SPELLS (due this Friday, December 20, at 3 Kings Tavern) got together when Chuck Coffey and Rob Burleson, two longtime veterans of the scene, realized they shared a mutual love of East Bay pop-punk and San Diego noise rock. When the pair decided to form a band, they enlisted Ben Roy as the outfit's charismatic, transgressive frontman and Don Bersell to play bass rather than his customary role as a drummer. The sound they arrived at is based on melodic punk infused with more than its fair share of rambunctious energy.
All four guys have been veterans of various Denver bands over the years, including the Mailorder Children, 29th Street Disciples, Call Sign Cobra, Lion Sized and the Symptoms. This year, the group has issued a variety of releases, including a forty-five, a few digital downloads and its latest effort, a cassette containing a handful of unreleased tracks. We recently spoke with Burleson, the band's affable and good-humored drummer, about the group's modest but definite ambitions to be an outlet for fun while maintaining an inherent core of productive songwriting.
Westword: You and Chuck Coffey had been talking for some time about doing a band together?
Rob Burleson: Yeah, when Lion Sized broke up I took about a year off and didn't play in any bands. Chuck and I would meet up and have coffee and go run. We actually get a lot of talking about our music done while we run. We got together for months and just talked about music and what we were into at the moment. I think that the both of us realized that regardless of what we do in music, we wanted to play together and figure it out from there.
What kinds of bands and music did you discuss?
He got me into OBN III's. I was listening to a lot of Mrs. Magician at that time, from San Diego. And kind of older stuff we'd been listening to, like punk rock stuff, as well as Marked Men, and we both came to the conclusion we didn't want to sound like something specific. We just wanted to play together and have fun. It could be thrash rock as long as it was fun.
It's funny because I saw this documentary last year about LCD Soundsystem. I had never really listened to them before, but after watching that documentary, I wanted to rediscover them though they had broken up. When I first got together with Chuck, I was talking to him about playing stuff like Portishead and LCD Soundsystem -- more electronic dance kind of stuff. He said, "That sounds fun. I can play that."
We would talk about outside the box type stuff to play. It's what musicians do -- sit around and talk about music and getting healthy and weird stuff like that. I think we're both at that age now, though, where he can be like, "Oh, do you know this band?" And I'm totally comfortable with saying, "I've never heard them." Not like [when you're younger and] you feel like you have to know everything.
At your 7-inch release show at Lost Lake, Ben Roy got pretty "friendly" with the audience. Does he do that all the time?
Did he creep you out way too much? After the show, he said he thought he creeped you out. I said, "People have their boundaries, Ben." He said, "I know, I can't help it though."
How did you meet Ben?
I met him through Brandon Richier from Fire Drills. They worked together, and he knew Ben from being in the 29th St. Disciples. Ben was actually the last lead singer for Fire Drills before we broke up. Ben and I stayed friends and talked comedy, and I would go out to his comedy shows.
When Chuck and I first got together to start the band, I told him, "There's this guy you've never met named Ben Roy. He's a great frontman. And he can sing." In his older projects he does a lot of hardcore yelling but there's some melody there. As a frontman, though, he's a little touchy feel-y.
So we all met and clicked on the same ideas and musical interests, especially writing songs very efficiently. When we write, Chuck and I will get together. He'll have a riff, I'll put a drum beat to it, and we'll edit it a little bit there, and we can send it to Ben and a couple of days later he'll tell us, "I have it written."
He's incredibly efficient. He's a writer before anything. He's a writer before he's a comic, and he's a writer before he's a singer. We got Ben in the fold, and I don't think Don Bersell ever enjoyed playing drums, but he really enjoys playing bass, and it's a laid back band. There's no egos and no pressure for anything.
There's no pressure to "make it" or anything like that.
Not at all. We all have day jobs, we all have families and girlfriends and wives. We literally want to make music for fun. All we want to do is write new songs, record, play out and [repeat that cycle]. The thing Chuck and I really clicked on was the idea of focus '50s and '60s aspect of soul groups. Soul groups put out 45s out all the time, and were constantly in the recording studio.
We want to write six songs, and record six songs, and as those six songs are coming out we'll write six more. I don't think we'll put out an EP. Our goal is to do a 45 or a tape and some digital downloads. The current tape we're putting out includes "S-P-E-L-L-S Spells SPELLS (SPELLS RULES)" and "80%." The latter is about how you don't have to strive to be a hundred percent good at anything; eighty percent is good enough.
"All Hail Getting Old" is about how some of our friends around us are hemming and hawing about "I'm turning thirty!" We feel so much better now that being older is a good thing. I think we have a lot more things in perspective. "SPELLS RULES."
Do you know the Penetrators? Chuck told me, "The Penetrators have a song called 'Penetrators Don't Fuck Around.' Total hitting their chest sort of thing. We have to have a song like that." It's so absurd to be like, "You know? We rule." It's such an absurd concept. I know it sounds cocky, but back to your original point, we have no delusions about what we're doing. We don't know what making it is.
It's funny because it's absurd, yes, but you also really enjoy doing this band.
Yes! Why wouldn't you be proud of the stuff you're putting out. The biggest cheerleader has to be yourself. We're doing this for us, and we're having a really good time. If you want to come on board, come on board, but Ben is going to touch you. He's going to invade your space.
Your debut release was that 45. right?
Yes, then we did a digital download for "Forget About Virginia," which, if anyone puts any money toward that, it all goes to Lydia Cayton-Holland's fund -- she's Adam's sister. Her and Ben were really good friends. The third we did was "Even Assholes Have Their Day" / "Maybe's Martyr."
Those three releases and the new cassette represent our first two recording sessions. We're actually going in to record at the beginning of next month. We're going to record another eight songs and have a steady stream of records and tapes.
Chuck has a really good thing with Snappy Little Numbers as a label. It's a co-op, and he handles a lot of the business side of things. Chuck and I are both anal retentive, but in a way that compliments each other, so that we can both be not as anal retentive as we usually are.
Ian O'Dougherty once told me that every band has one guy that does all the booking and deals with most of the practical everyday details. SPELLS is lucky enough to have two of those guys: Chuck and I. It's cool because I don't feel like I have to nitpick over everything and neither does Chuck, and Ben and Don are so loose and chill about stuff, it's the easiest band I've ever been in.
Glass Hits is putting out a record on Snappy Little Numbers at the show as well?
Yes, and they have a limited edition silk-screened covers for the 12-inch as well.
You're a design guy. Why do you spell the band name with all capital letters?
The band name comes from a Mrs. Magician song. When we were writing out band names on our white board, I think the letters just looked better in all caps. "Ps" go below the line. It's not an article, it's not THE SPELLS, like magic spells, or spells like if you get dizzy. It's bookended with the two Ss and the Es have these lines and the L is linear and block-y.