On the surface, We Are Not A Glum Lot's back-story is distinct but not especially unusual: Four high-school kids start a band, work out Pixies and Nine Inch Nails covers in their parents' homes, and gradually transition from house parties to all-ages nightclubs. Along the way, they begin taking self-conscious stabs at original material that draws upon the math-rock indulgence of Maps & Atlases and the quirky pop of Weezer.
All well and good — but other factors set We Are Not A Glum Lot apart from the rest of the Colorado Springs music scene. For instance, over the course of nearly five years together, they've played more than 200 local gigs and been voted 2012's Best Indie Rock Band by this paper's readers.
Not at all bad for musicians who still aren't old enough to get into the bars where their friends' bands play. Yet in the time it takes for a hip-hop artist to release a dozen mixtapes and a couple of greatest hits albums, We Are Not A Glum Lot's recorded output has been exactly ... nothing.
That will change this Friday at Ivywild, where the band will finally celebrate the release of its debut CD.
Produced by El Toro de la Muerte's Ryan Spradlin, the self-titled collection nicely captures the complexity and dynamics of the band's live sound. On instrumentals such as "A Tad Nicer Drama," Colin Foxwell's electric violin and Sam Erickson's Fender Jaguar create interlocking melodic patterns that ebb and flow over bassist Zac Blum and drummer John Carey's frenetically shifting tempos and time signatures.
Arrangements on vocal-driven tracks are also complex. "Acetaminophen," for instance, finds the band segueing without warning between waltz-time passages and power-chord bombast. The resulting sound, like that of jazz-rock fusion bands of the '70s, can be either intriguing or irritating, depending on your musical disposition.
Carey says the track is easily one of the group's heaviest songs. "'Acetaminophen' is probably the hardest song we play from an instrumental standpoint," he says. "It's also a song that lets out a lot of emotions. It's like our anger song."
Musical angst notwithstanding, Erickson and Carey are almost painfully polite in person. Both graduated from Palmer High School last May; all four members are now attending UCCS.
"I think the majority of the songs I've written so far have been about how uncomfortable it is to grow up, and to watch your friends go in different directions," says Erickson, who turned 19 last Wednesday. "And that's totally fine, it's natural, people change. But there's also a kind of melancholy in watching these people you grew up with kind of turn into shitheads, or abandon all the morals they used to have."
Which is not to say Erickson feels immune to any of the above.
"I really try to stick to my morals and be true to myself," he says, "and then I fuck up."
Meanwhile, there's still the question of why the band took so long to release a CD with five songs that together clock in at just under 25 minutes.
As it turns out, We Are Not A Glum Lot has left behind a trail of abandoned tracks. According to Erickson, that's more a result of insecurity than perfectionism. "I would listen to them and I was just like, 'Man, I can't sing worth a shit.' And I STILL listen to things and think, 'God damn it, I hate my voice.' A lot of our instrumental stuff stemmed from me not being comfortable with my singing."
The other big factor was the band's decision to have friends produce their sessions. "It was totally a rookie mistake on our part," says Erickson. "But those are also some of the happiest times of my life."
The first sessions for the debut CD were held in Florence at the home studio of Dino Belli, whose band the Flumps frequently shared shows with the group.
"We'd just waste a shitload of time hanging out," recalls Erickson with a laugh.
The plan was to have a full album out by the spring of 2012. But sessions dragged on for a year. Eventually, Belli's busy schedule — combined with the logistics of the 90-minute round trip — brought that phase to a close.
There were other false starts as well, admits Erickson.
"We recorded at Sunshine Studios, and that was, like, three days straight we were in there, and they came out shitty. But that's not so much their fault as it was ours, because we'd only been a band for a year at the time."
The Glum Lot crew finally found their comfort zone at Spradlin's Allneonlike studio, a converted warehouse space where they would spend another year recording the tracks that made it onto the CD. After recording to click-tracks in a cramped space, they now had room to spread out and record a live, more spontaneous sound, one that reflects their stage shows.
"We were originally going to combine some of the tracks that Dino did and some of the tracks that Ryan did," says Erickson. "But there was at least a year between when we stopped recording with Dino and started recording with Ryan. And being a young band, we'd progressed so much within a year that it was just worth it to start over."
"We didn't want to keep waiting to finish it," adds Carey. "We just wanted to have something tangible."
