Gasoline Lollipops’ founder Clay Rose is tired of people saying that songwriters should just be themselves. Though this may manifest itself more overtly in his side project where band members dress and act like 1920s zombies, Gasoline Lollipops certainly creates its own enchanted atmosphere. The Boulder musician thinks it’s important to be genuine onstage — but genuine is very different than ordinary.
“When you’re watching Bruce Springsteen running back and forth and sliding on his knees and doing what he does onstage, it’s not like he slides across the kitchen to get another beer,” Rose says. “He’s just a normal person, but he does it onstage for our benefit because it’s entertaining.”
Formed in 2009, Gasoline Lollipops’ blend of folk and gypsy-punk aims to conjure an environment, one where hobo travelers ride the rails to unknown destinations. At one time featuring artists like Ben Wahamaki (The Lumineers) and Gregory Alan Isakov, Rose and Gas Pop’s current lineup (Jeb Bows, Don Ambory, Matt Cantor and Jonny Mauser) weave tales to take people out of Boulder County and into an imaginary world.
“It’s my dream life that runs parallel to my physical life, where my Jeep Cherokee is actually a freight train, where my wife is actually a hobo jungle princess, and where Boulder is actually Atlantis or some mythical place,” he says. “My songs are everyday life put through a filter of romance.”
Growing up, Rose split his time between living in Nashville with his songwriter mom, who once worked with Willie Nelson, and living in Boulder with his dad, who was a hobo back in the ’60s. The Gas Pops’ folk sensibility clearly reflects his upbringing among the pedal scales players and harmonica players in Nashville’s Bluebird Theater. But Rose’s first love was punk rock and, as a young adult, he was drawn to an enticing music scene that took hold in Boulder.
“I had this liberty spike mohawk and wore big combat boots and sang really fast and played really fast and everything was aggro,” Rose says. “I would just sing about how screwed up the country is.”
This penchant for rebellion emerges in the sometimes gruff, growling vocals that pepper the band’s earnest alt-folk on its newest release, Dawn. With seven songs on the album (or “lucky seven,” as Rose calls it), the EP is the first in a three-part series. The band plans to release the second installment, Death, over the summer and the third, Resurrection, this Christmas.
“We’re taking a little trip through birth, old age and death,” Rose says. “But there’s going to be a little resurrection so people don’t kill themselves after they listen to our trilogy.”
It seems the macabre is never far from Rose’s mind, and in addition to the Gas Pops, Rose plays in his other band, called The Widow’s Bane. Committed completely to his undead character, in that group he personifies Governor Mortimer Leech, a man murdered by his wife and doomed to play music on the Dark Lord’s ship of castaway souls. Though the theatrical group is in high demand and has a new album set to be released this June, Rose says Gasoline Lollipops is the band he’s most sincere about. But each project does have its own appeal.
“There are days when I certainly want to be detached and have some distance from my art and my heart, because it hurts too much,” Rose says. “With Gas Pops, when you go out to play an empty dive bar where you’re singing from your heart, it can be painful sometimes. But with Widow’s Bane, Mortimer Leech is a crusty old fucker and he could care less if you like his songs or not. So it’s sort of liberating to go out with that brass.”
Rose’s big goal is to get both Gasoline Lollipops and The Widow’s Bane in to next year’s SXSW, but for now he’s at least hoping for a Gas Pops Midwest tour later this year. Beyond their upcoming show at Quixote’s True Blue in Denver on March 31, Rose is looking forward to playing with The Paula Nelson Band in April at The Walnut Room. He’s never met Nelson, who is Willie Nelson’s daughter, but he dryly hints at something he might learn at that show.
“Things were pretty blurry back then in the day when my mom was hanging out with Willie, but I’ll let you draw conclusions,” Rose says, coyly. “If she looks just like me, I may have to sue her dad for child support.”
Gasoline Lollipops opens for Marinade at Quixote's True Blue (formerly Bender's), Sunday, March 31. Show starts at 8 p.m. 314 E. 13th Ave., Denver, 303-861-7070.