Q&A with Dalton Rasmussen, co-curator of the Rocky Mountain Low comp

As if the title didn't tip you off, the recent Rocky Mountain Low compilation isn't a typical attempt at whitewashing a bygone era of music. Compiled by fan Dalton Rasmussen and a Joseph Pope, a man whose old band the Instants appears on the comp, Rocky Mountain Low is an exhaustive and brutally honest overview of Colorado's punk and underground rock scene of the late '70s--including a rare recording of Jello Biafra's pre-Dead Kennedys, Boulder-based band, the Healers, performing a deranged early version of "California Über Alles," a song that would go on to be DK classic. (However, you've got the buy the deluxe double-vinyl version of the comp to get that little treat.) In advance of the Rasmussen's and Pope's listening party for the release at 2 p.m. at Wax Trax Records on Saturday, Aug. 28, Rasmussen spoke with us about the good (and not-so-good) ol' days. Read the interview after the jump.

Westword (Jason Heller): As someone who didn't experience it firsthand, when did you first become interested in the late '70s Denver scene?

Dalton Rasmussen: I'd never heard of any of these bands when I started going to punk shows in Denver in the '80s. There was mention of a band called the Dancing Assholes, but that might have been the notoriety of the name. It wasn't until I moved back to Denver in 1995, and someone had dumped their whole record collection at Wax Trax, that I found this record by the old Boulder band Defex. It was this bar-band kind of punk, but it wasn't that bad. I ended up tracking these guys down, and they ended up telling me about a lot of the other local bands around back then. From there I just started contacting people.

WW: Just out of curiosity?

DR: Yeah. The guys from Defex were mentioning a lot of names like the Guys and the Profalactics and the Corvairs, and I ended up getting in touch with them. I just wanted to see what they sounded like, see if they had any recordings. I got a hold of some, and I thought, "These aren't great." So I kept digging, and I wound up getting in touch with Joseph Pope in 1999. And then we decided to do this compilation.

WW: What did you want to accomplish with the comp?

DR: Early on, Joseph said, "If we do this, we've got to document the entire scene." He thought it was possible. The more we dove into it, the more interesting it got. It shifted focus from being a music compilation to being a historical document. We wanted it to be historically accurate. When you think about most of the compilations that have come out about the late '70s punk scene, nobody's ever done one city's scene in its entirety. There's never enough context. I think people tend to forget that punk had a much broader interpretation back then. All these various sounds that have since been split apart and reclassified were all happening together. What's great about this particular era is that every one of these bands from Denver and Boulder had their own artistic response to the new music that was coming from the East Coast and West Coast and the U.K. People were correcting what they thought was wrong with rock and roll or music in general.

WW: What was behind the hefty booklet and liner notes you put together?

DR: I find it irritating that when you go out and buy a compilation of old punk, there's no accompanying documentation. There's no band information, there's no recording information. Where is music without the proper historical context? That was important to Joseph, since he'd been in this scene from the beginning, and he had opinions. There were definitely bands back then that he liked and others that he didn't like. But he set all those biases aside to make this portrait of the scene. And I think we accomplished that.

WW: What made the Colorado punk scene of the late '70s unique?

DR: Isolation. There were only two main records stores--Trade-A-Tape in Boulder and Wax Trax in Denver--that disseminated music that was happening elsewhere. That's where you could buy these records. You didn't have a lot of bands coming through either, not a lot of outside influences that people in the rest of the country were feeding off of. During late 1979 is when a lot of these local bands moved away. By 1980, most of the bands on the comp had broken up or left Colorado. In Joseph's liner notes, he mentions how completely isolated he felt living here, which is why he moved away. He just wanted to get the hell out of Cowtown. But there was a lot of pride here, even if that meant a lot of the bands thought they were better than they actually were [laughs].

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Jason Heller
Contact: Jason Heller