Music News

Dream Weaver

Not every musician smokes pot.

But a lot do and always have. Long before the term "stoner rock" became shorthand for describing a certain subgenre of music, reggae bands smoked bales and bales of the stuff. So did metal bands, rappers and jazzbos. Plenty of cats have been intimate with Mary Jane over the years. Guess some things were just meant to go together.

Peanut butter and jelly. Coffee and cigarettes. Music and reefer.

Which makes the "stoner rock" tag meaningless in the mind of Jamie Slade. "I hate that label," declares the Audio Dream Sister singer/guitarist, whose band has been saddled with the term. "Almost all rock is stoner rock. Riffs, dude. Riffs and hooks."

Bassist Dan Kuhn shares his cohort's disdain for the term. "I always loved that bit Bill Hicks did," says Kuhn. "'If you're anti-drug, take all the albums that you love and throw 'em out, because those guys were really high on drugs.'"

Slade places the blame squarely on the shoulders of one band. "I had a buddy in high school who had a sweet record collection," he recalls. "We got baked and played 'The Wizard,' by Sabbath, and it was like a freaking epiphany."

Likewise, Audio Dream Sister's riff-laden rock connects nicely with the stoned mind. Nonetheless, stoners are notoriously finicky and cliquish when it comes to music. Those who smoke to Sabbath and Uriah Heep aren't on the same page as those who smoke to Phish and the Dead. Audio Dream Sister's aficionados are firmly entrenched in the former camp. The band's signature sound, thorny-but-infectious guitar and fuzzed-out bass intertwined over a ferocious backbeat, isn't rocket science -- but it is a lean, mean rock-and-roll creation that wasn't stitched together overnight. Slade and Kuhn have been playing together off and on for the better part of fifteen years. They first met as grade-schoolers, when their Air Force careerist fathers were stationed in New York. It would be years before they made music together, though.

"In third grade," Kuhn relates, "I think he kicked my ass."

Grammar-school squabbles aside, the two reconvened in the late '80s as teenagers in Oscoda, Michigan, at Wurtsmith Air Force Base. Soon they went from jamming together in basements and garages to playing house parties and bars around Michigan State University, where they both attended college during the mid-'90s. Curiously, they were performing under the name Pidgin at the time, despite the fact that Slade had conceived their current moniker several years earlier. "I thought of Audio Dream Sister in eleventh grade," he relates. "My sister had a dream that I was in a famous band called Audio something. So I just filled in the blanks."

In 1997, Slade and Kuhn relocated to Colorado, in pursuit of the Dream. "I moved out here with a military duffel bag, an acoustic guitar and an eighth of kind bud," says Slade. "Actually, it was a quarter."

Slade and Kuhn spent the next few years "hustling money and stealing as much as we could" while the band was on hold, Kuhn says with a laugh. Finally, in 2001, the two began gigging again, this time as Audio Dream Sister. Since then, they've put their efforts into ensuring that Slade's sister's prophecy comes true. Along the way, the act has gone through "a million drummers," à la Spinal Tap, remarks Slade.

Okay, so maybe not quite a million, but enough that it's difficult to keep count. Pointing to Justin Jones across the table at the Three Kings Tavern, Kuhn says, "Justin's our seventh" -- he pauses to think -- "uh, eighth or ninth drummer now. He's our fourth drummer in Colorado."

"The best, though," Slade interjects. "Definitely the best."

Working under Kuhn and Slade's thunderous riffery, some drummers have jelled with Audio Dream Sister better than others. Jones, who previously pounded the skins for hard-edged Denver bands Girth and Post, has a fierce style that's a hellacious match for Slade and Kuhn's sledgehammer groove. And he's been in the band for eight months -- not bad, all things considered. The overriding dynamic of a power trio is "push and pull," Kuhn explains. "You only have those three people playing, so we're all in the driver's seat." In that context, Jones definitely pushes, revving the already redlined combo several notches higher.

"I'm starting to get into the groove of it," says Jones. "I'm about ready to introduce them to my telepathy."

Jones's predecessor was Kevin Keim, now in Hexen with ex-Phantom Trigger frontman Brian Fausett and, at three years, Audio Dream Sister's longest-tenured drummer. Keim played drums on Audio Dream Sister II, the group's most recent effort, which is being released more than a year after recording sessions commenced at Module Overload Studio (Black Lamb, Under the Drone). Slade says the band took a new approach on the album, a followup to 2003's Audio Dream Sister, which was recorded at a home studio.

"The first one, we just banged it out. I think the whole thing took, like, fifteen hours," he says. "I cringe all the time when I listen to it, but the riffs are good."

Conversely, Audio Dream Sister II was "largely written in the studio," Slade explains. "I was really picky about certain things." One look at Adam Air's cover art -- with succubi apparently sharing a bong with godlike serpents in an otherworldly marijuana field (not to mention a font that mimics KISS's and a title that nods to Led Zeppelin) -- provides a pretty good indication of what you're in for on the Sisters' new album. Like Audio Dream Sister, II is built on a foundation of '70s-inspired hard rock, only with more colors and textures this time around -- including open-ended psychedelic jams, acoustic guitars, banjo and harmonica. Slade remains the voice of Audio Dream Sister, nimbly veering from silky to seething on a dime, ideally suited for this brand of hellfire rock and roll. He's also the band's primary songwriter, penning eleven of the thirteen songs on II, with Kuhn contributing (and handling lead vocals) on the remainder. The escalating, lizard-brained crunch of "El Diablo" (which bookends a surprisingly delicate change) is one of Slade's prototypes, with free-association lyrics and a jackhammer of a musical backbone. Meanwhile, "Drunk Before Noon" is a mythic-sounding acoustic number that evokes Led Zeppelin II, and the Dylanesque "My Destruction" is an intricate acoustic- and harmonica-driven piece.

Elsewhere on the disc, Kuhn's twin brainchildren -- "Devil's Daughter" and "Ride of Your Life" -- demonstrate a different songwriting sensibility, more prone to storytelling and the laconic swirl of acid rock. Ultimately, while Audio Dream Sister's specialty is loud and fast, II demonstrates a defter touch and a broader set of influences than that used by most of the group's hard-edged brethren.

"Anything to expand the palette," Kuhn offers. "It's still a rock-and-roll record, but it's much more diverse."

Speaking of expanding the palette, with Denver's I-100 making pot possession quasi-legal within city limits, maybe the end is near for the antiquated stoner-rock designation -- especially now that "smoking weed is almost like smoking freaking cigarettes," as Slade puts it.


KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Eric Peterson