When in lovely downtown Boulder, Colorado, it is not at all unusual to see a pair of young men banging on drums and making music inside some sort of large vehicle, typically a van. It is also not unusual for said van to appear as if it doubles as a home to the aforementioned drum-bangers/music-makers. And the observer should not be surprised to discover the presence of a dog, or to witness large plumes of smoke ascending from within the vehicle's cramped core.
It is, however, somewhat unusual if that music is being made with a full drum set (not the leather bound, hand-held variety favored by many van dwellers), an electric bass and a five-string guitar; it's stranger still if the sounds are then amplified via a makeshift PA system that's sucking power from a large, portable generator. If the smoke you smell originates not in a little green bowl but in a smoke machine, or if the vehicle is stationed in or around places other than parks, campsites, shops or bars with names like "Jack Straw's," proceed cautiously. For you are most likely in the presence of Friends Forever, a Denver-based duo that mainly confines its live appearances to the interior of its van/home. In the two years of the band's life, the members (known only as guitarist/bassist/sampler-man Josh and drummer Nate) have committed more drive-bys than the staff of Death Row Records -- assaulting the innocent with their often uninvited noise.
The Friends -- who got together after the breakup of the Secret Girls, a four-piece they formed after meeting in a California high school at age fifteen -- have terrorized fans of Hovercraft, the Boredoms and other indie must-see acts that frequent the Fox and Bluebird theaters, as well as the oblivious masses who shop at good, old-fashioned American institutions like megastores and toy shops. In rare instances, the bandmembers have lured nubile young women into their automechanical lair and enticed them to disrobe.
"We're fortunate that we can pick up on groupies really easily. We try to have as many naked ladies around as possible," says Josh. "I think it just goes along with the whole spirit of the band. I mean, how many bands can say they've played in front of a Kmart, with a big sign that says KILL!' on it?"
A pondersome question, indeed. (Maybe NPR has the stats.)
Friends Forever currently resides in the same mysterious musical realm as its sister act, Rainbow Sugar, and the other curio artists who have recently been observed smashing computer screens and manning kissing booths at the Wonderground warehouse at the corner of Speer and Zuni. Part-time Southern Californians, Josh and Nate are guarded about the strange force that drives their work. Is it a Ford or a Chevy? "Yes," they answer in unison. And do they obtain permission from venues before rolling up to a nightclub and conducting their own concert for the benefit of the people on the sidewalk? "We don't have a problem going over a venue's head, and I don't think there are many venues that would argue with that." As for the music they make, Josh and Nate are equally evasive, saying only that they enjoy making "wacky weird stuff" and are not at all opposed to playing any ol' style. "Sometimes, we'll do some teen pop," Josh says slyly.
Wacky, weird stuff is most certainly on the bill -- and the street -- when Friends Forever "opens" the show for the Melvins and Gat Hustle at the Fox Theatre on Thursday, June 8, a gig they swear is Melvins-approved. The Friends first established a minor palship with King Buzzo and the rest of the crew in California in 1989; later this month, they plan to hop on the band's tour route for impromptu performances along the way. Before they take their act -- and their home -- on the road, though, the band will reunite with the other former Secret Girls (Jen Keyser and Ben Brunton) for the first time in five years, for a show on Friday, June 16, at Casa Bonita.
Of course, no one seems to have told this to the people at Casa Bonita. A conversation Backwash had with a woman who answered the Casa phone went something like this:
"Hi, do you ever have live music there?"
"Yes, every night, absolutely. We have Mariachis."
"Do you ever have anything other than Mariachis?"
"Oh, no. Never."
Ah, Backwash is again reminded of Henry Adams's sage words: "Friends are born, not made." That might explain it.
Kurt Ottoway of the Tarmints is getting ready to open his new home to the public for a series of events that sound more than a little bit like the pre-teen slumber parties we all attended in our winsome youths, minus perhaps the sleeping bags and the hand-in-warm-water trick. (Or perhaps not.) Homemade cookies, ice cream, coffee (I think we all know a few kids who drank it), scary movies and, of course, popcorn are among the treats that await those savvy enough to score an invitation or wander into the Pinebox Construction Company, Ottaway's newest warehouse space, located at 3039 Walnut Street.
"We want it to be like going over to your cousin's house for a picnic," says Ottaway. "Like, if everyone came over to your living room and there's this excellent sound system and really good music there."
Ottaway, who has been making music in Denver since the mid-'80s, can claim an almost familial knowledge of the city's scene; he might be just the guy, then, to introduce a new alternative music space to those who lament the same-ol', same-ol' qualities of the local bar-and-venue scene. As the frontman of the long-gone (and, Ottaway seems to wish, long-forgotten) Twice Wilted, Ottaway operated three warehouse spaces that provided a physical home for the city's underground punk and rock-and-roll scene; the most recent space, at Eighth and Santa Fe, lasted for more than five years, unusual longevity for such an endeavor.
Today, Ottaway and his pals (including fellow Tarmint Todd Ayers) run the Denver Coffee Achievers label, an imprint that has issued releases from acts like Worm Trouble, Boulder singer/songwriter Diane French, the Christines, John Vecchiarelli and the Tarmints, among others. The Achievers' roster reflects the kind of eclecticism Ottaway and Ayers hope to bring to Pinebox once things really get under way in July. In addition to displaying work by local artists (which will eventually be hung on the warehouse walls, just above the thrift-store furniture Ottaway and pals are collecting) and showing films (mostly horror) between sets from local bands, Ottaway hopes to book shows from regional and national touring bands, and to host Friday-night events about twice a month. In an effort to keep things small and pretense-free, notice of shows will greet the masses via invitation and word of mouth, though Ottaway says all open-minded people are welcome. So far, Pinebox has hosted only a couple of shows; the Tarmints' record-release party in early spring served as the warehouse's inaugural event. The NoDo NoFi Festival on Saturday, June 17, marks the warehouse's official coming out, with a lineup that includes the Tarmints, the Down-N-Outs, the Christines, Bedraggled and -- tentatively -- Louisiana's Frig-A-Gogo.
"I have recently been re-inspired by a videotape I saw about the K Records scene in Olympia, Washington, and of course, the Fugazi-DIY thing from D.C.," says Ottaway. "I've been thinking along these lines for a long time, and the thought is like, Well, we'll make our space, and let the rest of the world hang in the balance.' I think a lot of people are really tired of playing the corporate game, the venue game. We make a space for the artists that is completely their own. They don't have to worry about what beer lights are on, or what the soundman is going to do. Everything is completely under the control of the artists.
"If you plan it right, it can create a much more explosive vibe than a club," Ottaway adds. "It can be a place where people can stand on real earth and focus on listening to the music, instead of worry about getting bounced or knifed at the door."
Get thee underground.