The guys are not necessarily carrying the torch for that older style of heavy music as much as they're embodying what made it so good in the first place. Without trying to fit any particular subscene, Speedwolf can play metal shows and punk shows with equal ease, and that's because the music does not fit a strict stereotype, and neither do the members.
We recently caught up with singer Reed Bruemmer and drummer Richie Tice and talked about how the band formed, discussed its subsequent trials and tribulations and got some insight into the outfit's notable sense of humor, which is rare in a style of music in which many musicians aren't known for really having one.
Westword: So Speedwolf started about three years ago?
Richie Tice: This April, it will be four years.
Reed Bruemmer: Time flies when you're living in Denver.
Are you guys from Denver?
RT: I was born at Swedish, and I lived down behind the Gothic until I was five, and then I moved to Bailey. So I've been in Bailey for twenty-one years now.
RB: I was born in Atlanta and lived there when I was a kid and basically went to high school here at Regis in Aurora. All boys Catholic.
What got you into playing drums?
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RT: I'm not sure exactly when I started it. I was doing pretty badly in school and my dad wanted to do something for me so I did better in school so every time I got an A, he would give me a new piece of my drum set. Once I got more As I got a full drum set. Then I quit school and started playing drums.
RB: I didn't know that! That's awesome.
RT: But I was in sixth grade and by eighth grade I got kicked out of school. Then I just got me GED and graduated really early. I didn't really get kicked out, but it was kind of a mutual thing when my mom kicked me out of the house and I lived downtown. I was pretty bad and rebellious and my mom couldn't keep me on track. That's when I went back to live with my dad up in the mountains but ever since I've been playing the drums.
What did you start out with?
RT: I had a five piece Pearl. Just a normal...it took me a while to get all the pieces but once I got all the pieces I think the first song I ever learned was "Fortunate Son" by Credence Clearwater Revival. Then I bought another drum set at a garage sale and had a ten piece drum set that sounded like crap and that's what made me use a double bass. I'll use two basses unless I go on tour and then I'll probably shrink it down to one.
Did you play in bands right away?
RT: Yeah, me and Jake Kauffman have known each other since high school and we played in crappy bands then, garage style. I learned by playing to live albums. I learned all of a Metallica live record and all of a Slayer live record. I never learned to read or anything like that, I just played by ear. I was really into thrash so every main thrash record I tried to learn front to back.
How about Bonded By Blood?
RT: Bonded By Blood is hard because he's a left-handed crazy drummer so it was difficult watch videos for him. Testament, Vio-lence, all that kind of stuff I've tried to learn.
How did you guys meet?
RT: Reed was in DDC and I was in Havok at the time. I did one of the early demos before they got signed. We played a show at The Gothic and we kind of liked each other more than the rest of the band. We got along pretty well and started talking about jamming someday.
Reed, when did you start playing music?
RB: It's funny, when I was younger I got a guitar before anything. I got a guitar at eight or nine from mowing lawns. When it came to being in a band, I just kind of ended up singing. Like how everybody else just gets stuck with their instrument.
What made you want to get a guitar?
RB: I grew up around a lot of rhythm and blues from my parents. So I was influenced by people like Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan and I was attracted to guitar tone more than anything. "I want to make that sound!" too kind of thing. I wouldn't have known what a bass was in a song unless you pointed it out when I was that age. I was just like, "Guitar is loud and it pisses my parents off so it's cool. That's what I need." I got a Squire Stratocaster, black and white.
RT: I had a Peavey sunburst Stratocaster-looking thing. I wanted to play guitar but I was not good. So I'll stick to the drums. I could write some down-picked thrash riffs or dance riffs but that's about it.
DDC, that wasn't your first band was it, Reed?
RB: Yeah, that was my first band. We had this ongoing joke changing what it stood for all the time. It was like Dicks Dipped in Chocolate, Denver Dyke Choir, all sorts of shit. Seriously, it was Death Destruction Chaos, as plain as that sounds. It was thrash. We started out when we were really young so it was punk/hardcore stuff that evolved into more like thrash metal as we played more.
What kinds of shows did you guys go to when you were younger?
RT: I went to every and any show I possibly could. I think I was nine when I went to my first real concert. It was Metallica, I think, a bad Metallica concert--it was like '96 so they had an acoustic set involved so it was kind of weird.
