During the summer of 84, after an Idiots Revenge practice/wrestling matching in my parent’s front lawn we piled into Ken’s metallic gold hatchback and drove down to Christian’s to catch the D.R.I., C.O.C. and Faction show. It was a typical summer midweek night in the desolate lower downtown Denver: warm with the bums staggering out of bars around from the corner outnumbering the punks. The “bum mobile” with its bright flashing lights combed alleyways collecting the passed out drunkards. The street sweeper followed while the music raged inside. Between bands we roamed around outside forcing down cheap cans of lukewarm beer complaining about how warm it was.
As for the bands that night, it wasn’t your typical hardcore or thrash fare. What Denver witnessed that evening was a shifting of music on a grand scale, perhaps a merging of genres. There was definitely some metal influence in the music, though more prominent in C.O.C.’s set. Both D.R.I. and C.O.C. at the time were treading and infusing a metal sound into their song writing essentially evolving the hardcore sound that would set standards in the coming years. Appropriately the term “crossover” would be coined for this style on D.R.I.’s third album three years in the future.
At the end of the night I’m certain several people drove home including myself completely dumbfounded and in awe about the heaviness and sudden chord progressions we saw on stage. I had picked up C.O.C.'s-An Eye For An Eye LP before the show and had mixed feelings. I hated it more so after the show because it didn’t translate to what I witnessed live. The same could be said about D.R.I. though their Violent Pacification EP was more listenable.
Another person who saw the show that night was Jim Hale. Jim would later front Burnt Fase, a band I consider Denver’s first real punk-metal group. The five-piece was something wicked and brought a new element into the scene that wasn’t always welcomed by others. Their shows were notoriously tense ridden and would often be an arena for a showdown between the skinheads and Mexicans, meaning bassist David Lee’s family and friends.
Jim had pipes and let out ear piercing wails and screeches while frantically shaking his head to Mark’s bombastic drumming. If you ever seen a photo of David Lee holding up his bass, he held it like a weapon until lowering it to blast through songs like an on/off switch. Live, you wanted to be up front banging your head to the quick assault of the band’s fury of sound.
When Burnt Fase recorded and released an LP/CD combo it was suspect. Most local bands barely had enough money to record and at most release a cassette demo or a 7” EP but certainly not a CD. Even Wax Trax barely started selling CDs stocking only a handful. To put it into perspective, the price of buying 2-3 LPs was the cost of a single CD. For many of us a Burnt Fase CD wasn’t plausible. Without a follow-up tour, the band appeared as fast as it vanished.
Jim and I chatted about the origins of the band-how it came to be, going to see real metal bands at the Rainbow and being chased out of Denver by skinheads. Below is Jim’s story.
|Burnt Fase one Denver's original crossover band. Original photograph: Unknown. Brush and ink drawing by Bob Rob Medina.|
I consider Burnt Fase and Ante Bellum as the first crossover bands in Denver, what do you think?
The scene seemed to have crossed over pretty quickly; a lot of bands wanted to get harder and maybe a bit more edgy. It went from punk and when bands like Corrosion of Conformity (C.O.C.) came through, they were hard punk with a thrash metal edge. It seems like a lot bands wanted to go that direction at that point. Thrash metal started to take off about this time as well. I would say it was more of the thrash than mainstream metal that punk was leaning towards at the time. Metal was still viewed as pussy rock, whereas thrash really took more of that punk energy into a harder direction.
Do you attribute the D.R.I., C.O.C., and The Faction show at Christians that propelled directional change in some of the Denver bands?
That was the show that did it for me; I think it was the Eye for an Eye tour. Those guys just ripped so hard-they crossed over to heavier riffs and played super fast. Maybe it was the drop D tuning, it came in so heavy.
