The creative young Boulder trio Grass is indicative of the music being pushed over the last year by ambitious local cassette label First Base Tapes: gritty and experimental, but catchy, clever and (while ear-bleedin' loud) deceptively pleasant.
Twenty-four-year-old singer/guitarist Michael Colussi, a University of Colorado student from Indiana, told Westword that Grass’s debut album, Dragwire, was recorded in just two days on a "beat-up" 2008 iMac, with minimal subsequent overdubs. Half of Dragwire was tracked at the band’s warehouse space next to the Bus Stop strip club in Boulder, and half at a warehouse in Denver also used by psychedelic band Tom Waits for No Man.
Dragwire, distributed by First Base Tapes via cassette and download, will have its official release this Saturday, November 5, in Boulder when Grass plays a house party featuring four other bands. Colussi says that playing relatively brief sets at house parties and warehouses with a slew of other acts on the bill is the only current option for a fledgling Boulder rock group, and he’s okay with that.
"It’s challenging, and there can be a feeling of competition, but we’ve learned to do well with them because it’s basically all we know at this point," he says. "Short sets are just what we know how to do, so we play hard and pack up. We’re also a relatively new band, so we don’t have six albums' worth of material to draw from."
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Dragwire has an impressive mix of haunting up-tempo indie pop like “Grenada” and spacey psych-rock improvisations such as “Benihana,” which is not unlike the guitar jams on the Verve’s A Storm in Heaven — i.e., somewhere between “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” and early Sonic Youth.
"We love to jam and improvise, but we’re not a jam band," Colussi says. "The longest song on our record is about four and a half minutes. We like to improvise live, and songs on the record often become longer when we're playing shows, but we gravitate toward writing short songs. We’ve played a lot of shows in Boulder, and there’s definitely been Phish and Dead fans in the crowd, because that’s just Boulder, but we didn’t meet a lot of like-minded folks until we came into contact with the First Base Tapes guys. But we certainly love psych-rock."
Colussi cites classic underground psychedelia such as Floor Elevators and Spacemen 3 as influences on Grass, and one can certainly hear the influences of those bands on fuzzed-out Dragwire tracks like “Say Again,” lending a kind of hypnotic, trippy darkness into a three-minute pop song.
As for the cassette revolution championed by labels like Burger Records and First Base Tapes, Colussi doesn’t t think that tapes are becoming popular again solely because young people drive old cars, as one of the First Base Tapes founders joked in a recent Westword interview.
"It’s pretty cool how people have gravitated toward that medium. It comes from the fact that people like listening to analog stuff these days. It’s kind of hip. That’s silly, but it is. People get their rocks off on having something that looks totally different, and it’s kind of like buying a T-shirt and a CD at the same time. It also sounds really good. I think cassette sounds better than CD."
For now, Grass isn’t thinking about a bigger career so much as its members are simply enjoying playing shows, "going to practice, drinking beer, telling dick jokes and having a good time."
"We don’t go into practice like, 'This is how we’re gonna get signed by Epitaph,'" Colussi says. "I think the future of the band is contingent on whether we’re able to play shows and produce music and our ability to continue to write the music we want to write and whether anyone gives a shit."
Like virtually every musician in Boulder, Colussi complains that there is nowhere for a rock band to play that’s bigger than a house party or smaller than the 625-capacity Fox Theatre, especially now that the tiny but vital warehouse the Forge has closed.
"Yeah, there’s nowhere," Colussi laments. "The Forge is gone, but we’re all very much waiting for someone to take their place. That is a huge thing we’re all waiting for, but money doesn’t grow on trees, and renting a warehouse isn’t cheap in Boulder. We feel very strange in Boulder, because we’re practicing in a warehouse making loud, fucking abrasive music, and where do you go with that? There’s absolutely no bridge, no in between the house-party/warehouse scene and the Fox. That’s a huge flaw in Boulder, and has a lot to do with what Boulder is these days."
Still, Grass, which also includes Dan Malone (24) on bass and Mason Stillman (21) on drums, is very excited and appreciative when it comes to what First Base Tapes has been doing.
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"They have been huge for Boulder," says Colussi. "Dan and I have been playing music together for roughly three years at this point, and we felt very isolated prior to meeting those guys. It’s been a real breath of fresh air to know that there are people in Boulder that actually like this type of music."
Even though Grass complains there are no proper small venues for rock bands in Boulder the way there are in Denver with the hi-dive and Larimer Lounge, or even in Fort Collins with Hodi’s, Boulder is stubbornly developing an identity beneath the surface.
"Boulder is quickly becoming a scene, but it definitely wasn’t when we first started," Colussi explains. "It’s hard to make ends meet here, which is why we're playing a lot more in Denver these days. Having almost no venues here that cater to this type of music definitely makes it hard to play shows. Having First Base Tapes show up has been huge in helping make Boulder become a place to see underground rock, but it’s still got a lot of room to grow."
Grass releases Dragwire at its CD-release party this Saturday, November 5, at 4570 Araphoe in Boulder. Music starts at 7:30 p.m., with sets by Continental Breakfast, Xenon Superstar, Stella Igno and Scary Drugs.