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Thursday, September 23,2010

Back from the brink

After 17 months, Rose Hill Drive is ready to try again

By David Accomazzo

Rose Hill Drive almost dissolved 17 months ago, when members became disillusioned with the direction their career was taking. Now, they’ve added bassist Jimmy Stofer and they’re gearing up for a second run, reincarnated as a four-piece.

But they came close to making their so-called hiatus permanent.

Rose Hill Drive’s intense love of ’60s and ’70s rock and their stunning ability to channel their heroes on stage and in their songwriting gained them a lot of fans, both in their hometown and out, after they released their first album in 2006.

Then a power trio, the three possessed the massive chops necessary to pound out outstandingly faithful reproductions of the classic rock influences they wore proudly on their sleeves. Their covers were so good that people at their shows across the country would shout out Hendrix and Zeppelin songs at shows instead of the band’s original songs.

Eventually, bassist/singer Jacob Sproul started to hate it.

“We were going to quit. We were going to stop playing together,” Sproul says.

The trouble began just months after they released their second album, Moon Is The New Earth, on July 24, 2008. They were touring, but they were restless. They had trapped themselves in a web of their own talent. Their stellar covers became the main attraction, Sproul says; the silhouettes of the rock gods whose music they loved had begun to overshadow their own. They played one final show on Dec. 31, 2008, and called it quits indefinitely. Appropriately, the band covered, start to finish, Led Zeppelin II.

“We were just ready to be done at that point,” Sproul says. “We learned the tunes, and it was hard for us. It was just a self-fulfilling annoyance to me. ... Playing the Zeppelin show at the very end felt very appropriate to me, because it was like, I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to be myself; I don’t want to pretend to be something else.”

For those not close to the band, the timing of the hiatus was puzzling, to say the least. It capped off a three-year stretch that saw the band open for The Who, The Black Crowes, Robert Randolph, Wilco, Queens of the Stone Age, Van Halen, Gov’t Mule and Aerosmith. The reviews for Moon Is The New Earth were generally positive. When critics say things like, “Rose Hill Drive have already played arenas as openers; one suspects it won’t be long before they return as headliners,” and “They don’t have their own ‘Immigrant Song’ yet, but they have the learning — and the will,” you’d think the band would have been able to buoy that praise into momentum of some sort. But for Rose Hill Drive, success didn’t come that easily.

“We [were] on the road for a long time and, you know, just wanting to do certain things, and pushing and pushing and trying for these things that felt like they were so close yet so far away,” Sproul says.

Burdened by the cover-band shackles, Rose Hill fell into creative doldrums. The band didn’t play another show until a year later, when they opened for Jane’s Addiction this past New Year’s Eve in Aspen. Looking to shake things up, the band reached out to Stofer — who had joined them on bass to cover Led Zeppelin II — and invited him to jam. Stofer would play bass, and Jacob would join his brother Daniel on guitar. Things went well, and the band asked Stofer to join.

Jacob Sproul says having a fourth member gave the band an injection of creative life.

“With another member, there’s more room to grow, but emotionally, being with just my brother and [drummer Nate Barnes], and us growing up together, we had a lot of stale energy, and Jimmy ... allowed a balance in the group that has really helped clear that staleness and helped us relate to each other in a healthy and positive way,” he says.

Stofer and the Rose Hill Drive guys first bumped into each other while recording at Coupe Studios in Boulder two years ago. When Rose Hill decided to cover Zeppelin II, Jacob Sproul realized he couldn’t adequately sing Robert Plant’s vocals and play John Paul Jones’ complex and melodic bass lines at the same time, so he decided to focus on vocals and outsource the bass to Stofer.

He was an easy choice for fourth member.

“It wasn’t really like a formal, ‘Wanna join the band?’” Stofer says. “They were kind of treading lightly and it was kind of this thing, ‘Hey let’s get together and jam and just see if there’s something there.’ When we kind of met up again, it just kind of felt right, and we just kind of moved together as a four-piece.”

Sproul says one of Stofer’s most valuable contributions is the new perspective he brings to songwriting.

“There’s just another opinion that’s not stuck in the same weird groove that we had been stuck in, just pushing to survive,” Sproul says. “There’s a cool set of ears in the room that helps things grow in a new way that wouldn’t have been.”

Stofer has played on tour with The Fray and other bands, but he says the experience is completely different compared to playing in Rose Hill Drive. He relishes the input he has in crafting the band’s new tunes, as well as the pressure that comes with creating songs from scratch.

“In a lot of bands I’ve played in, I was a hired gun, so I didn’t have a say in any of the songwriting,” Stofer says. “This just feels — it’s just a better, unique feeling, because I’m a part of it. ... Playing with those other bands, you just sort of sit in the back and chew your gum. I like being up front, I like being in the spotlight too.”

Having Stofer in the band provided a creative spark, says Sproul, and in the nine months or so since the four started practicing together, the band has recorded and demoed 30 to 40 tracks, two of which they’ve posted online at Sproul and Stofer wouldn’t say when the album will come out, but Stofer says the band is still trying to figure out the logistics.

“The whole goal out of this was to pick the best 11 or 12 songs [out of the 30 or 40 demos] to put together in the album, and we’re still figuring out who we’re going to record with and where, and which tunes and stuff,” Stofer says.

Regardless, the band has a renewed energy and a renewed drive to make music. Only time will tell if they end up happier than they were previously. Either way, the band has left the starting gates for a second time. We’ll have to wait and see how far they run before they finish.

On the Bill:

Rose Hill Drive plays the Fox Theatre on Saturday, Sept. 25. Doors at 8:30. Meniskus and Flashbulb Fires open. Tickets start at $18.50. 1135 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-3399.


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