In addition to founding DINK, brothers Jeff and Charlie LaGreca perform as part of the geek-rock band H2Awesome! Formed in 2008 with Jeff on keyboards, vocals and guitar and Charlie on vocals, the group also features singer/bassist Suzanne Slade, guitarist Jon Price and drummer Ian Smith.
Live, the band dresses in outrageous costumes and sings even more outrageous songs about a host of nerd-centric topics, including but not limited to Star Wars (“Uncle Owen”), Star Trek (“Redshirts”), Firefly (“Reavers”), The Princess Bride (“Inigo Montoya”), and a sci-fi film franchise about talking monkeys (“The Complete and Unabridged Planet of the Apes”).
Their catchy, infectiously dorky debut album, Zero Charisma, was released in 2013. With DINK just around the corner, Slade and Price spoke with Westword about their loving musical tribute to geekdom.
Westword: What’s your background in music, comics, movies and performance?
Suzanne Slade: I have been singing and performing since I was very young. I’ve always been drawn to learning new instruments, and I currently play guitar, bass, piano, violin and ukulele. I also have a banjolin from the 1900s that I’m trying to get restored so that I can learn that. I also recently started taking drum lessons.
Entertaining people is just a natural part of who I am. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t wanted to make someone laugh or just be goofy. I love comedy and improv, so being in nerd bands comes very easy.
As for comics, I was obsessed with Elf Quest as a kid, mostly because the blond male lead looked like Axl Rose, and I was obsessed with his high-belt singing voice. I respect comics and find them fun, but I’m more drawn to reading when I can visualize the story myself. As for the cinema, I am obsessed with movies, any genre. Anything that takes me away and puts me in another person’s world. I’m hoping to film my first documentary this year. Unfortunately, it won’t be a funny or nerdy story. It’s about women and daily harassment. I’m a true feminist.
Jon Price: H2Awesome! is the first band I’ve played in, and I’ve played guitar since college. I grew up listening to classic rock and punk rock with a smattering of Top 40 radio in there, which I think really influenced how I play and what I’m interested in musically. Actually, that’s not true. I technically played in a band in seventh grade for about two weeks, where the only song we were learning was Mr. Big’s “To Be With You.” I was on lead vocals.
A few years ago I wrote a comic book called Magus for the publisher 12 Gauge Comics, which was a great experience. You may or may not be able to still find it at your local comic-book store. But you should go to your local comic-book store anyway, because I’m sure they miss you.
How did H2Awesome! come together, and how did you decide on the band’s look and thematic approach?
Price: Honestly, there wasn’t a ton of thought put into any of it at first. Jeff and I were roommates in New York City in 2008, and we had done some comedy and nerdy performance stuff around town and wanted to expand on that. We probably talked about the idea of starting a nerd band for two or three years before we finally put some folks in a room together with instruments. When we first got together, we had nothing except Jeff’s original version of “Uncle Owen,” which we rearranged a bit to fit a full band. The first several months were us just hanging out in a practice space and fucking around until we had five or six songs.
Actually, I don’t even think we really intended on playing out when we first started writing stuff. But when we ultimately decided to jump up on stage and play a set at Arlene’s Grocery in New York, we got a great reaction even though it was all of our first times ever playing in a full band on stage in front of people. We realized there was a space for what we were doing. Also, it was just really fucking fun playing very silly, very nerdy songs, very loudly. And here we are, almost ten years later, still acting like idiots on stage for your enjoyment!
The look and approach for the band was pretty organic. We’re all huge nerds and have backgrounds in comedy, so it felt really natural to just combine those elements. Also, only Charlie knows where his stage look comes from, but it’s mostly the women’s section of Ross Dress for Less.
Slade: I came into H2Awesome! three years ago upon moving to Denver. I was a big fan, and I would photograph the band. I stepped in a time or two for a few gigs when the bass player or Jon was unable, then I just morphed into the permanent bass player. It also helped that I’m married to Jeff and have known him and Charlie for about sixteen years from working on their show, Minimum Wage, in New York. They knew I was dedicated and weird enough to join in.
I think that Charlie is the look of the band, with his many costume changes. It’s different from my other band, [the Game of Thrones-themed outfit] Daenerys and the Targaryens, which requires full character costumes. H2Awesome! just gets to have fun and get the crowd going.
How has geek culture changed since H2Awesome! formed, and how has that affected the band?
Slade: I’ve seen more women step out of the shadows, which is great. As a female musician, it can be a challenge, too. I’m not just up there as a so-called geek girl. I’m there to add music and harmonies. I’ve met so many girls after shows that just want to gush with me about all things nerdy. Seeing a girl on stage, hopefully, gives them more strength to be who they are, and to know that being weird or loving different things can be super-cool.
Price: Geek culture was definitely on the march in 2008, when the band started. We used to talk a lot about how when we were all kids, we probably never would have even thought to form a band like ours. As it’s progressed over the last several years, I think we see a much more diverse crowd at shows than we used to. We see a lot more parents with their kids, which is awesome.
Sometimes it feels like the thing that was so special to us as kids, that secret club we were kind of in as nerds, has been lost a bit since it’s gone more mainstream. But with more nerds comes more nerd events and more opportunities for us to play for new people. So even though we sometimes reminisce about the good old nerd days, I think ultimately it’s a good thing. I mean, who would have thought we would ever have gotten a kickass, R-rated Wolverine movie?
What have been your best and worst shows?
Slade: This is going to sound like sunshine and rainbows, but they are always the best and the worst shows at the same time. There’s always something magical and amazing that happens, whether it’s with the audience and Charlie, or just feeling so in sync with each other. Then Charlie hits your microphone, and you sing with a fat lip the rest of the time. It’s always fun no matter what.
Price: I think even during our worst shows, we find some fun in them. At the very least, we make a few people laugh. I think the worst shows overall were just the ones that no one showed up to. Every band has been on tour at some point, driven eight hours to a random city, loaded in, set up, and then watched as two or three people trickled in for your set. But even then, you just play your ass off for those three people.
I really enjoy watching the audience during our shows, especially watching people that have never seen us before. There’s always a lot of confusion on their faces at the beginning, which gradually turns into some gentle nodding, then ultimately into them enjoying the chaos on stage.
What other bands or other creative endeavors are you currently working on, apart from H2Awesome?
Price: Suzanne and I also play guitar in the Game of Thrones-themed punk band Daenerys and the Targaryens. We’re gearing up for the start of season seven of the show this summer, writing some new stuff, hoping to get back into the studio and get some new music recorded. We all host a Game of Thrones watch party at Stoney’s Bar and Grill here in Denver as well. And I’m in the middle of writing a TV pilot based on my comic book Magus.
Slade: I founded and front Daenerys and the Targaryens, the only punk band in all of Westeros. This summer we’ll be going to the first convention for Game of Thrones, called Con of Thrones, in Nashville. It will be epic!
I’ve also recently started an all-girl political punk band called Battle Pussy. It’s a shout-out to Pussy Riot in Russia. I figured it was fitting since Putin and Trump are such pals. I would love to one day play a show with Pussy Riot. As mentioned before, I am a huge advocate for women and people everywhere. I am also a child of punk and was always part of some revolution as a kid. Music, for me, is a great way to achieve that.
DINK, April 8-9, McNichols Civic Center Building, 144 West Colfax Avenue.