RB: Days of the New tour?
RT: Yeah. I think Jerry Cantrell opened or something like that. It was at Fiddler's Green and I was on the grass. I tried to go to a lot of shows but they were mostly bigger shows because my parents had to go with me.
RB: I was in kind of the same boat. I didn't start going to shows until I was twelve or something and get rides with whoever wanted to go see anything. I remember back then there were good shows at The Ogden every week. So we were always going to the Ogden until we found out about underground venues and went to every local show we could find.
I remember when we were younger, we looked up to Forth Yeer Freshman. We thought they were the craziest dudes. I lived with the guitarist forever and I now know them all as good buddies. They're playing the CD release show as MF Ruckus. Places like Garageland, Colorado House at 11th and Colorado, Fallen Skate Warehouse. It seems like there were lot of house shows back in the day too. That's what we did every weekend was just go to people's houses that would let us get drunk and see bands.
RT: That's kind of like my place up in the mountains. Me and Jake would just put on our own shows. We'd put on a record and play to it, me and Jake. And have all of our friends over and partying.
Havok was not your first band, Richie?
RT: I was in a band with Kris Wells and Jake from Speedwolf called Chemi-kill that was the first real project we did. We went to a studio and recorded an EP. I was also in a band called Torrid Flesh. I think I did their second record and it didn't really work out too well. I didn't really want to be in a death metal band. It was kind of weird but it got me experience and in the studio more and I played a bunch of shows. It got my feet faster.
After Chemi-kill I wanted to really be in a thrash band and I put out flyers about...because I had a Dave Lombardo style. They called me and said, "We don't need a drummer, but we just want you to be our fan." I went to a show and I told them that I was better than their drummer. He was total Lars Ulrich standing up behind his kit. His tongue was hanging out and stuff. And I said, "You've got to lose that dude." I finally got in and got the inside scoop with managers and stuff and I didn't really get along with the business side because they wanted to make it something it kind of wasn't at the time.
Is your name a reference to the High On Fire song?
RB: It's more of a coincidence kind of. We're High On Fire fans but we had no idea about that.
RT: We didn't even know there was a song named that until after the fact. It's kinda cool because they're a good band.
RB: We joked around with Matt Pike when we met him. He was all stoked. And we were like, "Yeah, we didn't name it after your song but you guys rule!"
RT: We gave him stickers and he liked them.
Your music has the physicality of hardcore but isn't that, like Venom or something like that. Was there a sound you talked about going for when you started the band?
RB: It was kind of loosely agreed upon. We were all into the same bands, some more than others. Richie's way into thrash metal, Jake is into 70s rock and doom stuff, I like a lot of black metal and death metal. We're all open-minded with all that stuff. We were shooting for an older style metal sound that we all love. We'd bring up specific bands in practice. We'd talk about Motorhead, Venom. That was loosely agreed upon. Early 80s metal.
RT: We kind of talked about it from when we left our bands and the projects we were going towards. Like, "Well, this is what lead us to quit and not want to do those bands anymore." So we thought about the things we did not want to do as a band and the genres and the pigeonholed things those bands were going to be doing. We wanted to do what we liked to do and everyone else in those bands didn't want to do. So we went the complete opposite way.
A lot of it was just the kind of the way we hold ourselves. The ego, the attitudes, try to be in all the battles of the bands and win every time. Try to get all that exposure. We didn't want to do the asshole kind of thing. We wanted to make good music that we liked as fans. All the music we liked from back in the day that no one's really trying to make anymore. That new retro thrash is taking old thrash and doing completely new things with it. We wanted to pay tribute to the bands we liked and do what they did with it and not try to change it.
Not that you're trying to copy them.
RB: It's more like we're such big fans of those old bands, we want to honor them rather than stand on our own pedestal and be like, "We're amazing because we're coming up with this new thing." We love those old bands and we want to sound like them.
You played at SXSW and people made a huge deal out of it, at least that what it seems like.
RB: I think it's kind of funny the way people see it from here than when you actually go there. Because it's crazy down there. Some people think SXSW is a big festival in a field but no it's the entire town and every street corner--it's insane. So if you get to play, you're fighting to just play in the back yard of some shitty bar for ten minutes in the middle of the day. A Thursday. So we got to do stuff like that and it was cool and it wasn't as glorious as some people might think.