I was always into Bum Kon; they developed a punk metal edge. They were influential for what I wanted to do. I was really into the metal world-into all hard bands with the super fast and hard sound. Then I started hearing some of the punk stuff. I liked that punk was aggressive and fast. As it got be 84-85, bands like Slayer started coming out. Shane from Happy World and I were hanging out at his house talking about wanting to be the first Slayer band of Denver. That conversation is where Burnt Fase came out of-we wanted to be a fast thrash metal band. When we put the band together it didn't come out as hard as I wanted it, but it was definitely harder than anything going on in the scene at that point. Once Shane and I got Larry from Bum Kon to join, we started working on making the band’s fast and hard sound. Larry had a hardcore and thrash background and started listening to Slayer and was inspired by them. We all wanted to see what we could do that was sort of like that. Shane was really into doing something new. Happy World was his first priority and Burnt Fase was his fun side project at the time.
So your idea of a band was to have a metal influence, but maintain hardcore sensibilities?
In the 70's I got turned on AC/DC and Black Sabbath early on. My first concert was KISS and they blew my fucking mind. I got into the Sex Pistols and Ramones because when I heard them I thought, "Holy crap!" The Ramones were super fast but not really aggressive. Maybe I was an angry person and gravitated more towards the harder stuff. The first Iron Maiden records had sort of a punk influence.
My friend Dave sent Tristan over to my house so he could take me to a punk show. He showed up at my house with a double green Mohawk and told me "I heard you're kind of crazy so I'm going to take you to punk shows." He took me to shows and turned me on to the whole hardcore scene in late 83-early 84. Then I got in trouble and did some time in Gilliam Youth Center, nothing but good times...
Yeah, trouble with a Capital T. I was an idiot with a bad attitude towards any type of authority. When I got out, I basically went back into the scene and attended every show I could see. Butthole Surfers at the Packinghouse-one of the best shows I had ever seen. CH 3/Samhain-even though that was kind of a nightmare show, it had all the aspects of a scene I was into. I was very aggressive and I needed an outlet. When I think back to bands like the Samhain, they were hard, had a doom sound and didn’t give a shit about anything or anyone. That was a great combo for any young kid to look up to. Trouble just was part of the allure to the scene.
Back to you and Shane listening to Slayer.
Shane and I were hanging out with Gigi and I was into thrash metal, had long hair, went to shows, and we were talking and I said we should really do a hard band. My favorite band at the time was Bum Kon. Basically when I first saw those guys, I thought, if I could be in any band I would want to be in that band. Fortunately for me I became friends with Larry, Mark, Erik, and Bob so when we started working on building Burnt Fase it was Shane and I talking then David Lee and I talking. Shane, David Lee and I would hang out and smoke a lot of weed.... so we decided, let's put this thing together. We started calling people. I think David Lee just got done playing with Children of Denial. Shane was already on board, I asked Larry and Mark if they wanted to do something a bit different and they were stoked to give it a try. We all got together down at the Yogurt Factory; it came out sounding good, like country-metal-punk. It was a weird sound.
Our first stuff was super fast short songs. Our first show in Fort Collins, we all piled into Dave Lee’s molester van, drove up and ripped that place a part. That when we all knew we had something different and good. Shane had some conflicts and missed practices. He eventually dropped out because he was busy with Happy World. We recruited John from Malibu Kens to replace Shane. It wasn't truly metal-metal; I didn't want a hair metal band. I wanted the vocals to sound super screamy and the music fast and hard. Punk had almost been played out; the scene needed bands with a little bit more aggression, which of course correlated to all the violence that was going on. We fit almost perfectly in that because unfortunately every time we played there’d be a freakin' riot, people fighting. We had a lot of people that came: we had David Lee's crew and those guys didn't get along with the skinheads. There was always tension and about our third song, Fase Death, and I'm not kidding-every time we'd play it there was a fight.
Did you guys ever talk about that at practice or after a show, "Shit, man, we're like a soundtrack for people to clobber the crap out of each other"?
