60 miles south of Denver sits a wet dream of one of America’s highest profile industrial military complex and what my parents referred to a town full of holy rollers know as Colorado Springs. In layman’s terms, “The Springs” is sandwiched between the Air Force Academy to the north, Fort Carson Army base to the south, with Peterson Air Force base guarding the east and Pikes Peak as a natural buffer to the west. As a child driving through The Springs meant the hopes of catching gliders in the sky, billboards for the North Pole: Santa’s Workshop, Garden of the Gods, Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, and army tanks on maneuvers rolling over hills. My impression from a car window view was the town equaled one huge playground I was continually denied of. The only time my family indulged me a little was when they pulled off the interstate for a quick bite at Denny’s. Other than playing a handful of shows down there in my late teens and early 20’s the place still remains a mystery to me.
During the early 80’s, what intrigued most of my friends and I about Colorado Springs was NORAD, short for North American Aerospace Defense Command-a bunker type fortress tucked inside the Cheyenne Mountain Complex made famous in the 1983 movie, WarGames. The film plays up America’s cold war obsession of being on the constant brink of World War III with loosely thrown phrases such as M.A.D.-Mutually Assured Destruction. Nuclear war paranoia was a pasture for where a great number of punk anthems were written on.
I supposed I was flabbergasted when I learned there was punk rock in Colorado Springs. The town seemed like a breeding ground for acid rocker dropout types tearing up the streets in muscle cars. Of course I imagined these types of kids coming from postwar ranch styled homes with manicured lawns looking to piss off their retired military fathers.
Ante Bellum was the first punk band I knew of from The Springs, mainly because I remember making a flier for a show where my band was set to be the opener. As mostly intact as my memory is, it is suspect if the band actually played that particular night. However I do recall seeing them a handful of times and thought their set was a solid mix of punk and hardcore with emerging metal licks, a trend many bands were flirting with at the time. In Ante Bellum’s case, they were a cut above the rest at playing it.
The band eventually folded leaving guitarist Dennis and bassist Patrick to form Expatriate. This is about the time I became friendly with Patrick and asked them to contribute a song to one of my Colorado Krew compilations. Live, Expatriate raged beating listeners to a pulp. Had they been from either coast, more accessible, the band had the chops to be huge. They often played with their sibling, Dead Silence and proved to be an ideal combo on any given night.
Patrick was a prominent figure in the Colorado Springs music scene helping mold Mosh Pit Records with his business partner Wendy and later their fanzine, The Pit—a staple in the underground metal scene. One thing I could vouch for Patrick on was his commitment to helping out other bands and tirelessly working on getting his label out there. He always came across as half-full sort of guy and brought a positive can-do energy to the scene at large.
It has been decades since we last chatted. I felt it was essential that he be included in this project so us non-believers could get the real scoop on what it was like to be a punk rocker from Colorado Springs.
In loving memory of Dennis McPherson.
I read that Ante Bellum started out as No Truce, a high school band? Did you play any sort of battle of the bands losing to a classmate’s lame version of Hotel California?
No Truce was a band I started with two friends from school and a young woman I knew named Bonnie Ramsey who was a punk rock DJ at a local college station. I would hang out with her at her punk rock radio show.
The way I remember it, Dennis, Sean, and Dave, who I had not met before the talent show or whatever it was, were looking for a bass player. They heard about my band through a friend of theirs who had talked to Bonnie. This was in 1984; I was 16 and a sophomore in high school.
So Dennis and Sean came to my school’s talent show to see my band. It all sounds very after-school-special except you gotta remember we were really terrible and could barely play our instruments. We did Louie Louie and possibly an original punk song or two.
Dennis and Sean said they were looking for a bass player and a drummer and we may have had a practice session or two. Then it came out they already had a drummer or maybe Bonnie had quit and we got Dave. It went something like that.
So Ante Bellum was a completely different band from No Truce: I played bass, Sean MacDonough on vocals, Dennis McPherson on guitar, and Dave Fruh on drums. It took us a while to settle on the name.