Alcoholics and misfits
Like many bands who can't restrain themselves from playing weird songs in difficult time signatures, We Are Not A Glum Lot were products of one of the few school districts that have yet to abandon their music programs.
Erickson recalls taking his saxophone home from elementary school band practice and trying to play Green Day and Black Sabbath songs on it. Foxwell and Blum performed in the Colorado Springs Youth Symphony, while Carey and Erickson would both go on to play together in the school's jazz band.
Not surprisingly, extracurricular activities favored a more primitive approach.
"Before we started playing in Glum Lot, Zac and Colin were wanting to do a Misfits cover band," says Carey, who set aside his jazz drumming ambitions to help recreate horror-punk anthems by a band that had broken up before he and his bandmates were even born.
"They were, like, 'You need to know these songs PERFECTLY for the next practice, John,'" he says with a laugh. "And I was like, 'They're all in 4/4 time. I'm sure I can figure it out.'"
Once Erickson came on board, the group set aside tribute-band ambitions to search for its own identity.
"We were obviously horrible playing then," says Carey, "but I think we all enjoyed it and we all got along."
We Are Not A Glum Lot's sound would evolve quickly, although certain impulses were curtailed along the way.
"We'd be at practices and I'd just get stuck in this beat with kind of a swing feel," recalls Carey. "And Sam would come up to me and say, 'No, don't! This is NOT swing. Don't do the swing beat.' And then I'd have to come up with something more straightforward."
In addition to being the voice of musical reason, Erickson was also responsible for the band's name.
"'We are not a glum lot' comes from the Alcoholics Anonymous 'Big Book,'" he explains. "I don't think I can really disclose who I got it from. But anyway, I was just flipping through it and I came across it. I thought, huh, that's really weird."
"I'm guessing that it was like: We are NOT sad people," figures Carey. "We WILL recover from this."
Once discovered, the name proved too good to resist.
"We were teenagers who would like to go to parties and drink beers and do stupid teenager stuff," explains Erickson. "So I always thought it was kind of funny, since we were like AA's worst nightmare."
Early gigs weren't entirely gratifying. An onslaught of flyers and Facebook post had little impact on turnout.
"Like, 10 people would come," recalls Carey. "And half of them were our parents. They'd be there cheering for us."
"When we started playing five years ago, I didn't think this could even happen," says Erickson. "Which is probably because we sucked," he adds with a laugh.
There are times when the band's reach still exceeds its grasp, but they've persevered and ultimately built their own following. The local music scene, in terms of both bands and audiences, has continued to grow as well.
"As we've been playing together as a band, we've been watching the music scene here progress tremendously," says Erickson. "Just the number of people who go out to shows, and also the kinds of people who go out to shows, it's ridiculous."
The band has also been embraced by other musicians in town, who, as you'd expect, tend to be older. El Toro de la Muerte, arguably the most impressive indie band to come out of Colorado Springs, will be opening Friday's show along with Denver's I Sank Molly Brown. Erickson, meanwhile, plays guitar with indie-blues artist Grant Sabin's Full Moon band. He's also in Dog Days, a side-project by Inaiah Lujan, whose Haunted Windchimes have gone from playing front porches to touring the country and appearing on A Prairie Home Companion.
"I remember seeing Inaiah playing a song with this band called Oh Death, and I was like, 'That's the dude from the Haunted Windchimes, they're FAMOUS! And now it's like, holy shit, I'm in one of his bands."
Meanwhile, Glum Lot are looking forward to getting back onstage after taking time off to finish the CD and polish their arrangements for Friday's event.
"We wanted to be clean of shows for a month or two," says Carey of the band's live hiatus, during which they've begun adding vocal harmonies for the first time.
"Everybody's just beginning to be on the exact same page," adds Erickson. "When we're playing a song now, we don't have to make eye contact when there are crazy stops or something. It's like, I'm positive that everybody's going to come back in at just the right time."
All of which means the band has strayed even further from its Misfits origins and, to a large degree, just about every other young band in town.
"Generally, the young bands that are our age," says Erickson, "go along the path of either being metal or playing the kind of music that's mostly just relevant to teenagers, you know what I mean? Which is fine, it makes sense. But I think that we've progressed musically as a band, and emotionally as people.
"Granted, there are still people who write us off because we're young. But it's nice that some people are beginning to separate our age from our music."