Meet Don Strasburg. No, not that one.
Based on the name, you would be forgiven for thinking this is a profile of Don Strasburg, the owner of Boulder’s Z2 Entertainment and senior talent buyer at AEG Live whose notoriously competitive booking methods help maintain his companies’ monopoly over the Denver and Boulder concert scenes. A quick Google search yields images of a middle-aged man grinning beside Perry Farrell, along with a 2012 Westword blog post congratulating him for winning Pollstar’s Talent Buyer of the Year award.
This is not that Don Strasburg.
This is Don Strasburg the lawsuit-baiting Boulder rock four-piece, but as the bandmembers tell it, they’re not really sticking it to The Man. After all, the band did stop short of putting Strasburg’s face on its album cover because, as drummer Caden Marchese concedes, “We knew we’d get in trouble.” Naming itself Don Strasburg is just them “poking fun” at the talent buyer, whom they don’t even see as the real enemy.
“Z2 is just a reaction to what people in Boulder are going to buy,” Marchese explains. “There isn’t a place like Larimer Lounge or Lost Lake for smaller bands. The Fox and the Boulder are really your only options.”
That can be a frustrating situation. All four bandmembers live in Boulder, study at the University of Colorado’s flagship campus, and contribute to Boulder-based indie label First Base Tapes. They’re active within other local acts, too, including Coo Coo Bad Brains, American Grandma and Beat Soft Pop. But the city they call home, despite its artsy reputation, hasn’t exactly made them feel welcome by tightening zoning laws, stamping out co-ops and raising housing costs. “The city made its mind up about people like us,” says guitarist Lazlo Bomark.
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As Boulder appears to grow increasingly hostile toward artists, musicians and anybody who’s not a techie or a wealthy out-of-state college student, the members of Don Strasburg can’t help but feel the pinch. Their efforts have even prompted pushback from fellow DIY artists. “First Base Tapes has gotten a lot of negative reactions from people in Boulder,” says frontman Donato Ruscitti. “They’re like, ‘Why are you trying to do this in Boulder? Boulder is a ship that sailed a long time ago.’”
The group is pushing on regardless of pressure and doubt. Just weeks removed from the release of its debut self-titled EP on Denver label No Direction Records, Don Strasburg is striking out with a calamitous sound that straddles hardcore, post-punk and pop punk. The guitars are angular, the drums are relentless, and the bass acts as a frantic anchor. Atop it all, Ruscitti howls about fighting to survive and spending his summer battling “coffee headaches while your parents were out of town.” It’s not pretty, nor is it supposed to be, and the final, throbbing sum of its un-pretty parts could land the group on a bill alongside Preoccupations or Perfect Pussy.
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And it began the way it always does: in somebody’s basement. Bomark and bassist Adam Tammariello had been looking to start a just-for-fun speed-punk band. Marchese wanted to form a post-hardcore band, though he admits that at the time, “I didn’t really know what that meant.” They met in Ruscitti’s basement, and the four started jamming and writing songs — two of which (“Eyesore” and the delectably bizarre instrumental “Dumbis Square”) would make the EP.
Said EP was recorded this summer in the home studio of American Culture bassist Lucas Johannes. All four members were suffering from raging hangovers — “We didn’t think Lazlo was going to make it,” laughs Ruscitti — and only survived the successful four-hour session thanks to a steady stream of coffee from Johannes’s French press. The finished EP collected dust for two months while Bomark, Tammariello and Ruscitti toured with Coo Coo Bad Brains. No Direction Records head Evan Kallas eventually approached the members about releasing the EP through his label, and they enthusiastically agreed. (Find music and more information on No Direction’s Bandcamp site.)
No word yet as to whether Don Strasburg the person is aware of Don Strasburg the band, but the guys figure that First Base Tapes must be on Strasburg’s radar even if they aren’t. None of them have met their namesake personally, but they’re open to hanging out. “I’d really like to meet him and have lunch with him,” Marchese says. His bandmates laugh in agreement.
Table for five, please.