Having a conversation with the members of Redline Defiance is like trying to keep a bucket of puppies from spilling: They’re young, enthusiastic-like rockets. And they’re hyper-stoked about their upcoming CD-release party. The act has performed on the Warp Tour, had its music snapped up by FSN and ABC is using one of its songs in an upcoming episode of Lost. Not too shabby for a band that doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry, eh?
Really, though, the band's just barely hitting its stride. For their part, vocalist/guitarist Mike Kellogg and guitarist Emerson Willis still remember humble beginnings, playing in front of twelve friends at the Castle Rock Main Street Bar and Grill. Now with bassist Carlos Martin and drummer Seth Bennett, the band has retooled and refocused its sound in time to release, A Moment Before the White, its latest effort.
We recently sat down with Redline Defiance to discuss the new lineup, the band’s progression and what it was like for lead singer Mike Kellogg to be a Columbine survivor. Portions of that conversation appear in R.Kelly Liggin’s February 21 Rough Mixes entry. The entirety of the exchange is posted below.
Westword (R Kelly Liggin): So you guys are still unsigned, is that right?
Carlos Martin: Yeah, we’re unlabeled.
WW: Have you tried? Is that on the band’s radar?
Emerson Willis: You’re always trying. But it’s got to be right, you know? You’re not going to take it up the ass and get screwed over -- we’ve heard about that before.
Mike Kellogg: We have had a couple of indie-label offers, but what they were offering wasn’t exactly any better than what we’re doing currently, anyway. We’ve had a lot of things we’ve needed to work on, anyway. Now I think we’re ready for that next push.
WW: So you’re new CD that’s coming out, A Moment Before the White, how new is it?
MK: This is the first album with Seth in our band. There’s been a lot of history, a lot of changes. Adding Seth was good for me because I come from a more metal/punk kind of background. Having someone who could actually play the sound I liked helped. You can tell the difference.
EW: The old CD [Last of the Cellophane] was great at the time, definitely more on the poppy-rock, 105.9 side -- definitely more alternative.
WW: What are you looking to be, musically?
MK: We don’t want to be just metal; we don’t want to be just rock. If you had somebody else that wanted to categorize us, they’d probably say, “alternative rock” because we do so many different things with our band. But if you ask us, we just say we want to rock. We’ve taken old-school metal, old-school rock and made it new again.
Seth Bennett: It’s a new genre -- we call it “Redline Rock.”
WW: So who does the screaming?
EW: Carlos does them live, but Mike does them on the CD. It depends on the part and the time. There’s a couple of places on the CD, “Fire and Flame,” where we all jumped in there.
WW: Is there anything you recorded on the new CD that you can’t perform live, something with special looped tracks or what?
MK: No. Our old CD actually had a lot of live plug-ins. We used a drum pad, some special effects. We produced the old CD a lot more than this new one. We wanted the new one to be straight, cut-and-dry. We wanted people to get the pure essence of what we’re trying to get across.
CM: With the old album, the main criticism was that we sounded way better live.
EM: The guitars on the old CD sounded like they were in a box. They didn’t have that chunk that the new CD has.
WW: Would you say that the band’s evolution here is more devolution?
MK: Yeah. We wanted to do what we know; we wanted to rock. And the whole idea of this CD was to put out an EP, to create something that people could understand and see how our band was going, but to know that this wasn’t supposed to be a full CD.
WW: You’re under new management. That’s got to be hard to get right, the chemistry.
MK: We’ve had some sick managers. But we’ve been with these guys since July, and they’ve been doing a wonderful job. And the fact that we found our new manager at the time we did was perfect, too.
WW: Is Redline better, then?
CM: Hand’s down this is the best band I’ve played in. We’ve become completely different. It’s not like, "This is cool; we’re having a good time." Suddenly, this is the music we want to be playing. The songs are better, and I think that’s because we work together on the music.
WW: It sounds like you guys have been working hard on the band itself, not just the marketability of the band.
MK: Of course. And there’s certain things you’ve got to have before you can work on the success of the band. We’ve been through two bass players and one drummer already. It’s a long, arduous process of getting others in, finding out how they work and starting to collaborate with them.
WW: Do you guys think this unit’s tight?
MK: Oh, we’ve never felt more chemistry. We were lucky to find Carlos. He fit in right off the bat, like it was fated. And then when we found Seth -- it shouldn’t have taken as fucking long as it did. But when it did it was like, "This is exactly how it needed to happen." Everything seems to be playing out like it should.
WW: Does this show in how you guys all play and write music together?
CM: The way we write songs is awesome. We have a rotating system, where one person gets to pick a riff. Whatever you want it to be -- it’s your riff, and then we all attack and dissect it and put it back together as a group.
WW: Seth, you’re the new guy, one with the full-assault, speed metal background. Has it been hard to tone it down a notch?
SB: I’m of the opinion that a good musician knows when to shut the fuck up. There’s a time and place where you show your stuff, and there’s a time and a place where something else needs to be in the forefront.
WW: Alright, And now we’re looking at about fifty years of musical experience here amongst you guys.
MK: That’s the thing that’s cool about it. We’re coming from completely different backgrounds. I come from punk and alternative. Emerson, when I met him, he was doing a lot of modern guitar stuff. Seth is a complete metal head -- and it’s awesome to have his influence. And Carlos listens to Fugazi -- he’s like the funkadelic style of the band. To put us all together in a room, you’d expect it wouldn’t work. But we found a way to stitch everyone in to this tight-knit fucking puzzle that we’ve made.
WW: Fair question with all the musical talent we’ve go here: Mike, why so long for a breakthrough?