(Laughter) We'd have practices and say we're going to go have fun at our next show knowing that it was probably going to turn into a riot. We would look at each other during songs and we could just feel it happening. The show at the Auraria Campus was a bad scene. The skins started beating-up on Mark's girlfriend Amy. I still had words coming out of my mouth when I saw Mark running past me. He was playing a skinhead like his snare drum, hitting him so fast… We're in the pit fighting and the next thing you know Leroy (David Lee’s brother) and David Lee are in there. At that point, the skins just straight up hated us didn't want us to have a good show, it was a like football practice. They would stand at the back of the crowd and line-up then would run up and hit people trying to enjoy the show.
That is one of the reasons why I left Denver, the skinhead thing just got so thick. I was friends with the core guys like Jeff, Shawn, and Tommy. Jeff was always a cool guy with me, it was funny because I had long hair and maybe it was because I always had weed with me. The new group that came in, like the Ashleys and Maxwells... Those guys just wanted to fight, disturb the scene, and play the race card. We didn't play that-we were just out there to have fun. I was a skater guy that just wanted to skate and go thrash in my band and that was it.
I didn't have a problem until the Ashley types arrived. I left Denver because four skins showed up on my doorstep one morning wanting to kick my ass because I pulled a knife or cut Ashley at the C.O.C show because he was beating-up some 4-foot kid and he’s like 9-feet. Why was he beating this kid up? So they threatened my life and I thought I needed to get the fuck out of there. I was living in Breckenridge snowboarding...so I moved to San Francisco. That whole skin thing was real, it happened. It was a part of the scene that was uncomfortable; it was actually the most punk part of the scene. Punk was definitely a rebellion; if you didn’t have this element of danger in there it would be a false rebellion. This fit my attitude perfect I didn’t give a shit about anything but Skating and Burnt Fase and maybe weed and LSD-it made it a little more edgy and likeable that anything could happen. Jeff actually was good guy and did a lot more to stop that.
David Lee's crew?
He had a brother Leroy and he would bring in all his buddies, which people thought they were a Mexican gang. They weren't. They would show up and it wasn't their fault, they wanted to party and would get into the pit and have fun, then the skinheads would see them and they would become a target. The presence of those two factions ruined a lot of the shows. You had the Mexican mafia going on and you had the skinhead mafia going on and anytime they were in the same place at the same time it was never a good thing. Blood was often spilled.
Funny, both groups knew what to expect and they both showed up.
(Laughter). Yeah, it was almost like an invitation when they saw the flier. However we weren’t always the main people that got it going. The perfect one was the C.O.C. show at the Aztlan. We showed up, and while we were playing fights broke out, the skins beat-up the B'LAST! van, people were getting maced...That is kind of the allure of punk, you didn't know what was going to happen. It sucked to see a good show turn to a disaster within a couple seconds, but it happen almost every time we played.
Expanding the punk sound?
I think what happened in Denver, specifically was that the scene got flooded with a lot of bands with not a lot of distinction. There were the main bands like The Fluid, Brother Rat, Bum Kon, Happy World, and Rok Tots. They were the staples. Other bands came in underneath that and all sounded the same. When you come out with something different, which really wasn't different, it was just thrash metal with a little punk edge. I think you start to sway people. Later you have Expatriate with that kind of sound. It brought the punk thing deeper into the metal scene.
At what point did Burnt Fase decide to record and document your sound.
In 86 we went to Avalanche Studios to record a quick 6-song demo. We went in with Shane and it was the nicest studio we could find. David Lee was funding it so we went with the best we could find. It didn't capture the first set we had. In 87 we went into Colorado Sound and spent a week there and worked at nights, paid cash to get a better deal. We spent about $17,000 recoding a CD. Which is more than anyone ever spent on a record in the local scene I knew of.
Shit! 17 grand?
We came out with a CD, we thought we were going to blow-up...it was because David Lee had a lot of money and didn't mind throwing it down. It was his baby, if he wanted to blow it out; he had the means to do it. We were one of the first bands in Denver to put out a CD; there were literally 2-3 other CDs at Wax Trax. We basically had a good set and the first couple of shows we played; we thought we needed to record this because we had the money.
Any touring after all that production of putting out the CD?