Colorado Springs is a hotbed for conservatism, what sort of reactions did punks face living there. What was it like to going to shows there?
You know, it wasn’t much different from everything else in Colorado Springs. It was fun to act like we were oppressed punk rockers fighting against the system. In reality we were having a great time and the resistance we faced as a band (or as a punk rocker) were the same we’d faced doing any other kind of art—there isn’t much place for it in a town like Colorado Springs. You mostly work with people in a small group who also have similar interests. In your interview with Headbanger, he summarized the way it was back then: when you met anyone who shared your interest in underground music, you suddenly had an awful lot in common.
We weren’t really threatened. There were drunks copping attitude late night at Denny’s or people hollering at you from their cars because they noticed your fluorescent high tops. At least, I didn’t feel threatened. The most threatened I ever felt was not from jocks or rednecks, but from skins in Denver. Even that wasn’t so much, but the skins were more hazardous than the general populace for sure.
In retrospect and in light of what it’s like to be a young black man in this country right now it is easy for me to see how much privilege I had as a young white man in a Colorado town in the 1980s and how easy and fun it was to do whatever the hell we wanted. We started fanzines, rented clubs, put on shows, operated tiny businesses with no experience…we were teenagers. Of course it was difficult! But we got away with it, which in retrospect seems more like a gift than a struggle. Sure it was a lot of work, but I loved every scrap of it.
The scene in the Springs always seemed to have a good relationship with Denver’s. Our bands would go down there and you guys would come up here. What places were there to play down there? How big was the scene in the early to mid-80’s besides Ante bellum and the Creeps?
There were several other bands around. We shared a practice space with Willy the Disk, who fashioned themselves as an agri-(as in agricultural)core band; mostly guys from the Midwest, from small farm towns who went to Colorado College. I don't remember a lot of the other bands’ names, though there were some cover bands of note that we sometimes would play with. The Auto No in particular.
As for places to play, Bennys Basement was a 3.2 bar on the Colorado College campus. They would sometimes have all ages shows and other times they would just let kids in even though they were underage. You could even drink watered down beer.
Climax Cavern was a bar in another basement, across the street from the campus. We did a couple of shows there including at least one all ages show. Corrosion of Conformity played there in the summer of 1984 and that must have been all ages. I think we did another big all ages show in fall of that year because I remember getting a lot of kids from my school to show up and it was packed.
Jeepers Creepers was this old country bar, formerly the Wagon Wheel? out on East Platte. Dennis managed to talk some club manager guy into funding it as an all-ages club, and we pulled it off for a few months, though it didn't last long. I can’t remember why…it was probably tough to pay the bills without selling alcohol. It was a great place though, big empty box with a huge dance floor and decent sound. We played there a lot. Bum Kon played there as well; I remember bumping into Mark as he was coming in for his set.
We also played and put on shows at DJ’s Nightclub, the place where we met Wendy, our future manager and collaborator on Mosh Pit et al. And at a goth-y 3.2 bar called the Annex, which was a regular hangout even when there weren’t shows going on. We managed some all-ages shows at both venues, as well.
Later in the 80s, when Dennis and I were playing as Expatriate, we played a wider range of venues. When I was working with Mosh Pit, Wendy and I would put on all ages shows at rented spaces, private clubs, Elks Lodges, and the like. The venues varied more. We were really pushing the all ages thing so we played in fewer bars. There were so many kids looking for something to do and this was when metal and punk were starting to mix more, which really increased the number of bands in town and expanded the musical conversation.
|Early Ante Bellum show. Flier courtesy of Trashistruth.com|
Bum Kon enjoyed playing down there. Bob mentioned that one of the news channels ran an episode on the punk scene in the Springs and taped some bands at a show, what do you know about this?
I don’t remember the TV thing, but I remember two times that Bum Kon played in the Springs, once at Benny’s and once at the Germanic Hall with the Fluid and Ante Bellum.
I have a copy of the live Ante Bellum tape. I hear some strong metal influences, was the band more of a hybrid, maybe punk attitude and more thrash? What were you guys listening to at the time?
