bergstrand describe it, it's far more frightening.
"When the stock market started going down, people who had money invested started pulling out and investing in gold. Because of that, the price of gold started to go up," he points out. "People who had it started selling gold for cash. They started selling jewelry and, in some cases, their gold teeth. People were literally coughing up their teeth to save their houses."
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.