Denver Punk Band King Rat Hosts 30th Anniversary Concert on July 4 | Westword

King Rat Has Ruled the Denver Punk Scene for Thirty Years

The band is celebrating its anniversary by kicking off the Punk Rock Saves Lives Festival at EastFax Tap on July 4.
King Rat is celebrating thirty years of punk at EastFax Tap on July 4.
King Rat is celebrating thirty years of punk at EastFax Tap on July 4. Stephanie Hopper
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"I've been in this band longer than I haven't. All my life, punk rock was the only thing that made sense," says Luke Schmaltz, lead singer and guitarist of King Rat.

Schmaltz has lived in Denver for 33 years, and thirty of those have included King Rat. The group, which comprises Anthony DeLilli (bass), Doug "Pockets" Hopper (drums) and Rusty Deadmond (guitar), will celebrate its thirtieth anniversary by kicking off the Punk Rock Saves Lives Festival with a pre-party on July 4 at EastFax Tap. Black Dots, These Kids Today, Anti-Formula and Terror Attack are also on the bill.

"Technically, our first show was in October of ’94. But by this time in ’94, we were already practicing," Schmaltz recalls. "I was trying to get over long-song-itis: For punk rock, if you don't set it within two, two and a half minutes, you've got a long song."
click to enlarge punk band King Rat performing in Denver
Schmaltz started the band in 1994.
Vic Valdez

He'd moved to the Mile High City to be near family members who lived here, having grown up in Albuquerque, a city he describes as "beautiful and squalid at the same time." He lived in southern California for a short stint, but quickly realized "I hate southern California," he says.

"I hadn't met any humans. ... I decided I wanted to try something different. Denver was a happy medium between super-affluent and non-human — southern California — and super non-affluent and very overly human Albuquerque," he explains.

As a skateboarder, Albuquerque is where he first got into the punk scene. He was even wrangled into a punk band at age sixteen by a group of dudes who saw his potential. "I was this wild and crazy teenage punk kid with a lot of energy, so I had all the elements — except for tone," he recalls with a laugh. "So they sent me to singing classes."

Not just any kind of singing class: Schmaltz's vocal coach specialized in show tunes. He took the classes seriously — he adds that he also prided himself on being a rebel with straight As — and before long, he was a part of the band.

"That was the genesis for King Rat, the band called Nothing Wonderful," he says.
click to enlarge punk band King Rat performing in Denver
Luke Schmaltz
Vic Valdez

The band's lifespan was just a year, and soon Schmaltz was in Denver. Although he would go to vocalist auditions, people were more into metal than punk here in the early ’90s, and "I love metal, but it wasn't my jam," he says. So he figured he should learn how to play guitar in order to start his own group. "I built a free-standing box in my living room that didn't touch the walls," he explains. "I locked myself in there every day for about a year and a half to learn to play and sing at the same time."

He also began going to the open mic hosted by Baggs Patrick at Cricket on the Hill, a Denver dive that lasted from 1968 to 2008. "And then shortly thereafter, I became friends with Denver Joe. He was a local country-music legend," Schmaltz says. "In those years, he and I became very close; he was my musical mentor. He started encouraging me early on. ... It was hard to break through Joe's armor; he was about six-foot-three, big beard, big, wide-brim cowboy hat, always wore a duster trench coat whether the weather suggested it. But he took a liking to me. ... When he died, he left me his guitar."

Schmaltz writes most of his songs on Denver Joe's guitar, something he feels imbues his music with some "extra mojo." And his music doesn't end with King Rat: He also has a solo project, Songer / Singwriter. "Most people are in two or three bands; I'm in one and a half bands," he laughs. On top of it all, he's also a talented writer in the more traditional sense: He currently writes in memoriam pieces for Support After Death by Overdose, and published a novel in 2020 titled The Belcher, which is about a "beer drinker who uses supersonic belches to stop crime," he explains. (It's fantastic, by the way.)
click to enlarge punk band King Rat performing in Denver
He remembers the punk scene was only just getting started in the ’90s.
Vic Valdez
But at thirty, King Rat is his most long-lived project by far. The band has had fourteen different members as the lineup has shifted through the years; the original roster formed through that open-mic night at the Cricket and included Tony Luke, "an incredible blues guitar player," Schmaltz says. When Schmaltz told Luke that he wanted to create a punk-rock band, Luke shared that he was a drummer. "We put together a few bucks and bought a used drum kit, and he started playing drums in King Rat even though he was this prolific guitar player," Schmaltz recalls. "So then we had something together, with me on guitar and vocals, and he was playing drums. And then we found Todd Daigle as our bass player."

It wasn't long before King Rat had some epic moments. "My friend Ian Parks — who was the leader, the glue of that Albuquerque band — we stayed in contact. He moved to San Francisco to start another band, and by ’94, he was working as Kirk Hammett's guitar tech and personal assistant," Schmaltz recalls.

At the time, King Rat was preparing to record its first album, and the lead guitarist of Metallica just happened to have an available studio. "I flew the band to San Francisco, and we cut our first album in Kirk Hammett's private studio," Schmaltz says, shaking his head with a chuckle. "I got to play some of Kirk's guitars on the album. ... The good fortune was coming at me, and I couldn't resist."
click to enlarge punk band King Rat
King Rat consists of Luke Schmaltz on lead vocals and guitar, Anthony DeLilli (bass), Doug "Pockets" Hopper (drums) and Rusty Deadmond (guitar).
Anthony DeLilli

Back in Denver, Schmaltz witnessed the growth of the punk scene firsthand. When King Rat started, there were "maybe just four or five other punk groups here. No punk venues," he notes. "So every show we would play with a jam band, metal band, grunge band, and us somewhere in the mix. In the mid-’90s, there wasn't much of a punk scene. As it went on toward the late ’90s, there were a lot more punk bands. We could put on exclusive, full-on punk shows."

Now the Mile High punk scene is flourishing, with a swath of established bands and new ones forming constantly, as well as punk venues such as Seventh Circle — and King Rat has been here for it all. Other than the pandemic, the band has remained active since Schmaltz founded it, and new music is on its way, too, with a new album — the eleventh — estimated to drop early next year.

"We've got a bunch of new songs put together, with three or four that we could play in our sleep," Schmaltz says, adding that those tunes may be played at the EastFax show. "We've got ten studio albums already, so we've got a really long...library of songs to pick from. We'll probably do an hour [set], which, for punk rock, is plenty."

He's particularly happy that the anniversary show is part of a pre-party for the annual festival for Punk Rock Saves Lives, a nonprofit founded by Rob and Tina Rushing that provides a plethora of resources to the community as well as collects bone-marrow donor signatures at festivals and shows around the country. The fest will run from Friday, July 5, through Sunday, July 7, at Ratio Beerworks.
click to enlarge headshot of a bald man
Be sure to pick up a copy of Schmaltz's book, The Belcher.
Kim Denver

"Rob is just doing something pretty incredible," Schmaltz says. "They do a lot of mental health awareness in their outreach."

As he looks ahead to the anniversary, it's hard not to look back on the influence that punk rock has had on his life. Schmaltz lives and breathes the genre.

“Punk rock is one of the purest ways to believe in yourself," he concludes. "When you don’t fit into the world you are born into, you call out the bullshit all around you. You confront lies and those who spread them. You educate yourself so that you can factually uphold your convictions. You teach yourself how to play and write songs. You make your own scene, you encourage your own community, and you create the music you want to hear.”

King Rat plays EastFax Tap, 8001 East Colfax Avenue, 6 p.m. Thursday, July 4. Tickets are $10.
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