"Looking back," Donovan Welsh allows, "it took balls or stupidity, knowing what we know now."
That's how the bassist, just back from a third stint on the Vans Warped Tour, explains how his band, D.O.R.K. , first finagled its way on to Kevin Lyman's roving punk-rock caravan in 2003. Welsh and his bandmates had driven to New Mexico and lobbied Lyman for a chance to perform. And whether impressed by the musicians' tenacity or naiveté, Lyman gave D.O.R.K. a slot on that day's bill.
The following March, at South by Southwest in Austin -- where the group has played non-sanctioned shows for the past three years -- Welsh ran into Lyman in the lobby of his hotel and made a case for D.O.R.K. to be added officially to the tour's 2004 installment. "We've always kind of worked that way," Welsh says. "Like, the worst thing the guy's going to say is 'Get the fuck out of here.' But we figured we'd at least try.
"This was like the turning point for the band," he remembers. "I saw Kevin Lyman and walked up to him and introduced myself again. He's like, 'Oh, yeah, you guys are from Denver.' And I said, 'Can I sit down and have two minutes of your time?' So I sit down, and I'm like, 'We're willing to do whatever it takes to get on the Warped Tour.' And he's like, 'Really? Well, like what? I hear that from every single band.' I said, 'We'll work. We'll do whatever.' And he's like, 'All right, well, come to Houston' -- which was the first day of the tour -- 'and we'll see.'"
So D.O.R.K. made its way to Houston, where Lyman and his crew promptly put the bandmembers to work. "We showed up, and he kind of chuckled when he saw us," Welsh says. "We were standing there in raincoats; it was pouring rain. And he's like, 'Well, all right. Go to work for Kenny over there.' Kenny was a big, scary son of a bitch -- he's now Toby Keith's tour manager. So we went to work for Kenny, and he busted our ass those first two days. He just kept working us, working us, working us. And then finally, they were like, 'Okay, you guys aren't going to quit. Here's your passes. You guys are on.'"
Welsh and company ended up playing 29 tour dates that year, setting up and tearing down equipment at each venue and paying their own way. The act basically subsisted on EAS protein bars, which Welsh had acquired through his endeavors as a personal trainer. "It was a pretty grueling thing," he recalls. "We had to be there each day at 6:30 a.m. -- driving ourselves, work, lug our gear, play, work our merch tent -- and then at night we'd tear down, get in the van and drive to the next venue. At the end of the tour, Kevin sat down with us, and he's like, 'You guys made it. You're the first band to ever make it the whole way through.'"
Although a few other bands had attempted to do the same thing, they invariably burned out after a few days. But D.O.R.K.'s resolve paid off: Welsh had beers with Lyman at the 2005 SXSW, and he and the rest of the act -- guitarist/vocalist Bryan Knoebel, guitarist Schuyler Ankele and drummer Jimmy Blair -- left with an invitation to join the tour again.
"This year, it was more like we were invited to the party as opposed to crashing the cool kids' party as the nerds," says Welsh. "Last year we got treated that way a little bit sometimes. But this year the bands were totally respectful of us. The crew people already knew who we were. There was this camaraderie thing behind our band with the crew members, like we were their band, because we were working with them every day."
And this time, D.O.R.K. did the Warped Tour in style. The musicians had gotten to know Fuse TV in the past year, and the network offered six bunks on its bus and four food passes in return for, well, a little sweat equity. In real-estate speak, that term involves a property whose latent profitability hinges upon a buyer's willingness to work; in D.O.R.K.'s case, however, it's become a manifesto. "It was kind of like having karma for hard work just kind of falling into our lap," Welsh says.
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But in reality, nothing has been handed to these dorky Arvada West graduates. Contrary to popular opinion, the members of D.O.R.K. are not privileged trustafarians touring on Daddy's dime. Welsh's parents are working-class stiffs from New Jersey who instilled an iron-clad work ethic in the bassist from the time he was twelve years old. "As soon as I was old enough to carry boxes, I went to work," he remembers. "I hated it, but it gave me the work ethic we have."
After self-financing countless tours and producing three records, including 2004's Dork Side of the Moon and this year's The K.R.O.D.father which together have sold over 4,000 copies, the quartet is finally beginning to see returns on its sweat equity. Welsh says the band has attracted the attention of Blink-182/Transplants' Travis Barker and is talking with Offspring protegé Chris Higgins about producing some tracks on the next record. "He's the ŒKeep 'em Separated' guy," says Welsh. "Have you ever seen the Offspring live? You know the guy who does the keyboards and backup guitar and all that stuff and jumps around? He's that guy. He does all their demo recordings." And one of D.O.R.K.'s songs, "Jamie" (as well as two Jimmy Eat World covers), will be featured in the upcoming American Pie sequel. All without the support of a label.
As for next year's Warped Tour, D.O.R.K. -- which will appear at the Ogden Theatre on Saturday, September 17, alongside Kronow, Step Short, Four Barrell Binge and After All -- may not have to work quite so hard. They had another talk with Lyman, Welsh says, and "he said, 'I'm not sure you're going to need to do what you did this year. You'll be a way bigger band by then.'"
Upbeats and beatdowns: Another homegrown act, Dr. Neptune, joined this year's Warped Tour in a similar fashion -- helming Lyman's Earn It Yourself stage. The band will celebrate its return with a show at the Gothic Theatre on Friday, September 2, with King Rat, the Swayback, Brookside and Deadringer. Meanwhile, Black Lamb performs at the Larimer Lounge in its first gig without frontman Brian Hagman, who's currently serving out a 140-day sentence for failing to complete a drug-and-alcohol program after a DUI conviction in 2003; erstwhile Jet Black Joy vocalist Jim Yelenick will fill in for him. And finally, props to Rubber Planet, which earned a trip to Sammy Hagar's joint in Cabo San Lucas by besting the competition in the Cabo Wabo Battle of the Bands.