Seeing the Denver punk band Wild Lives perform is not an experience anyone’s likely to forget. That would be on account of the buckets’ worth of sweat, flailing acrobatics, costumes, stripping off of said costumes, and furious energy that characterizes the shows, which have shaken stages from the Lion’s Lair to the Skylark. Combine those theatrics with the knowledge that the five punk rockers in Wild Lives daylight as a teacher, ACLU strategist, hypnotherapist, floral designer and acclaimed immigration lawyer, and it makes their chaotic performances all the more indelible.
But can the frenetic energy of a Wild Lives show translate into great recordings?
We’re about to find out, when the band debuts its first EP at a concert at 3 Kings Tavern on June 2. Two already-released teaser tracks, “Contra Ataque” and “Sean Penn Apologists,” suggest that listeners are in for a rollicking ride.
While Westword has previously dedicated some ink to Wild Lives, it’s mostly been in conjunction with coverage of Hans Meyer, one of the band’s singers, who also happens to be among Colorado’s most prominent and outspoken immigration lawyers, taking on ICE and private prison companies in the age of Trump.
Now, with Wild Lives’ upcoming EP release, it seemed high time to find out more about the band and its history — beyond having a crazy lawyer as a frontman. As one Wild Lives member recently quipped, “Just don’t refer to us as ‘Hans Meyer’s punk side project’ again.”
On a recent Sunday, over pints of craft beer, four of the bandmates — Meyer, drummer Blake Pendergrass, vox/keyboardist Lindsey Housel and bassist Jay Tollen — recount the origin story of Wild Lives.
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As the bandmembers tell it, Wild Lives was never meant to be a long-lasting project. In fact, the group (sans Housel) first came together in 2010 to perform a one-off show at guitarist Taylor Pendergrass’s going-away party; he was relocating to New York to work as a staff attorney for the ACLU, where he’d focus on solitary-confinement issues. Pendergrass had the idea of forming a temporary band so he could play punk covers of Fugazi and Black Flag at his own party, which was held at Lost Lake Lounge on East Colfax, where he knew one of the employees.
“We paid $300 for a bunch of $2 PBRs so everyone could drink freely, and we basically commandeered the bar,” Tollen recalls. “And the theme of the party was the ’70s…except it could be the ’70s of any century.”
While Tollen went with the classic ’70s punk look and sported a Mohawk (which he grew to like and ended up keeping for nine months), other party guests took the ’70s-in-any-century theme in creative directions. That included revelers dressed as a caveman and a mosquito embossed in amber, among others.
As much fun as the band had playing that party, the four friends stuck to their plan of being a one-time group — until Pendergrass eventually moved back from New York.
In 2015, the guitarist staged a prodigal return from the Big Apple, and the old gang got back together. Housel was soon invited to round out the crew.
“With Linds [Housel] coming in, we got some feminine energy in the band,” says Meyer, “and that made Wild Lives so much cooler.”
During its re-formation, the main impetus behind the group was to carve out one night a week when the friends could get together, slam beers and play some punk covers to decompress from their busy and stressful professional lives.
“Drinking beer and hanging out was equal to jamming and playing covers,” recalls Blake Pendergrass (brother of Taylor).
But in 2016, they played a private show for some friends at a practice space, and they realized that the audience wasn’t merely being courteous in its enthusiasm for the tunes, which included one original song; rather, the performance proved that there was genuine interest in the band.
At that point, the bandmembers started to get serious about writing their own music, gradually incorporating originals into their repertoire alongside punk covers. In the unique Wild Lives songwriting process, an entire afternoon is blocked out for each member to separately record as many riffs and lyrics as possible in their own homes; then, in the evening, they all get together for free-flowing beer (it’s a recurring theme) and a listening party, during which they select their favorite song fragments and use them to stitch together more cohesive works.
In true punk fashion, some Wild Lives songs are short, others longer, depending on what kind of message the band is communicating. Housel describes the inspiration for a fourteen-second track, “Bossman,” this way: “‘Bossman’ was my getting feelings out about being a female in a hostile work situation. I was working in a flower shop at the time and had this asshole, misogynistic, sexual-harassment-prone boss. The reason the song is fourteen seconds long is because there’s not much you have to say in order to get the point across. It’s fun to fucking scream about it and get it over with and know that’s the only energy I’m going to give to that guy: fourteen seconds.”
Housel, who goes by the stage name Lulu (other Wild Lives aliases include Bone Dogg, the Kid, Lytnyng and Soda Pop), says that Wild Lives tries to be equal parts fun and politics. “The band is part of our lived experience right now,” she explains. “All the conditions in this band make it possible to have a political platform and express the messiness of what all that means.”
Meyer agrees. “Watching people play political music without any humor is pretty insufferable,” he notes. “And watching people play something that has no context in the world around us is equally intolerable. So we probably play a third music that is rooted in some acute political or ideological baseline — something we believe about the world. And then there’s a third of it that is storytelling, like our song ‘Calling the Wolf,’ which is basically about hooking up. And probably another third is just focused on having a good time.”
Late last year, the bandmates took that amalgam of attitudes into Green Door Recordings, a studio run by Felipe Patino in Englewood, and made their forthcoming EP. They recorded five songs live and together (with the exception of overdubbed vocals) in order to retain the energy of their live performances.
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Although it can occasionally get awkward when their professional lives intersect with their musical alter-egos (Blake Pendergrass says he was slightly uncomfortable when his adult ESL students joked about seeing him in his underwear at a show), the members of Wild Lives say they have no plans to quit any time soon, and may record a second EP later this year.
What is definitely planned, following the 3 Kings Tavern show on June 2, is a cameo at Territorio Liberado in September, an annual fundraiser organized by Latin ska band Roka Hueka (which Blake also drums for).
Meyer points out that collaborations with Roka Hueka and a crossover with Spanish-speaking fans is a priority for Wild Lives.
“With Denver, I feel like there’s the traditional music scene and then there’s the Spanish-speaking music scene. And that’s a false dichotomy; it doesn’t have to be that way,” he says. “We’ve had an opportunity, mainly by playing with Roka Hueka, to meet and be supported by a Spanish-speaking audience. They’ve come to support us at so many shows these past few years, and it’s like a subterfuge of the usual white, normative audience that tends to go to punk shows. So I feel like having that crossover, you get a much more interesting and diverse community of people. And that’s somewhere that Denver can go, and where I feel we should go, too.”
Wild Lives EP release
9 p.m. Saturday, June 2, 3 Kings Tavern, 60 South Broadway, 303-777-7352.