Like any great cover band, the Gin Doctors do not have complicated motives. Nostalgia is fun. Playing '90s songs for thirty-somethings who want to relive a bit of their past is fun. And constructing an alter ego, complete with costume, is, well, fun.Co-frontman Tyler Despres plays Gin Doctors shows as Quench Nearly: a grunge-rocking Kurt Cobain type who embodies the '90s alt-rock that Despres grew up with. There's no particular reason he does this. "It made us laugh," says the band's other frontman, Tyler Briskie. "None of us knows what it means or where it came from."
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Despres's knack for music, on the other hand, came from riffing with Briskie at a young age. Growing up together in Broomfield, the two bonded over playing guitar and their mutual admiration for the alt-rock hitmakers of the time, like Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana and Green Day.
Fast-forward to 2011. Briskie was working at a bar, running sound for a number of classic-rock cover bands, and was stuck in a rut with his original music. Then it dawned on him.
"I got a text at an Arcade Fire concert from [Briskie] that said, 'We should play all those '90s songs that we played when we grew up,'" Despres recalls.
Despres agreed, and Briskie reached out to bassist James Morrison (who played with him in the alt-country group Me Llamo Rosa), found a drummer, booked a show, and the Gin Doctors were on like Donkey Kong. But the momentum didn't last long.
"We just lived far away from where we practiced, everyone had other projects, and our drummer wasn't that into it because he was busy with work," Briskie says. Disheartened, the Gin Doctors didn't play another show for a year or so. Then they found a new drummer in Andrew Aranow, who was Morrison's bandmate in Monroe Monroe.
"When we found Andrew, it lit a fire under all of our asses to get going," Briskie remembers. But first, they needed to decide on some new identities.
Morrison began wearing a wig and going by Cousin Melvin. Aranow decided to be Ripp Holiday, the SoCal skater who loves Lit, Sublime and sun-soaked half-pipes. Briskie just plays as himself. "I sort of embody the R.E.M. college-rock guy," he say.
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With newfound personae and a fully committed lineup, the players felt comfortable trying out some different genres. Along with the Spin Doctors and Ace of Base singles they started out with, they began working on some deeper cuts and, eventually, full albums.
The Gin Doctors prepared a set comprising two Weezer full-lengths -- the blue album and Pinkerton -- and played a pair of "Halloweezer" shows on Halloween weekend at two Illegal Pete's locations in Denver.
"I think pretty soon after we realized we could learn songs quickly, we did the whole album," Despres says. "The Weezer stuff was a big turning point. We were like, 'Yeah, we can put on these very specific album shows.'"
They did it again in April, celebrating 4/20 with all of Sublime's greatest hits. In June, they shredded Pearl Jam's Ten with a little help from the Denver-based bands Rossonian, Vices I Admire and Despres's original group, Science Partner. And in July, they performed the Smashing Pumpkins' alt-rock epic Siamese Dream at the hi-dive. Once again, they called on friends from the local scene, working to re-create the intricate multi-layered guitar parts that define Siamese Dream; Luke Mossman of Science Partner and Achille Lauro joined them on stage.
"I would say that the Siamese Dream show was one of the top five shows that I've ever been a part of," says Despres, noting not only how challenging the album was to play, but how involved the bands and audience members became with the whole experience. Morrison wholeheartedly agrees.
"Talking to everybody afterward, it was like, 'You know, I never got to actually see Smashing Pumpkins play Siamese Dream. It was awesome. It felt like I was watching it.' That's really fun to hear, because we felt the same way. We've never seen it live, and we get to play it.
Great cover bands like the Gin Doctors offer more than a reminder of classic songs; they also create an experience that can fill a void. And, of course, they're incredibly fun.
"I don't think we exist to exploit some sort of nostalgia," says Despres. "I think we all really feel that nostalgia when we're up on stage. By playing cover songs, especially ones that we grew up with, we get to be active participants. We're playing it for us as much as we're playing it for anyone else."
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