Music News

Brothers Keeper

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The Popps' other material covers the customary rock-and-roll themes -- alienation, girls, fast cars -- drawing on personal experience when the subject matter is automotive. Bickle is a technician at Rocky Mountain National Speedway, where Ricky and Myke regularly pilot the Otter Popps Racing Team's stock car around the dirt track.

"Our whole family races," says Myke. "We've been around racing our whole lives."

Figuratively, Myke has been around the local punk racetrack countless times.

"I think I was twelve years old when I played my first punk-rock party," says Myke, whose past experience includes stints with local punk bands, including King Rat and the defunct Half Burned Match. "Then I heard punk rock for the first time, and that totally changed my perspective. It made me realize, as an okay guitar player, I could start a band."

Ricky says he was "the only kid in elementary school" with a band practicing at home -- and his brother's most devoted fan. As adolescents, he and Bickle were able to watch Myke at work (and, later, play alongside him) because bouncers and bartenders were willing to ignore their underage status.

"They were little tiny kids, and they came to my shows," Myke remembers. "They were like, 'I want to make music, too.'"

"Seeing somebody you know up there when you're real young like that, it makes a difference," says Bickle.

Myke's playing made enough of a difference to persuade best friends Ricky and Bickle (who met at a Northglenn church in the mid-'80s) to start their own band. The pair pieced together the necessary ramshackle equipment -- cheapie and secondhand amps, guitars and drums -- and started to jam in late 1995. Myke eventually jumped in to flesh out a power trio built more on zeal than skill.

Within weeks, Myke and Ricky swapped spots to take advantage of the older brother's prowess on guitar. Within a month, the Otter Popps were playing their first gig at the Raven (now the Climax Lounge, site of the band's CD-release party this week). Bickle and Ricky have since grown up under cover of Myke's somewhat twisted musical wing.

"Without Myke, we wouldn't be here," says Ricky. "Every band he's played in, I've always loved his music and his guitar playing. We grew off of Myke's style."

Now it works both ways: The elder Popp grows off of his brothers' styles.

"We've welded ourselves together," says Myke. "I'll play a riff, and these two, I won't even have to think twice. They're already playing what I pictured."

The collaboration almost always involves the release of scads of pent-up emotional unrest.

"We've tried to write quiet, nice, melodic songs," says Ricky. "It never works."

"There's just too much energy riled up inside of us," Bickle adds.

The Otter Popps have channeled that energy into a balance of volatility and cynicism that works more often than not. Over time, Myke's approach has become more and more improvisational; he often wings it on stage with lyrics and riffs that match his shifting moods. "I ad-lib a lot," he explains. "I've basically learned to play what I feel instead of what I know."

As the bandmates' techniques and styles have evolved, they've managed to attain a rarely seen attribute, at least in local circles: longevity. "We're coming from the front lines of a war, dragging our severed bodies past the corpses of other bands that have died throughout the years," Myke jokes.

As the band's checkered past suggests, co-dependent cravings for hell-raising and loud rock and roll are a big part of this durability. But the brotherly bond is what has ultimately held the Otter Popps together and -- aside from a few false stops and short stints in the can -- propelled them forward.

"Having come from many, many, many, many bands before [the Otter Popps], these two were like a godsend," Myke explains. "I put so much effort and time and work into being a musician and trying to find other musicians that want to put the same effort into it. With these two, from the first practice, I knew we'd always be together, always be a band."

With parents who played in rock bands through the '60s and '70s, making music "is sort of in our blood," he adds, quickly explaining that the soul of the Martinez family is well outside the realm of tradition. "Our family, we get along really well with each other. We're more all friends than just a family."

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Eric Peterson