If it's true what they say about nice guys finishing last, the members of Denver-based Carolyn's Mother won't be crossing the finish line anytime soon. After musing that they might be too inoffensive to get noticed, vocalist Rhett Lee says, "We're gonna have to start burning some bridges or something--piss some people off."
That may be unnecessary: After all, the group (Lee, drummer Bill Thomason, guitarist Drew Hodgson and bassist/background vocalist Colin T. Burke) has built up an impressive local following without backstabbing, criticizing peers in the press or otherwise acting like rock stars. Why are they so determinedly pleasant? "We don't have any choice," posits Burke. "There's nothing fucking up our personalities."
"We're actually proud to be a drug-free band," Hodgson notes.
This last statement may be doubted by those who've seen the act live. Lee, in particular, does not behave like a man largely unfamiliar with narcotics. "He's a nut on stage--he's an idiot," Hodgson concedes. "He runs around stage like a moron. It's great."
Hodgson traveled a great distance to join the quartet. A Britisher by birth, he moved to the area to attend the Colorado Institute of Art. ("CIA--great school," Lee announces. "Be a musician or just look like one.") He eventually dropped out to devote himself fully to the combo. Lee came up with the name. "I was watching Hard Copy or A Current Affair or one of those shows," he remembers, "and they were interviewing this woman. It had her name, which I don't recall, but the caption underneath it said, `Carolyn's Mother.'"
After testing the musical waters in this area, the foursome moved first to Phoenix and later to England, where they promptly ran out of money. Thus, it was back to Denver, where they released Dream of What You Fear, a cassette EP that features "December's Children," a song Burke describes as the band's "hit for life."
The full-length CD Fridays and Other Small Tragedies followed in 1995, bringing with it a raft of comparisons. The song "Wonder" brings the Cure to mind--it's a dead ringer for "Just Like Heaven"--and other tunes bear resemblances to the work of Ocean Blue or Toad the Wet Sprocket. Fortunately, the lyrics are more adventurous than typical Adult Album Alternative fare. "Trample," which Lee says is "about how people talk shit," and the anti-gossip track "Don't Believe Everything You See on TV" are intriguing, while "Bleed" ("Cool water flows from your gray skin...If you bleed for me/Great is your reward") is downright morose. "Some people think that's a sacrilegious song, but it's really not," Lee allows. "I'm probably more religious than anyone else in the band. It's just kind of an observation of Jesus Christ being crucified. I'm not trying to make any big religious or political statement."
Fridays' cover collage (put together by Thomason, who also spins discs at Industry) symbolizes the musicians' creative approach. Nothing is off-limits--not even a testy phone message inserted between the ditties "Perfect" and "Go On." Lee explains the story behind the snippet.
"It was just a girl that I was seeing," he says. "She was seventeen--I was nineteen. It was Christmas night and she drove over. I didn't know she was supposed to be home at ten o'clock. Her mom called at about midnight." He claims not to remember his onetime paramour's last name, but her parent does receive a thank-you in the CD's liner notes.
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By now, this other mother's angry words have gotten a wide hearing; Carolyn's Mother has been peddling its disc locally and at tour stops throughout the region. "We're at the point now where we're going to get out of Denver to play weekend shows every month in, like, Phoenix or Chicago," Burke reveals. "But we're going to base ourselves out of here. Things just worked out so well in the last year for us. Within a year's time we went from opening for a band at Herman's Hideaway to selling out the place for our release party, and we played the American Musicfest at Winter Park"--where they endeared themselves to those who showed up for their early-morning gig by handing out bagels.
Like Burke, Hodgson is optimistic about the future. "The good thing about this band is, every single one of us has exactly the same dream and nothing can get in our way. If it means losing jobs or anything, we don't care."
"We do work a lot on the band and not on our real jobs," Lee confesses.
"We're lucky if we get one night a week where we get to go home and lie on the couch and watch TV," Hodgson goes on. "We're always meeting somebody or promoting ourselves or playing. That's the reason why we've got so far in a year--because we're willing to work that hard."
Carolyn's Mother, with Sweetwater Well and Electric Swingset. 9 p.m. Friday, January 5, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax, 830-2525.