Did you have an invite from SXSW proper?
RB: We did one time for Aquarius Records. We did a showcase. We sent them some records for their distro and they were really excited about it. So I was like, "Hey I heard you were doing a showcase, can we play?" And they said, "Yup." Then we got on board with the festival. Even then it was a twenty minute set on a Tuesday.
RT: It was cool but there was so much music going on. We played and there were thirteen bands all day and we'd be there and someone else headlined that night. We played at the back patio at two o'clock and there was so much stuff going on we didn't get a chance to see most of the bands we wanted to see because it was either shut down, packed or on the complete opposite side of town we were on. It was just Motorhead but we missed Voivod. I went down there and there was a huge line but they wouldn't let anyone in.
RB: Death from Detroit played but we couldn't get into that.
What a bummer! Obviously the other Death you'll never get to see. Anyway, you've played all kinds of venues and shows. But you're not careerist types. Why do you think it's important to stay connected with something smaller scale?
RT: I think it keeps us more grounded. Of course every band doesn't want to just stay in their home town. We'd love to achieve success and do whatever we can do. But it would be better to do it with us saying, "Here we are as fans making the kind of music that pleases us." If it takes off, it takes off. We're not going to be superficial dickheads about everything and go about it the wrong way. If it gets success, great. Every band tries achieve that.
RB: Bands like that, it's just like Richie said, they just lose sight of why they're doing it. When we all started this band we were huge fans of other bands. We're not in it to extend our egos. With the genre we play in there's tons of macho dickheads. We're not in it because we want to feel tough. We're not practicing with a click track, which turns your music into math. It's all based on feel and enjoying the style we're playing. I think if you start aiming for that, music loses all its fun and all of its meaning. It's like any artist that's been in it for a long time, it just comes down to money in the end.
RT: And just recording our album and sending it and saying, "Here, put vocals on it." We don't want to become one of those kinds of bands.
RB: We're lucky with the style we play. It's pretty broad. We can play any type of show and get along with people. We're really lucky to be able to do that and we're not pigeonholed.
RT: We've played death metal bands, black metal bands, doom bands, we've played with a ska band before. We'll play with anyone who wants to play with us. It's like Motorhead, they kind of fit with any kind of scene: a punk scene, a metal scene, the rock and roll stuff. They're just a heavy band.
There's a great video for "Denver 666" - did you make that?
RT: Yeah. Me and my boss at The Gothic, we were out drinking at his house and I had a wolf outfit that I got from a Halloween store and we just started kind of throwing out ideas all drunk and late one night. He had a Canon Coolpix digital camera we shot everything on. He did all the swipes and stuff. It was just a drunken, fun night. There's way more to it. I had an entire day with the wolf outfit on. I went to the bar and danced to "Thriller" and picked out every song I could think of with wolves in it. Then I climbed the side of Rockbar in the wolf outfit.
The thing with me riding on my van...that was the day we got done recording, I got on the roof of my van like the scene in Teen Wolf. There was no budget and my boss put it on YouTube. It was pretty fun. We've got to make another one sometime.
RB: We're very serious about being lighthearted.
RT: I didn't know we were going to make a music video that would turn into what it did. We were just kind of being dumb and filming and my boss said, "You should see what I did to that music video. It's awesome."
You've been on a few tours, right? Do you book your tours and what is it like?
RB: We've been on four or five tours. At first it was a lot of me booking most of the tours but recently it's been everyone booking every date. Which has worked out really well because everyone has their hand in a different show. It's not easy by any means. Our ways of doing it are just the same way as anyone else who doesn't know what they're doing; get on an internet website and find someone from some random town and ask them for a favor. Or call up people we might know.
RT: We know some pretty cool people but some of the shows and some of the places it's like we know one guy in that town and maybe he can get his friends out. It can be rough at some points but we've got a lot of good contacts at places we've played before.
RB: To be honest, I've never done it any other way. I've never had a booking agent do it for us. I don't know how comfortable I would be with that. It might be cool but then it's not like you know what you're doing every night. Show up to a town and hope it's good.
Do you ever get press out of town?