MK: We needed to take some steps before we took it to the top level -- we’ve had a lot of things to work on, and I personally wasn’t ready. I had a lot of growing up to do, a lot of things to mull through. I had never done the "show" thing, and I had never gotten on the radio before, and I had never had to do the four days a week of posting flyers up, because who else is going to do it? It gives you thick skin, and it’s definitely something every band should go through to actually make it in the real world.
EW:I'm glad it’s taken this long. Had success come earlier, it wouldn’t have been right. Our old drummer was insane, had drinking problems. And that’s a normal thing for a band. But now I think we’re ready for that next push. Right now we’re confident we could go on the road.
WW: Are you guys ready for that?
EW: Oh, hell yes.
WW:Five years from now, where do you see Redline Defiance?
MK: How about one year from now? We’re ready for it now. We’re here to do it. Five years? We want to be playing stadiums, man.
WW: Stadiums? Then who’s your fan base?
MK: Anybody and everybody. We like women a lot.
WW: How is the pussy, anyway. Good being in a rock band?
MK:It definitely helps!
CM: I’m married, so it no longer matters to me.
WW: Of course. But what about your families. Have they been supportive? Emerson, your father actually used to manage the band, is that right?
EW: My Dad has always been there; he’s always been super supportive, the "dad" of the band. Helped us out financially; helped us book shows. You know, he’s still working a job, but he’s helped with everything – 100 percent behind this.
MK: My parents are a little more closed minded.
WW: Mike, do you think the whole "band" thing is you playing rebel?
MK: No, it’s fun that it’s turned into that thing. But it’s not because of that. They understand me wanting to be in a band because they realize this is just something I want to do.
WW: What happens when you guys blow up?
MK: That’s me coming back and saying, “Ha! Told ya!” But no, actually they’ve been supportive -- they always come out to shows, and everyone tells them, “Oh, Redline Defiance? I know one of the players.”
WW: Speaking of that -- what’s with the name?
MK: There’s more message to it, more meaning ... we were driving to our very first gig, which was at Elitch Gardens, and we just had to have a name. We knew we were going with "Redline," because we’re all crazy about cars. And the whole idea of the redline is a metaphor for personal boundaries, personal limits. I was listening to 311 at the time, and one of them said, “defiance,” and Elitch called, said we had to have something to put on the marquee. We told them "Redline Defiance." Works for now. Click. Done. And then we had our name up at the show, and it’s stuck ever since.
A week after that we had a graphic, a tachometer pushing past where it normally goes. It shows that anyone can push it past the normal boundary that’s been set. And it’s like any personal limit you might have in your life and you’re saying, “I’m just going to keep going.” If it keeps going up, then fuck it, I’m on it.
WW: Is this attitude from Columbine? Emerson, you were there that day, weren’t you? Did Columbine change you in any significant way?
EW: The only thing for me is I had a couple of friends that went to school there. And I was ditching school to be with my girlfriend. We were just hanging out in the cafeteria, trying to decide: Do we want to eat here? Do we want to go to the mall? We said "screw it" and left three minutes before it all happened. I was able to take my best friend and my girlfriend out of there. That’s two less people that had to experience it like Mike had to experience it. But my girlfriend, she was broken.
WW: Mike, you were there that day. Did you happen to know any of those guys?
MK: I had a friend who was one of them, the trench coat people. My friend’s older brother had run with those kids.
WW: Were you there that day? And did you actually see one of them, Klebold or Harris?
MK: Oh, yeah, the one with the shotgun. It’s gut-wrenching. I was in the cafeteria that day. I was eating lunch. We heard the pipe bombs. I was lucky -- I had one right next to me in a backpack that didn’t go off. Within a five feet radius. That it didn’t go off was a blessing. But I saw a couple of my friends get shot outside.
WW: Did you lose anybody?
MK: Yeah. I was friends with a few of those kids -- not direct friends, but people I went to school with, people I saw on a regular basis.
WW: Tough question, you tell me if I’m out of line. Has all this helped shape who you are as a musician?
MK: It’s hard for anyone to have to go through something on that level. I’m sorry that it had to happen. But it completely changed my character and shaped the person that I am now.
WW: In what way?
MK: It’s hard to say. There was a way I was before. I was almost a 4-0 student, wanted to be an architect, wanted to find a girlfriend and start having kids and go to college -- to basically live the life that everyone else in my family was living. I wanted to fit in, you know? After the whole thing happened, it opens your eyes to life’s too fucking short. There are a lot of things you could actually push and want to do. I wanted to play guitar ever since I was a little kid. After April 20, I realized I didn’t want to waste any time doing anything else. I want to play guitar. I want to be in a band. I want to make music. I want people to hear my message.
WW: So it really spurred you to pursue your musical side.
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MK: I was never in a band before. I liked guitar; it was something I was interested in. But I was never in a band. The day after Columbine, I locked myself into a room for three months. I picked up my guitar and said, "I’m really going to do this. I’m going to learn how to play guitar, going to learn to play my scales." I wanted to learn what the guitar has to offer me. It took me a long time before I was even comfortable talking to people about April 20th. But I got to the point where I wanted to write a song about it. So I did, and then I wrote another one about it. Then I wrote another one about it. Then it turned into this is so exciting to me, why not keep doing it?
WW: So are you past the tragedy, then?
MK: I can talk about it. That’s all I can say. The things I saw -- I sing songs about it, but I’ll never get past it. I still have nightmares to this day. In my sixth grade year book, they asked everyone what they wanted to be, and everyone said they wanted to be a soccer player or a princess. I wrote that I wanted to be a fucking rock star.
-- R. Kelly Liggin