King Rat frontman Luke Schmaltz is a big Star Wars fan. He’s even an ordained minister of the Jedi Church, which “believes that there is one all-powerful force that binds all things in the universe together.” But the punk band’s bassist, Anthony DeLilli, is the biggest Star Wars freak Schmaltz has ever met.
“He’s got me beat by miles and miles,” Schmaltz says. “He’s got a Death Star-themed basement [with] all the colors of the Death Star and every Star Wars trinket that you could possibly imagine adorning the shelves and the walls.”
So when the two had the same dream one night last spring, they thought the Force was at work. They were in the Dominican Republic, and it was two days before DeLilli’s wedding, which Schmaltz planned to officiate. Schmaltz, his wife Christal, DeLilli and his bride-to-be all downed copious amounts of rum.
At breakfast the next morning, Schmaltz says, “I dreamed that we got offered a record deal from an indie label. Like, an actual deal with distribution and dividends and shit. I wrote a bunch of new songs that turned out pretty damn good.”
A stunned DeLilli said he'd had the same dream. Schmaltz says, “'Come on, dude. Don’t fuck with me. I’m too old for that.' And we hashed through the details. There were a few.... In everyone’s imagination, when you relive a dream, you tend to embellish where there are gray spots. It just skips from one time zone and one speed to another without explanation, as you know how the subconscious works.”
When Schmaltz got back home to Denver, he thought that maybe there was something to those synchronous dreams. So when he got an email from Music X-Ray three weeks later that mentioned there was a label looking for old-school punk, he jumped on the chance rather than dismissing it.
“Typically, I’m like, yeah, whatever. We’re too fast, or we’re too vulgar,” says Schmaltz. “We don’t sound like Blink-182 or Green Day or any of that.”
He put the Force to the test and sent Unable Records head Mike Ranson some of King Rat’s music, including the song “EMT.”
“I live by Denver Health,” Schmaltz says. “So I see EMT guys knocking off work, and sometimes it’s like, just looking at that guy’s face, he had to have a rough night. Look at that guy’s face. What did he see?”
It turns out that Ransom had been an EMT for sixteen years, and the song immediately snagged him. Things moved fairly quickly after that. Within six weeks, Schmaltz, DeLilli, lead guitarist Mike Makkay and drummer Doug Hopper wrote songs for what would be King Rat’s tenth recording, No Apologies, No Regrets, which was released on September 29.
Lyrically, Schmaltz delves into heavier material, penning “Thinkful Wishing,” about DeLilli’s golden retriever that passed away; “Nothing for Nothing," about Hopper’s Great Dane, which also died about two years ago; and “Thrift Store Kids,” about Schmaltz’s high school sweetheart, who died from cancer.
“I felt like with the right amount of melody, without losing the edge, we can put such heavy, sensitive issues into punk rock and still have it come across as genuine,” he says. “We’ve already written a ‘Fuck you, you’re dumb, and fuck off, you’re a bitch.’ We already wrote all those. We’ve already farmed all those motifs and all those tropes of, yeah, tell the man to fuck off, fuck the cops. That’s fine for the twenties and maybe the early thirties, but after 35, that whole thing is, like, you’re not going to get very far telling the cops to fuck off, like, avoid the police at all costs. And avoid telling the cops that you don’t like them. I mean, you can in the right format, but we’ve already done that.
“It’s like, I don’t want to write the same song over and over again. I want to delve into new territory. As we get older, you start losing people. And dogs are like your family or a brother or a sister. Not everybody feels that way, but we certainly do. You start losing people, and you have to face mortality and figure out what matters to you in life.”
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But “Transplant-itis,” on the other hand, is on the lighter side. Schmaltz says it’s an ode to all of the Colorado natives and longtime Denver residents who get stuck in traffic behind cars with out-of-state plates. It's “by far the most juvenile of the songs but a fun sing-a-long nonetheless for anyone who despises the Southern California privileged-white-bitch attitudes that have become a part of the social fabric around Denver."
Since King Rat has been around for 23 years, the band clearly knows how to craft swift and catchy punk tunes, as evidenced on No Apologies, No Regrets. And the act’s deal with Unable Records means that more people might get a chance to hear the band, because of the imprint’s established distribution network.
“It’s cool for us, because we’ve been kind of in the Denver bubble thing in our heads against the invisible ceiling for a long time,” Schmaltz says. “This is an opportunity to reach a wider audience and leave town and play some significant shows.”
To purchase No Apologies, No Regrets and find out more about King Rat, go to the band's website.