Luke Schmaltz may have found the Fountain of Youth, and it’s not in south Florida.
As the longtime lead singer and axman of Denver punk outfit King Rat, Schmaltz credits stomping around stages and shouting with keeping him young after nearly thirty years. That’s a long time to do anything, let alone front a rough and rowdy rock band. But he rejects any suggestion that he’s an “elder statesman” in the scene at this point.
“No, I don’t want to get old-itis. We’ve had people in the band with old-itis. It tends to manifest when somebody keeps saying, ‘I’m too old. I’m too old.’ Then all of a sudden, they're too old. Or it just tends to throw a wrench in the gear if you’re trying to create forward momentum. The old person with old-itis tends to resist change and opportunities,” Schmaltz says.
“I don’t want to do the elder statesman thing," he continues. "I’m not ready for that yet. When you accept that you're washed up, all of a sudden you're washed up. If denial keeps me out of being washed up, then I’m going to stick with that. That’s another thing musicians are great at: denial. … I think you've got to have some aspects of the vigor of youth to get up on stage and scream your head off for 25 minutes to an hour every chance you get.”
King Rat has released eleven albums — ten studio and one live — since it began in 1994, but being in a punk band hasn’t always been easy, Schmaltz explains. Coming out of the pandemic, a new iteration of the group re-formed with Schmaltz, guitarist Rusty Deadmond, drummer Doug “Pockets” Hopper and Kyle “Gaso” McKeeman, who is currently filling in for Anthony DeLilli on bass. The band held a “comeback show” last April and has playing regularly since.
And you don't need to wait long to see the group: King Rat is playing the Crypt on Saturday, February 4, with Lost Relics and Sea of Flame opening the show. Schmaltz, who also authored the recently released underground single “The Belcher,” says the show will offer “a buffet of flavors for those who are into different kinds of music.”
“Sometimes we like to mix it up. We don’t always play punk shows, even though we’re a punk band or punk-influenced hard rock. This show, we’re playing with a couple of heavier bands: Sea of Flame, which is groove rock and roll, and Lost Relics. They call themselves sludgy dirt rock. We’re right in the middle as punk rock,” he adds.
But coming from the ’90s, Schmaltz isn't quite satisfied with the current state of the punk-rock scene. "I like playing punk-rock shows, but punk rock has become very cult-y. It’s a popularity contest," he attests. "The irony of the state of punk rock now is that it’s become the exact thing it was invented to counter, which is cliquey-ness, pettiness, popularity. There’s a lot of pandering going on. I’m not saying all punk bands are that way, but punk rock as a collective is very popularity-driven. You have to do a lot of lip service if you want to be considered relevant, which is weird. Punk rock originally was supposed to be against all of those petty social norms, but it’s fallen victim to that. So we don’t mind venturing away from that world sometimes.”
However, that dissolution of the punk ethos can be used as inspiration sometimes, as it was in 2017’s “Thrift Store Kids,” where Schmaltz sings, “We were thrift store when thrift store wasn’t cool.” In the end, he says, making and sharing music is why he sticks around.
“There’s nothing like playing loud rock and roll music with your friends," he concludes. "There’s no feeling that matches it. It’s a fucking blast, especially playing live. The adrenaline rush and euphoria and how fucking fun it is — that’s what keeps us going.”
King Rat, 9 p.m. Saturday, February 4, The Crypt, 1618 East 17th Avenue. Tickets are $10 cash the day of the show.