Sarah Rocereta, singer/guitarist of Stoli and the Beers, is far more pissed than she is wasted. It's Friday night at the Cherry Pit, and her band just tore through a neck-snapping blur of primal punk rock. But after the third song, bassist Tim Rosatti or drummer Kyle "Hal 9000" McConnellogue sputtered to a halt, and Rocereta grew visibly irate on stage trying to fix a technical difficulty for all of a minute and a half -- an eternity for the group, whose new disc, One Hell of a Hangover, throws up six cuts in under eleven minutes. The followup to the trio's debut full-length, In the Alley, the EP is as astringent and fizzy as a cocktail of, well, Stoli and beer. Distilling the numbskull essence of the Ramones, the Muffs and the Queers, Hangover likewise packs a not-so-hidden sensitivity. Buried under all the lip-curling snarl and power-chord buzz, there's an intelligence and melancholy at work that offsets the band's sheer, savage volume.
Regardless of how ear-splitting Stoli and the Beers' records are, you can always turn your stereo down. Live, though, there's no escape: Backed by a towering full stack of speakers, Rocereta's guitar alone is enough to crack concrete. At the Cherry Pit, members of the audience visibly wince as she slashes her pick across the strings at the start of the set. But after a few deafening seconds, it's no longer an issue: The kick of the music is felt in the solar plexus as much as it's heard. And at the outfit's upcoming CD-release show, Stoli's decibel-scarred fans will be treated to an altogether quieter storm.
"We're playing acoustic," McConnellogue reveals with a devious grin. "We're kind of going out on a limb, trying something different. Tim and Sarah will sit down and play all the songs from the new CD with acoustic guitars, and then I'll come up and join them. And then we fucking get down to business."
"It translates really well," Rosatti adds. "I've always thought that a good punk-rock song should be able to be played around a campfire. The simplicity of the songs should be there, where you can just pick up the guitar and play them. You shouldn't need the full-stack Marshall. The song should be able to carry itself."
As jarring as it might be to imagine feathery strums applied to Stoli and the Beers' coarse, pummeling music, Rocereta actually cut her teeth on acoustic. Growing up in Laramie, Wyoming, she made a discovery at age thirteen that set the tone for her raw yet indelibly catchy songcraft. "I found this old Gibson classical guitar in my grandparents' basement," she remembers. "It only had, like, four strings. All I could play was other people's three-chord punk songs; I used to make up my own words to Green Day songs. That's how I taught myself to write."
Eventually, Rocereta wound up in an emo-slanted act in Laramie called 800 Reasons. Through mutual friends, Rosatti wound up at one of the band's rehearsals -- and instantly knew he'd found a kindred spirit. "To be honest, I really don't remember the music they were playing," the bassist confesses. "But I remember it was freezing in that fucking place, and I was impressed with the intensity with which she approached her music, the passion."
Rosatti, who dabbled in show promotion at the time, had earlier met McConnellogue when the drummer passed along a CD of his project, Underexposed. The group disintegrated in 2002, around the same time Rocereta moved from Laramie to Boulder, closer to Rosatti's home in Mead. Rosatti was having his own problems with his band, One Shot Deal, so he gathered the new trio to see what might ignite.
"Getting together with people you've never played with before can be really sketchy," McConnellogue notes. "You put your whole self out there. But it was cool; Sarah's songs were so simple."
"I was writing all the music and most of the lyrics in 800 Reasons," Rocereta recalls, "but I wasn't singing very much. I was really shy about it. In fact, I didn't sing like I do now when we first started playing. I was so quiet. Tim was like, 'You need to project! You need to project!' The screaming came later."
Seeing Stoli and the Beers now, it's hard to imagine Rocereta's reticence. Inspired by the corrosive howls of the legendary East Bay punks in Blatz, she comes off on stage like a young, feral Joan Jett: stance wide, bangs in eyes, practically gnawing on the microphone. The rest of the band is just as picturesquely punk. Rosatti slings his bass to his knees in classic Dee Dee Ramone style, and McConnellogue methodically wallops his kit like it's a building being demolished.
But as nihilistic as the group's onslaught can be, Rocereta's lyrics tend toward the introspective. Besides bloodcurdling rants about heartbreak and betrayal, her songs dive deep into thick psychic sludge, touching on themes of loneliness, depression and a catastrophic lack of control. Hangover's most pop-infused track, "Jill's Coma," is ironically its darkest; set to an infectious, hook-shredded riff, it recounts one of the most harrowing ordeals of Rocereta's life.
"The song is about my friend Jill," she explains. "She's fucking amazing. She's very vocal about her opinions, just this tough girl who can do anything. Then she got in this horrible car accident, broke every bone in her body. Someone else I knew had died a couple months before Jill's accident, and I remember calling her up and saying, "You cannot leave me. Don't do anything stupid. Don't die." And then she got in that accident and was in a coma forever. They were saying she was going to be a vegetable.
"The song is basically what I wanted to say to her when she was in the coma," she continues. "'What do I do now that you've left me? I wonder where you are. Are you going to forget me? Where do you go when you're in a coma? Nobody knows. Wherever you are, I hope you don't get lost and you find your way back home. 'Cause you promised me you wouldn't leave me here alone.' I guess it's sort of selfish, but I really looked up to her and needed her. Now, two years later, she still has to walk with crutches. But she made it."
And so has Stoli and the Beers. Between touring the Midwest and producing their new disc themselves, the three friends have come further as a band than they ever expected. "People mistake us for a family," Rocereta states. "We have this really strong sense of loyalty. We're like a little independent city-state." Of course, they have more of a common bond than just camaraderie and rock; with a name like Stoli and the Beers, there's definitely a little rotgut chemistry going on between the bandmates.
"When we first got together, Tim said, 'Let's toss around band names,'" McConnellogue recalls. "We wanted to be the Beers, but 'the' names are lame: the Strokes, the White Stripes. But no punk band has taken the name 'the Beers.'"
"But I don't even drink beer," Rocereta protests.
"That's when we realized all great bands are 'Somebody and the Somebody Elses.'" McConnellogue continues. "So we told Sarah, 'You be Somebody, and we'll be the Beers.'"
Rocereta laughs. "At the time, I was drinking Raspberry Stoli and cranberry juice all the time with my friend Amanda, and she said, 'You should be Stoli and the Beers.'"
"We do drink, but we don't go overboard," McConnellogue asserts as he narrowly avoids spilling a PBR on the tape recorder in front of him. "Out of everybody, I think I'm the one who owns up to the name."
Speaking of owning names, Stoli and the Beers aren't as afraid of getting sued by Stolichnaya vodka as you might think. "Like we're big enough for a company to be afraid of us," Rosatti says. "Maybe they could just give us a case of Stoli a month. That would be cool. We're just hoping for a cease-and-desist order."
"Maybe then I'll just legally change my name to Stoli," Rocereta jokes. "Actually, we're looking forward to getting sued. That's how we know we made it."