Ha, no. We pretty much broke-up after putting out the CD. When the CD came out, we had a launch party and then we had a blowout with too many personalities in the band...then drugs got involved. At one point David Lee pulled the trigger and said he was done. We all went with it. Mark and I weren't getting along that well since we were living together, we had a little blowout and that's when they started Soak and played a show with the other singer and later Mark and Larry said, "Hey, why don't you join us" That was the band for me. Burnt Fase was badass and fun for sure. Soak was the next level of Bum Kon and that band just blew doors open. It was the best band I even been in.
Soak felt like a later version of Bum Kon?
It was like Bum Kon version 2.0, the core of it. This is no slide on Bob; Bob was the baddest-ass guy ever. Bum Kon was my favorite band in the entire world. For me, getting an opportunity to play with those guys, I was all over it.
It was the top of the line for what I liked. You can say that Mike Serviolo is one of the best guitarist I'd ever seen, but for what I like, it was these guys. Mark is one of the most underrated drummers out of anybody-he could just pound on the drums like John Bonham. And Larry could play as fast, as punk, as rock, as thrashy metal as you wanted. And you have Erik on bass who played it like a guitar, One time at the Grove he played so hard his fingers where bleeding all over the bass, the most punk rock thing I’ve seen. I was hanging upside down from the rafters screaming my brains out and see a pool of blood forming on the ground below…Erik , so badass.
When I was talking with Davey form the Frantix, he said Ricky compared Mark to John Bonham and Davey to Keith Moon.
That sounds about right. Those are two guys that never got their due justice. Mark tried, he lived it, but he had to pull out because of health problems, because of his back, knees, he’s a thick dude. He had joint issues. etc. He still plays and makes his own tapes. He’s the best I ever played with. Great guy. He was so good I would tell him he should push his kit to the front of the stage and we'd play behind him. People were coming to watch him because he would hit his kit so hard and loud, just amazing to watch.
After Burnt Fase it seems like David Lee dropped out.
It's out there and most people know the story. It was the mid-80's and a lot of people in the scene smoked a little pot, snorted some coke. David got popped for selling so he was shipped off to Canyon City for a number of years. Mark was involved in that. Soak moved to San Francisco and Mark couldn't travel so we got Jason Smith for the recording. It was what it was. It just happened back in the day, there was a lot of shit going on and sometimes people got popped and that was the game we all played back then. Fast and hard.
It seems like you played extreme music to go with the extreme sports that you were into.
When I was in Burnt Fase, I was trying to be a professional snowboarder. I was sponsored. For me it was always an extension of who I am. I like to do stuff that is on the edge, individual sports...It went great with the music I was doing, a soundtrack to my life. Soak sold a couple of songs to commercials, snowboard movies, it was a great avenue to try and push that genre of music into that stuff.
Burnt Fase stories?
One of the best things I liked about Denver was that we had house parties and the second time we played was in a basement and this is when I knew I was in a fricken' crazy band. One of David Lee's guys gets into a fight out there and we're all in a 10' x 10' room and I'm singing out to a crowd in another room and the basement starts turning into a whirlwind pit and somehow somebody gets shanked. Some people pick the guy up and there's this pit still going on and someone is trying to patch him up against the wall. Someone comes down the stairs and switches off all the lights and all you can see are the lights form the amps. It was dark; people are screaming...it was one of the more exciting shows we ever played. That’s one of the cool punk things about Denver was playing basements, backyards, Yogurt Factory...It was always amazing how you can put a show on just about anywhere.
One of the best shows we ever played was in the basement of Jerry's Records. Ecstasy started to hit pretty hard in Denver. We get down there and David Lee didn't show so Larry played bass with Mark on drums and Shane guitar. It was an ad hoc sort of deal; we played on equipment that wasn't ours. I had a 4’ mic cable and a mic that looked like a spike. It was sharp and I cut my mouth while I was singing. We played with this crazy line-up to over 50 people in that hot smelly basement. A lot of people said that was one of the best shows we ever played because we sounded good and a lot of people were on drugs. Yep those where the days of haze and fun- nothing will ever be like that again.