Music That Registers
According to Devon Rodgers, drummer for Register, "I think you'd become more famous starting your own sporting team than you would by becoming a musician in Denver."
Fortunately, fame isn't the primary motivation for Rodgers and his married bandmates, guitarist/vocalist Dan Owens and Josie Fluri. Rather than mimic currently popular musical styles, the three write and play songs that are heavily influenced by Slint, Shellac, Bitch Magnet and other acts whose sound typified college radio in an era before programming dictators like the College Music Journal and the Gavin Report hijacked and commercialized the format.
For Owens, this adventurous approach is far more satisfying than the one utilized by an act he played with in Atlanta, where he and Fluri lived prior to moving to Colorado over a year ago. That combo was seemingly on the verge of signing a major-label deal on several occasions, but Owens ultimately grew tired of the artistic compromises he was required to make. "The music wasn't really true to the style that I wanted to do," he says. "We played really accessible music, but we got to the point where you kind of forget what music's about. You start seeing all the politics about music, the business of music. It really takes away from your enjoyment, and it becomes hard to focus in on why you're in a band in the first place."
Upon their arrival in Denver, Owens and Fluri decided to form a group that would keep such distractions to a minimum. During a search to find a drummer with a similar outlook, they turned to Spell's Garrett Shavlik, one of the area's most respected percussionists. Shavlik immediately thought of Rodgers, a multi-instrumentalist who also plays guitar with the punk combo Sizewell. "I finally got in touch with him and gave him a demo tape I made before moving here from Atlanta," Owens says, adding with a laugh, "I don't know if he even listened to it."
Nonetheless, Fluri confirms that "Devon was exactly what we were looking for." The three christened themselves Register in January and immediately began to churn out lengthy, experimental songs that did not cater to flavor-of-the-month marketing trends. As Owens tells it, the group tries to find "the holes where everyone plays" in order to create a "tension where you're kind of floating along in this nice, slow, low-end groove, and then all of a sudden, you burst out with power."
The contrasts in the music are "kind of like a roller-coaster ride," Fluri explains. "It makes the intense parts sound more intense."
A taste of these stylings can be found on Register's self-titled three-song demo, which was completed in May. The cassette opens up with "the curtain never lies," a surprisingly hook-laden tune that hits you like a hailstorm on a pleasant day. The piece is introduced by an almost prog-like bass riff before exploding in percussive, propulsive fashion. Thematically, "curtain" revolves around the reluctance of people to confront reality. "You can bullshit your way around anything in life to a certain extent, but sooner or later it comes down to the truth," Owens says. "It's kind of like you know you're looking at it and you know what's behind it. But you never want to pull back the curtain, because then you really have to face what you're going to have to face in life."
Another track, "the brand new king," embodies Register's interest in odd time signatures and quirky guitar techniques. "You can get a lot more somber sounds out of the guitar when you fuck with the tunings, and you find weird chords that are more abrasive," Owens comments. These methods underpin lyrics that explore the loss of individuality. Owens argues that in today's popular culture, "we all believe what everybody else believes without ever really making a decision for ourselves. If people say, 'Wow, Alanis Morissette,' it's so much easier for you to say she's great, too, even when you know for a fact that she's not."
As these remarks confirm, Owens's songs tend toward the morose. "We're not about waking up and smelling the roses and having everything shiny and bright," he says. "Music's not like that. I mean, why should I be singing, 'I just went out and got a new puppy today'?" A new number tentatively dubbed "josie's happy song," in honor of the peppy bass line Fluri wrote for it, suggests a change of pace, but Owens jokingly denies it; in a voice dripping with sarcasm, he swears that the ditty was inspired by "the wheelchair people in the 7-Eleven down on Arapahoe who just sit around waiting to die."
Such material may reach the public in the near future. The players have tentative plans to travel to Athens, Georgia, in November to record a single or an EP at a studio co-owned by Dave Barbee, the former bass player for the Bob Mould project Sugar. In the meantime, they are working to acclimate locals to their outside-the-mainstream sound.
"Most of the bands here are punkish, garage rock, glam rock or even college-rock Top 40," Fluri allows. "And I think a lot of our music, because of the dynamics and the off-beats, is sort of hard to bop your head to." Most Register compositions are so long, she says, that "when we go into a slow part, people think the song is over."
"Yeah, and they don't really know when to clap," Owens elaborates, chuckling. "You just kind of stop and look at everybody in the crowd and signal, like, that's it--it's time for the applause, if you feel like giving any."
Responses like these help the members of Register keep their music in perspective. In Owens's opinion, one of the worst things that can happen to an artist is if "you start feeling that you have to prove to other people how good you are. If you're good, you're good, and the only people you have to prove that to is everyone else in your band."
Bleed, Lower 48 and Register. 9:30 p.m. Friday, October 17, 15th Street Tavern, 623 15th Street, $4, 572-0822. Space Team Electra, with Register. 8 p.m. Saturday, October 18, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax, $4, 333-7749.
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