RB: We wish! A few places some dude will have an internet radio show and he'll play our stuff before coming to town. That's the closest we've come.
RT: I think Texas was the closest we've come. We had that one radio station come and record our set when we played out there and they were going to play it live but I don't know if it ever happened.
You recorded this album last year?
RT: October 31st last year is when we started recording. We got everything done in a couple months and we've toured since then and we wrecked his trailer. So it's taken us a little time because of money.
RB: It actually belonged to Steve Goldberg of Cephalic Carnage. He recorded the album and we used Cephalic Carnage's trailer, wrecked that, long story short we're paying that off still.
RT: We had the record pretty much done, went on tour and we were just going come back and polish up the record and do the mixing and mastering and the other final touches. Came back with the broken trailer and we had to pay him slowly for both the recording session and the trailer. He was cool about it.
Obviously you didn't intend to wreck the trailer.
RT: No, it was a dumb mistake but...
RB: Yeah, I was driving.
So your new album is called Ride With Death?
RB: Yeah, it's a title track kind of thing.
You have some great imagery and artwork for your band. Who makes most of your artwork?
RB: Sam Turner. He's a local guy but he's drawn for a lot of bigger bands: Toxic Holocaust, Zeke, Three Inches of Blood and things like that. And Neversummer skateboards. He's a really talented dude and he's a metalhead so he's excited about what we're doing.
RT: He did the front and back of the album and he did that "Wolfengram" thing for us. He did some other logos for us too but I don't think we've used all of them yet.
There's a lot of humor in your music but it's serious as well. Obviously "Denver 666" is a funny song. There's no theme or anything, is there?
RB: We're not conceptually deep or anything. The lyrics are more fitting for the music we play and the style we play. The lyrics are what you would guess they would be about. You know, drugs, motorcycles, chicks, leather, the devil--something like that.
RT: We have some normal topics for metal. Then we have stuff that refers to what's happened in our personal lives.
Do you ever write stuff to make yourself laugh or where does some of that come from?
RB: Some of it's like fantasy. Just some crazy idea you have. Not fantasy like Dungeons & Dragons fantasy but riding your motorcycle two hundred miles per hour. It's somewhat lighthearted but like I said, we're still serious about it. We wrote that song "Denver 666" and it's a funny title and the lyrics are funny. But in all seriousness, we love being from here and saying we're from here.
RT: That's something I get from him. Some of what he writes about may not sound too serious because he is a funny guy. But the stuff where it happened to him, he'll say it in more a joking manner rather than in a serious way. If there's something he felt he needed to say he might have said it in an exaggerated way but most of it still happened.
We don't kill Christians and we all don't do coke every day. But there's stuff that has happened to us. But we're not like, "Let's do drugs and worship Satan everyday! Let's kill a bunch of people!"
RB: This isn't the early 90s where you can have interviews where we would say stuff like that and everybody believes it. Communication is so widespread so everyone is going to eventually find out we're really laid back, realistic dudes. "These guys don't live in caves, man. You said they did!"
RT: We sent a letter trying to sound like we were the best thing that ever happened since the Broncos and stuff and we signed it "John Fucking Elway." A fake signature and everything. "My name is John Elway here and this is the best thing that's happened to Denver since the 1998 season."
RB: Those were the promo packs we sent to record labels.
RT: We were just trying to be goofy. We sent it to Metal Maniacs and Metal Blade Records.
Yeah, and Brian Slagel wrote you back personally.
RT: Yeah, right, he was like, "This isn't what we were looking for, thanks." No, we were just trying to have fun with it.
RB: There are a lot of uptight metalheads to poke fun of. We sent our first cassette tape to Maximum Rock N' Roll and they tore us apart. I met the guy who did it and he was an idiot. He came to one of our record release shows. He was on tour with another band. He was like, "You guys sound just like Municipal Waste." That's MRR for you, man. Pretentious but no intelligence.
RT: We've been called death metal and all kinds of weird stuff.
RB: There are so many bands that combine six genres or something into one song. We simplify everything and then people have to classify it before they allow themselves to enjoy it. It's like open that ear, you know?
RT: "It must be death metal because I only like death metal."
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There are some punk rock people like that for sure.
RT: People have said that our record sounds to new compared to the style we play.
RB: Too clean of a recording for a dirty style.