Listening to the Ante Bellum recordings I am struck by how unformed the music feels. Yes it’s influenced by metal. Dennis was into older British metal like Black Sabbath and really introduced me to that whole sound. Sean was listening to a lot of Dio and Iron Maiden. I liked faster metal too, along with hardcore punk. We were all listening to a lot of things. I liked hip hop and big band, Dave was really into the Police and Dennis listened to lots of stuff. Both Dennis and I were into all of the current music that was happening in punk, hardcore and metal. It seems like the late 80s/early 90s were something of a renaissance for underground music, in particular small punk rock bands. It was great to be a part of that whole effort and have all that new music to listen to.
Would you consider the band political because I see a theme in the line of names?
I remember Ante Bellum being sort of political. I definitely considered punk rock as a way to comment on political situations and events. Listening to the recordings I remember that our songs with lyrics by Sean were more personal with some political stuff, but not much.
Expatriate was more explicitly political and almost a protest band, if only anyone could have understood the words. There were some love songs in there too, though. I was doing a lot of the lyric writing at that point and I had a lot to say about the Space Defense Initiative, environmental justice, censorship, and other topics.
Really, in the mid-late 80s, how could you not be political? The Reagan/Bush years!
That was one of Sean’s songs, again a personal thing. I don't remember if there was a textual hook other than “Jocks are lame”, but probably someone got beat up in that song…
What sort of adversities did you faced as a band? I don’t know why, but I have Blues Brothers vision of you guys playing a bar behind chicken wire and a bunch of cowboys calling you guys’ faggots and throwing empty cans of Coors at you? Please tell me that happened.
Unfortunately, this never happened. When I was in Blowhole, a free-jazz/noise band a few years later it happened all the time…well, not literally, but we cleared many a room in Colorado Springs, later in Seattle, and all up and down the west coast. Free jazz was the new punk circa 1994.
Was Ante Bellum allergic to the studio or just plain poor like other punk bands?
We actually recorded two demo tapes in a real studio. It sounds weird to say it now, but I don’t think it ever occurred to us to release music ourselves on tape or otherwise. A few years later I was swimming in self-released product of my own and many others, but even then it was a real departure from the status quo to create your own product, your own record label, etc. That didn’t stop people from doing it, but it sure was a different climate back then. Nowadays bands release their own stuff as a matter of course.
If I recall correctly, Ante Bellum’s approach was to make a demo or two and then in the style of the time we would shop it around to labels. We did send tapes to Metal Blade, SST, and probably some others. Nothing came of it.
When Dennis and I were performing as Expatriate we went into the studio with the intent of releasing our own record after scraping up cash and so forth. Again, it was a long time ago, but making records and recording in the studio was not cheap. We were all minimum-wage workers so it was a tough situation at best. The Expatriate record did pretty well and helped us start up the distribution network that I continued to work on for several years…which is a whole ’nother story.
|Expatriate. Original photograph by Andy Spillane (R.I.P.)|
Brush and ink drawing by Bob Rob (Medina)
At what point did the band reach the point of no return, run out of fuel? You and Dennis continued playing together and went on to form Expatriate immediately after Ante Bellum. What made you want to go as a 3-piece this round?
I remember it was right when I was about to graduate high school. Spring 1986. You know, we got to the point where we had different goals. I had an email exchange with Dennis about six years ago that filled in some of the details. We had been sending out tapes to labels with no real interest coming back. Sean and Dave had real criticisms about how we weren’t getting paid and should be. There was disagreement about whether or not we should be aiming for labels or doing it ourselves, I don’t remember. I was young, naïve, and didn’t care about making money or making records-I just wanted to make music.
So after that meeting we split up. Dennis and I resolved to find a drummer and start a trio later that summer. I wanted to try singing and we thought a three-piece would be simpler and tighter. We found Pete Schroll playing in the band, No Fashion. We politely scooped him up and started Expatriate that summer. I loved Ante Bellum, for sure, but Expatriate was my baby. Dennis’s too, I mean we were locked in and we pushed that band as hard as we could. We had a great run of it, but not very long- late summer 1986 until spring of 1988. We did the record in 1987. Played a ton of shows all up and down the Front Range. Had some seriously fantastic shows, experiences, and played with a lot of amazing bands. We were fortunate to get on as the opener for a lot of "big" punk shows right at the time when Suicidal Tendencies, The Exploited, etc were headlining shows at places like Norman's. I still occasionally hear from people who saw us at one of those shows and remember it.
