Norm Roberts, the only founding member still part of the Denver-based industrial band Ein Volk, has an admission to make. "People have basically told us we sucked," he says.
Indeed, Ein Volk--German for "one people"--has come in for more than its share of knocks, in large part because of its heavy reliance upon prerecorded backing tracks. So in an effort to squelch criticism that the band is nothing more than a collection of bloodless automatons, Roberts and his longtime collaborator, lead vocalist Eric Filonowich, have expanded the Ein Volk lineup to six members, including programmer Jack Brown, guitarist Joe Sego, bassist Ted Fall and percussionist Dave Porter. As Sego says, "Everything's changing now. Most of the bands along the lines of Front 242 or Front Line Assembly have had to reinvent themselves by going with guitars."
It wasn't always this way. There were no six-strings in sight five years ago when Ein Volk first started playing Bronski Beat and Shamen covers at clubs such as the now-defunct Garage. As Filonowich remembers, "One of our first shows was just me and Norm singing along to prerecorded stuff. Then it used to be a couple guys standing behind a keyboard." He hesitates before amending, "Well, we wouldn't just stand there. We'd always jump around."
As time passed, the duo was augmented by the addition of guitarist Takuya Minagwa, subsequently replaced by Sego, a punk-rock junkie who plays drums with another local outfit, Whack Shack. Sego also works as an engineer at Penguin Digital Recording; he joined the act after being impressed by the material Ein Volk was recording at the studio. His handiwork can be heard on the band's latest demo tape, which consists of five slick, click-track techno songs bolstered by judicious amounts of razor-sharp guitar. The biting "White Line," for instance, offsets paranoiac vocals with just the right amount of doomy-sounding synthesizer, while "One" emerges as a crunching, tyranny-of-the-beat workout.
Still, the band earned a reputation for presenting its music live in a manner that seemed prefabricated, uninspired or simply lazy. And because none of Ein Volk's often fierce and ferocious recordings have been made available to the public (the combo uses them as calling cards to record labels), listeners haven't been able to hear the group at its best. For proof, look no further than Brown, who, he says, "started out as a fan." He saw an Ein Volk video for the song "Break Your Soul" on KBDI-TV/Channel 12's Teletunes three years ago, but his underage status prohibited him from seeing the act's infrequent performances--and scouring local record stores for Ein Volk material did him no good, either. He finally got in touch with Roberts after seeing his name and phone number in a local music paper.
Area press has provided Ein Volk intermittent support, as have radio stations such as KTCL. But, Filonowich argues, "Denver is a really hard place for a band like this to make it. It's too cliquish, and we're not part of the music clique at all. Club owners don't want to take chances on bands like us, because they don't want to lose money. We'd like to develop a fan base here, but sometimes it seems like everyone here wants to be the next Joe Grunge."
"The Denver scene ignores us," Roberts agrees. "The big festival at DU last summer [Rocky Mountain Music Association's Rockfest] never called us. But we're still around--we've never left. Unfortunately, even people who like our music don't know that. But we're still at it. We can make it work here."
Roberts is equally positive about the decision to supplement Ein Volk with "real" instruments. "You'll hear the difference," he promises. "It's true that music like this is rarely improvisational--but now we're actually playing, instead of just hitting buttons and turning on the DAT machine."
"We've got a little bit more fire now," Filonowich concurs. "We are a lot more live-sounding. We've had setbacks, and I guess you can say we haven't really gotten anywhere, but we always get back on the horse and ride it. Now, when all six of us get together, there's a real chemistry. It's not just a couple of us with our machines."
Of course, there are still obstacles to overcome--including those spawned by misunderstandings about the band's name. "We are not fucking Nazis," Filonowich bristles. "There are stupid people who think we are, just because we have a German name."
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"We even got weird looks when we tried out for the People's Fair a couple years ago," Roberts points out. "It was the most embarrassing thing. The name has been taken the wrong way, which is just ridiculous. It's stupid to say we're Nazis--I'm Greek, and Eric is from Poland."
"We're all relatively normal guys who would like to have fun making music," Filonowich asserts. "I'd love to be up on stage in front of a real amount of people and have an album out that a record company has paid for. There's got to be someone out there who would listen to our music and take a chance on it."
"And to the people who thought we were knob-twiddling geeks a few years ago," Roberts adds, "I'd like to say, `Come see us now.'"
Ein Volk, with Whores, Pigs and Ponies, Khubla Khan and Serum 114. 9 p.m. Saturday, April 15, Aztlan Theatre, 974 Santa Fe Drive, $5, 573-0188.