You can't help but calm the fuck down when you move to Colorado from inner-city Chicago," notes Craig Fleischman. The drummer, better known as Craig Nice, is one-half of the duo Gauntlet Hair, an outfit he started with Andy Rauworth, a high-school friend with whom he fled the Windy City three years ago for the more calming confines of the Centennial State. "Coming out here," Rauworth recalls, "we had all this time. We had a house, a yard, time to chill and whatever."
Nice and Rauworth grew up outside of Chicago and became fast friends upon being introduced to each other by a mutual acquaintance during their freshman year of high school. Drawn together by a similar fashion sense ("All black, tight pants," Nice recalls) and by the fact that together they comprised two-thirds of the punk kids at their school, the two started playing music together and formed a grindcore band called Robotic Resistance.
From there they moved into hardcore, then street and crust punk. By the end of high school, Nice and Rauworth had become disinterested in punk entirely and began gravitating toward the more extreme noise rock and mathcore being made by bands like Charles Bronson, the Locust and Ion Dissonance. But that music eventually wore thin, too, when those bands didn't evolve in ways that the pair found interesting. "It was either continue to listen to the same twenty CDs forever or give up on it," Nice explains. "And we just gave up on it."
Gauntlet Hair, with Unknown Mortal Orchestra, 8 p.m. Monday, October 31, Larimer Lounge, 2721 Larimer Street, $12-$15, 303-291-1007.
After graduating, the two friends lost regular contact for a time and ended up living in different parts of the city. But even apart, their musical tastes intersected, with Nice gaining a newfound interest in outfits like Animal Collective and the Intelligence, and Rauworth becoming a Suicide fan. Neither was particularly interested in speed or technical ability anymore as much as the feel of the music and the power of simplicity. When they finally reconnected, they found they were still on the same page.
They ended up moving together to Chicago proper, and through a series of odd and shifting living situations — including stints staying with (now-ex) girlfriends and living in their practice space — their music continued to evolve. Wonderful Counselors, the name given to their first project, was changed to Ears to the Grass before the guys eventually settled on their current handle, which, it turns out, just happens to be ideally suited to search-engine optimization.
"What's funny about the name is that it's perfect," Rauworth notes. "If you Google 'Gauntlet Hair,' you get nothing but 'Gauntlet Hair.' It's the perfect marketing tool."
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If the new name made for a good fit, though, the location did not. Nice and his girlfriend realized they were in a social environment that was not conducive to living the lives they wanted. "No one was doing anything worthwhile in our group of friends," Nice remembers. "And we were like, 'Let's get the fuck out of here.'" With that in mind, Nice and his girlfriend headed for Colorado, where her mother lived, and found a home in Lafayette. Rauworth followed a few months later.
Living in Lafayette, the members of Gauntlet Hair had time to re-evaluate what they wanted to do as a band and to focus in a way that had not been possible amid the hectic pace and stress of Chicago. The resulting music was prettier and more expansive. "That environment brought out all this focus," declares Rauworth. "We reinvented the structure and everything — reinventing the sound completely." At one point during their first year here, Nice was looking to see what bands were playing nearby when he stumbled upon a listing for a show happening at Rhinoceropolis.
"We couldn't find it," recalls Nice about their first time at the DIY space in the River North district. "We got the address, and we kept driving past it, and we were like, 'Where the fuck are we? There's no way there's a legitimate venue out here.' Then we saw people going into that green door and thought, 'Is that it? It has to be.' We walked in and were just like, 'Oh, my God! This is the coolest fucking thing I've ever seen!'"
After that, Nice and Rauworth ended up going to Rhino every weekend to catch whatever shows were happening, and in doing so, they became friends with Travis Egedy, Warren Bedell and Milton Melvin Croissant III. Rhino is where Gauntlet Hair played its first show, which also happened to be the first show ever for the two friends. "Andy's mom came out just to see that," Nice recalls. "I remember we were hanging out in the Filling Station for four hours prior, just, like, 'Oh, my God!' Just six years of anticipation all boiling down to this one show."
"It wasn't that we were just playing Rhino; it was the built-up anticipation," Rauworth clarifies. "We had been talking about playing shows for years and years since we met, and here it comes, finally, but so much later. We built it up too much. I blacked out during that show. I don't remember playing that show at all. I was totally terrified, but I got through it."
Gauntlet Hair worked through whatever initial stage anxiety existed and went on to release a seven-inch on Forest Family Records, the imprint co-founded by the Gorilla Vs Bear and Weekly Tape Deck blogs. Thanks to Egedy, who talked up the band to people he knew in New York and at Pitchfork when he released a digital mixtape for the Monterey Music Festival in Mexico, Gauntlet Hair began to garner the attention of bloggers and critics. And that buzz was stoked by the release of the two-song release, which contained the tracks "I Was Thinking" and "Our Scenery," and eventually attracted the attention of Matt Halverson of Lefse Records, who now manages the band.
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Initially, Halverson wanted to sign Gauntlet Hair to his label, but he realized he could get them a better long-term deal by working out a contract with a label with a bigger budget and more clout in the industry. So this past spring, Gauntlet Hair recorded its self-titled full-length debut at Rauworth's grandmother's house in Manhattan, Illinois. The results were released last week on the Dead Oceans imprint.
Recording required the pair — musicians who seemed to thrive on constantly changing up their sound — to solidify their sound in order to produce something that could be shared with people beyond their home audience. "It doesn't mean it's exactly the sound we're going for these days," Rauworth stresses. "I think people thought something else would come out of this record that would be way past what we did before."
"You can't move too fast," concludes Nice. "That would be even more confusing."
Confusing? More like invigorating. Living in a place where the weather changes on a whim, the members of Gauntlet Hair couldn't have picked a more perfect place to set up shop.