It’s hard to disagree with Its Just Bugs members when they say they have the worst band name in Denver. Grammatically incorrect, the apostrophe-less "Its" inspires a groan in all who care about the basics of the English language. But for Patrick Richardson, MC, band founder and Denver standup comic, he knows in the end, he just can’t take punctuation too seriously.
“I think we thought It’s Just Bugs would be a funny name," he says. "Later we dropped the apostrophe for stylistic reasons, but everyone still puts it on show posters."
Terrible band name aside, Its Just Bugs is one of the most engaging groups in the Denver area. Combining rage with sardonic humor, the five-piece — with two MCs, a keyboardist, bassist and drummer — has tapped into a modern form of hip-hop with a devilish twist, embodied in these lyrics:
“Satan writes me letters, Satan sends me gifts, Satan writes in cursive, Satan knows his shit. God claps at the end of movies, God tips like five percent, God wears cargo shorts, God leaves me discontent,” Richardson emphatically raps on the band's latest song, “Cold Comfort”, recorded in the bandmates' Cheesman Park apartment and released in December 2018.
“We’re not really a political band, but all of my frustrations with my mental health and the external world are connected, and getting to yell about it and say dark stuff on stage is my cowardly way of facing how bleak things feel outside,” says Richardson.
The band name alludes to Richardson’s solo hip-hop project, Giant Angry Bugs, where he developed his signature angry, existentialist and self-aware sound, releasing a substantial amount of content.
“I would make beats and then take my laptop and play shows by myself, and it was so boring," he recalls.
In 2014, he took a break from music and threw himself into standup comedy.
"I promised myself I would only go back to music if it was with a full band," he says. "And eventually, I got these guys together and we made it happen."
In 2017, he recruited Noel Billups on keys, Tyler Sanderson on drums, and Alex Koutsoukos as the second MC for a few jam sessions. Something clicked. Jack Jordan then joined as bassist, and their first performance was at a battle of the bands where they won $1,000, which they used to record their first EP, When Your Eyes Go Vacant.
Later that year, Koutsoukos left the band, and Jordan stepped up as MC; Sanderson’s brother Justin, who plays in the band Muscle Beach, joined on bass. This lineup would see them become one of the most versatile bands in the scene, playing shows across genres from metal to hip hop to indie rock. They even opened for Corey Feldman’s cringe-inducing band Corey Feldman and His Angels.
At the beginning of 2018, Its Just Bugs joined Sailor Records, and they began planning their first full-length album.
“Being a part of Sailor records is great," Richardson says. "We get to associate with a bunch of rad, mostly metal bands, which works out because those are some of our favorite types of shows to play."
Working on the record has been a challenging but exciting process. Jordan has found his voice as an MC and has become the counterbalance to Richardson’s monotone observational flow. Instrumentally, the band is at its best, and with a solid rhythm section behind him, Billups shines as a keyboardist.
But the only recorded material they have that shows their current sound is a slick video for the song “Cold Comfort” and a series of haunting short visualizer clips, produced from phone recordings and found footage on YouTube.
“I think we put unnecessary pressure on ourselves to pump out this record, because people are waiting for it. But the truth is almost no one is waiting for it, and most of Denver doesn’t even know who we are," he says. "There’s no rush for us. We just want to put out a great album, and it’ll be done when it’s done."
When Richardson took a break from his solo music, he entered the bizarre and turbulent world of the Colorado comedy scene. There he became a familiar face around the many open-mic nights in the state, and in October 2018, he earned a place as a finalist at the New Faces contest at Comedy Works. For Richardson, comedy has become a big part of his identity, and finding his way through that scene has taught him many life lessons.
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“It’s a strange community interconnected all over the country with hundreds of these weird funny little freaks who all want to make money and/or be famous from comedy. It’s very supportive and hyper-competitive all at once," he says. "It can be crazy to navigate, and if you have too many expectations or get too entitled, it’ll knock the wind out of you and destroy your world. I try not to compare my successes with others, and I fail every day. I love it. I hate it. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
As for his band, comedy serves as the antithesis to the rage behind the Its Just Bugs sound, and it’s this combination that makes the band so engaging. Somehow, the act has found a way to keep the humor from becoming a gimmick.
“Our music and lyrical content can get a bit angsty and moody, and I think bringing comedic elements into the live show and on social media helps break that up and bring levity," Richardson says. "I want the band to be an outlet for my frustration with my life and my mental health, but levity is also important. We never want to be taken too seriously."
Its Just Bugs with Plastic Daggers, FATHERS, Cheap Perfume, 7 p.m. Saturday February 23, Lost Lake Lounge, 3602 Colfax Avenue, $10-$12.