Julie Derby, bassist and lead singer for the melodic, hard-driving Denver band Love Sandwich, isn't your average alternative rocker.
Sure, when 24-year-old Derby is on stage at the Lion's Lair, only a few feet from boozy barflies and a convenient display of Alka-Seltzer packets, she seems every inch the punky belter; she's passionate and energetic enough to make up for those moments when her singing jumps off key. By day, however, she's no slacker stereotype, working for minimum wage at a used-record store and living on Ramen noodles. Instead Derby is seeking a Ph.D. in bioengineering--as a supplement to the master's in aerospace engineering she earned in 1991 from the University of Colorado at Boulder. And while she's currently focusing full-time on her studies, she just completed two years of employment at a pair of local Martin Marietta plants. For half the time she worked there, she was assigned to the Cassini project, helping engineer an electrical system for a satellite designed to orbit Saturn. In addition, she was involved in an undercover operation she's still forbidden to discuss in detail. "I designed missiles," she says. "That's all I can tell you about it. Otherwise, it's silence for life."
It's no wonder, then, that Derby's musical alter ego is so wildly expressive. Whether she's yowling about an incest survivor in "Sex Is Suicide" or dissecting a dark friendship in "Tell Tell Michelle," she is a major security risk. No secret is safe. Everything is fair game.
Derby joined several garage bands while attending Littleton's Columbine High School, but until Love Sandwich, her only experiences playing live were far afield from rock and roll. The daughter of a music teacher, as well as a keyboardist who began taking piano lessons at age four, she has performed her own classical compositions at recitals and friends' weddings. Still, she says that she always has been attracted to more aggressive styles of music, and formed Love Sandwich in order to give creative vent to other aspects of her personality. "I don't want it to seem like I'm a bored engineer playing in a band just to pass the time," she notes. "I found out that this is what I really want to do."
To that end, she responded to a newspaper advertisement placed last year by Dave Long, a thirty-year-old guitarist, computer operator, former member of early Eighties Boulder hardcore bands such as the Curves and Curtains, and the co-creator of the fanzine Colorado Music World. Long, who says he spent "three months driving around the country looking for a place to live and make music" before recently settling in Denver, sees the forces that brought him and Derby together in almost mystical terms. "I think certain people are destined to meet," he explains. "The combination of the two of us was great from the very beginning."
Such was not the case with the band's first two drummers. The first one was "completely sexist" and was asked to leave, Derby says. "And the second one is a good friend, but he is on certain chemicals that were prescribed to him, and they caused him to think he was performing perfectly even when he was completely off. Sometimes he would play a song so fast that we would call it a drum solo."
Derby and Long are far more satisfied with Lou Mars, their latest drummer. Mars, thirty, has played with groups specializing in a wide variety of genres for a decade and has a somewhat more professional attitude toward Love Sandwich's music than his fellow bandmates. He says that his drumming has made the group's songs "tastier," and adds, "One thing I really like about these guys is that they're not afraid to look nice."
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Talk like this suggests that the engagingly raw Love Sandwich sound is on the road to slickness, but Long rejects the notion. "I've always been a fan of really raw music," he says. "What Lou is doing is taking us to a higher level--the point where we've wanted to go all along."
The tightening-up of the band could not have come at a better time. Love Sandwich is finally getting the bookings it deserves (the group appears April 7 at Cricket on the Hill and April 10 at the Lion's Lair), and has recorded tracks for an N.O.A. Records sampler due this spring. A full-length CD is also in the planning stages and should be completed later this year, with a mini-tour to follow.
Accomplishing these goals without flunking out won't be easy for Derby, but if she has to choose between music and munitions, Long knows which one she'll pick. "The bottom line is, Julie doesn't really want to be a rocket scientist," he says. "She wants to play bass in a punk band.