Were you and Dead Silence blood brothers, did you all make a secret pact?
Nothing secret about it, we were really good friends and had great times playing shows together and hanging out. We traveled together to Rapid City for a show, and also once to Albuquerque. Good times at the gigs and in the towns and on the road. Albuquerque was in about 1985 with Ante Bellum…Rapid City was 1986 with Expatriate. Expatriate went to Rapid City again, but not with Dead Silence (or Dennis).
In high school I accidently saw Megadeth at the Rainbow Music Hall, I think they opened for King Diamond. Anyhow, my not-old-enough-to-drive-yet crush bought me a gift that night for taking her: a Peace Sells…Who’s Buying t-shirt. Years later you wrote, Megadeath Sells…was that a nod to how awesomely cheesy they were?
Oh, quite the opposite. I didn’t know much about Megadeth, but in my fiery teenage self-righteousness I took their “Peace Sells....but Who’s Buying” record title to be a cynical dismissal of working for peace. No idea if that’s what they actually meant, but it made me mad back then so I wrote a song about, and I quote, how they were “fucking sellout bullshit.”
In retrospect, I can’t support this message that I created so many years ago, because I don’t actually know what Megadeth meant by their album title. I never thought about it much. Just wrote a two-line song and kept going.
How did you get involved with The Pit and Mosh Pit Records? I thought it was cool that you and Wendy started something down there and had that crossover vibe. I have to admit, I was scared of that satanic shit when it became more her operation years later. What did you think about that change? Did you see it coming or was that more of a natural progression on her part?
Expatriate was trying to release our record. We’d played at DJ’s Nightclub a few times or put on some shows there or something. Wendy was the booking agent there. She suggested she be our manager and help us put the record out. We didn’t want a manager, but she and I basically became business partners in order to release the Expatriate EP and then in order to sell it we decided we’d start an international underground mail order company, Mosh Pit Records. In order to promote that we’d create a catalog that was a fanzine, The Pit.
So we did all that starting in 1987 when the record came out. Expatriate broke up not too long after the record was released, but I stuck around till 1990, did seven or eight issues of the Pit, helped produce some records and a lot of other stuff. It amounted to graphic design school for me; Mosh Pit was where I started to learn to typeset, use digital layout programs, and create publications-getting them printed and distributed.
Just for the record, Expatriate also released a second 7-inch EP on Heart First records from Germany. The record was a live recording-six songs from a performance in January of 1987 at the Longhorn Saloon and sound was done by Jimmy of the Rok Tots. There were about three people in the audiences at the shows, I believe we played two nights. We gave it our all and got some good recordings.
At one point you were doing your own “documenting of the scene” project. Was that for school? It seemed that you had a good eye for photography. How far did you get on the project?
It was a month-long project in senior year of high school. I created my own photography class documenting the Colorado punk and underground music scene. I photographed lots of bands, shows, and interviewed everyone. To present it, I had a photo-poster shop enlarge the final photos to huge paper posters, 2x3 feet, and arranged them all on a wall of butcher paper, which I then decorated with a collection of flyers torn from various walls and poles. I also spray painted various graffiti all over the place. The interviews or parts of them were tacked below each poster-photo.
The whole thing, rolled up, would barely fit under a bed. I didn’t keep it too long, but I wish I had.
Later I created another poster of a photo of Gibby from the Butthole Surfers from their Locust Abortion Technician tour show at Norman’s and gave it the same treatment. I pasted it to a board and plastered it with flyers and spray paint. I called it “Butthole Surfers Are God, part II” and got it into a juried photo show in Hays, Kansas. True story.
To hear Ante Bellum and Expatriate click on the links below.